The peace rally that took place at Michigan Stadium on October 15, 1969, was the largest anti-war protest in Ann Arbor history. Including some 20,000 attendees, the rally was the culmination of Ann Arbor’s participation in a nationwide event - The Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam - that took place that day, with many businesses, churches, and colleges across the country closing to protest continued involvement in the War.
Since 1969, the Washtenaw Alano Club (WAC) has fulfilled its mission “to provide a facility and environment conducive to spiritual growth for recovery from addictive behavior” by hosting a variety of 12-step recovery groups and offering social, educational, and recreational activities.
WAC currently serves 1,500 visitors each week over the course of 72 meetings covering eighteen distinct 12-step programs. Among these are: Al-Alanon, ACOA, AlaTeen, Narcotics Anonymous, Sexaholics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, and Artists Recovering Through the Twelve Steps.
History & Founders
WAC was founded in 1969 through the efforts of a group of people in recovery who decided Ann Arbor needed its own Alano Club. WAC is currently one of numerous Clubs nationwide that host regular meetings and other social events for people in recovery. Some of the early community leaders and members who played a role in establishing WAC are: Leo H. Evans, Grace J. Yesley, Allen L. Rendel, Richard Hammerstein, Judge Sandy J. Elden, James H. Fondren, Rev. Robert C. Grigereit, Ronald D. Rinker, Dr. Margaret Clay, Mrs. Robert Harris, James W. Henderson, Dr. Russell F. Smith, Patricia O'Sullivan, Gerald H. Voice, Ed L. Clark, Margaret E. Brooks, Patricia Goulet, Paul Clark, Elaine Ambrose, Barry Kistner, Steve Carr, and Dr. George S. Fischmann.
WAC filed articles of incorporation on October 27, 1969, and first began meeting at an older house on North Main Street. However, this location's cramped quarters and lack of parking weren't ideal and by March 1970, business meetings were being held once a month at the Calvary Methodist Church at 1415 Miller Avenue. On July 1, 1971, the Club drafted its first By-Laws, and on April 6, 1973, WAC was officially granted 501(c)(3) non-profit status. Meanwhile, original charter member, Leo H. Evans, initiated fundraising efforts to find a more suitable meeting space and in September 1975, WAC signed a lease for its first home in the Fourth Avenue Arcade at 212 South Fourth Avenue in downtown Ann Arbor. They moved in on November 23.
After three years, the reputation of this particular block of Fourth Avenue, which at the time included both liquor stores and adult bookstores, encouraged the group to begin scouting for a new location. For a short period, beginning in August 1978, this location would be an office building at 2500 Packard Rd, Suite 204; then, on November 4, 1980, WAC moved to 2761 South State Street. During the seven years at the State Street location, the Club expanded services to include additional activities and social events such as volleyball and softball teams.
995 North Maple Road
Late in the summer of 1986, WAC was notified its lease would not be renewed and the State Street building would be sold. With only 60 days to vacate, members scrambled to find a new location. At this time, they learned that the Ann Arbor Public School Board was selling property at 995 North Maple Road - the former Fritz School building - which had served as both an elementary school and alternative school within the Ann Arbor Public School system. Although WAC was not the highest bidder for the property, it was granted the bid of $127,500, due in part to members on the School Board who supported the Club’s mission to serve the community. The Ann Arbor City Council also approved a rezoning request to permit WAC to use the building.
WAC now owns the building at 995 North Maple. Set on a large parcel of oak woods with picnic areas, parking, and a rain garden, its interior space consists of meeting rooms, a lounge, and a concession area. Its first major project was to build a parking lot, and a 1992 fundraising drive helped to replace the aging roof. The work of several Board committees has contributed to other improvements to both interior and exterior spaces over the years.
On May 21, 2013, as part of an effort to rebrand the Club and fulfill a strategic plan to attract more members, the Board of Directors revised Club bylaws to cancel the collection of member dues and changed the name of the Club to Maple Rock. But these efforts were not universally embraced and were challenged by some long-time members. In December of 2015, county judge Archie Brown ruled that the Club was indeed a Membership Non-Profit and, in February 2016, authorized an election to choose new Board members. The Club's name also reverted to the Washtenaw Alano Club.
Events & Activities
Over the course of its history, WAC has sponsored numerous events and fundraisers, including monthly dances held at off-site locations such as Saint Francis of Assisi Church on East Stadium Boulevard. Other annual events include picnics, Christmas tree sales, and free holiday meals. Social activities include potlucks, movie nights, games nights, and sports.
Learn More about the Washtenaw Alano Club:
The 1969 South University Riot was a series of confrontations between local law enforcement and factions of Ann Arbor’s counterculture population that extended over three nights, from June 16-18, on or near the four-block South University Avenue shopping district in Ann Arbor.
Monday, June 16
Varying accounts in local and regional media make it difficult to determine exactly what occurred on the first night, June 16, but according to the Ann Arbor News, events began around 10:00 pm when an Ann Arbor police officer attracted a crowd of about 50 people while attempting to ticket a motorcyclist for stunt-riding in the street. The officer called for reinforcements and four additional police cars arrived, but when they eventually left without issuing the motorcyclist a ticket, the crowd -- now estimated at about 300 and comprised of various countercultural groups -- celebrated by staging a spontaneous "liberation party" and cordoning off a block of South University Avenue with tires, boards, garbage cans, and similar items.
Over the next few hours, the crowd swelled to somewhere between 500 and 1000, and members engaged in activities such as dancing, singing, drinking, and throwing firecrackers. Local newspapers also reported that a couple engaged in sexual relations in the middle of South University Avenue. During the revelry, Ann Arbor Police Chief Walter E. Krasny requested that both the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police be on standby in the nearby town of Ypsilanti. Plains clothes police officers were sent in to observe the crowd, but no tickets were issued out of fear that it would cause an “instant riot,” as Lieutenant Eugene Staudenmaeir told the campus newspaper The Michigan Daily. (Ann Arbor Police Chief Walter Krasny would later state that they declined to issue tickets because of “limited manpower.”) The crowd eventually broke up around 1:00 am, with some attendees returning to sweep up the debris and broken glass. Damages were minor, with some broken windows and slogans painted on parking signs and shop windows.
Tuesday, June 17
Although Monday’s event appeared to occur spontaneously, expectations were high for the next night, June 17, after some among Monday night’s attendees were overheard declaring they would attempt another street party on Tuesday at the same time and location. Furthermore, members of the White Panther Party, a local radical anti-establishment organization, issued a statement calling for the transformation of the South University Avenue shopping area into a pedestrian mall or “people’s park,” a pointed reference to the recent People’s Park movement in Berkeley, California that had been violently suppressed only a month prior. As a result, reporters from Detroit and further afield were in attendance that evening; and several high-ranking local officials, among them Washtenaw County Sheriff Douglas Harvey, Ann Arbor Police Chief Walter E. Krasny, and Prosecuting attorney William F. Delhey, made plans for a “show of force if the ‘street liberations’” took place.
Crowds began to gather in the early evening and by 8:00 pm attendees were participating in a variety of activities: Some erected a barricade of traffic cans, signs, and similar materials; two girls sat down in the middle of the street blocking a car; others set a fire in a garbage can. At around 9:00 pm the crowd had reached roughly 1,000 people, some of whom were merely onlookers hoping for a show. Deputy Police Chief Harold E. Olson attempted to disperse the crowd with the use of a bullhorn, but when he was met with resistance and shouted obscenities, riot-equipped officers from city and county agencies, including nearby Oakland and Monroe counties, were instructed to advance on the crowd, moving westward, with nightsticks, rifles held at port arms, and a half dozen crowd-control dogs from the Sheriff’s Department. Most of the crowd broke and ran, but a few people stood ground until they were seized and removed to an awaiting prisoner bus.
Further down the line, members of the crowd responded by hurling bricks, rocks, and bottles; some objects were thrown from the tops of buildings on either side of South University Avenue. Sheriff Harvey countered these efforts by ordering the firing of tear gas in their direction. Police cleared the street in roughly one hour, making 25 arrests, while some officers traveled further afield onto private property and the U-M campus, using tear gas and flares to illuminate gatherings that had reformed there.
Following the dispersal of the crowd, the area remained relatively quiet, with the exception of periodic police routings of stragglers, until around midnight when another crowd of about 800 gathered near U-M President Robben Fleming’s house a little further west on South University Avenue. Fleming appeared briefly, trying but failing to calm down the crowd. Ken Kelly, a staff member of the Ann Arbor Argus, an underground newspaper, also tried in vain to persuade the crowd to move away.
During this period, President Fleming also engaged in a heated conversation with Sheriff Harvey, urging him to exercise restraint. Deputy Chief Olson, the other key command officer on the scene, agreed to grant the president some time, but when one of his riot officers was hit by a brick thrown from the crowd, he and Sheriff Harvey ordered their officers to advance. With the crowd still throwing rocks and officers swinging clubs, the confrontation split into three segments, one moving west on South University Avenue, others moving north or south on East University Avenue, and officers pursuing factions down side streets.
By 2:00 am it was over, with 47 arrests. Roughly half of those arrested were charged with “contention in the street,” a misdemeanor; the other half were charged with inciting a riot, a violation of Michigan’s new riot statute that was put in place following the Detroit Riots in 1967 and which was punishable by up to ten years in prison and/or a fine of up to $10,000. Several persons arrested were treated at hospitals for injuries sustained by police, and fifteen police officers were injured by flying rocks, bottles, and, in one instance, a flurry of cherry bombs.
President Fleming and Ann Arbor Mayor Robert Harris quickly issued statements generally supportive of police action; however, Fleming suggested that the use of tear gas caused more excitement than it helped. Other attendees, including Detroit News photographer James Hubbard, disagreed with this assessment of the previous night’s police action, stating that it was worse than what he’d experienced first-hand during the 1967 Detroit Riots.
Wednesday, June 18
During the day on June 18, an ad hoc alliance of local radicals and student government officials (the Radical Caucus, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Rent Strike Committee) staged a rally on central campus attended by nearly 1,000 people, including President Fleming, who urged students to remain calm. Lawrence (Pun) Plamondon, a leader in the White Panther Party, spoke on behalf of the group and asked the audience for a vote on whether they should demand that South University Avenue be closed immediately to make a pedestrian mall. The vote was turned down.
Meanwhile, hoping to avoid another night of conflict, university and city officials scheduled a free rock concert for 8:30 pm in Jefferson Plaza near the U-M Administration Building. During the concert, which was attended by roughly 2,000 people, Mayor Harris addressed the crowd, promising to appoint a special City Council committee to look into the viability of creating a pedestrian mall on South University Avenue or elsewhere in the vicinity. Several other university and city officials, including most members of Ann Arbor City Council, circulated among the crowd to talk with attendees and urge restraint.
There was no police presence at the concert. However, across town on South University Avenue, in anticipation of repeated conflict in that area, law enforcement presence included 300 police officers from six different agencies, an armored car with machine guns, and a police helicopter overhead.
No confrontations occurred during this period on South University Avenue, with most newspaper accounts describing a festive atmosphere and crowds diminishing by 11:00 pm. Shortly thereafter, however, a crowd once again began to form, blocking traffic in the street. When university officials and local clergy both failed to break it up, Deputy Chief Olson ordered roughly 200 police officers to either end of South University and, using a pincer movement with rifles leveled and bayonets fixed, closed in on the crowd.
20 arrests were made and two civilian injuries reported, including that of Dr. Edward Pierce, a physician, former Ann Arbor City councilman, mayoral candidate, and local Democratic Party chairman, who had attended at the request of U-M students for a trained medical presence. Dr. Pierce stated that police knocked him to the ground, struck him repeatedly with billy clubs, and dragged him 30 yards to the prisoner bus. Police claimed in return that Dr. Pierce had crossed the line of officers. He was arrested on a felony riot charge that was dropped the next morning.
Thursday, June 19, and the Aftermath
Although the atmosphere on South University Avenue remained somewhat tense on the following evening, Thursday, June 19, and police were held in a staging area nearby, city and university officials gambled that civilian peacekeeping efforts would be more effective than a show of police force - and their gamble paid off. Crowds thinned out by midnight and dispersed for good around 2:00 am when it started to rain heavily.
By most accounts, the confrontation between local law enforcement and factions of Ann Arbor’s counterculture - what the Detroit Free Press called “The Battle of Ann Arbor” - was a draw. Officials looking into the cause of the riot would later suggest that some attendees in the crowd that first night, June 16, may have been motivated to act out of frustration after attending a City Council meeting earlier that evening where they learned their favorite rock concerts at West Park would be canceled due to citizen complaints. However, the consensus seems to be that what started in the spirit of fun, or even frustration, never amounted to a serious or calculated take-over of South University property, despite attempts by more radical elements among the crowd to turn events in that direction.
The left and right were also divided on the use of police force. Letters to the city's newspaper, The Ann Arbor News, were strongly pro-police; whereas letters to the university’s student-run newspaper, The Michigan Daily, where almost universally anti-police and, in particular, anti-Sheriff Douglas Harvey. Ann Arbor Mayor Robert Harris was attacked from both sides - from the right for not hitting hard enough and from the left for not doing enough to hold back the police.
It could have been a quintessential success story about a young entrepreneur-scientist starting a hobby in the basement of his home and within 20 years turning it into a multi-million-dollar international business.
And it is that story – of how a University of Michigan graduate student named Charles Gelman in 1958 began working on a process to make micro-porous filters, used to detect air and water pollution, among other applications. He built his Gelman Sciences into one of the leading industries in the Ann Arbor area.
But over time the glowing business narrative instead became a history forever tainted by a chemical called 1,4-dioxane. A probable carcinogen once used in Gelman’s manufacturing process, dioxane polluted soil and groundwater at the company’s Scio Township plant, and it eventually spread into a large plume of underground contamination in northwest Ann Arbor.
Pollution problems at Gelman were first reported in 1968 and 1969, but there was surprisingly little regulatory action and sparse news coverage. Fifteen years later, in 1984, the word “dioxane” first appeared in news coverage. It was suspected in Third Sister Lake near Gelman and confirmed in nearby wells the following year. The cumulative effect of the slow-moving investigation and remediation grew more serious by the week, month, and year. Revelations included the fact that Gelman had sprayed tainted wastewater on its lawns as a way to get rid of it. Overflows and leaks at its two unlined storage lagoons contributed. State regulations were so weak that a judge at one point ruled in favor of Gelman’s contention that it had done nothing wrong. Yet dozens of homeowners were told to stop using their wells and were supplied with bottled water. Negotiations emerged over who would pay for connecting the affected residents to the Ann Arbor water system. In one of the more bizarre developments, Gelman employees went door to door, scheduling times and paying for residents to shower in a local hotel. Gelman and the state sued each other; residents sued Gelman; the legal wrangling was as slow as the progress monitoring and treating the pollution.
Millions of gallons of tainted groundwater have been extracted, treated, and re-injected into the ground. Dozens of test wells have been drilled in an attempt to track the spread of the contamination. The major concern, even still in 2016, is whether the underground plume will eventually migrate into Barton Pond on the Huron River, the major supplier of water for Ann Arbor.
It is a definition of irony: A major water pollution clean-up caused by a company that made filters to detect water pollution. This story of business success intertwined with environmental disaster is laid out in hundreds of Gelman-related articles published in The Ann Arbor News from the early 1960s until the newspaper closed in 2009. (Note: Gelman Sciences was sold to the Pall Corporation in 1997, so most news coverage now calls it the “Pall Corp. clean-up” even though dioxane use was discontinued while Gelman still owned the company. Also, Pall was acquired by the Danaher Corporation in 2015 though the Pall name was retained.)
The library’s completion of the Gelman digitization in early 2016 is a remarkable coincidence, coming only a few months into another major Michigan water contamination case – in Flint – that has focused national and international attention on public water supplies. The articles also provide valuable context as Ann Arbor public officials in early 2016 are making yet another push to find more funding to pay for the continued monitoring and clean-up of the dioxane.
The reader of this collective history is left pondering the degree to which the environmental damage and tens of millions of dollars in cleanup costs could have been reduced with more aggressive action when the pollution was first discovered. Many questions remain regarding the culpability of the company and why it wasn’t monitored more aggressively by local, state, and national agencies tasked with guarding public health and the environment.
Reading the reporting with the benefit of hindsight frequently proves maddening: How could society care so little about toxic waste being dumped directly into the environment? It shows that public opinion and regulations have changed considerably over the decades.
Despite the frustrating parts of the history, there are also positive, even inspirational, elements. In the category of Individuals Can Make a Difference, here are two citizens who deserve applause:
The dioxane pollution was first reported in 1984 by Daniel Bicknell, a graduate student in the U-M Department of Environmental and Industrial Health and a candidate for Washtenaw County Drain Commission. He took water samples at Third Sister Lake, just east of the Gelman complex, that were tested at the U-M Institute of Science and Technology. His results were met with skepticism by a water quality specialist for the state Department of Natural Resources. “I’m inclined to believe Bicknell’s data isn’t worth a toot. It’s extremely suspect,” the state regulator said. Bicknell persevered, asking for a county grant to study the issue and convincing area residents to petition for water testing. Those results a year later came back positive. Sixteen months after Bicknell’s discovery, the same DNR official had changed his tune, worrying that the initial dioxane might be from just the edge of a plume and greater pollution might be found in other areas, noting, “It’s extremely important we find out.” Bicknell had thought so a year and a half earlier. Bicknell went on to a career with the Environmental Protection Agency, but came full-circle in 2015, returning to consult with local officials on the continuing Pall pollution clean-up.
Roger Rayle is another citizen who has performed admirable public service on this issue for the last 30 years or so. His name is regularly sprinkled throughout the news stories beginning in the mid-1990’s. He is the co-founder and leader of Scio Residents for Safe Water, a watchdog group that has relentlessly monitored Gelman and the public officials in charge of the clean-up. Since the group’s inception in 1995, Rayle has attended countless meetings to gather data, document regulations, evaluate compliance, update maps, and urge more effective and timely solutions. Rayle, also a member of the Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane, told The Ann magazine in its March 2016 edition that his advocacy started after he went to a community meeting about the Gelman pollution and was shocked by what he heard. “I imagine I probably felt like a lot of people who are in Flint do. How could this happen? Why isn’t somebody in charge of this? Why aren’t they solving the problem?” Thirty years later, Rayle is still offering his knowledge as part of the solution.
<p><a data-cke-saved-href=" http:="" oldnews.aadl.org="">View all historical articles on Gelman Sciences and the Pall-Gelman contamination and cleanup
<p><a data-cke-saved-href=" http:="" oldnews.aadl.org="">View all historical articles on Gelman Sciences and the Pall-Gelman contamination and cleanup.
Additional information: The Coalition for Action on Remediation of Dioxane (CARD) site has maps of the dioxane plume and other recent information. AADL carries "Various reports on the dioxane pollution", by Gelman Sciences, Inc., in the 3rd floor Reference area, which includes documents prior to 2008. The remaining documents are at the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Gelman Sciences, Inc. Site of Contamination Page.
DEQ proposes tougher cleanup standard to protect residents from dioxane (MLive, March 15, 2016)
Lynn Monson is a freelance journalist from Dexter. He was an assistant metro editor at The Ann Arbor News from 1995 until that iteration of the newspaper was closed in 2009.
People were so desperate to save their children from the dreaded disease of polio, that when the first vaccines were sent to Ann Arbor in 1955, they were stored at the police department in a refrigerator, locked with a chain around it. Just three weeks previously, on April 12, Dr. Thomas Francis of the U-M’s School of Public Health had made the momentous announcement that the vaccine developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, which used killed polio viruses to give immunity, was “safe, effective and potent.”
“Vaccine will end polio as a major health threat,” was the headline in the April 12, 1955 Ann Arbor News, shortly after Francis gave his report at Rackham Auditorium. The announcement was made in Ann Arbor because of the key role the University of Michigan had played in the vaccine’s development. Francis, who had earlier developed a flu vaccine, joined U-M’s Public Health Department in 1941, followed the next year by Salk, who Francis had mentored at New York University. Salk left in 1947 for a job at the University of Pittsburgh, where he developed the polio vaccine using tools he had learned from Francis.
Francis was hired by the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (often called the March of Dimes after its major fundraiser) to conduct tests to determine if Salk’s vaccine worked and was safe. Using blind studies so that none of the almost two million children who were tested knew whether they were receiving the vaccine or a placebo, he found that it met both criteria. The children who had received the placebo were at the head of the line to get the real vaccine.
On April 11, the day before Francis presented his report, officials from the polio foundation and the scientific world began arriving by train. They were welcomed with much fanfare at the New York Central Station (now the Gandy Dancer). The most important arrival was Salk, who came with his wife and three boys. The two oldest had been born in the old maternity wing of University Hospital, which by an interesting coincidence had been turned into Francis’s evaluation office where he and his assistants did the monumental job of collating the data, which in the days before computers was very labor intensive. Pictures show rows of file cabinets, a card catalog, and piles and piles of papers.
Francis had refused to give any prior information on his findings, not even a hint if they were positive or negative, saying he wanted to make absolutely sure that everything was accounted for. He presented his report at a closed meeting by invitation only. As well as scientists, the audience included 400 reporters. When Francis finished, copies of his report were wheeled in on a cart. The reporters started grabbing them and running to telephones to phone their respective newspapers, magazines, radio and TV networks. A room had been set aside for the reporters with four teletype machines and ten tables with seating for six people sharing three phones. The Ann Arbor News let the AP use their darkroom to send pictures to their wire services.
Three weeks after Francis announced his findings, local children began getting the vaccine. On April 29, 1955, one hundred volunteer doctors began vaccinating first and second graders at thirty area schools. The newspaper was filled with pictures of brave children getting their shots. The 7000 doses were provided by the polio foundation. They arrived at the county health department a few days earlier and were stored at the police department.
The county health department found the money to buy enough vaccine to inoculate the more than a thousand children receiving welfare support, again using volunteer doctors. The rest of population went through their private doctors. The physicians were so overwhelmed with calls that a post card system was set up for parents to send in and even these got so out of hand that the doctors asked that parents only request shots for children at least one year old and not yet in first grade. The decision to start with the younger children was no doubt made because that was the age group most likely to die of the disease. Parental permission forms were needed but hardly any parents refused. In the first batch, out of 804, only ten said no.
Ann Arbor, like the rest of the nation, had been grappling with polio for years before the vaccine. The first mention in the Ann Arbor News was in 1934 when a National Committee of Birthday Balls was organized across the nation on FDR’s birthday, with money earmarked for polio research. The local ball committee included Ann Arbor’s mayor Robert Campbell and the editor of the Ann Arbor News Arthur Stace. In the following years the Ann Arbor News was filled with human interest articles about victims coping with the dreaded disease- a women spending half the day in therapy and the other half learning accounting, a girl playing the piano, a boy able to ride a bike while wearing braces. The public library loaned out a device so sufferers in the hospital who couldn’t raise their head could read on the ceiling.
There was also much fundraising - kids having backyard carnivals or circuses, a bake sale at the hospital, newspaper drives, service clubs like the Eagles taking on projects. The metal workers and the electrical unions made replicas of iron lungs that could be used as canisters to put money in. The March of Dimes was a yearly event when mothers went door to door collecting money, often in dimes. (FDR’s picture is on the dime for this reason.) These articles continued after the announcement of the vaccine, but began to taper off as more people were protected.
Francis died in 1969. Salk, who died in 1995, returned to Ann Arbor twice. In 1977 he was the featured speaker at that year’s U-M Medical School graduation. In 1995, he made another visit, this one on April 12, exactly 40 years after the announcement that his vaccination was effective and safe and at the same place, Rackham Auditorium, to be honored by the March of Dimes. At that time he said his work was focused on finding a vaccine against HIV.
On February 23, 1935 the Ann Arbor Daily News announced the formation of a “Civic Amateur Theatre Group intended to meet the need for a dramatic organization in Ann Arbor.” It was open to anyone, not just those interested in appearing in plays but also those who were willing to work behind the scenes.
The group had begun in 1929 as a private club that met in homes and school rooms. When they invited the general public to join, they already had 250 members and had chosen a play to be put on in a month, The Late Christopher Bean by Sidney Howard. Their second production, in May of 1935, featured dance and music as well as two one-act plays to “offer a representative resume of the many talents and interests of the members.” The News reported that the group “follows the idea of English community drama” and that they were obviously filling “a real need in Ann Arbor.”
In the fall they started a new season with meetings every other week at the Michigan Union, alternating between laboratory productions and play reading. After the meetings they had a social time with “cigarettes and coffee.” One of the lab productions was a one-act play written by a local man, Dr. Harold Whitehall, the assistant editor of the Middle English Dictionary.
Their public performances were usually comedies or mysteries. Anyone familiar with pre- World War II movies will recognize many of the titles such as You Can’t Take It With You, Easy Living and Arsenic and Old Lace. They used the Michigan Union Small Ballroom for their lab productions, but moved into bigger venues for their public shows, starting with school auditoriums and later into Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre.
Their shows got wide coverage in the News and were enthusiastically reviewed. Women participants were identified by a “Mrs.” in front of their husband’s name and addresses were always given. Where one lived was evidently an important identifier in those days. Although reports always sound like the group was doing great, a later article stated that they were beset with money worries during this time. Not surprising, since Ann Arbor, like the rest of the country, was in the midst of the great depression.
In 1942 they reincorporated as the “Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, removing “amateur” from the title. They continued operating during the first two years of World War II and put on several fundraisers to help finance the Chamber of Commerce’s War Services Office. They disbanded from 1944-46 when they found it hard to keep going with a shortage of manpower.
When the Civic Theatre reconvened in 1947, they could no longer use the Michigan Union as their headquarters. Soaring enrollments, with veterans returning to school on the GI bill, meant the Union was needed for university functions. The Civic Theatre rented space at 305 ½ Main for rehearsals and scenery building until the city let them use the old log cabin at Burns Park. When the log cabin was torn down to make room for a park shelter, they moved to an abandoned one-room school at Wagner and Ellsworth. They continued to use area theaters for their public productions. My Sister Eileen was their first post war show, followed by The Late George Apley, a benefit for the police department to buy a new cruiser.
In 1951 they hosted their first awards banquet. Ted Heusel, who had joined the year before, received two “Oscars” for performing and directing Strange Bedfellows, a play that the reviewer said was “as easy to take as an innerspring mattress.” Heusel stayed involved for many years, sometimes directing all the plays in a season. When, because of failing health, he stepped down in 1994, he estimated that he had acted or directed in over 200 shows. His wife, Nancy Heusel, often played leading ladies, both under his direction and those of others.
In the post-war years the Civic Theatre widened their offerings. War-themed plays were a staple such as Mr. Roberts, Stalag 17, and Diary of Anne Frank. Works of major playwrights were presented - Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Clifford Odets, George Bernard Shaw. It was productions of Miller’s All My Sons and Shaw’s Major Barbara that so impressed Burnette Staebler, that she became active in the Civic Theatre, both as an actor and a director. In a later interview she said, “I decided this was a group that was interested not just in being a little social club that gives plays for fun, but were really interested in doing the very best job that amateurs can do.”
Reviewers were also taking them more seriously, sometimes actually critical of productions, something that they had not done in the “amateur” days. In 1957 when the group first tried to do Shakespeare, the reviewer wrote “Merchant of Venice too much for Civic Theatre.” Undeterred, the next year they put on Julius Caesar, offering special matinees for junior and senior high school students.
The introduction of musicals was better received. The reviewer wrote in 1958 that the production of Guys and Dolls was better than expected, saying it “draws skeptical critic’s raves.” From then on musicals were a staple and always an audience pleaser. In 1958 Heusel directed Mia Mine, a play by his friend Harriet Bennett Hamme, daughter of the notorious Harry Bennett, henchman of Henry Ford. Although Hamme admitted that the play takes place in a mansion similar to the one she grew up in, she said none of the characters were based on living people. As a student at the University of Michigan, she had earned a Hopwood Award for the play.
Real life events intervened at the October, 7, 1960 production of Darkness at Noon when the curtain at Mendelssohn was delayed until 8:45 to allow the audience time to watch the Kennedy - Nixon debate, which was to end at 8:30. They also had two televisions in the lobby.
The group was able to expand its work space in 1961 when the city gave them temporary space in the unused utility building at 803 W. Washington, at the end of Mulholland. They bought the building the next year. With financial contributions, plus lots of volunteer hours and donated materials, they built a meeting room, studio for classes, rehearsal space, storage for sets and props, and a costume room and theater space that seated 66 people.
In 1967 they began their “Summer Workshop Programs” which they described as “plays having an experimental flavor that otherwise wouldn’t be produced by the group.” The first offering was two plays by Ionesco. This model of presenting more daring plays in their own space continued in other locations, albeit with different names. The more mainstream plays were always put on in area theaters.
Beyond their own volunteer base, they had lots of support in the community when specific needs arose. When they needed coconuts for The Night of the Iguana they put a request in the News that people visiting Florida bring some back. Florida visitors as well as Delta Airlines responded to the plea. When they needed a goat for The Rose Tattoo, they borrowed Henry from a nearby farm, who is shown in pictures looking totally bewildered. In 1976 they had the use of a real Walker and Company carriage for Oklahoma! The carriages were made in the building now home to the Ann Arbor Art Association. The costume room was full of contributions from people’s attics.
In 1969 U-M student Gilda Radner, later of Saturday Night Live fame, played the lead in She Stoops to Conquer. The play received rave reviews with her performance rated the best. “However, the one who is so suited to her role it seems she almost was made for it, or vice versa, is Gilda Radner,” wrote long time News drama critic Norman Gibson.
In 1979, having outgrown the W. Washington space, they put a down payment on the Elks building at 338 S. Main. It had ample room for all their behind the scenes activities: set making, costume room, box office, meetings, rehearsals, and storage. It also had room to create a performance area they dubbed the “Main Street Stage” to replace the “Summer Workshop Programs.” Their old building was converted to apartments and later into condos.
In 1984, in honor of their upcoming 50th anniversary, they revived their first play, The Late Christopher Bean. Although outdated, it got rave reviews from the News’ Christopher Potter who said without the talented cast it could have been a disaster, but instead was a wonderful resurrection of “a wispy little comedy from a dusty corner its languished in for half a century.”
Another revival occurred in 1986 when Ted Heusel repeated himself by Gypsy using much of the same cast that he used in 1964 including Judy Dow as Mama Rose. In an interview with The News, he laughed about how times had changed. In the 1964 production, there were police in the audience, responding to the complaint that there was stripping in the show. “There were just bumps and grinds, but it’s nothing today.” explained Heusel.
In 1987, after ten years of ownership, they sold the building. Money was tight and they had a good offer for its sale, so they moved into the American Legion Hall at 1035 S. Main. Because they were still on Main Street they kept the name “Main Street Stage,” for their more adventuresome productions.
In 1991 they bought a former roller skating rink at 2275 Platt, after what they called “seven decades of wandering in an architectural wilderness, no more temporary offices and converted meeting halls.” A clever repurposing by architect John Mouat created a versatile theater with seating for 175 in the area where there had been skating, plus three rehearsal rooms and a spacious lobby and snack bar.
They kept the same format, albeit with a name change. The more experimental plays were presented on site and were called “the Second Stage”, a name they changed three years later to “Footlight Productions” to clear up any misunderstandings that they were lesser offering. At the same time they changed “MainStage,” the name for their bigger productions in downtown theaters to “CenterStage.”
In 2000 they sold their building to Vineyard Christian fellowship, a church out of Milan. They had not raised as much money as they had hoped and were unable to make the big balloon payments coming up. They had a large volunteer base but never seemed to be able to raise enough money for brick and mortar establishments. They temporarily moved into the old Performance Network space at 408 W. Washington, which was empty because the building was soon to be torn down for the building of the new Ann Arbor Y. They called that venue “Ann Arbor Civic Downtown.”
In 2004 they moved to 322 West Ann, into rented quarters. “We would not want to own outright again ….We learned the hard way that’s not what our membership is really interested in,” said program director Cassie Mann in a 2004 interview. The Oldnews Collection, which ends in 2009, records the many plays they put on in that time, using their time tested system of smaller offering in their home base and bigger ones in area theaters.
Take a look at the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre programs to follow over 80 years of amazing shows. Relive the shows you saw or discover new ones with cast lists, notes from A2CT presidents and directors, and hundreds of advertisements from local businesses who sponsored A2CT shows over the years.
AADL has digitized hundreds of articles from the Ann Arbor News documenting the history of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre as it happened, starting with the announcement of the first play and following through years of great performances. Read the previews and reviews of plays gone by and learn about the ups and downs of putting on over 80 years of shows.
Let your memory of past shows be rekindled (or see glimpses of what you missed) with this collection of photographs of the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre. Photos include those taken by A2CT and many by Ann Arbor News photographers of performances, rehearsals, behind the scenes work, and even theatre buildings.
At the dedication in 1991 of the second addition to the downtown library, director Ramon Hernandez explained that his goal was to have the library be strong in three areas: children’s services, reference, and popular materials. This collection of Ann Arbor News articles shows that these were goals from the very beginning.
The first article, dated 1886, is an editorial written when the library was still part of the high school, then at the corner of State and Huron (site of today’s North Quad), and the first librarian, Nellie S. Loving, was just three years into her almost 40 year tenure. The headline reads “GOOD READING FREE: The Public Library of this City and the Good it is Doing.” Although there had been earlier lending libraries in Ann Arbor, this was the first free one. Starting in 1883, on Wednesdays from 4 to 5 p.m. the high school’s collection of 2,500 books was available to check out by anyone in the school district over fourteen years of age. The library remained connected with the public school system until 1995. When the high school library opened to the public, the main subscription library in town was the Ladies Library Association, who deeded their collection of 4,600 books to the public library in 1908.
After the 1886 article, the collection jumps to 1930 when the first article is fittingly about children reading, always a key mission. That summer young people could join the “Around the World Club” and after reading ten books about different countries and writing reports on them, were congratulated on having completed the “Library Cruise.” A picture shows the participants in front of the library, the façade of which is now preserved on the Huron Street side of North Hall. Summer reading programs continued for many years using themes such as Paul Bunyan, Space Ships, and Knights. Activities the rest of the year included story hours, talks on children’s books, children’s book week, reading clubs, and displays of children’s books. When the bookmobile was introduced in 1954, it was touted as a way that children could more easily get books. In the summer it stopped at all the supervised playgrounds.
From the beginning, the library worked to be relevant to current conditions. The second article in the 1930s section, dated 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, is headlined “Unemployed Make Wide Use of Public Library.” Otto Haisley, superintendent of schools, boasted what a community resource the library continued to be, giving the unemployed a chance to make good use of their unsought time for leisure.
After World War II, technology began creeping in. In 1947 the Lions Club raised money to buy devices that allowed bedridden people to read on the ceiling, available to check out of the library as long as a letter from a doctor was produced. In 1952 microfilm readers were introduced to save space. The collection started with seventeen magazines, which the New York Times and Ann Arbor News was soon to be added. Library director Homer Chance offered to show anyone how to use the readers. The next year a drop off box, looking very much like a mail box, was underwritten by the Kiwanis and the Friends of the Library. It could take books, but not phonographs, which by then had been added to their list of library offerings. A picture of Homer Chance demonstrating its use appeared in the paper as he stopped his car on a less than now trafficked Huron Street.
Ann Arbor High School moved to West Stadium when the buildings that housed the library and the high school were sold to the University of Michigan and renamed the Frieze Building. After much discussion, the public library decided to stay downtown. They hired Midland architect Alden Dow to design a building on a site they had purchased at the corner of Fifth Avenue and William Street. Dow demonstrated his motto, “gardens never begin and buildings never end” by placing a garden on the roof of the veranda that ran across the front of the building, as well as a second one at ground level in the front of the building. A 1961 picture shows forsythia blooming on top of the veranda.
Ground breaking for the new building at 343 South Fifth Avenue took place in October 1956. Its progress was well documented in photos, starting with the basement being dug and ending with staff filling the shelves with books. The final cost was $170,000. Pictures of the interior show an open floor plan with lots of natural light, outfitted with modern furniture of the day. The card catalogue was prominently placed where it could be seen when people entered. There was enough room that students were encouraged to study there. Upstairs a listening room allowed patrons to enjoy music or spoken word records. At the dedication in 1957, Howard Peckham, director of the University of Michigan’s Clements Library, said the new library “added an extra room to each of our houses.” He continued that even with TV, movies, and automobiles “nothing replaces the printed book.”
Once settled into the new building the library began adding services such as delivery of books to seniors in 1968 and a circulating art print collection in 1969. In 1986 a compact disc collection was added to the items that could be checked out, followed with video tapes the next year. In 1969 they inaugurated a Black Studies collection. 1974 they published a list of non-sexist children’s books.
The Friends of the Library, organized to help the new library, began holding book fairs every May. The first one, held in 1954 on the grounds where the new library was to be built, was to raise money to buy a bookmobile. After the library was finished, they held the sales on the long front porch, a perfect place protected by the roof of the veranda. The News helped them with publicity by running pictures each year of the ladies, all described by a Mrs. in front of their husband’s names, sorting boxes and boxes of donated books. At the 1962 sale the women dressed in nineteenth-century garb to emphasize that the proceeds were to be used to publish Lela Duff’s Ann Arbor Yesterdays, based on a series of newspaper articles on historic subjects that she wrote.
In 1965 the first branch library opened, named after first librarian Nellie S. Loving. Located on the east side of town at 3042 Creek Drive, just off Packard, it served residents of the neighborhood that had until 1957 been the separate village of East Ann Arbor. Local architect David Osler designed a modern building with floor to ceiling windows and sky lights. Coupled with modern furniture it was very welcoming. In 1966 Osler received an award for the building from the Michigan Society of Architects.
In 1974 the downtown library celebrated the completion of a 20,000 square foot addition that extended straight east behind the original building. Designed by Donald Van Curler, its purpose was to create more seating and shelving space. Wells of windows that created sunny places for patrons to sit and an enclosed garden on the south side fit well with Dow’s original conception.
The second branch library was completed in 1977, this one on the west side of town in the Maple Village Shopping center. A few years later, in 1983, it moved across Jackson Road to the Westgate Shopping Center. A third branch opened in 1981 in the Plymouth Mall Shopping Center and was expanded 1985.
A second addition was opened in 1991 at the downtown library. Osler Milling added two floors to the Van Curler addition, renovated the older part, and updated mechanical systems to handle increased use of technology. The first computer room was established with three PCs available for patrons to use.
The library was named “Library of the Year” of 1997 by the Library Journal, a national publication. They were becoming more computerized and making plans for new branches when, in 2000, an independent audit showed not only a deficit that the board had not known about, but also that money being embezzled by the finance director. He was arrested and found guilty, but it still left the library with the problem of funding. The board cut expenses, tabled plans for new branches, and raised the millage.
The next year, then-director Mary Anne Hodel left for a new job and the head children’s librarian, Josie Parker, was named interim director. In 2002 she was asked to stay on as permanent director. She started the job with the debt paid off and staff support evinced by the fact that about a dozen attended the board meeting, clapping when she was formally hired.
In 2004 the Malletts Creek Branch opened to replace the Nellie Loving library, which after almost fifty years of use was too small and out of date. Designed by Carl Luckenbach, Mallets Creek was done with attention to latest green strategies and with new technologies including the first self-checkout machines. In 2006 Pittsfield opened to better serve people in the south side of the district library area. Again designed by Luckenbach, it too paid attention to energy efficiently. Parker suggested it could be used for community space and that children could come and run around, a complete turnaround from traditional library philosophy. Traverwood, replacing the Northeast branch, opened in 2008. Architects Van Tine/Guthrie of Northville took the green strategy a step further by using local trees that had been devastated by the Emerald ash borer.
The archive ends in 2009 after Parker negotiated a deal with the Ann Arbor News to obtain their archives after they had stopped publishing a daily print edition.
The Old News collection of Ann Arbor News articles and photos on the Ann Arbor Garden Club spans more than 80 years, starting in 1930, and chronicles not only changes in the club itself, but in women’s role in the world. When the club started in 1930, it was an era when women were known by their husband’s name with a Mrs. in front of it and took their position in society based on his profession.
The club was formed by a merger of three community groups - The Garden Sections of the Faculty Women’s Clubs, the Woman’s Club of Ann Arbor, and the Ann Arbor Garden Club. Of these three entities, the faculty women’s club appears to be the most active. They had started a yearly garden show in 1926, held in the Hudson-Essex agency on East Washington, and in the years following, at the Detroit Edison building (where the Detroit Edison parking lot is now). Their most memorable activity, a year before the merger, was a visit to Mrs. Henry Ford’s garden arranged by Mrs. Ford’s sister, a Mrs. Grant, the president of the Dearborn garden club.
The new garden club’s mission was “to make Ann Arbor beautiful by improving individual gardens.” Most of the meetings were held in the afternoon, possible in the days when women generally didn’t work out of the home. Their events - elections of officers, meetings in homes, speakers, public service projects - were given full coverage in the Ann Arbor News, often accompanied with pictures of women posing in their gardens dressed in formal attire. The Ann Arbor Garden Club was the first federated garden club in Michigan and took a leadership role in the state as other communities organized.
In the early days the emphasis was on educating themselves and the community on the basics of gardening. Meetings were full of practical information such as the use of herbs or how to grow vegetables. Special interest groups led meetings with talks on their specialties such roses or perennial shrubs. Eli Gallup, the city’s first superintendent of parks, spoke to the group on trees and soil. Larger events open to the public included “A Pilgrimage to God’s First Temples,” a noted expert speaking in 1935 on his “round the world trip to see the rarest and most beautiful trees, illustrated with tinted stereopticon pictures which his wife had colored using notes from the trip.” A 1940s program featured a plant geneticist showing stereopticon pictures “in natural colors of flower fields in Michigan and California.” A talk from the associate editor of Better Homes and Gardens was co-sponsored by U-M’s school of landscape design.
In the summer the club organized garden walks, open only to members, where they visited a selection of each other’s gardens. The garden shows, however, were open to the public as part of the club’s effort to improve gardens city wide. Called the “Ann Arbor Citizen’s Flower Show,” the only requirement was that the flowers be grown in Ann Arbor. During the months leading up to the show, the News articles were full of requests for people to participate, even with clip out entry forms and ads in the paper during the event urging people to attend.
To beautify public areas of the city, the club at various times provided flowers for the Michigan League, the public library, and the post office. In 1937 they sponsored a City Beautiful contest, giving awards for gardens in a wide array of categories such as homes, industry, businesses, fraternities and sororities, and institutions. They also visited schools to teach children about gardening and nature and helped them build bird houses.
In 1938 the Ann Arbor Garden club hosted the state convention of the Federated Garden Clubs. In addition to many displays - how to do ikebana, drawings and photos of plants - the event included visits to prominent member’s gardens. Mrs. James Inglis, considered the club’s founding mother, invited attendees to breakfast. (Her house on Highland has been owned by U-M since 1951.) Mrs. Harry Earhart invited people to tea at her house (now part of Concordia) to see her gardens complete with one of the rare green houses in town. The event ended with a ball at the Michigan Union with gardenias given as favors. The Ann Arbor News photo shows Mrs. Alexander Ruthven, wife of U-M president, presenting a flower to Mrs. Frederick Coller, whose husband was head of U-M’s Department of Surgery.
Hospital work varied but was always one of their major projects. In the 1941, after hearing a talk on flower arranging, they decided to start every meeting with a member demonstrating a different arrangement, after which the sample was given to the hospital. In 1942 they committed themselves to keeping the ninth floor of University Hospital filled with flowers. They first collected vases that their members were not using. They then arranged that every Wednesday members could bring flowers to the ambulance entrance and hand their contributions to an attendant, thus avoiding the need to park.
The first mention of World War II in the garden club articles occurred in January 1942, a month after Pearl Harbor, when members putting together the club book announced that it “was designed to meet war conditions.” They assured the group that they had taken into account a shortage of materials and increased costs and added information on Victory Gardens. The club finished out the year with a speaker on vegetables and a garden walk, after which there is no mention of the garden club for the next seven years. These same ladies were no doubt using their organizational skills to do war work. See “Ann Arbor Goes to War” in Old News.
Articles about the Garden Club reappeared in 1949 with the announcement of an exhibit at Clements Library that included books and drawings about flowers and gardening. In the post-war era the club returned to many of their original projects but with less of an emphasis on basic gardening techniques and more interest in the wider world. Their new beautification project was raising money for a Shakespeare Garden at the Michigan League. The garden was to contain plants mentioned in the Bard’s works. An art walk through selected gardens was organized, with sculpture loaned by the Forsythe Gallery. Programs often focused on other nations, such as a talk by a member who had returned from Japan on the gardens of that country or a Christmas program on Christmas tree decorations of others lands.
Club members were interested in, and became experts in, a new field called “garden therapy.” They worked with patients at the County Hospital (where the Meri Lou Murray Recreation Center now stands) teaching them how to make corsages and do flower arrangements. They visited children in University Hospital, showing them how to work with fresh flowers. They also continued working with children through the schools, planting bulbs at Eberwhite, working with Wines’ students to set up a flower show, helping Thurston students plant fir trees to later replant nearer the school building, and awarding a conservation scholarship to a teacher for summer camp at Higgins Lake.
The intense coverage the News gave the garden club in the pre-war years lessened as the town grew and more activities vied for attention. In the 1980s women gradually began being referred to by their Christian names, sometimes used interchangeably with Mrs. in the same article.
In 1991 the garden club took on the big job of reinstating the yearly garden shows, which they had stopped in World War II. After the war they held events that they called garden shows but they were small events reserved mainly for their members. The new one was, and is, for the whole community, as were the original ones. In 2001 garden club president, Kathy Fojtik encouraged “a large contingent of people to bring their plants, something they’ve spent time raising.”
In the twenty-first century the News gave the garden club much less coverage, with only an occasional article, usually about events open to the public such as an upcoming garden show or garden tour. The last one in the collection is a 2006 article noting that the garden club gave Matthaei Botanical Gardens a decorative garden gate.
Hill Auditorium, built in 1913, turned a hundred in 2013. To celebrate this milestone, the Ann Arbor District Library has scanned articles about the auditorium from the Ann Arbor News archives. Seen in the long perspective the changing programs mirror the interests and concerns of the community.
Hill Auditorium was built using $200,000 that Arthur Hill, U-M regent, alumnus, and Saginaw lumber baron, had left in his will for that purpose. It was the first university building on the north side of North University, replacing U-M professor Alexander Winchell’s 1858 octagon house. The auditorium was designed by Albert Kahn, best known for his Detroit factories but soon to become U-M’s most prolific architect with major buildings such as Angell Hall, Burton Tower, Hatcher Library, and the Clements Library to his credit.
It is generally agreed that Kahn was inspired by Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Building in Chicago for the exterior design of Hill. For the interior, he was guided by acoustic expert Hugh Tallant, who was brought in from New York. Although it was men such as Albert Stanley, Henry Frieze, and Francis Kelsey, founders of University Musical Society and the School Music, who had been lobbying for a better performance venue, U-M president Marion Burton told Tallant his assignment was to create a space where the whole student body could meet and be able to hear the speaker. Tallant’s final product did what they asked, but also created a wonderful space for music, attested to by the world famous performers who come back again and again. (See http://ums.org/UMS site.)
The dedication of Hill Auditorium, June 25, 1913, was headline news in that day’s paper. An hour-long parade led by a fife and drum corps, followed by a who’s who of important people and the whole senior class, wound its way from central campus to Hill. A vocal music program including the Messiah’s Hallelujah chorus opened the program, thus marking the first time the public heard music in the auditorium.
Four men made addresses, two representing the university and two from the state level but none from the music community. U-M emeritus President James B. Angell, who had been a personal friend of Arthur Hill, at the request of the Hill family, presented the building to the university and the state. U-M regent William Clements (himself to later be donor of the library that bears his name) accepted it for the university, while Governor Woodbridge Ferris and Senator Charles E. Townsend accepted it for the state. The latter is of interest in that from the beginning the auditorium was for all, not just the university community, which has indeed been the case.
Now best known for music, when the archive starts in Oct. of 1924, the events for the rest of the year included two music series and five talking programs. The latter consisted of the Choral Union and another series with the Sousa Band headlining. The spoken programs included two religious services, Vilhjalmur Steffansson on his Arctic adventures, a pro-League of Nations speaker, and a debate between U-M and the Oxford Union on prohibition. At the end of the evening, the packed auditorium voted for the U-M team who were on the pro side.
Spoken word events continued to lead for the rest of the 1920s although music was well represented especially with the May Festival, a three- and later four-day celebration of music which had begun in 1894 and continued until 1995. Notable speakers included Will Rogers and Theodore Roosevelt, the latter talking about his hunting trip in Central Asia. Interest in faraway places continued with a program on Mongolia and a visit from the Japanese ambassador encouraging friendship between the two countries. The auditorium was also used for local events such as a debate between Ann Arbor High School and Albion High School over government ownership of coal mines.
The 1930s continued with the same mix. May Festivals were supplemented the rest of the year by famous performers such as Paul Robeson, Ted Shawn, Sergei Rachmaninoff (listed as “Russian pianist”), Vladimir Horowitz, and the “boy violinist” Yehudi Menuhin. World events could be followed with an equally impressive roaster of speakers including Winston Churchill in 1932 warming that the world was facing disaster and Countess Alexandra Tolstoy, daughter of the novelist, explaining the problems in her former homeland. Other educational lectures included ones on Christian Science, historic Washington with “colored slides,” and a movie of the 1932 Olympics. Live theater ran the spectrum from a Broadway production of Robin Hood to a passion play for the religious minded. When famous cellist Gregor Piatigorsky played at Hill in 1937 his girlfriend, Jacqueline de Rothchild, accompanied him so that they could secretly marry away from her family in Europe. Alva Sink, wife of Charles Sink, head of University Musical Society, heard of their plans and insisted that the ceremony be in the Sink home.
By the end of the 1930s and into the first half of the 1940s, Hill was used mainly for war-related speakers, starting in 1939 with Eleanor Roosevelt, followed by foreign correspondents Leland Stowe and Anne O’Hare McCormick, Sinclair Lewis debating Lewis Browne on whether fascism could happen here, and Sen. Burton K. Wheeler sponsored by the campus anti-war group.
In 1948, with the war was over and people returning to civilian life, Charles A. Sink suggested that a bigger auditorium should be built to accommodate the increased university enrollment and more demand for concert tickets. Lack of funding, rather than appreciation for the building in the pre-historic preservation days, prevented the project. A year later a major updating of Hil, which an Ann Arbor News editorial described as “creeping over a third of a century,” was announced. The skylights were covered to allow better use of the auditorium during the daytime, the chandeliers taken down because they were considered too old fashioned, and a color scheme of maize and blue used throughout including painting the organ pipes those colors. In the next fifty years only minor changes were made. In 1964 a kiosk announcing coming programs was put around the stately elm in front, which stayed until 1977 when the elm was cut down. In 1973 Hill’s granddaughter donated a portrait of her grandfather. Repairs to the organ were regularly reported.
Interest in world affairs increased after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s lectures on this topic included a visit from the Philippine Ambassador, a debate with two senators over foreign policy, and a talk By Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins who is described as a “world traveler and analyst.“ Travelogues aimed not just at the curious but to the increasingly large group of foreign travelers became a staple. The effect of television on the movie industry could be seen in the upsurge of travelling shows put on by movie stars including Bette Davis, Ilka Chase, Basil Rathbone, and Burgess Meredith.
The red scare that hit the nation after World War II affected Hill. In May of 1950 a talk by Herbert Phillips, an avowed communist, was cancelled by the U-M regents. Students objected and tried to organize a student/faculty forum to discuss the topic, but that too was cancelled because they couldn’t find a faculty member willing to defend the ban. Fourteen years later, in 1964, the same issue arose, this time the controversial person, neo-Nazi George Rockwell, was allowed to speak, albeit with picketers and lots of heckling. In 1972, after an April Fools’ rally when in spite of no smoking rules, the U-M fire marshal reported that “smoking of marijuana did occur”, the rules were tightened with more conditions on rentals.
The most unusual use of Hill may have been in 1950 when “Buff” McCuster, a former skating partner of Sonja Henie, and a cast of 30 put on an ice show, “Icelandia,” using a portable ice rink. Another unusual program took place in 1956 when a hypnotist demonstrated his skill using volunteers from the audience.
The last part of the collection deals with the most recent restoration that updated systems while returning the décor to as close as possible to Albert Kahn’s original conception. Articles trace the project from its first suggestion in 1989, to approval by the regents in 1993 after a feasibility study, to work finally beginning in 2001, the delay due to slowness of getting donations.
We have several other collections to relating to the history of Hill Auditorium and the University Musical Society.
AADL has digitized several images of Hill Auditorium taken over several decades, including this wonderful photograph of Vladimir Horowitz by Ann Arbor News photographer, Jack Stubbs, as well as many others by News photographers Eck Stanger and Robert Maitland LaMotte.
AADL has digitized hundreds of photographs of UMS performances, including candid backstage shots in Hill Auditorium. This collection is part of UMS: A History of Great Performances, an archive of historical programs and photographs created in partnership with the University Musical Society.
AADL, in partnership with the University Musical Society, has digitized a full run of historical programs covering 100 years of concerts at Hill Auditorium and over 130 years of UMS concert history. The Programs Archive is available for browsing and full-text searching, and is part of UMS: A History of Great Performances.
Much has been written about World War II, but this collection of articles from the Ann Arbor News archives does something the general histories can’t: it provides a glimpse of how it would have felt to be living in Ann Arbor during the two years leading up to the war. Old News has culled through the The Ann Arbor News to find the articles from September 1939 to December 1941 that deal with local events related to WWII. The articles start on September 3, 1939, the day after Hitler invaded Poland and end December 12, 1941, five days after Pearl Harbor.
We see how everyone pitched in to help war-struck European countries, how they reacted to the draft, how local industry began gearing up to play their part in the Arsenal for Democracy, and how citizens strived to get educated about the situation. Advertisements for stores and movies add to the feel of what life was like then. People who were in Ann Arbor during those years, or who have family that was, will appreciate that Old News has included the names of people involved, so you can look them up with a simple search.
One of the first articles is an announcement that the Ann Arbor News had printed up 5,900 maps of the European War Zone to give to school age children. The maps, which included naval bases, the British blockade, and the topography of the area, aimed to give “an accurate and comprehensive picture of the war scene.”
When Europe suddenly became a war zone, Ann Arborites’ first concerns were for the safety of friends and relatives who were abroad. In the fall of 1939 the paper was full of stories of narrow escapes that sound like plots for movies. A student traveling home on a Norwegian freighter after bicycling around Europe survived three days on a lifeboat when his ship was sunk by a mine. Another student was briefly arrested on suspicion of being a Nazi spy while taking pictures in England. A report that a British boat with three U-M co-eds on it was torpedoed caused a lot of worry, but they were eventually reported to have reached Ireland. A local family visiting in England finally got passage on a mysterious boat that had been painted grey and was accompanied by an airplane escort. The News followed these and other stories until they could report that the people involved were safely home. Reacting to the fear that our country might be attacked, the local National Guard began holding maneuvers. On the state level, discussions began on how to make our highways strong enough for tanks.
War relief work, most of it organized by women, started almost immediately and was constant through all this period. Under the direction of the Red Cross, local women’s groups began making heavy winter clothes for people in the Balkans as well as Britain and France. At the end of November, the Soviet Union attacked Finland, and for the next few months most of the relief work was aimed directly at raising money to help the Finns. The Woman’s Club led by organizing an evening of songs and one-act plays followed by cards and sewing (called a thimble party). University musical organizations gave a concert to raise more money. Finnish dancers from Detroit headlined another fundraiser. Ann Arbor also hosted many refugees from war-torn Europe.
Although the U.S. was technically neutral until Pearl Harbor, it was clear from the beginning that public opinion was largely on the Allied side. However, there were a few dissenters. In December 1939 radio commentator H. V. Kaltenborn spoke at Hill advocating isolationism. In April of 1940, after another isolationist spoke at Hill, a Nazi flag, described as “a home-made banner, a painted bed sheet,” appeared on the flag pole by the Natural Science building. A month later the columns of Angell hall were painted with numbers one to four with a three-foot red swastika on the fifth, a reference to the “fifth column,” enemies within a state. Reaction in both cases was for officials to immediately take action to remove them. University officials called the latter action the work of “immature pranksters.”
When Germany invaded Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxemburg in May 1940, attention veered from Finland to those countries. The Red Cross opened a knitting center in a donated office in Nickels Arcade where they distributed yarn, and inspected and packed the returned items. Kline’s Department Store announced that people could drop off “old worn shoes, which still have many days wear in them,” in their shoe department to be sent to Europe. Later a Greek war relief committee was formed, made up of leading members of local Greek community as well as a few other community leaders who leant their names to the cause. Another group of about a hundred met every Tuesday to knit and sew for French children under the age of four.
In the summer of 1940 France fell, leading President Roosevelt to sign a peacetime conscription bill on September 16. The next day an article in the News explained that our county had been assigned to provide 250 or 260 conscripts, half from Ann Arbor and half from rest of county. On Oct. 16, all the men in Washtenaw County between the ages of 21-35 were told to show up at their election precinct to register for the draft. Volunteers were recruited to help with the paper work. On that date there were long lines of men waiting, but as the News reported they were “mostly good-natured.” In the following months names of the 14,586 registrants were drawn on a regular basis and those called were taken by bus or train into Detroit to be inducted into the army. In July a second registration was held for men who had turned 21 since October. In July 1941 the first draft objector mentioned was sent to a camp to perform work connected with the war.
Along with the draftees, there was a steady stream of enlistments, for the regular army, army pilots, navy, National Guard, and nurses. In 1940 Dr. Edgar Kahn, U-M brain surgeon, offered his services to the American Hospital in Paris. In January, 1941, Stanley Waltz, general manager of the Michigan Union, was called up for duty. By September 1941 twenty faculty members had asked for leave.
FDR’s agreement at the end of 1940 to supply Great Britain with war materials soon affected Washtenaw county as we geared up to do our part in the Arsenal for Democracy. Our most famous contribution was the Willow Run Bomber Plant, where the B-24 bombers were made. First mentioned in May of 1941 with two articles about its siting, it was a continuing story. In July 1941 King Seeley was awarded a contract to make 60 mm mortar ammunition shells and the next month American Broach was given a contract to make units used in gun construction. Soon there were articles complaining that there was a labor shortage, something that was not a problem in the Depression.
New war industry necessitated more materials. The month of July 1941 was devoted to a community-wide aluminum drive, starting with an organizational meeting at the Michigan Union at which most of the major service clubs were represented. The plan was to have two days of picking up contributions from neighborhoods and in addition to provide drop off sites. Wire contraptions called cribs built to hold donations were put on the courthouse house lawn and also on the Fifth Avenue side of the armory. On the days the pick-ups were scheduled, 25 trucks provided by local merchants were driven by volunteers, while fifty Boy Scouts went door to door. One volunteer reported that he was surprised when at one of the houses that he stopped at the resident gave him the coffee pot right off the stove, only to have it happen a second time. Another interesting contribution was from Randolph Adams, director of the Clements Library, who donated his World War I canteen. At the end of the drive Ann Arbor had collected 7,500 pounds of aluminum, almost four times over the goal they’d been given of 2,000. Ann Arbor also gave generously that summer to the USO Drive, raising money to build USO Centers across the United States.
After the successful aluminum drive, the next big push was to urge citizens to buy Defense Stamps. When the stamps, which were sold for 10 cents each, added up to $18.75, they could be exchanged for a Defense Bond worth $25 at maturity. A huge sign urging people to buy them was erected on courthouse lawn using volunteer labor and materials donated by local merchants. A group of high school girls and college co-eds were organized to pass out the cards that the stamps were affixed to. Store customers could take their change in stamps, while many companies offered to automatically deduct stamp purchases from wages. In Sept. ’41 it was announced that Ann Arbor led the nation in per capita buying of saving stamps at $39.77 per capita.
Relief work continued side by side with the military-based activities. While the projects moved around from country to country depending on which one was in the most trouble, English relief work was a constant. An on-going British war relief knitting group met in members’ homes. At the end of 1940 the Women’s Club planned 40 parties for English war relief to be held in private homes, doing what they did for fun but also for a good cause – suppers or desserts, cards including bridge, musicales. The proceeds from the 1941 Juniors on Parade, a yearly production by the Roy Hoyer Dance Studio to showcase the talents of their students, that year featuring military theme numbers, was used to buy a truck with a mobile kitchen to be sent to England. That May a group of women began making windbreaker jackets for British seaman using scrap leather from the car industry. Individual English children could be adopted by proxy for $30 a year, a project many locals participated in including a class at Angell School.
The local Red Cross was the key to much of this activity. They outgrew the office in Nickel’s’ Arcade, moving to what had been the directors’ office in the old Catherine Street hospital, and expanded from knitting sweaters to other knitted items such as mufflers, and mittens and to sewing clothes and quilts, which could be made right there on sewing machines they had at the headquarters. Surgical dressings were made in the Rackham Building. They commandeered all the help could get, such as people accompanying patients to the hospital. The ever-present Boy Scouts helped with the packing. To encourage more cooperation, garments were displayed at Mack and Co., the city’s biggest department store. July of 1941 they began training people for canteen service, followed a few months later by mechanics courses for women so they could become Red Cross drivers.
To feed the public demand for more information on the situation in Europe in the days when sources of news were more limited, there was a constant stream of public lectures. Early on they were mainly by U-M professors putting events in context vis a vis their specialties or their points of view. U-M President Alexander Ruthven felt called on to make pronouncements now and then. The public library, then on Huron, highlighted their collection of books relating to the subject. The local pundits were supplemented by national speakers, who came more often as the situation worsened. Already in 1939 two famous speakers had come to town, Mrs. Franklin Roosevelt (like all the club ladies she is not identified by her first name) and Leland Stowe, Pulitzer Prize winning foreign correspondent, warning about the situation in Europe. A few isolationists and pacifists also spoke, but by and large, at least those reported, were for helping the Allied side. As the war heated up a steady stream of speakers from Europe also came through including Jan Masaryk, son of the deposed president of Czechoslovakia; Count Sforza, leader of the opposition to fascism in Italy; Sir Robert and Lady Mayer asking for help with British children; Mrs. Robert Fraser, former Labor member of London City Council; Jack Jones, a Welsh miner; and Erika Mann, Thomas Mann’s daughter.
Soon after the military draft began, advertisements referencing the situation began showing up, some clearly fitting in with the war effort, while others were more of a stretch of logic. The News suggested that car buyers use their classified ads to buy used cars since new one would soon be hard to find. Kline’s announced they would continue selling silk hosiery so buyers shouldn’t hoard them. A fur company announced it would cancel the debt if man who bought a fur coat for his wife was drafted in the next three months. A Cunningham’s ad suggested that people might want to send a “welcome package,” to friends in the service. Their ad has a picture of a soldiers saying to his friends “Boy oh boy, look what I got from Cunningham’s.” Movies also started having war themes. Early on there were low budget forgettable ones like “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” or “Women in War,” but as the situation worsened Class A movies such as “Foreign Correspondent” and “The Great Dictator” were shown at local theaters. The Military Club held dances at the Armory featuring both local and touring bands and singers.
In mid-September of 1941 a group of ads that at first glance appear to have no connection to the war – undergarments, electric supplies, stoves, pens, windows, appear under the rubric “Retailers for Defense.” Reading on we find an article explaining that a group of local merchants have agreed to a list of wartime policies including keeping prices low, finding replacements for products no longer available, and discouraging speculation.
Dec. 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the stage moved to the Far East. News articles talked of soldiers being sent to the Pacific, people worried about friends and relatives caught in Hawaii, and merchants debated whether it was alright to sell Japanese products already on their shelves. Meanwhile, a local shoe store suggested that since there was a war going on that people should give practical Christmas gifts such as shoes.