A couple of weeks ago I was confirming some dates for the Guardian building and ran across the following text:


(Excerpt from The Guardian Building: Cathedral of Finance By James W. Tottis)

I’ve never run across this name or organization before so I did some digging and discovered some very interesting things.

The Thumb Tack Club of Detroit was an architectural organization that was active in the 1920’s and included many of Detroit’s prominent architects at the time.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

In 1899, Ninety-Seven delegates from thirteen different organizations gathered in Cleveland, Ohio for the first annual convention of The Architectural League of America.

A series of architectural exhibitions was planned, uniform design competition guidelines were recommended for adoption, and licensing of architects was discussed.  It was agreed that these “scattered” clubs have a unique civic relation to lead their cities’ development and to share and discuss contemporary architecture.  The actual wording is much colorful:

..that much as is to be learned from the architecture of the past, contemporaneous conditions offer truer, better and more vital inspiration.

One of these clubs was the Detroit Architectural Club (sometimes also referred to as The Detroit Architectural Sketch Club) led by J.W. Case.  Case was a recent winner of the Rotch Travelling Scholarship awarded by the Boston Society of Architects.

Detroit Architectural ClubThe club was formed in 1895 and regularly met in the Detroit Museum of Art (The predecessor to the Detroit Institute of Art).  The Detroit Architectural Club presented several lectures and organized an annual exhibition.

In 1900, the club held their first annual exhibition in the Detroit Museum of Art from April 28th through May 12th.  A catalog was produced that contained exhibit items plus items that could not be displayed due to the small size of the exhibition space.

Projects were displayed from all over the eastern United States and included illustrations or photographs of the following Detroit projects:

  • Wayne County Building, Detroit, MI – John Scott & Co., Detroit
  • Design for Entrance to Palmer Park – John A. Gillard, Detroit
  • Design for Fountain – George H. Ropes, Detroit
  • Entrance to the Laboratory of F. Stearns & Co. – Stratton & Baldin, Architects, Detroit
  • Detroit Opera House – Mason & Rice, J.M. Wood, A.W.Chittenden (Associated Architects, Detroit)
  • Evangelical Bethlehem Church, Ann Arbor, MI – R.E. Raseman, Architect, Detroit
  • Bicycle Pavilion, Belle Isle park, Detroit, MI – E.A. Schilling, Architect, Detroit
  • Reception Hall, Residence of Mr. W. A. Butler, Detroit, MI – Chapman & Frazer , Architects, Boston
  • Working Drawings of Palmer Fountain, Detroit, MI – Carrere & Hastings, Architects, New York
  • Design for a Bridge at Belle Isle Park, Detroit, MI – E.A. Schilling, Architect, Detroit
  • Park Stables, Belle Isle Park, Detroit – Mason & Rice, Architects, Detroit

It appears that the Detroit Architectural Club had at least two more public exhibitions.

Shortly afterward and quite suddenly, The Detroit Thumb Tack Club becomes the dominant architectural club in the Detroit.  The Thumb Tack Club was formed sometime around 1918 and produced a series of annual exhibitions from 1921 – 1926.  (The University of Michigan has the entire series of exhibition catalogs in their holdings if you’d like to look at them in detail.  I’ve looked through them and there are some incredible illustrations in these books.  I’ll write about some of them later – I promise.)

The last exhibition catalog includes an article from the Detroit Chapter of the American Institute of Architects announcing the creation of a system of honor awards to…

…to encourage the appreciation of architecture and to foster a public consciousness and demand for better architecture.

I don’t have any proof (yet!) but I imagine that The Thumb Tack Club of Detroit and the Detroit Chapter of the AIA eventually came together.  I can’t find any references to the Detroit Thumb Tack Club after the 1926 exhibition.

I tend to think graphically, so the following timeline tends to present things a little clearer.

The Architectural Annual (1900)
Catalogue of the First Annual Exhibit of the Detroit Architectural Club (1900)
Detroit Museum of Art Annual Report (July 1898)


Does anyone have any more information about these two groups?  I haven’t included it in the article, but I have membership roles for a couple years, and officers for most years.  I want to learn more.  I know times are different and information spreads at the speed of light compared to 1900, but why can’t we have public exhibitions of Detroit Architecture?  Thoughts?

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