Rural Meets Urban
An old dairy barn will soon be built in the City of Detroit- Scott Lowell and his wife Carolyn Howard who own the Traffic Jam & Snug Restaurant in Midtown and the Forest Arm Apartments are looking at three different locations to reassemble the barn, two lots in Midtown as well as another site in Corktown. Waiting on city approvals, the three-level barn, which includes a lower level, a main floor, and loft space, would open next year, for a restaurant, music venue, assembly hall, or other venue.
Built in Alto, southeast of Grand Rapids, in the 1880s, the Howard/Kelly Barn was built on property owned by Carolyn's family. It is crafted from oak, beech, maple, and pine. It was constructed by the Wride family, a father-and-son team that hand-built many barns, outbuildings, and sheds throughout western Michigan. The family decided it was time for the barn to come down. Carolyn wanted to make sure the building could still be put to good use. “So, I have a chance to bring one down, to save a building and to re-erect down here was a great opportunity,” said Carolyn. “And it’s still a beautiful structure. The wood is great and the beams are fantastic.”
Carolyn says her grandparents acquired the farm in 1931, and raised five boys who all went off to college, before retiring and leasing the property to area farmers. “My grandparents were dairy farmers, and had between 30 and 40 cows at any given time,” she says. “They also had cattle.” Eager to save the barn from the long-term effects of the weather, and preserve a piece of architecture — wooden-peg construction and virgin beams — as well as repurpose the barn for new uses, the decision to disassemble and move the entire structure to Detroit was a natural progression.
“The city has been great to work with on all of our projects,” says Scott Lowell, who next month will begin restoring the vacant Forest Arms Apartments at Second and Forest in Midtown into 70 rental units and two commercial spaces. “As we reassemble the barn, we will add a commercial kitchen, modern bathrooms, a bar and dining area, and we’ll install an elevator in the silo. We may incorporate the bathrooms into the old milking stalls.” “I think just the sheer fact that we’d be building a barn in the city of Detroit. I gotta believe it’s at least been 100 years since anyone at BS&E has seen anyone proposing this,” said Scott.
Scott will piece the beams back together like a jig-saw puzzle. The barn will look very similar to the original structure. The couple doesn’t expect they will make the barn operate as a dairy barn again, but rather another type of Detroit business that everyone can enjoy. “If it lends itself to a big communal something and certainly people celebrating and event or an event space, it would be perfect for something like that,” said Scott.
With so much of Detroit’s rich architectural history lost, how great would it be to reconstruct a barn in Detroit?” Carolyn says. “Once you tear down a structure, it’s gone forever.” She says her top five ideas for the barn include “what I call a hippie hotel, or youth hostel, an art gallery, event space, a reception hall for weddings and other gatherings, or a bar and restaurant.” If it all goes according to plan, the couple expects the barn will be re-built and able to open for business within two years.
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