Detroit's gift to Ann Arbor turns 76

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Courtesy U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance

Rackham Auditorium was dedicated 76 years ago today. A popular venue for live music, thanks to its 1,000-seat-plus performance space. It is named for Horace H. Rackham, a Detroit lawyer who left money to construct the graduate building, costing $2 million in 1938 ($32.7 million in 2013 dollars), as well as $4 million to the university's graduate studies programs (that would be more than $65 million in 2013 dollars) when he died in 1933. Designed in a classical renaissance style by the prestigious Detroit architecture firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, the building is a treasure.

It's interesting to note Detroit's contribution to the university. In fact, Detroit contributed the university itself in 1837. Rackham wasn't alone in donating to the university, although it was unusual that he hadn't attended it. Public-spirited Detroiters, both alums and not, have donated generously to the university in the belief that education was a public good. This has enriched Ann Arbor — architecturally, historically, and spiritually.

So it's somewhat ironic that, as Detroit slips into bankruptcy under the auspices of an Ann Arborite governor, we honor Detroit's contributions to a college town that, too often, dismisses any connection to its gritty neighbor to the east. There was a time when Detroit helped Tree Town, when that burg's city fathers arrayed themselves in finery to thank the Motor City for its generosity — 76 years ago today.

 

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