The old Art Center Music School building

Is haunting me! For the past 7 years or so I’ve walked past it and thought it would be the ideal home for Detroit Summer. It wasn’t always abandoned during those years. In fact, these pictures I found on flickr make me realize it’s only been abandoned for a year or two. Now, the brass around the door (below) has all been stripped and a lot of the windows are broken.  The roof is in good shape though.


It’s 2 buildings– one, a rectangular sandstone building, which looks 2-storied from the outside but which is actually a large, open recital hall with high ceilings and beautiful acoustics. Attached to it is a mansion, which in the early 20th century was a funeral home, but since 1929, is where the music lessons of the Art Center Music School were held. The ACMS’s mission is to provide affordable private music lessons to Detroit kids and adults. A lot of my friends remember taking lessons there when they were little.  But it seems that the school was so devoted to this mission of benefiting the community over profit-making, that they eventually ran out of money.

The miracle is that that the buildings are still owned by the board of the ACMS non-profit. According to my landlord who heads a low-income housing non-profit in the Cass Corridor, a majority of the buildings around here are owned by speculators who think if they just hold out long enough they will be able to sell their property for a million dollars or more. In the meantime, people with energy and vision for transforming those buildings can’t afford to buy them and they remain hazards to the community.


The board members of ACMS are older African Americans, some of whom taught at the school or studied there, many of whom are in their 90s. They have staunchly protected the buildings from developers who would have bought them and turned them into lofts or bulldozed them for parking lots. They remain devoted to the vision of providing affordable music lessons for Detroiters, but seem to lack the capacity to bring the school back to life.

I learned all this in the past 3 days, after AMP and Detroit Summer found out we have to move again (from the amazing space we relocated to at Warren and Grand River only this Summer). We have until the end of March. Luckily, 2 things– 1) the people I’ve talked with at the ACMS are energetic about the possibilities of working with us. We haven’t met all of the board members, and we anticipate that some of them will be more reluctant, but it seems hopeful. 2) We are moving with our friends Carl and Monte who run the 555 Arts Gallery and are two of the most skilled, hard-working, resourceful building-renovators I know.


I’m so excited about the possibility of this move I can barely stand it. I’m not even sure why. Part of it is how sweet the building is, and the fact that it’s around the corner from my house. Another part is the history of the building. Houdini was laid out in the funeral home after his untimely death in Detroit! When Steve, one of the board members was giving us a tour on Saturday he said they used to talk about the idea of holding a seance as a Halloween fundraiser. All kinds of jazz and Motown musicians passed through the school or performed in the Hall. Apparently even some seminal Detroit Hardcore bands– Negative Approach and Necros performed there in the 80s.

It would be amazing to move Detroit Summer back into the Cass Corridor. But even more amazing to do it in a way that builds upon the legacy of the Art Center Music School, takes it to the next level, doesn’t let it die.


43 Responses to “The old Art Center Music School building”

  1. 1 zoe December 12, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    what!!! you guys are moving to the cass arts center?? alejandra took violin there as a kid and i took piano for a hot second. mrs. hammond, the ancient receptionist used to tell us about how houdini haunted the building every halloween. She said that every october 31st he would stand in the doorway where she was working and acknowledge her. ( he died halloween night at garrick theater- a.k.a the majestic.)I think mrs. hammond has probably passed away? As a houdini uber fan and one of beautiful and macabre architecture, (it feels like the von trapp family was murdered in there) i am so happy that someone is doing something with the space. i used to dream of having idle kids in there.

  2. 2 Emily L December 14, 2008 at 8:30 am

    hey, I met Mrs. Hammond from that arts center a few years ago. She came by while we were gardening with Detroit Summer & DAY Project at the Cass Corridor Co-op. She told us all about the music school. That would be so cool if you could work that out and move there! Miss you all much. 🙂

  3. 3 phyrecracker December 16, 2008 at 7:20 am

    jenny so glad you’re blogging again 🙂

    and, ya, moving DSCO to the Corridor would be awesome especially to this majestic building…

    which happens to have a jon dba warlock 😉

  4. 4 Frankye Rutherford September 11, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Please contact me, I am looking for free lessons for my son. He took private lessons at the Arts Center years ago as a child. He will be attending Cass HS. My daughter took private lessons there as well. She attends EMU. Please contact me anybody.

  5. 5 Rose Landers September 22, 2010 at 6:19 pm


    I am wondering if the Art Center Music School is still in operations. I am interest in taking piano lessons; If they have gone out of business please refer me qualify school for lesson.

  6. 6 Cornelius December 7, 2010 at 9:49 am

    Hey Jenny, whatever happened with this??

  7. 7 Kelis December 8, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I road past the old historic building today. I’m looking foward to signing my daughter up before christmas. I feel this program is truly wonderful. I attended this school in the early 90s. So looking forward to my daughter attending singing lessons and piano lesson’s. I need to find out your new location asap.

  8. 8 Nicole Harb March 10, 2011 at 5:54 am

    I took my first voice lesson there in 1990, at the age of 20 then went on to WSU, later transferring to Marygrove College. I now have my masters in Vocal performance and teaching music and voice in SC. I am now preparing to pursue my Doctorate in vocal pedagogy. And I owe it all to a great beginning at the Art Center Music School under the fine tutelage of Jan Purdy!
    I would love to hear about others experiences there!! And would love to know how to get in touch with Jan Purdy!

  9. 9 Lily DeLois Adams May 5, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    A beautiful building. I am a global artist. I’ve been all over the world as a pianist and singer. Studied there as did my daughter who plays beautifully. Dr. Nellie Huger Ebersol who was my voice teacher and Mrs. Whitely was a piano teacher. Good luck.

  10. 10 tammy January 3, 2012 at 12:34 am

    The all-female punk band RAW (lead by Karen Quinn, RIP) played there in the early ’80s. Afterwards, got a tour of the buildings (including the room where Houdini was embalmed), then hung out on the roof looking at the beautiful skyline. Good times……..

  11. 11 Sundee September 6, 2012 at 7:19 pm

    We are bring the building back, and i am so glad that so many people are excitied to here about it.

  12. 12 kathleen February 14, 2013 at 4:28 am

    Dr. Ebersole rented me my first art studio in building. I would spend the night there. It was haunted. The plant leaves would move a major amount at night, saw flashes of lights in halls, of course I never new building was a funeral home. I would just sing loud, but I was so scared some nights I would just go to sleep on Dr. Ebersole’s couch. Safer for me to stay there than venture out on Cass Corridor at night.

  13. 13 MusicgirlSB March 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    My kids took music lessons there. I remember many Saturdays listening to stories from the past from Mrs. Hammond. She was the life of the school. I recently found out Mrs. Hammond celebrated her 100th birthday last year (2012). I have not spoken with her in few years but I believe she would like for the building to remain a relevant part of the community for generations to come.

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