Story behind the UAW – Ford National Programs Center

Vintage postcard of Veterans Memorial Building, Detroit, now UAW - Ford National Programs Center. Authors personal collection.


Location: 151 West Jefferson, Detroit MI 48226


The beautiful 10-story marble UAW-Ford National Programs Center is still referred to by many locals as the Veterans Memorial Building.  UAW-Ford purchased the building from the City in 2014 after leasing it as a training center for twenty years. Special features of the building designed by the architectural firm Harley, Ellington and Day include a large main floor theater-style conference room and 200-seat lecture hall. 


The building is significant for a number of reasons. It marks the founding of present day Detroit. The building's location is believed to be where  Antoine de le Mothe Cadillac and his entourage landed on July 24, 1701 and established the trading post settlement of Fort Pontchartrain du Detroit.


In 1921, city officials designated the site to be used as a memorial to American casualties of the Spanish American and First World Wars. The idea of a memorial finally came to fruition following World War II, and Veterans Memorial Building was officially dedicated on June 11, 1950. The memorial was the first structure built as part of the new civic center development.


The victory eagle prominently positioned on the front of the building is the work of Marshall M. Fredericks, a local sculptor considered to be one of the most prolific sculptors of the twentieth century. He’s known world-wide for his figurative sculpture, public memorials, fountains, portraits and animals.  The Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum digital archives describe the eagle as measuring 30 feet tall and projecting four and a half feet from the wall. The nearby Spirit of Detroit statue in front of city hall is also a Fredericks’ commission.


A life-size bronze monument inside the lobby pays tribute to UAW President Walter P. Reuther and Ford Motor Company CEO Henry Ford II. Artist Richard Miller depicted the two men shaking hands across the bargaining table, symbolizing a spirit of cooperation between labor and management.


In May 1970, Mr. Reuther and his wife May, lay in repose inside the building. The couple and four others died earlier that month in a tragic airplane accident at Pellston Regional Airport, located in northern Michigan, 25 miles from the United Auto Workers’ Black Lake retreat. The crash occurred as the pilot tried to land during heavy rain and fog.   Other casualties included: William Wolfman, Mrs. Reuther’s nephew and the couple’s bodyguard; Oscar Stonorov, renowned Philadelphia architect and family friend; pilots George Evans and Joseph Karrafa.  


Author bio: Karin Risko is the founder of City Tour Detroit and author of Michigan Civil War Landmarks published by The History Press. Currently, she's working on another History Press book A History Lover's Guide to Detroit scheduled for a late 2016 release.


Copyright 2016 Karin Risko / City Tour Detroit. Permission to republish post granted only if article is published in its entirety and includes complete author bio. 

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