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Ann Arbor 200

High Drama: Ann Arbor's Mid-Century Experiment with Professional Theater


Will Geer, Donald Hall, and Marcella Cisney, 1966
Marcella Cisney, U-M Professor Donald Hall, and actor Will Geer, opening night of Professional Theatre Program, September 19, 1966 (Ann Arbor News)

Once upon a time, Ann Arbor had an annual season of professional theater featuring new, classic, and experimental plays. Along with the directors, designers, and opening night galas came the Broadway, Hollywood, and television stars. Between 1930 and 1973, actors who trod the boards in Ann Arbor included Jimmy Stewart, Ethel Waters, Charlton Heston, Grace Kelly, Gloria Graham, Lillian Gish, Ruby Dee, Edward Everett Horton, Sylvia Sydney, Burgess Meredith, Constance Bennett, Rosemary Harris, Gloria Swanson, Jose Ferrer, Christopher Plummer, Billie Burke, Louis Calhern, Joan Blondell, Mercedes McCambridge, Edmund Gwenn, Barbara Bel Geddes, June Lockhart, Conrad Nagel, Ozzie Davis, Cedric Hardwicke, Andy Devine, Cornel Wilde, Ann B. Davis, Hume Cronin, Jessica Tandy, and Don Ameche. Will Geer, Helen Hayes, and Basil Rathbone appeared on several occasions. This star-studded period of Ann Arbor’s history lasted just over four decades -- with a hiatus during and after World War II -- until organizational changes and cutbacks led to the decline of the once-vibrant annual festival season.

Act One: Drama Season (1930-1966)

Robert B. Henderson, first director of Drama Season, 1926
Robert B. Henderson, first director of Ann Arbor's Drama Season. (Michigan Daily, July 30, 1926)

Ann Arbor's first foray into professional theater was the Ann Arbor Drama Season, later referred to simply as Drama Season. It began in 1929 as the Ann Arbor Dramatic Season Committee, a civic project by Mary B. Henderson, with her son Robert Henderson serving as its first director. Drama Season's mission -- the first of its kind in the country -- was to bring professional-level theater to Ann Arbor. Letters from Mr. Henderson at the Bentley Historical Library reveal that by 1931 he was acting on Broadway, making connections with both New York and international actors, and simultaneously attempting to wrap up a master's degree at the University of Michigan. Correspondence between Henderson and J.M. O’Neill, Chairman of the University Committee on Theater Policy and Practice, illustrates early tensions between town and gown -- a theme that would recur over the years. The Committee insisted that Henderson make it clear during his negotiations with actors that Drama Season was not affiliated with the University. Yet the Committee nevertheless felt it was within its purview to weigh in on Henderson's choice of plays and actors in exchange for Drama Season's use of its new campus theater, the Lydia Mendelssohn -- or the “little Lydia” as it was fondly called.

Also among Drama Season's original group was the "First Lady" of Ann Arbor Theatre, Lucille W. Upham, who earned her nickname due to her enthusiastic involvement in a variety of the city's theatrical endeavors. Upham would serve as Drama Season's first treasurer and, later, as manager for over a decade. Henderson served as director for eight years then left Ann Arbor to act and direct in Hollywood and on Broadway (where he would meet and influence the career of a young Sean Connery during a production of Richard Rogers & Oscar Hammerstein's "South Pacific"). But he left behind the seeds for a long-running program. Other Drama Season directors included Charles Hohman, John O'Shaughnessy, Helen Arthur, Agnes Morgan, and the highly influential Valentine Windt. In 1928, just before Drama Season's inception, Windt had assumed the chair of U-M Theater Department. He encouraged University of Michigan student participation both on and off the stage and expanded the summer season, directing over 250 shows, while also overseeing the completion of the Lydia Mendelssohn theater.

Basil Rathbone and Margaret Phillips, June 1949
Basil Rathbone and Margaret Phillips in the Michigan League garden, June 1949 (Ann Arbor News)

Drama Season would run annually from 1930 through 1966, with a six-year hiatus from 1943 through the post-World War II years, picking up again in 1949. Initially, the spring "season" lasted just one week, but by the mid-1930s Drama Season was a five-week festival featuring several plays each with a handful of stars. Actors arrived for two weeks -- one week for rehearsals, and one week for performances. By 1960, the budget for the five-week season was $59,000, with income from sales projected at $61,000 and actors' salaries and contracts with Actors Equity amounting to $15,000 -- approximately $159,000 today. With Drama Season’s offices, rehearsal, and performance spaces -- even living accommodations -- all at the Michigan League, Ann Arbor News photographers frequently caught actors posing in the League’s interior rooms and hallways or outside in its garden. Actors, directors, and playwrights could be seen eating in the League cafeteria with faculty and students. Other actors and crew members were housed off campus. In 1951, an unknown actress named Grace Kelly appeared as a ballet dancer in the comedy “Ring Round the Moon." During her stay, the future Princess of Monaco was relegated to a boarding house overlooking the coal pile that fed the University’s power plant.

Grace Kelly's signature with others, from 1951 Drama Season scrapbook
Grace Kelly's signature is highlighted in this 1951 Drama Season scrapbook. (Drama Season Records, 1929-1966, Bentley Historical Library)

Through the years, Drama Season saw its share of hits (in 1941, Ruth Gordon thrilled audiences as a murderess in "Ladies in Retirement"); and misses (in 1953, playwright Tennessee Williams dropped by to catch the opening of his play, "In The Summer House," which was not an audience favorite); and controversy: In June 1951, Hungarian-born actor J. Edward Bromberg, while scheduled to appear in a production titled “The Royal Family,” was served with a subpoena to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Letters to the University of Michigan from individuals and organizations expressing concern over Bromberg’s appearance amidst allegations of his membership in the American Communist Party led Drama Season leaders to issue a statement that appeared in the June 9, 1951 issue of the Ann Arbor News. The group affirmed its intention to honor the actor’s contract, further stating that “it would be entirely out of accord with the principles of justice and the liberal tradition to which this country is committed to deprive Mr. Bromberg of his livelihood and contractual rights.” Bromberg was defiant in his refusal to answer questions during his HUAC hearing and died during a performance in London later that same year from a weak heart, and, according to friends, stress over his ordeal with HUAC. Bromberg wasn't the only victim of the Red Scare. In June 1950, Langston Hughes' visit to campus to see "The Barrier," a musical drama inspired by his poetry, was met with flyers protesting his purported communist sympathies.

Mayor's proclamation, May 1961
Mayor's proclamation for Drama Season Week, May 1961. (Drama Season Records, 1929-1966, Bentley Historical Library)

Toward the end of its long run, Drama Season was struggling with both critics and audiences. Ann Arborites were particularly tough on the 1964 Drama Season, with one critic noting the lackluster performances and poor play choices in a May 6 review. The reviewer also noted the decline in quality compared with Drama Seasons past. This inspired a change in the procedure for choosing and casting plays. Before 1964, producers chose big-name stars and then picked plays they felt best matched the actors’ skills. But in 1964, President John P. Kokales and Vice President Ted Heusel -- who both served as Drama Season producers for several years -- decided instead to pick quality plays before casting them. Ted Heusel, along with his wife Nancy, would continue to be active in Ann Arbor’s local theater scene for several decades.

Act Two: The Arts Theater Club, Dramatic Arts Center, and Tyrone Guthrie (1951-1967)

The 1950s saw other attempts to establish professional theater in Ann Arbor. Local theater aficionado and businessman Eugene Power was involved in all of them. The first two were The Arts Theatre Club (1951-1954) and The Dramatic Arts Center (1954-1967). During its brief run, the Arts Theater Club brought highbrow playbills and arena-style theater productions to its rooms at 209 ½ E. Washington. The venue sat 150 people and the Club sought support through a subscription membership. But its business model wasn't sustainable and on January 19, 1954, the Ann Arbor News reported that the city’s first (and only) professional theater went bankrupt. Backers of the Arts Theater Club picked up the pieces -- including props and sets -- to form a new group, the Dramatic

Jose Ferrer in Charley's Aunt, June 1942
José Ferrer prepares for "Charley's Aunt," June 1942 (Ann Arbor News)

Arts Center (DAC), led by Eugene Power, Burnette Staebler, and Richard Mann, who each would serve as president. Like the Arts Theater Club, the DAC relied on a subscription membership, but it added children's theater, dance, music, and art exhibits to its roster of offerings. The group renovated the Masonic Temple’s auditorium for theatrical productions and auditioned New York actors to make up the core of its company. The DAC lasted several years and brought theater talent to town. James Coco was here for a season, and the Temple was also the venue for the Chet Baker Quartet, which made a legendary appearance and recording there on May 9, 1954.

In 1957, the DAC was forced to find other venues when the Bendix Corporation took over its spaces in the Masonic Temple. Venues were a perennial issue for Ann Arbor's theater groups, especially as competition for space increased. Even Drama Season's primary venue, the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, had limitations. The Lydia was a well-appointed theater (actress Lillian Gish remarked that it had perfect acoustics), but its size limited the number of ticket sales and revenue the group could expect to bring in at the gate. Additional performances were a possibility, but that meant a longer residency for casts and crews.

Broadway Comes To Ann Arbor
1960 Drama Season advertisement (Ann Arbor News)

Other area venues presented different problems: The Masonic Temple's acoustics weren’t ideal and local theater-goers felt the Temple, located downtown on Fourth Avenue, was too far from campus. The Trueblood Theatre in the Frieze building was also too small, though it would serve as an additional performance space for years. And while the city’s lauded Hill Auditorium was perfect for musical performances, it wasn’t built for the more complex staging required of major theatrical productions. In 1967, the DAC even tried Ann Arbor's newest rock club, the Fifth Dimension, as a venue. But by this time both the DAC and Drama Season were overshadowed by the new star on the block, the Professional Theater Program (PTP).

In 1959, yet another professional theater opportunity arose: Ann Arbor was in the running as a location for a major new professional theater currently under development by notable director Tyrone Guthrie, who had helped establish the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Canada. A steering committee was appointed with plans to bring the University and the greater Ann Arbor community together to raise support and funding should Ann Arbor be picked. Guthrie and his producers came to visit, and within a few months, the choice had been narrowed down to three cities -- Ann Arbor, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis. Despite considerable effort among local theater fans, by the spring of 1960 they learned Minneapolis had upstaged Tree Town. Still, enough work had gone into the concept of bringing a professional theater program to Ann Arbor that the University of Michigan decided it was time to raise the curtain on Act Three.

Act Three: The Professional Theatre Program (PTP): 1961-1985

Marcella Cisney and Robert Schnitzer, 1963
Husband and wife Robert C. Schnitzer and Marcella Cisney, head up the PTP, September 1963 (Ann Arbor News)

On the heels of losing the Guthrie bid, Ann Arbor ushered in the Professional Theatre Program (PTP). At the invitation of U-M president Harlan Hatcher in 1961, husband and wife Robert C. Schnitzer and Marcella Cisney came to Ann Arbor to pioneer a professional theatre pilot project at the University of Michigan, with Schnitzer serving as executive director and Cisney as artistic director. The two had previously negotiated overseas theatrical productions for the State Department and were encouraged by actress Helen Hayes to accept the U-M offer. This time, the University would be directly involved and the PTP program would be integrated into the University of Michigan theater program. In short order, the PTP was a hit with both town and gown, Ann Arbor became a major regional theatre center, and the Schnitzers became national leaders, sparking dozens of similar programs nationwide.

Early on, Ann Arbor’s PTP hosted Ellis Rabb’s highly touted nonprofit repertory theater, the Association of Producing Artists (APA). At its heyday during the mid-1960s, the APA was hailed by the New York Times critic Walter Kerr as “the best repertory company we possess." The APA began a three-year residency in Ann Arbor in 1962 that would extend over the next decade. During PTP’s decade-plus run, Ann Arbor hosted the APA and five other major theater companies -- the American Conservatory Theatre, the Phoenix, the Julliard, the Actors Company, and the Stratford Canada Festival. New works were produced for the PTP and many went on to Broadway and national tours. Gifted graduate students across the nation received fellowships to participate in the PTP and then proceeded to fill prominent positions within the industry as directors, actors, and designers.

Ruby Dee and Alice Childress discuss Wedding Band, November 1966
Ruby Dee, Alice Childress, and Marcella Cisney discuss "Wedding Band," November 1966 (Ann Arbor News)

Over its run, the PTP would introduce Ann Arborites to several noteworthy productions. In 1966, Ann Arbor premiered the controversial "Wedding Band,” the second full-length play by novelist, actress, and playwright Alice Childress. It starred actress Ruby Dee in a stark portrayal of a forbidden interracial love affair. Because of its plot and strong themes of working-class life and Black female empowerment, Childress was unable to persuade any theater in New York to stage it. In fact, “Wedding Band” would not appear on a New York stage until 1972.

Other notable performances included the 1967 American premiere of Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist drama, “Exit the King"; and in 1970, the PTP's production of “Harvey” with Jimmy Stewart and Helen Hayes -- a benefit for the Power Center for the Performing Arts -- topped all previous PTP box office records. Eugene Power, who had served on the Drama Season board and had been instrumental with both the short-lived Arts Theater Club and the recently defunct Dramatic Arts Club, felt Ann Arbor needed a much larger performing arts center near campus. Toward that end, Power spearheaded a fundraising effort at a regent’s dinner during U-M’s 150th-anniversary celebration that eventually led to the building of the Power Center, which was completed in 1971.

1957 Edward Everett Horton playbill
Edward Everett Horton on the cover of a 1957 Drama Season playbill (Drama Season Records, 1929-1966, Bentley Historical Library)

By 1971, however, the APA had largely dissolved. Robert Schnitzer continued to negotiate with other professional acting companies, including John Houseman's Acting Company and the Stratford Festival in Ontario, but by the end of the 1972-73 season, both Schnitzer and Cisney would leave Ann Arbor for the East Coast so that Schnitzer could work full-time for the University Theatre Foundation he’d headed since 1969. In the late 1970s, local theater enthusiast Jim Packard embarked on a two-year study to build momentum for a substantial summer arts festival along the lines of Stratford, Ontario. With the newly built Power Center and several decades of professional theater programming under their belt, the idea didn't seem all that far-fetched. But efforts fell short, due in part to continuing differences between university and community leaders as well as a statewide recession. The result is the abridged Summer Arts Festival as we know it today.

After Schnitzer and Cisney's departure, efforts to bring professional theater to town would persist: In the late 1970s, Richard Meyer, head of the U-M theater department, ushered in the Artist-in-Residence program which, along with a Best of Broadway and Showcase series, continued to bring in professional theater. In the 1980s, a newly formed BADA (British-American Drama Academy) came to Ann Arbor to perform Shakespeare, and U-M department chairs John Russell Brown and Walter Eysselinck both established short-lived professional theater programs -- Project Theater and Michigan Ensemble Theater -- with both simultaneously serving as artistic directors. But placing the PTP under the direction of U-M's theater department chair was "a move that further weakened the once maverick organization," as Leslie Stainton wrote in 2015.

Bringing professional theater to town would prove to be an increasingly expensive enterprise to sustain on an annual basis, certainly at the level it enjoyed during the glory days of Drama Season and the PTP. Ann Arbor has embraced theater in its many guises -- professional, amateur, student, civic, children's, alternative, classic, and experimental -- and the list of local theater organizations throughout the city's history is lengthy. The University of Michigan, the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, and the University Musical Society (most notably in the 2000s with the Royal Shakespeare Company's residency) would continue to bring professional theater to Tree Town in the decades since the 1980s. But nothing would quite match the star-studded run of shows produced annually between 1930 and 1973 by the Ann Arbor Drama Season and the Professional Theater Program.

AADL has many articles, photos, and advertisements on both Drama Season and the Professional Theater Program.

Ann Arbor 200

U-M Goes Nuclear: The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project



Michigan Daily
(Michigan Daily, January 15, 1947)

Origins: From J-Hop Raffle to Functional Memorial

It was December 1946 -- just over a year after the end of World War II -- and University of Michigan students were excited to bring back the highly popular Junior Hop (J-Hop), a glittering three-day student formal started by fraternities in the 1860s that included dancing, morning-after breakfasts, hayrides, and house parties. This year's lineup featured big band leader and saxophonist Jimmie Lunceford, and former star trumpeter with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, Ziggy Ellman. However, many students were concerned that such frivolity clashed with the tenor of a world so recently ravaged by war. As a result, the J-Hop Committee persuaded the Student Legislature to turn its traditional J-Hop raffle into a fundraiser for a living memorial, and a student committee urged the University regents to adopt a resolution to pursue the idea of such a functional memorial.

Functional - or living - memorials were becoming increasingly popular after World War II as a more palatable alternative to the traditional statue or obelisk associated with memorials of earlier generations. The J-Hop committee’s initial idea was to build a chapel or recreation building in the Arboretum.

By January 1947, there was considerable enthusiasm for the project -- especially among the burgeoning World War II student veterans taking advantage of the G.I. Bill (of the 18,000 U-M students at the time, 12,000 were WWII veterans) -- and this prompted the creation of a significantly larger joint student-faculty-alumni fundraiser and the J-Hop raffle funds were turned over to this effort. An executive committee was formed that included a central committee of all student organizations; a sub-committee of the student legislature; and a faculty-alumni advisory group.

Thus began the University’s first major fundraising effort to date.

Michigan Daily
On May 17, 1948, the Michigan Daily published a full page dedicated to the memorial project.

The Board of Regents unanimously approved this yet-to-be-named project upon the recommendation of U-M President Alexander Ruthven. Ralph Sawyer, Dean of the Rackham Graduate School, took up the initiative by appointing a War Memorial Committee. Among this committee's members were three WWII veterans: Arthur DerDerian, an aviation cadet; Arthur Rude, a first lieutenant in the Army; and E. Virginia Smith, a nurse in the Pacific Theater.


Harnessing Atomic Energy for the Greater Good

But what would this memorial look like and how would it function? What would it be called?

War Memorial Committee chair and Dean of Students, Erich A. Walter, approached several friends and former alumni. The University also sent letters to world leaders, authors, and stars -- figures such as Winston Churchill, Bertrand Russell, C. S. Lewis, E. B. White, and Orson Welles -- seeking advice and input.

But it was Fred Smith, a 39-year-old U-M alumnus and New York publishing executive, whose proposal for the memorial most engaged U-M’s student body and administrative leadership. His idea? To harness the power of the atom for the greater good. He wrote, “As vital to the future of mankind as the continuation of religion; and the devotion of the people involved in it should be no less unstinted... We have named the memorial The Phoenix Project because the whole concept is one of giving birth to a new enlightenment, a conversion of ashes into life and beauty.” 

The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project (MMPP) would be "a living, continuous memorial" - a unique endeavor dedicated to exploring ways that the atom could aid mankind rather than destroy it. The MMPP was created by action of the U-M Board of Regents on May 1, 1948, and in his Memorial Day address that year, U-M President Alexander Ruthven called it “A memorial that would eliminate future war memorials.” 

The idealism was matched only by its danger: To bring such a destructive force to a college campus with the intent of harnessing its power for the benefit of mankind was a radical idea requiring a radical approach.


"The most important undertaking in our University's history." 

Phoenix Memorial Local Committee
Phoenix Memorial Local Committee, May 1950 (Photo by Eck Stanger, Ann Arbor News.)

Under the leadership of National Executive Chairman Chester Lang, the Phoenix Campaign grew into a national effort that would be the first significant fundraising campaign initiated by the University -- at the time "the most important undertaking in our University's history," according to Ruthven. The Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project Laboratory would eventually be funded by over 30,000 alumni and corporate donors. By 1953, the campaign raised $7.3 million for a research building and endowment eventually amounting to over $20 million.

The project would mark many firsts:

* The first fundraising effort in U-M history
The first set of laboratory buildings on the new U-M North Campus
* The first university in the world to explore the peaceful uses of atomic energy
* And it would initiate the U-M’s new Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, the first such university program in the world


“M Glow Blue!” Henry Ford Donates a Nuclear Reactor

The Ford Motor Company alone donated $1 million to build the Ford Nuclear Reactor (FNR) as part of the Laboratory.

Ford Letter for Nuclear Reactor
Ford Letter acknowledging the donation of a nuclear reactor (Bentley Historical Library Image Bank)

In February 1955, the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) licensed the Ford Nuclear Reactor (FNR) and construction on the reactor began later that summer. The reactor would be built in a special unit at the north end of the Laboratory and it was the first reactor ever requested for construction by an agency other than the AEC. The FNR was dedicated on November 16, 1956, reaching its first critical mass on September 19, 1957, and level 1 megawatt on August 11, 1958. Eventually operating at two megawatts of power, the “icy blue glow” of the more than 55,000-gallon reactor pool inspired the motto of the reactor workers: “M-Glow Blue!”

Moreover, the Department of Energy would fabricate, transport, and dispose of the fuel at no cost to the University.

Henry Gomberg
Professor Gomberg at the Phoenix Memorial Lab, August 1961 (Ann Arbor News)

U-M professor of electrical engineering Henry Gomberg was the first director of the Phoenix Project. And the College of Engineering was responsible for developing its instructional and research program. The FNR would operate 24 hours per day for the next 50 years. 


Bubble Chambers and Mummies: Research at the Phoenix Laboratory

Ford Reactor schematic
Schematic of Ford Nuclear Reactor (Bentley Historical Library Image Bank)



Research at the Laboratory took place across multiple disciplines, helping to fund studies on the applications of nuclear technology in fields as diverse as medicine, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, archeology, engineering, zoology, anthropology, and law. It saw uses for cancer treatment, bone grafts, medieval coins, and even an Egyptian mummy.

Former MMPP director David Wehe remembers, “I recall lively lunchroom discussions with engine researchers from GM and Ford discussing measurement techniques with the nuclear chemists inventing new diagnostic pharmaceuticals and archeologists testing the authenticity of ancient relics -- all of them working within the Phoenix Memorial Laboratory.” 

Project highlights include Gamma ray sterilization; carbon-14 dating; radioactive iodine for cancer treatment and detection; gravitationally-induced quantum interference, as well as the bubble chamber design allowing rapid, easily interpreted photographs of rare atomic interactions that won Donald Glaser a 1960 Nobel Prize in Physics. The laboratory also included a greenhouse and saw foundational research on the effects of radiation on plant life.

Oppenheimer visits. (Michigan Daily, Feb 9, 1962)

The FNR was also used to train utility workers in nuclear instrumentation and reactor operation and was visited over the years by world leaders and distinguished scientists such as Robert Oppenheimer and Hans Bethe. MMPP leadership was also instrumental in founding the International Cooperation Administration (ICA) arm of the AEC.

By June 1997, however, the Ford Nuclear Reactor Review Committee estimated the reactor was costing the university an average of $1 million a year and requested input from university departments, as well as organizations outside the university community, on continued use of the facility. Although many groups actively campaigned to keep the reactor operational, the decision was made to close it. The reactor took nearly a decade to dismantle and was officially decommissioned in 2003.  

Rededicating the MMPP 

After extensive renovations, the former Phoenix Memorial Laboratory in 2013 became the home of the U-M Energy Institute, which continued to support the Project’s unique memorial mission. In spring 2017, after a decade of dismantling the FNR and clearing the building of radiation, the building was rededicated as the Nuclear Engineering Laboratory with a focus on advancing nuclear security, nonproliferation, safety, and energy. In 2021, the Energy Institute was disbanded and the Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences (NERS) program regained proprietorship. In April 2019, the department launched the Fastest Path to Zero Initiative, with the mission of “identifying, innovating, and pursuing the fastest path to zero emissions by optimizing clean energy deployment through energy innovation, interdisciplinary analysis, and evidence-driven approaches to community engagement.” The Fastest Path offices are now housed within the MMPP. 

A rededication of the MMPP took place in 2022. The labs and offices are occupied by two groups: NERS and the Materials Research Institute (MRI).

According to former MMPP director David Wehe, “Today, the MMPP continues its legacy of honoring WWII veterans by providing seed funding to researchers seeking to harness the atom for the public good. While the building also serves other purposes now, the hall still echoes those exciting discoveries that came from the MMPP.”

Historical photos and articles about the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project

The M.U.G. (Michigan Union Grill) in the 1950s-1960s

Although an affluent community like Ann Arbor was hardly the culture in which ‘The Beat’ movement (theoretically) thrived and was designed for, nonetheless the influence of ‘The Beats’ was present and very much felt in Ann Arbor back in the late 1950s and the early 1960s, student poets and hanging out.

The October 15, 1969 Peace Rally

The peace rally at Michigan Stadium on October 15, 1969, was the largest of all the anti-war protests in the 1960s in Ann Arbor. 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. Related events at the University of Michigan included teach-ins and forums, and the day concluded with a 6 p.m. torchlight parade winding from the University of Michigan central Diag to Michigan Stadium, followed by a rally inside the Stadium. 

Crowd at the Peace Rally
Crowd at the October 15, 1969 Peace Rally at Michigan Stadium

Rally organizers were New Mobilization leader Douglas Dowd of Cornell University and Ann Arbor Mobilization leader Eugene Gladstone. Speakers included U.S. Senator Philip A. Hart; SDS founder and Chicago 8 member, Tom Hayden; U. S. Representative John Conyers; State Senator Coleman Young; State Representative Roger Craig; Eugene Charles of the Black Panthers; Rhoades W. Murphy, U-M geography professor; and Ann Arbor City Councilman for the Third Ward, Nicholas Kazarinoff. The local rock band SRC performed at the Rally. Both the U-M parade and rally remained peaceful, a minor incident occurring when a participant near the speakers' platform spit on speaker Tom Hayden and was removed by Ann Arbor police.

Senator Philip A. Hart at October 15, 1969 Peace Rally
US Senator Philip A. Hart speaks at Rally

A month earlier, on September 19, in a speech at Hill Auditorium during the “Tactic-In” events on the University of Michigan campus, U-M President Robben Fleming came out against the war in Vietnam and promised to make University facilities available for the upcoming October 15 Moratorium. He further indicated that if enough people came out to express opposition to the War during the event, he would personally deliver their message to Washington. Fleming’s anti-war declaration was controversial at the time, as was his endorsement of a University venue for an anti-war protest; however, his decision, made on the heels of many contentious campus-wide protests that had occurred in preceding months - most significantly, the 1969 South University Riot - signaled his evolving belief that suppressing protests would only lead to violence. 

In the days after the Moratorium, President Fleming remained true to his word and wrote a letter to Washington stating that the mood on the University of Michigan campus was one of “broad and deep opposition. This opposition is not simply emotional, it is thoughtful. It does not occur because of ignorance, but only after sober reflection.”

Articles about the October 15, 1969 Peace Rally

Photographs of the October 15, 1969 Peace Rally

The 1969 South University Riot

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.

Students march down South University Ave
Protesters march down S. University Avenue

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. Plain 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.

Youth Blocks Police Car on S. University Ave
From The Ann Arbor News, June 18, 1969

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.

Collecting votes at campus rally
Rally attendees vote on whether to demand closure of S. University Avenue.

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. 

Girl on curb with police
From The Ann Arbor News, June 19, 1969

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.

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Articles and photos on the 1969 South University Riot

Harper's Weekly on Professor Adams.

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Harper's weekly on Prof. Adams.

Under the caption "The new president of Cornell," Harper's Weekly has the following on Prof. Adams' recent good fortune:

Charles Kendall Adams, professor of history in the University of Michigan, was on Monday, the 13th, elected president of Cornell University, in the room of the retiring President White, by an almost unanimous vote of the trustees, the numbers being 13, to 3 for General Morgan. The new president, who is a native of Vermont, in which state he was born in 1835, owes this flattering election to the influence of the late president, between whom and him the most intimate relations existed during their acquaintance at Ann Arbor, where Professor Adams graduated in 1861, and where Professor White is the chair of history when the latter accepted the presidency of Cornell. Professor Adams id the author of "Democracy and Monarchy in France," and of the "Manual of Historical Literature," comprising descriptions of the most important histories in English, French, and German, together with practical suggestions as to methods and course of historical study, and of which the philosophic character, the profundity of learning, and judicious historical conclusions have given him high standing as a author. At the meeting of the trustees numerous tributes were received, speaking in the strongest terms of testimony to his executive ability and his thorough knowledge of educational systems both in this country and in Europe. The new president, indeed, is generally conceded by scholars to posses qualities of that sterling and lasting kind which, although not showy or brilliant at first sight as those which might be possessed by others, would yet tend to impress the board of trustees and alumni more and more as they know him better and more closely, and through his new position, with an increasing conviction of his scholarship, executive ability, and wide range of educational thought and experience. He has really been the responsible promoter of most of the successful plans of higher education at Michigan University, though others have received the larger share of the credit, and it was entirely through his exertions that the library system at Ann Arbor was built up; and those -- and they are many -- who are not willing to give him credit for the necessary force of character, will find themselves most grievously mistaken.

The Lost University - The Forgotten Campus of 1900

Ann Arbor today would be just another small Michigan town- no bigger, perhaps, than Saline or Chelsea- had it not been for one crucial event: in 1837, just thirteen years after its founding, it was designated the site for the University of Michigan.

The initial campus, situated on forty acres donated by the Ann Arbor Land Company, was a tiny affair, consisting of one combination classroom building and dormitory along with four professors' houses. The president's house on South University is the lone survivor from that first generation of campus buildings. Though still used as a residence, it has been vastly altered over the intervening 160 years.

The "Diag" took its name from the diagonal walk that crossed what was then largely an open field. But the campus grew quickly, particularly under dynamic presidents Henry Phillip Tappan (1852-1863) and James Burrill Angell (1871-1909).

Except for Tappan's observatory and Angell's Catherine Street hospitals, almost all of the nineteenth century construction took place on the Diag. By the turn of the century, campus was thick with structures, most built of a red brick in a weighty Romanesque style.

Almost all were swept away as the U-M's growth accelerated in the twentieth century. The Diag was completely rebuilt, and surrounding properties were acquired to extend the university's presence far beyond the original campus borders. Today only tiny Tappan Hall, hidden away between the art museum and the president's house, survives as a reminder of the red-brick campus of 1900

When James Burrill Angell arrived as president in 1871, the U-M had nine buildings. He oversaw the addition of fifty more before stepping down in 1909. The elegant oval shape of Angell's 1883 University Library had been truncated by the turn of the century with the addition of new book storage "stacks" at the rear of the building (left), but a gracefully curved reading room still looked out on the center of the Diag. Though the older portions of the building were torn down in 1918, the stacks were incorporated into the present Graduate Library, completed in 1920.

The Waterman and Barbour gymnasiums, at the comer of North University and East University, were the longest-lived of Angell's great red brick buildings. Their demolition was also a turning point in campus interest in historic preservation. In 1976, when the university announced its intentions to tear down the historic complex, a group called the Committee for Reuse of the Barbour-Waterman Buildings was established and lobbied hard for the university to take another look at alternative uses for the structures, which dated to the 1890s. Petitions were circulated and signed by thousands, citizens wore buttons saying "Recycle Barbour-Waterman," and many spoke before the regents to urge reconsideration.

The regents were not swayed, and the buildings were demolished in 1977 (their site is now part of the chemistry building). But the university has since shown greater sensitivity to historic buildings. And one unexpected result of the regents' intransigence on Barbour-Waterman was the listing of the entire original Central Campus, and other significant buildings such as Rackham and the Law Quad, on the National Register of Historic Places.

President Tappan's Law Building stood at the corner of State and North University. It was completed in 1863, the same year that the U-M's visionary founding president was fired by the regents (see "President Tappan Fired" in "The Top Ten Ann Arbor Stories of the Millennium," p. 31).

The formidable turret was added in a remodeling in 1893 but didn't quite make it to 1900—it was removed during another expansion in 1898. After completion of the Law Quad in the 1920s, the building was renamed Haven Hall and used for LS&A faculty offices. In 1950, a disgruntled student determined to obliterate a bad grade burned it down.

The modern Haven Hall is closer to the center of the Diag. The place where Tappan's Law Building stood is now a lovely, tree-shaded lawn.

When it opened in 1881, the U-M's natural science museum was the first owned by a public university. Designed by architecture prof William LeBaron Jenney—later
famous as the "father of the skyscraper"—the museum had a collection ranging from stuffed animals to Asian manuscripts.

The exhibits moved to the present Ruthven Museums Building in 1928. Jenney's building housed the Romance language departments for three decades before being demolished in 1958.

Exceot for the crowning dome, this long, massive building parallel to State Street bears an uncanny resemblance to Angell Hall. University Hall, completed in 1871, was the U-M's first great classroom building. The impressive dome shown here was actually the building's second- the first was deemed structurally unsound and replaced in 1896. Hidden from State Street when Angell Hall was built directly in front of it in 1924, University Hall lingered on for another twenty-six years before being torn down in 1950.

Stretching the tum-of-the-century date slightly, this multipanel postcard shows the U-M's hospitals as they stood following completion of the Palmer children's ward in 1904. One of the two hospitals flanking the Palmer ward had been built for the U-M's medical doctors, the other for its homeopathic physicians. By 1900, however, the homeopaths had moved out to a new hospital on North University.

The low, many-windowed "pavilion" hospitals reflected the emerging medical thinking of the nineteenth century before the role of germs was understood, disease was thought to be spread by "morbid" air exhaled by sick patients. It wasn't a bad guess, since it led to the division of hospitals into isolated, well-ventilated wards—steps that did help reduce the rate of hospital-induced infections.

By the turn of the century, the germ theory and antiseptic surgery were fueling great strides in health care. The homeopaths soon faded, while the M.D.'s moved into a succession of huge new hospitals—on Ann Street in the 1920s, and overlooking Fuller Road in the 1980s. The site of the old pavilion hospitals is now occupied by the Victor Vaughan Building, Med Sci II, and the Taubman Medical Library.

An impressive testimonial to the growing importance of the physical sciences, the 1885 Engineering Laboratory bore a striking resemblance in both style and scale to the University Library just to the north. It was designed by Gordon Lloyd, the celebrated Gothic architect best known locally for his work on two prominent churches, St. Andrew's and First Congregational.

The engineers expanded into larger quarters bordering the southeast comer of the Diag (home of the famous "Engin Arch"), then leapfrogged East University, and finally relocated en masse to a still-growing complex on North Campus. By then the 1885 laboratory was long gone—it was torn down in 1956.

As the university expanded in the early twentieth century, it acquired and demolished many of the buildings that had bordered the original campus. Between 1909 and 1920, the university gained title to some 114 separate parcels of land, including the Arboretum, the Botanical Gardens off Packard Road, and the site of the power plant on Huron Street. But perhaps its most dramatic acquisition was professor Alexander Winchell's spectac-ular octagon house on North University.

Winchell served at various times as professor of geology, zoology, botany, physics, and engineering. The strong-minded Winchell was one of president Tappan's most vociferous opponents but also a powerful advocate of opening the university to women, and perhaps America's most influential supporter of Charles Darwin's then-novel theory of evolution. His unusual octagon home, built according to the tenets of Orson Fuller, a well-known phrenologist and prolific writer on health, happiness, and sex, was surrounded by extensive gardens that complemented his collections of flora and fauna, some of which are now at the Smithsonian.

After Winchell left the university in the mid-1870s, his home was rented by various fraternities. Acquired by the university in 1909, it was demolished shortly afterward to make way for Hill Auditorium.

The original professors' residences from the 1840s found new uses as the campus grew. This one facing South University housed the Dental College from 1877 to 1891, adding a wing (right) in the process. The engineering department took over in 1892 and stayed until 1922. when the building was demolished to make way for the Clements Library.

The U-M Law Quad has a timeless feel, but in fact it is of comparatively recent construction. Two entire blocks of residences were demolished in the 1920s to make room for it. One of the more spectacular of the buildings lost was the 1880 Psi Upsilon fraternity house, which faced South University at the comer of State. A newspaper account from June 30, 1923, noted that "since the beginning of the second semester men have been tearing down the former fraternity houses on State Street, which occupied the land needed for the new [Lawyers] Club. Practically all of the work of the demolishing of the Psi Upsilon house has been completed and the steam shovel will clear away the remainder of the ruins. . . . Practically all of the homes in this block are now being torn down."

Until recently, it seemed that the same fate might befall the row of four nineteenth century houses the U-M owns on Huron across from the Power Center.But after years of designating the location as a future building site, the university is now renovating and rehabbing the houses—an encouraging sign that it has finally begun to develop a preservation ethic.

Learning from the Halo

Burned by the firestorm over its controversial Michigan Stadium halo, the architectural firm of Venturi, Scott Brown & Associates is taking a much more conservative tack with its first U-M building.

The Philadelphia firm, headed by the husband-and-wife team of Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, is nationally famous for daring designs. When U-M president Lee Bollinger hired VSBA to work on a campus master plan two years ago, one of their first suggestions was to ditch the traditional brick trim planned for the expanded stadium in favor of a maize-and-blue metal halo decorated with gigantic football icons and slogans. The couple, authors (with Steven Izenour) of Learning from Las Vegas, thought the colorful band would, in Venturi's words, "create a gala quality at that end of campus."

They quickly discovered that to many people Wolverine football is more than a game. Infuriated at the halo's breezy irreverence, football fans protested verbally, wrote angry letters, and withheld donations. This past spring, Bollinger finally caved and had the halo taken down.

So when Venturi presented plans for his first U-M building to a group of community leaders in April, the first question on everyone's mind was, Could this be another disaster? Those concerns were soon allayed: presenting the plans for the U-M's new Life Sciences Institute building, Venturi took pains to show how it would fit with the rest of the campus.

After Scott Brown gave an update on the campus plan, Venturi, wearing his usual professorial scruffy sport coat, diffidently held up two poster boards. The audience impatiently craned their necks to see, and then laughed as mayor Ingrid Sheldon stepped forward, seized the boards, and lifted them high overhead. One showed the proposed institute, which will face Washtenaw at an angle south of Palmer Drive. The other compared the new design with similar buildings already on campus.

While saying that he doesn't consider himself a "historical revivalist," Venturi stressed that he does believe that new buildings should harmonize with their surroundings. He called his six-story Life Sciences design "a generic loft building, like the early buildings on campus by Albert Kahn and Smith, Hinchman & Grylls." The simple, functional designs of Albert Kahn (architect notably of the Hatcher Library and Hill Auditorium) and SHG (Chemistry Building, Rackham Auditorium) still look good many decades after they were built, and have proven themselves highly adaptable to changing academic needs—goals that Venturi says he aspires to as well.

The regents approved the Life Sciences Institute plan at their April meeting and went on to appoint VSBA as architects for the Commons—the second new Life Sciences building, which will face Washtenaw in front of the power plant. If VSBA succeed, as they have elsewhere, in combining classic elements in new and unusual ways, they may well be remembered for their U-M buildings long after the halo fiasco is forgotten.