Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Liberal Arts Building

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Institution Name: Marygrove College
Original/Historic Place Name: Liberal Arts Building
Location on Campus: center of north-south campus axis
Date(s) of Construction:
1925-1927original construction Bohlen, Oscar D. D. A. Bohlen & Son
Designer: Oscar D. Bohlen; D. A. Bohlen & Son (Indianapolis, IN)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival, Other (Glossary)
Significance: culture, history, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete piling
Walls: solid masonry faced on all exterior surfaces with Indiana Olithic Limestone
Roof: Vermont slate, copper flashing
1927-present (2006)museum (art gallery)
1927-present (2006)faculty offices
1927-present (2006)administration
1927-present (2006)chapel
1927-present (2006)theater
1927-present (2006)classrooms (and laboratories)
1927-present (2006)library

Oscar D. Bohlen selected for the architectural style of Marygrove College "a free interpretation of the Tudor Gothic known as Collegiate Gothic." Its application in the Liberal Arts Building can be seen in the pointed arches, high ceilings, traceried windows, carved decoration, ribbed vaults, foliated ornamentation, corbels, capitals, bay windows, oriels, and stained glass typical of American academic architecture from 1900 until after the Second World War. Following the Gothic tradition of pictorial instruction, selected symbols and designs repeat themselves in stone, wood, plaster, bronze, and wrought iron throughout the building.

To emphasize the prominence of the Liberal Arts Building, four Gothic, copper-roofed towers rise 137 feet above the main entrance of the building, connected by ornamental stone lace work. High between the twin towers is a large illuminated clock and clock works, which control all the clocks in the Liberal Arts Building as well as four great chimes which ring on the quarter hour. Weighing 2,425 pounds, the chimes are set on a high foundation to the left of the clock works.
The chimes are a reproduction of those at Westminster Abbey. Each bears the name of an evangelist--Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John--and each carries one of four inscriptions from the text of the Angelus. On the first bell are the words "Angelus Domini nuntiavit mariae" ("The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary"); on the second, "Et Verbum caro factum est," ("And the Word was made flesh"); on the third, "Crucifixus etiam pro nobis" ("He was crucified also for us"); and on the fourth, "Resurrexit secut dixit" ("He rose again as He said"). Thus every fifteen minutes the bells recall, to those who understand their message, the Christian story of redemption.

The general entrance and the main lobby of the Liberal Arts Building are treated in Tavernelle Rose Marble from floor to ceiling; Tavernelle Rose is also used for the wainscoting of the main corridors of the first story. The Gothic vaulted ceiling of the Liberal Arts foyer gives it a spacious appearance and quickly leads the eye through to the main chapel. The lobby also opens to the main stairway, the elevators, and the corridors leading to several parts of the building. Gray cartridge Missouri Marble is used on the floors of the first floor corridor. The treads and risers of the three main stairways are of White Alabama Marble.

Whether in stone, wood, plaster, bronze, brass, or wrought iron, several visual elements repeat throughout the Liberal Arts Building and the campus as a whole. These include the French fleur-de-lis, or Christian lily symbolic of purity and of Mary; the plain quatrefoil and Gothic quatrefoil rose pattern, recalling Mary as the rose without thorns; trefoils and multifoils; artist's palette; harp; laurel wreath; torch of enlightenment; lamp of learning; fish and cross; lamb; cross and anchor; and oak leaves and acorns. The Gothic pointed arch motif repeats as well, not only at regular intervals in the long corridors of the Liberal Arts Building, but in the main altar of the Sacred Heart Chapel, the statuary niches, the carvings of the oak confessionals, the design of the exterior doors, the hardware, the library chairs, the carvings of the towers, and the stone lattice work of the stained glass windows in the Liberal Arts and Madame Cadillac chapels.

Above the east and west doors of the Liberal Arts Building the stonework shows some traditional symbols of Christianity: the palette and brushes of the artist, the harp of the musician, the laurel wreath of the scholar, the lamp of learning; and the fish and cross. These same symbols occur in the medallions on the capitals of the English oak pillars in the Fisher Room of the Library. Painted plaster medallions on the columns in the main lobby of the Liberal Arts Building depict the cross and anchor, symbols of firmness, solidity, and hope; the fleur-de-lis; and two representations of hands holding a torch, one inscribed "sciencia" (knowledge), the other "fides" (faith).

Variations of the quatrefoil and trefoil are found throughout the campus: on the brass doorknobs, as the main pattern on the bronze ventilation grilles in the public spaces of the two major buildings, in the wrought iron gates of both the entrance arch and the two main driveways, on the wrought iron stair railings throughout both buildings, and in much of the stone carvings on the Liberal Arts towers and at the entrances to the buildings.

In the main lobby, stairwells, and first and second floor corridors of the Liberal Arts Building can be found eight hand-carved Carrara marble statues whose figures are closely associated with the history of Catholic culture and with the City of Detroit, along with three statues representing the Spirits of Patriotism, Education, and Religion. Each statue is installed in a Gothic-style, marble wall niche. The statues were hand crafted in the Pietrasanta, Italy studios of the Deprato Statuary Company, Pontifical Institute of Christian Art, with offices at the time in Chicago, New York, and Pietrasanta. The company was founded in 1860 as a provider of high quality statuary, altars, art glass windows, marble, stations of the cross, and altar fixtures to Catholic churches throughout the United States and Canada. It is still in existence as Daprato Rigali, Chicago.

The Spirit of Patriotism, a female figure into whose left hand an American flag can be inserted, stands just inside the Liberal Arts lobby on the east side. Opposite her, crowned with a laurel wreath and holding a torch in one hand and a book in the other, is a female figure representing Education. On the landing of the central marble stairwell is a female figure of the Spirit of Religion holding a cross aloft in one hand and in the other a scroll inscribed, "The Truth of the Lord Endureth Forever."

The statues representing historical and religious figures are:
§ Dante, author of The Divine Comedy
§ St. Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, author of the Summa Theologica
§ St. Teresa of Avila, Spanish mystic, reformer of Carmel, Doctor of the Church
§ St. Cecilia, martyr, patron saint of music
§ Christopher Columbus, explorer, depicted with his finger on a globe, pointing to Michigan
§ Reverend Gabriel Richard, second founder of the City of Detroit following the great fire of 1805; pastor of Ste. Anne de Detroit; co-founder of the University of Michigan; delegate to Congress
§ St. John Berchmans, patron saint of youth
§ St. Joan of Arc, martyr.

Visitors entering the fourth floor art department through the solid bronze Gothic gates often assume that these are the work of Samuel Yellin, America's foremost designer of ornamental wrought iron and bronze. They do so because the artistry and craftsmanship of the Marygrove grilles greatly resemble Yellin installations of the same period at the Detroit Institute of Arts and Cranbrook. Marygrove's three bronze gates were in fact designed and executed by The L. Schreiber & Sons Co. of Cincinnati, Ohio, makers of ornamental iron and bronze. The three sets of gates and grilles (located at the central, east, and west stairwells of the 4th floor) were commissioned at a cost of $25,000.

The Fisher Room of the Library, the original 1927 reading room, is carried out in English oak wainscoting extending to the ceiling. The columns and ceiling beams are also of oak. Mr. Bohlen noted that the room was developed "in the simple style of the late Gothic period, in every way restful to eye and mind." The Gothic style tables, dictionary stands, atlas and magazine cases featuring oak leaf and acorn hand carvings were made of quartered white oak finished to match the trim in the library.

The Liberal Arts Auditorium which parallels the library on the east and the chapel in the center provided a large stage and sloping floor, with exits located so that the space could be used independently of other portions of the building. The wainscoting was of selected oak, stained, filled, varnished and hand rubbed; the floor is maple. The auditorium originally sat 674.

In order to house the University of Detroit Theatre Company in the early 1970s at a time when Marygrove and U-D had consolidated their fine and performing arts departments, the original auditorium was completely transformed through construction of an extended thrust stage, modeled after the Stratford, Ontario and Guthrie theatres (Minneapolis).

In 2002, the 400-seat Marygrove College Theatre was entirely rebuilt and upgraded. In addition to new mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems, the renovation included new acoustical, lighting, and projection systems; a stage with a larger footprint and sprung floor; new seating, stage rigging, and grand drape; and expanded dressing rooms, green room, and understage rehearsal space. The original chandeliers, wainscoting, and decorative plaster work were entirely refurbished. New sound lock doors and hardware were fabricated to match the Gothic-style doors and hardware of the original 1927 construction. Kessler Francis Cardoza, Detroit, served as architects for the theatre renovation. The Christman Company, Lansing, Michigan, acted as general contractor.

The finishes, light fixtures, and architectural elements of the Liberal Arts Building have changed little in 75 years. However, the marble treads and risers are worn; there are some cracks in the marble corridors of the first floor; expansive open stairwells have been enclosed and fire doors installed; and ceilings have been lowered in classrooms on the second and third floors, hiding miles of fiber optic cable. While functioning at full tilt, the Liberal Arts building is nonetheless in desperate need of new electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. This is particularly true in the 3rd floor science labs. The marble statues and altars also need a professional, deep cleaning. The mechanism controlling the clock and chimes no longer functions.

The intellectual, spiritual, and artistic life of the campus has resided in the Liberal Arts Building for 75 years. Its long, arched hallways, lovely chapel, original light fixtures and hardware, beautiful library reading room, and historically renovated theatre appeal to students, alumnae, and the larger community today as they have from the beginning. Though students, staff, and faculty are far different from those of 1927, the Liberal Arts Building is still literally and figuratively at the center of the campus community.


Johns, Barbara, comp. A Brief History and Architectural Guide. Detroit, MI: Marygrove College, 2002.

Master Plan. 2001. Marygrove College, Detroit, MI.

Rosalita, Sr. M. No Greater Service: The History of the Congregation of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, 1845-1945. Detroit, MI: Marygrove College, 1948.

Souvenir Volume [Dedication of Marygrove College]. [Detroit, MI: Marygrove College], November 10, 1927.


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