The Wayne State University Board of Governors approved a plan on March 23 to move the historic Mackenzie House to a new location, which has not yet been determined.
Wayne State is looking to expand the Hilberry Theatre – the Mackenzie House’s next-door neighbor – resulting in the board’s decision to move the historic building. The planned move has stirred controversy and sparked opposition from Preservation Detroit, an organization that works towards historic preservation in the city, and whose headquarters is based in the Mackenzie House.
Erik Kehoe, president of Preserve Detroit, said the university has provided no explanation on how they will move the house safely.
The WSU Board of Governors issued a statement stating that the house will be moved safely and in a fashion that will not destroy any of its preserved beauty.
To many, the dwelling which was built on Cass Avenue in 1895, is more than just a building; it's a symbol of higher education in Detroit.
Jena Patel, a freshman at WSU, said she’s skeptical about how safe it is to move the house.
“I feel like moving the house is a big process and that there will be damage to it as a result of moving it,” Patel said. “I think it’s important to keep the house where it is because the location has history to it.”
WSU freshman Elizabeth Angelo said, “I think the expansion of the Hilberry will be great, but I wish Wayne State would release the procedures they are going to take to ensure that the house will be moved safely.”
The residence once belonged to David Mackenzie, who was an advocate for education in Detroit. Mackenzie was the principal of Central High School, which was housed in WSU’s Old Main building in 1926. He also established Detroit Junior College in 1917, which later became College of the City of Detroit. 11 years after its founding, the College of the City of Detroit became Wayne University.
The Mackenzie House was designed by architects William Malcomson and William Higginbotham, who were also the designers of the Old Main building.
The Mackenzie House is a Queen Anne-style house. It was carefully curated and crafted with intricate details: flint tiles, a slate roof and turret windows.
However, WSU has had battles with the building. In 1975, WSU proposed to demolish the Mackenzie House, according to the Detroit Metro Times. The university desired to build a sewer line on the property for a nearby apartment complex. Two students, Allen Wallace and Marilyn Florek, heavily resisted the demise of the building and assisted in the cancellation of the demolition.
Wallace’s and Florek’s act of opposition helped to further pave the way for historic preservation in Detroit. After saving the Mackenzie house, the two started Preservation Wayne, the first preservation group in the city which later became Preservation Detroit.
“The Mack House has been our home for more than 40 years and helped bring our organization to life. When Wayne State attempted to demolish the house in 1975, students rose to the challenge, preserving the space for future generations,” Preservation Detroit said on its Facebook page.