It's one of the happiest little stories in a year of mostly good news on the historic-preservation front.
DTE Energy has completely renovated Detroit's long-abandoned Salvation Army building, one of the city's small Art Deco gems.
They've even renamed the 1938 structure designed by Chicago architect Albert C. Fehlow, who did a number of Salvation Army buildings around the Midwest, all in Art Deco style. They're calling it Navitas House, after the Latin term for "energy."
So if you're thinking of hopping in the car for a tour of what's new in Detroit architecture this weekend — and there's a ton, from a mid-renovation Capitol Park to the hip, many-muraled Z Garage, to the newly resplendent David Whitney Building (Go inside!) — do make a point of driving past 601 Bagley.
It'll do your heart good.
Before the utility got ahold of it, anyone with an eye for buildings couldn't have helped but notice the once-forlorn little structure right across Bagley from the DTE headquarters. Empty since the early 1990s, Navitas' dilapidation was all the more depressing given the cheeriness of Fehlow's original design.
"When you'd leave our headquarters," says DTE vice-chairman Dave Meador, who helped shepherd the project into reality, "you'd face this boarded-up building with barbed wire, and sometime individuals sleeping on the street. We just knew it wasn't the image we wanted for Detroit."
So DTE bought the three-story, 32,000-square-foot structure in 2012, folding it into the company's plans for its wider campus.
On that score, you may have noticed that DTE completely reinvented the front of its black-steel skyscraper eight or so years ago, with strikingly modern fountains and a handsome glass atrium at the building's base.
You could call Navitas House the second act in that play. And there's more to come — the company's thinking of putting in a park on a large plot of land it owns at Grand River and Cass, right across from the soon-to-reopen G.A.R. Building.
"Part of what we're trying to do is proactively protect the neighborhood," Meador says, noting they think downtown development will soon spread west down the Bagley corridor.
"Initially the thought with Navitas House was to clean it up and see how the neighborhood developed," he adds, "with the idea of maybe flipping it. But then, because of work we're doing in our own building, we realized we needed additional space for three to five years for about 150 people."
And that's how the utility's I.T. department lucked into one of downtown's cutest addresses, and the city got a building to be proud of once again — a happy ending if there ever was one.