|THE FORMER D.S.R. ADMINISTRATION BUILDING
(...and other Shoemaker Property Oddities)
On April 5, 1920, the voters of the city of Detroit would approve the sale of $15 million in bonds that would allow the city
to construct a street railway operation to compete against the privately-owned Detroit United Railway (DUR) company.
The bonds were to primarily pay for building new trackage; purchasing streetcars, trailer-cars, and other equipment;
and for carbarn construction. The bonds would also be used to construct a three-story administration office building
that would serve as headquarters for the city's new street railway department.
Excavation work for the project began immediately after the voters approved the bond issue. In August, the laying of
new rails began and by November new streetcars had been ordered. Meanwhile, a search was underway to find a
location to house the new operation. Land was soon found on the city's east-side within territory that had recently been
annexed to Detroit in 1918, in what was previously known as the village of St. Clair Heights. The new facility would be
built on 17.7-acres of farm-property bounded by St. Jean, Shoemaker, Lillibridge and E. Warren streets. Although
permanent brick structures, including a 53,796 square-foot administration office, were to be constructed on the site,
temporary facilities were hurriedly erected until construction work was completed. The city's first attempt at public
transit would begin operations on February 1, 1921.
D.S.R. ADMINISTRATION OFFICE BLDG:
On Monday, May 15, 1922, the Detroit Department of Street Railways (DSR) would begin its first day of operations;
taking control over all city street railway operations from the DUR company, while also absorbing the former smaller
city-owned operation. On that same day, the department's main administration office building — located along the
north-end of the Shoemaker property — would also officially open for business. Located at 11200 Shoemaker Avenue,
between St. Jean and Lillibridge streets, this three-story building would serve as the DSR's headquarters and central
offices for the next fifty years.
At 217½-feet by 61½-feet, this three-story (53,796-square foot) brick building — that never had computers or central air
conditioning installed — would house a beehive of activity that would oversee the operations of the city owned-and-
operated transportation department. In addition to the General Manager's Office and the office of the 3-member
Detroit Street Railway Commission (both located on the second floor), the building also housed the DSR's Auditing,
Claims, Legal, Marketing, Personnel, Plant Maintenance & Construction, Purchasing, Rolling Stock, Scheduling, and
Transportation departments, to name a few. The Cashier's Office, Money Room, Telephone Switchboard Room, and
an employee Social Service Office were also housed there.
As many as 15 general managers would occupy the second floor office at the northeast corner of the building during
the five decades the DSR occupied the building, including the very first general manager, Joseph S. Goodwin (1922);
Ross Schram (1924-25) who launched the motor-bus division in 1925; Fred A. Nolan (1934-43) who implemented the
move toward "all buses" in 1936; and the longest sitting general manager, Leo J. Nowicki (1948-62), who eliminated
the streetcars in 1956. More recently, two general managers: Lucas S. Miel and Robert E. Toohey (both appointed by
Mayor Jerome P. Cavanaugh) oversaw the department during the financially troubled 1960s. The last general
manager to hold office in the old administration building was the department's first African-American general
manager, Ed Davis, who was appointed by Mayor Roman S. Gribbs in 1971.
MAJOR CHANGES FOR THE ADMINISTRATION BLDG:
Even though the DSR encountered tremendous financial hardships during the 1960s, two events would occur in 1964
that would allow the DSR to modernize some of its older facilities. The first being the passage of the Urban Mass
Transportation Act of 1964, which for the first time provided federal capital grants to cities and states to cover upwards
to two-thirds the cost of transit improvement projects. The other event was the approval by Detroit voters of
Proposition G—a charter amendment change which relieved the DSR from paying school and property taxes to the
City of Detroit. The new city charter changes also granted permission to the Common Council to use city general fund
money to only cover the DSR's one-third share of federal transit grants.
With new money now available to make capital improvements, the DSR began developing plans to either modernize
or replace its aging facilities. With the aging heavy repair facilities in Highland Park badly in need of modernization —
but with the City of Highland Park declining the DSR's request to relieve it from paying real estate taxes in that city —
the DSR decided to seek property within the city of Detroit and consolidate a number of its operations. As part of a
$17.5 million modernization program (aided by a $10 million HUD grant), the DSR, in 1965, proposed building a
combined headquarters, administrative office, and a central heavy repair–maintenance complex on a track of land
located on Warren Avenue on the city's near east-side. This new complex would open in 1972.
On December 17, 1972, the DSR officially vacated its original main headquarters and administrative office building,
ending fifty years of service out of that location. The payroll unit of the DSR's Auditing Division was the last group to
vacate the facility. For a number of years, some space in the building was eventually used by other city departments
not related to transportation. However, most of the time it remained boarded-up and vacant. The former
administration building was finally demolished by the city in the summer of 2007 to make way for new bus storage
bays built as part of the reconstruction of the adjacent Shoemaker Terminal property.
SHOEMAKER PROPERTY ODDITIES:
THE SHOEMAKER D.S.R. EMPLOYEE RESTAURANT
[SEE WEB-PAGE FOR PHOTO]
When the City of Detroit purchased farmland on the city's east side to house its new street railway operation; a
farmhouse, a barn, and hothouses also came with the purchase (see farm photo (WEBSITE)). Although the barn and
hothouses were demolished, the original landowner's home would survive. Located on the southwest corner of
Shoemaker and St. Jean streets, this house would later serve as a D.S.R. employee restaurant.
In the (WEBSITE) photo (c.1922), the farmhouse can be seen just to the east of the Administration Office Building.
According to an article in the August 1954 edition of The D.S.R. Reporter (a monthly employee publication), the
old, house-like-structure once functioned as a terminal office, but more recently was the site of the Shoemaker
restaurant, that went out of use in 1951. The article went on to say, "...all of the restaurant equipment has been
sold and bids are being taken for demolition of the structure." It would be replaced by an employee parking lot.
SHOEMAKER FUEL STORAGE YARD – EAST OF ST. JEAN STREET
[SEE WEB-PAGE FOR PHOTO]
In addition to owning the property west of St. Jean where the Shoemaker Terminal resides, the City of Detroit
(DSR/DDOT) — since 1927 — has also owned a small, narrow (slightly irregular shaped) parcel of land located along
the east side of St. Jean Street, directly across the street from the Shoemaker Terminal property.
This 1.181-acre property — having only 126.66 feet of frontage along St. Jean — sits directly across from the St. Jean
street entrance to the Shoemaker facility. A set of unused (partially exposed) railroad tracks crossing St. Jean still
connect the two parcels of land today. Originally, this track connected to a spur track that led to the former Detroit
Terminal Railroad (DTRR) main line tracks that still run just to the east of this property today.
Five 20,000-gallon fuel storage tanks, pump houses, pits, a 30-ton electric-powered Orton crane, and a number of
DSR rail work cars were housed on the property over the years. Some work cars were used as switcher cars to move
railroad cars between the DTRR tracks and main property.
Prior to the Shoemaker facility converting to oil (c.1971), a coal-fired power plant supplied the heat. After coal hopper
cars were moved along the private track to the Heating Plant across the street, the giant crane was used to unload the
coal. This 1953 photo (WEBSITE) shows DSR work car X-84 moving tank cars along the St. Jean track into the yard.
In addition to the yard's giant storage tanks storing the department's diesel fuel supply for a number of years, two
former DUR/DSR work cars (wrecker X-1981 and switcher 7284) had been stored there since 1973 while awaiting
restoration by the Michigan Transit Museum. The property has remained abandoned now for decades.
TO VIEW THE HISTORY OF THE SHOEMAKER TERMINAL PROPERTY SEE: SHOEMAKER TERMINAL
Information for the above article compiled from various sources, including "DETROIT'S STREET RAILWAYS Vol 1: City Lines 1863-1922
and Vol II: City Lines 1922-1956" by Schramm, Henning and Dworman (Bulletins 117 & 120 – Central Electric Railfans' Association); from
Motor Coach Age magazine articles "Detroit's DSR, Parts 1 thru 3" written by Jack E. Schramm; and from "The D.S.R. Reporter" (August
1954 edition - pg 5). Additional info obtained from "AN EVALUATION STUDY OF THE PROPERTIES AND OPERATIONS OF DEPT. OF
STREET RAILWAYS." (Nov. 1970), and other misc. publications.
© 2014 – www.DetroitTransitHistory.info (TXV 09-16-14)
NOTE: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED AND CAN BE VIEWED ON ORIGINAL WEBSITE PAGE
To visit original website version of this page see: www.detroittransithistory.info/DSR/AdministrationBuilding.html
|This early 1920s photo shows the original DSR Administration Office Building not long after it opened in 1922. Located along
Shoemaker Ave.— between St. Jean and Lillibridge streets — and adjacent to the DSR's Shoemaker Carhouse property, this
building would serve as the headquarters for the city's recently-purchased street railway operation. Also pictured is the
original streetcar maintenance building (right) and a surviving farmhouse (far left) that initially functioned as a terminal office.
(Original photo donated to website by D. Fernlock — Photo restoration courtesy of Kenneth Schramm)
PRINTER–FRIENDLY TEXT VERSION: MOST PHOTOS, IMAGES AND CHARTS HAVE BEEN REMOVED FROM THIS PAGE