Detroit’s gift to Ann Arbor turns 76

June 17, 2014
Courtesy U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Courtesy U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Rackham Auditorium was dedicated 76 years ago today. A popular venue for live music, thanks to its 1,000-seat-plus performance space. It is named for Horace H. Rackham, a Detroit lawyer who, upon his death in 1933, left money to construct the graduate building, costing $2 million in 1938 ($32.7 million in 2013 dollars), as well as $4 million to the university’s graduate studies programs (that would be more than $65 million in 2013 dollars). Designed in a classical renaissance style by the prestigious Detroit architecture firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, the building is a treasure.

It’s interesting to note Detroit’s many contributions to Ann Arbor’s main institution. In fact, Detroit contributed the university itself, in 1837. And Rackham wasn’t alone among Detroiters in giving to the university, although it was unusual that he hadn’t attended it. Countless public-spirited residents of Michigan’s largest city, both alums and not, have donated generously to the university in the belief that education was a public good. This has enriched Ann Arbor — architecturally, historically, and spiritually.

So it’s somewhat ironic that, as Detroit slips into bankruptcy under the auspices of an Ann Arborite governor, we honor Detroit’s contributions to a college town that, too often, dismisses any connection to its gritty neighbor to the east. But, there was a time when Detroit helped Tree Town, when that burg’s city fathers arrayed themselves in finery to thank the Motor City for its generosity — 76 years ago today.