Ann Arbor's Historical Buildings (Self Guided), Ann Arbor

Founded in the 1820s and centered on the University of Michigan, the city of Ann Arbor boasts hundreds of splendid buildings, many of which are included in the National Register. The U-M campus itself was registered as Historic District in 1978.

The abundance of down-home charm, especially in the historic district, is richly complemented by plethora of time-tested architectural landmarks in downtown Ann Arbor, providing an unforgettable sightseeing experience. To make your stroll around this "college town" particularly exciting and enlightening, here is the outline of some of Ann Arbor’s most interesting historic locations not to miss along the way:

Angell Hall – an academic building named after James Burrill Angell, the University's president from 1871 to 1909; completed in 1924.

Nickels Arcade – a historical commercial site of 1918, accommodating some of the best cafes and shops in town.

Michigan Theater – hailed as “a Shrine to the Arts” since in 1928; an integral part of Ann Arbor’s cultural scene, home to the local annual film festival.

Judge Robert S. Wilson House – an outstanding specimen of Neoclassical design from 1839.

Kempf House Museum – a Greek Revival edifice dedicated to preserving, interpreting, and celebrating the Bennett-Kempf house, its garden and collections.

First National Bank Building – an iconic Romanesque Revival structure finished in 1930; once the tallest building in the city.

To explore these and other beautiful and historically significant works of architecture, and to learn more about the people and buildings that made Ann Arbor the incredible city it is today, take this self-guided walking tour!
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Ann Arbor's Historical Buildings Map

Guide Name: Ann Arbor's Historical Buildings
Guide Location: USA » Ann Arbor (See other walking tours in Ann Arbor)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.8 Km or 1.7 Miles
Author: Sandra
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • President's House
  • Angell Hall
  • Nickels Arcade
  • Michigan Theater
  • First Unitarian Church
  • Judge Robert S. Wilson House
  • Kempf House Museum
  • Weinmann Block
  • First National Bank Building
  • Kellogg-Warden House
1
President's House

1) President's House

The President's House is the official home of the President of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The house is a three-story Italianate structure and is the oldest building on the University campus, and is one of the original four houses constructed for faculty when the University moved from Detroit to Ann Arbor. The house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.

In 1840, the University of Michigan moved from its original location in Detroit to Ann Arbor. To house faculty members, four houses were constructed by builder Harpin Lum, costing a total of $26,900 (equivalent to $685,000 in 2019). The houses may have been designed by campus architect Alexander J. Davis Until 1852, the university was governed by a faculty committee, and there was no president.

In 1852 Henry Philip Tappan became the first President of the University and moved into this house, which was at the time vacant. Tappan was succeeded in 1863 by Erastus Otis Haven, who added a single-story kitchen to the house, as well as a third story. Haven was succeeded in 1871 by James Burrill Angell, who had made his acceptance of the post conditional on refurbishment of the President's House. During Angell's tenure, the President's House was substantially altered by adding a west wing containing a semi-circular library and more bedrooms.

Angell's successor, Harry Burns Hutchins, chose not to live in the house, and it remained vacant during Hutchins's tenure. When Marion LeRoy Burton was appointed in 1920, the President's House was thoroughly renovated at his request, adding a sun parlor with a sleeping porch and enclosing a rear porch to make a dining area.

Subsequent presidents did some renovation work on the interior, but exterior changes were confined to the addition of a small study and glassed-in plant room during Alexander Grant Ruthven's tenure, and a glassed-in porch and stone terrace during Harlan Hatcher's tenure. In 1970, what is now the Hatcher Graduate Library was constructed behind the house. The house was extensively renovated in the late 1980s.
Sight description based on wikipedia
2
Angell Hall

2) Angell Hall

Angell Hall is an academic building at the University of Michigan. It was previously connected to the University Hall building, which was replaced by Mason Hall and Haven Hall. Angell Hall is named in honor of James Burrill Angell, who was the University's president from 1871 to 1909.

Construction began in 1920, and finished in 1924 at a cost of about $1 million. An addition opened in 1952 adding auditoriums, a classroom wing, and an office wing. The addition replaced old Haven Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1950, the 1841 Mason Hall, and two other buildings.

The building's exterior, particularly the Doric columns, was intended to match that of campus other buildings at the time, including Hill Auditorium, Alumni Memorial Hall, and the Clements Library.

On the front facade, the carving reads, "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." The text is taken from the Ordinance of 1787.
3
Nickels Arcade

3) Nickels Arcade

Nickels Arcade is a historical commercial building on South State Street in Ann Arbor. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. The building is notable as perhaps the only remaining example in Michigan of a free-standing commercial arcade building of a type that was popularized by the Cleveland Arcade.

John H. Nickels owned and operated a meat market at this location on State Street. His grandson Tom E. Nickels inherited a portion of the property, and bought other portions of the property from his brothers and sister. Nickels hired local architect Hermann Pipp to design this building. Construction by A.R. Cole & Co. began in 1915. The first tenant, the Farmers and Mechanics bank, moved in that year. The entire building, however, was not completed until 1918, due in part to delays caused by the onset of World War I. Nickels owned the Arcade until his death in 1932, when he passed it on to his children, James and Nora.

Nickels Arcade is a 261-foot-long gallery linking State Street on one side to Maynard Street on the other. The principal facade faces onto State Street, and consists of a three-story, three-bay open portico flanked with store/office blocks. The facade is clad with a buff-colored decorative architectural terra cotta. The Maynard Street facade is similar to the State Street facade in design, but is clad primarily with yellow brick, with additional ornamental detailing of terra cotta. The gallery running between the facades is covered with a gable skylight of metal-framed wire-glass panels.

On each side of the gallery are ground-level shops which face onto the roofed passage. These shops are essentially two stories in height, some with a mezzanine level. Upper-story office windows above the commercial spaces also face onto the gallery. The arcade is floored with blocks of square red tile in black borders. The arcade is divided into three sections: the section nearest State Street continues the terra cotta cladding and detailing of the State Street facade. This section is separated from the next by a segmental archway; a similar archway near the other end separates the center section from an entrance vestibule.
Sight description based on wikipedia
4
Michigan Theater

4) Michigan Theater (must see)

The Michigan Theater is a movie palace in Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States. It shows independent films and stage productions, and hosts musical concerts.

Designed by Detroit-based architect Maurice Finkel and built in 1927, the historic auditorium seats 1610 and features the theater's original 1927 Barton Theatre Pipe Organ, orchestra pit, stage, and elaborate architectural details.

The Michigan Theater opened on January 5, 1928, and was at the time the finest theater in Ann Arbor. The theater not only showed movies, but also hosted vaudeville acts, live concerts, and touring stage plays. Over the years, Jack Benny, Bing Crosby, Paul Robeson, and Ethel Barrymore all appeared at the theater.

During a renovation in 1956, many of the original ornate designs were destroyed. After a period of low attendance, the theater was threatened with demolition when its 50-year lease to Butterfield Theatres ran out in 1978, but members of the community and local organists helped raise funds to save and renovate the theater, returning it to its original design. A second screen, the Screening Room, with a state-of-the-art sound system, seating for 200, and the ability to project films digitally, was added in 1999.

The Michigan Theater is the current home of the annual Ann Arbor Film Festival, the Ann Arbor Symphony, and the Ann Arbor Concert Band. The theater has been named 2006 Outstanding Historic Theatre by the League of Historic American Theaters.
Sight description based on wikipedia
5
First Unitarian Church

5) First Unitarian Church

This historical church sits at the corner of East Huron Street and North State Street in downtown Ann Arbor. First Unitarian Church was built in 1882 according to the project of Donaldson and Meier. The Richardsonian Romanesque structure is a bright example of this architectural style common throughout the eastern United States.

It features ashlar walls, cross-gabled roof, massive corner tower with four turrets, arched openings and portico entrances. The building was purchased and reconstructed by Hobbs & Black architects in 1885. First Unitarian Church has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
6
Judge Robert S. Wilson House

6) Judge Robert S. Wilson House

The Judge Robert S. Wilson House, also known as the Wilson-Wahr House, is a private house located in Ann Arbor. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Robert S. Wilson was an attorney who moved from Allegheny County, New York, to Ann Arbor in 1835. He was Judge of the Washtenaw County Probate court for a year, and served in the Michigan House of Representatives. In approximately 1839, Wilson had this house built on a lot in Ann Arbor. He lived there until 1850, when he moved to Chicago and sold the house to John H. Welles.

The Robert S. Wilson House is a two-story Greek Revival structure constructed of brick with a stucco finish on a stone foundation. Nearly every survey of Michigan architecture has singled out the Wilson House as an outstanding specimen of Neoclassical architecture design. Architect Fiske Kimball attributed its "four study Ionic columns, rising through two stories, with graceful flutes and capitals" to the original Temple of the Wingless Victory at Athens.

The front facade boasts a full-width portico with Ionic fluted shaft columns, and an entryway framed by matching pilasters. Windows have external shutters. A two-story addition on the rear was likely constructed more recently than the main portion of the house.

Inside, the main section of the house is two parlors deep with a hall containing a stairwell to the side. The rear addition has a side entrance into another stair hall. All the major rooms in the house have fireplaces.
Sight description based on wikipedia
7
Kempf House Museum

7) Kempf House Museum

The Kempf House Museum, also known as the Henry Bennett House or the Reuben Kempf House, is a house museum in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was originally built as a single-family home in 1853. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Henry DeWitt Bennet was the postmaster of Ann Arbor during most of the 1850s. In about 1853, Bennett had this house built. Bennett was later the secretary and steward of the University of Michigan. In 1886 Bennet retired and moved to California, selling his house to a neighbor. The neighbor rented it out for a few years, and in 1890 sold the house to Reuben and Pauline Kempf.

Both Reuben and Pauline Kempf were musicians, and their home turned into a local center for the musical arts. The Kempfs hosted musical figures such as Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Victor Herbert, and Ernestine Schumann-Heink. The Kempfs lived in the house until their deaths: Reuben's in 1945 and Pauline's in 1953. In 1953, Mr. and Mrs. Earl V. Parker purchased the house.

In 1969, Earl Parker died and the city of Ann Arbor acquired the house. The city turned the house into a historic museum. The house has been restored, and includes a music studio that looks as it did when the Kempfs were first giving lessons. The house is open for tours weekly.

The Bennett House is a frame, 1-1/2 story, temple style Greek Revival house sitting on a brick foundation. The facade has four massive, squared Doric columns, along with three frieze windows and a graceful tympanum. The main section of the house measures 54 feet by 23 feet. A small, two-room addition holding the kitchen, built in the 1890s, is attached to the rear. The house currently has six rooms and bath on the first floor, and three bedrooms and 1-1/2 baths on the second.

Kempf House is open for guided tours on Sundays 1-4pm (except holidays), from September through December, and April through May. Tours are also available by appointment for groups or individuals. Admission is free.
Sight description based on wikipedia
8
Weinmann Block

8) Weinmann Block

This old picturesque building was constructed for Michael Weinmann and John Gall in the late 1860s in central Ann Arbor. The ground floor of the historic building originally housed a meat market and the upper floor was the family residence. Weinmann Block exterior comprises many remarkable details like arched window pediments, bracketed cornice, shuttered windows, triangular roof pediments and a roundel window. Another featured element was decorative pressed sheet metal imitating cast iron or stone pillars, and a carved decoration that was an innovation of the late 19th century.
9
First National Bank Building

9) First National Bank Building

First National Bank Building sits at the corner of South Main Street and West Liberty Street. It is the tallest high-rise of Ann Arbor, built in 1929. It is an example of Art Deco and Art Moderne architecture designed by native architects Paul Kasurin and Lynn Fry. It was constructed to accommodate Washtenaw County First Bank offices and retail units. The main constructional materials are steel and terra cotta. The main facades are finished with terra-cotta. It has a 10- storey corner tower and two wings of 5 storeys. The building is known also for its expensive, luxurious interior. First National Bank Building was registered as a Historic Building in 1982.
10
Kellogg-Warden House

10) Kellogg-Warden House

The Kellogg-Warden House is a single-family house located on North Main Street in Ann Arbor. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. It now houses the Washtenaw County Historical Society's Museum on Main Street.

The Kellogg-Warden House is a side-gable, side hall, Greek Revival half-I-house with a one-and-one-half-story gable-roof rear addition. It measures approximately twenty-six feet by forty-six feet. The house is sided with clapboard, and currently sits on a concrete block foundation, which has been faced with the fieldstones and bricks form the original foundation. The house has a box cornice with returns in the gable ends. The main facade is three bays wide, with the front door at one end. The door is flanked by four fluted pilasters. The windows are primarily double-hung sash units with two-over-two lights, save for a six-over-six window in the attic.

This house was originally located at what is now 1015 Wall Street. Although the date of construction cannot be verified, tax and sales records suggest that the original section of the house was built about 1835. In 1837, Dan W. Kellogg purchased five contiguous lots, including the one this house sat on. In 1838, Kellogg sold them to his brother-in-law Ethan A. Warden. In 1839, Warden sold two of the lots, including the one containing this house, ho his father-in-law (and Dan Kellogg's father) Charles Kellogg, who move the Ann Arbor about this time. The sales prices suggest that the main portion of the house was constructed by Warden before his father-in-law's arrival.

In 1988 the house was sold to the University of Michigan. The University planned to use the land for a parking lot, but recognizing the historical significance, gave the house to the Washtenaw County Historical Society. In 1990, the house was moved to its current location on North Main. The Washtenaw County Historical Society refurbished the house and it now houses the Museum on Main Street.
Sight description based on wikipedia

Walking Tours in Ann Arbor, Michigan

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