Zaragon tears down UofM's "Melrose Place" apartment to make room for new lofts

Death fences surround Ann Arbor's historic Anberay Apartment Building -- chain link fences that signal a building's demise. The courtyard's mature trees have been chopped down and the top soil upended. Heavy machinery has begun to dig into the middle of the building. Demolition will probably be completed by the time this is published.

This is what the last days
look like for the apartment building University of Michigan students fondly called Melrose Place. The 84-year old building, which university students and staff called home, has sat empty for the last few weeks so it can be cleared for Zaragon Place Lofts. Another piece of Ann Arbor's architectural history bites the dust to make way for a plain brick box to store university students.

"I think a valuable piece of our history is about to be lost," says Susan Wineberg, a member of the Ann Arbor Historical District Commission and author of "Lost Ann Arbor", a book about architecturally significant buildings in the college town that have been razed. "And the building replacing it is completely out of proportion for the neighborhood. Nothing else around it is above two, three, four stories."

Chicago-based Zaragon Inc. is building Zaragon Place Lofts on the same space that is/was occupied by Anberay on East University Avenue behind Pizza House and less than a block north of East Quad. The 10-story Zaragon Place Lofts will have 66 apartments in 100,000 square feet, along with ground-floor retail space and 40 underground parking spots. Construction is set to begin shortly after demolition and finish within 14 to 16 months. Zaragon Inc. representatives did not return calls requesting comment for this story.

The new building is a departure from the 84-year-old Anberay. The art-deco structure and its 23 apartments was one of the few pre-World War II apartment buildings left in the city and one of the few built with a central courtyard in a C shape. Locally renowned university architecture professors Albert J. J. Rousseau and George W. McConkey designed the structure in what is often called Chicago style. Each of the building's apartments had a balcony overlooking the courtyard.

"It's really unique where it is," Wineberg says. "There isn't anything like it in the area. It's kind of what an urban building should be. We were hoping it would be redone into condos but it didn't go that way."

Anberay was built in response to the university's rapidly expanding student population after World War I. It was such a big deal after opening that it was reserved for university faculty and staff. Among the more notable residents were legendary UofM football coach and athletic director Fielding Yost.

Students and city residents rallied to save Anberay earlier this summer, claiming it's historic and Zaragon Place Lofts would stick out like a sore thumb in the surrounding neighborhood. Chatter on local Internet forums called Zaragon Place Lofts "stunningly awful" in comparison to Anberay's unique architectural shape and details, such as the building's distinctive yellow brick.

Wineberg adds that the demolition only adds more waste to land fills, a large percentage of which are made up of construction debris, while taking away from the city's unique character.

"It's part of our cultural heritage and gives us a sense of community," Wineberg says.

More of the college town's architectural gems have been put at risk in recent years as development pressure increases on the city's center. To Ann Arbor's credit, it has found reuses for some of its beautiful buildings, like turning the old train station into the Gandy Dancer restaurant and the city's old brick firehouse into the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum. There are losses, too. Think of UofM's Frieze Building, originally built as Ann Arbor's high school, recently being razed to make way for the North Quad dormitory.

"It's just like everyday there is a new battle," Wineberg says.

Source: City of Ann Arbor and Susan Wineberg, member of the Ann Arbor Historical District Commission
Writer: Jon Zemke

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