What Would Mr. Varney Think?

In recent months, as the work on the El Moore has come to completion and the building has opened to both residents and visitors, I’ve thought a lot about our friend A.C. Varney, the building’s architect.  I can’t help but wonder what he would think of the place if he were able to see it today. The exterior of the building looks much as it did when it was built in 1898 except, of course, for the new entrance & elevator tower and the rooftop cabins.  A lot of effort went into restoring the exterior to its former glory - I’m thinking especially of the work that went into recreating the beautiful iron railings on the balconies. The interior, however, has changed dramatically.  The floor plan designed by Varney no longer exists in its original form and, instead of 8 apartments, the … [Read more...]

What’s In a Name?

Well, apparently, a bit more than we thought. In an earlier post, we introduced readers to Charles W. Moore, the person who, for $24,000, funded the construction of the El Moore apartments in 1898.  After a bit more research, we discovered that there were, in fact, two Charles W. Moores who lived in Detroit during that time and that we were mistaken in connecting the Charles W. Moore who once served as the Director of the Detroit Art Museum with the El Moore project. After doing a little digging at the Detroit Public Library's Burton Historical Collection and on Ancestry.com, I think we can safely say we have our man!  Born in New Hampshire in 1845, this Mr. Moore came to Detroit in 1880 to take over the Michigan branch of the New York Life Insurance Company. From city … [Read more...]

Mr. Varney’s Neighborhood

As we've mentioned in earlier posts, the El Moore was designed in 1898 by local architect Almon Clother Varney.  Besides being an authority on gracious living in late 19th century Detroit (see Our Homes and Their Adornments , 1883), Varney was a prolific architect.  His creations, which included apartment buildings, factories and offices, hotels and private residences, popped up all over the city as well as in towns and cities across the state.  Interestingly, Varney is credited with designing the very first apartment building in Detroit, the Varney Apartments at Park and Montcalm (The building was, sadly, razed in 1996).  Although some Varney buildings have not survived to present day, many of them, like the El Moore, are, happily, with us still! With that in mind, this week the Green … [Read more...]

Shifting Technologies, again, at the El Moore

When work began on the El Moore, we were intrigued by the discovery that the builder had run parallel lines, gas and electric, for some of the lighting fixtures.  Why both?  What was going on back then?  Of course, we had to learn more! We know that the 1880’s and 1890’s were a period of transition for the city, particularly in the area of new technologies.  The automobile industry was in its earliest stages and new illuminating technologies were also making their appearance in Detroit.   In the middle of the century, oil and kerosene gave way to gas lighting for homes and businesses, as well as street lights.  The early 1880’s saw the installation of electric arc lamp towers, also known as moonlight towers, across the city.  Arc lamps provided much brighter light than the old gas … [Read more...]

When the El Moore Was Born

  Continuing our journey into the history of the El Moore, here is a snapshot of Detroit in 1898, the birthday year of the El Moore! Demographics: In 1898, immigrants were continuing to come to Detroit in large numbers, just as they had been doing throughout the 19th century.  In the last decade of the century, Detroit gained approximately 80,000 residents reaching a total population of around 285,000 by 1900.  About 1/3 of city residents were foreign born and approximately 12% of Detroiters did not speak English. Sports: In 1898, the Detroit Tigers were a minor league team in the Western League.  Players with names like Noodles Hahn, Buttons Briggs and Hunkey Hines were on the roster. Bicycling was hugely popular in the city and its surrounding suburbs and Detroit … [Read more...]

Who Was Alexandrine?

As with many streets in towns and cities across the country, Alexandrine Street, where the El Moore is located, takes its name from a prominent citizen of the city’s past.   Alexandrine Macomb Sheldon was born in Detroit in 1829, a descendant of the Macomb family, one of the founding families and land owners of Detroit. She was married in 1847 to John Barnabas Campau, a member of another of Detroit’s founding families.  During her marriage to Mr. Campau, she travelled extensively throughout Europe and, while in Paris, was presented to Napoleon III and the Empress Eugénie at the Tuileries Palace. She also managed to arrange private audiences with two popes, Pius IX and Pius X - these were clearly people of some influence! Although she led a very privileged life, it wasn’t one without … [Read more...]

Casey Kasem

Recently, America said goodbye to radio icon Casey Kasem, longtime host of “American Top 40.” (Maybe some of our younger readers will recognize him as the voice of "Shaggy" on the Scooby Doo cartoons.) What’s the connection to the El Moore, you ask? As with the Green Garage,  part of the research we’ve done on the El Moore includes the history of the building and its surrounding neighborhood.  We wanted to know everything we could discover about the El Moore; When was it built? Who built it? Who lived in it and what did they do? Who were their neighbors? Just a few weeks ago, Jason Peet and Keith Owens made a trip to the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board where, with the help of Janese Chapman, they were able to collect information on each structure on the Alexandrine … [Read more...]