QEA’s redesign of the Garden Theater Block recreates a quintessential urban block through creative infill and careful restoration.

Anchoring one end is a rehabilitated commercial building with a neighborhood coffee bar and offices above. Dominating the block is the historic Garden Theater, rescued from virtual collapse and turned into a contemporary events venue, and restaurant/bar. Connecting the two is a sensitively designed, contextual new retail/office building. Nestled behind the block, a three hundred car parking deck provides parking while minimizing its impact on surrounding urban fabric.


  • Rehabbed three historic buildings
  • Constructed a compatible infill building
  • Created an entertainment venue, retail spaces and offices
  • Provided historic tax credit services
  • Located in Detroit's historic midtown


  • 2015 AIA Michigan Honor Award, Building Category
  • 2014 AIA Detroit Building Award
  • 2014 Project of the Year, Construction Association of Michigan

Contrast and Balance

The design of the Garden Theater artfully balances the restoration of remaining historic features with the insertion of significant contemporary elements, creating a visual tension that enhances the experience of both the old and the new. The diverse elements of the façade design tell the history of the building. The Victorian brick of the original exterior provides a contrasting background for the later Beaux Arts white terracotta theater entry, while a new metal arched canopy echoes the missing original decorative canopy and adds a contemporary note. This layering of history gives a hint of the transformation within. 

Grounded in History

This urban theater is a dynamic blend of historic preservation and contemporary design. Originally built in the 1890s as a characteristic three-story commercial building, the building was transformed into a theater with the construction of an addition in the 1910s by prolific theater designer C. Howard Crane. By 2010, the building was partially collapsing after three fires and years of neglect and vacancy.  

This quintessential late 19th century commercial building was restored with new windows and storefront, readying it for its internal transformation into a popular coffee shop/wine bar with neighborhood offices on the second floor for a major foundation.By nestling the parking structure behind an existing history structure and new infill building, the street face of Woodward is strengthened while providing the parking that was required so that this  “worst block on Woodward” could be redeveloped.  The simple application of a traditional architectural vocabulary to the face of the parking structure blends its character with that of the surrounding neighborhood.Restored block 15 years in the making

Historical Urban Chic

Little remained of the original ornate theater finishes, only a restored decorative plaster ceiling that was hidden above two layers of dropped ceilings. The restored ceiling now floats above a multi-purpose entertainment venue, creating a bit of historical urban chic. Detroit’s ruins, including the former ruined state of this space, are referenced in the broken plaster edge where it meets rough brick and concrete masonry walls that were once covered with decorative plaster. The raw aesthetic of existing walls is tempered by the elegance of the ornate plaster and new light fixtures.

“Had it gone through another hard winter, it would have been lost…At one time I was very worried that the outer façade was going to spill over into Woodward Avenue. Thanks to a lot of ingenuity from the architectural team and the structural engineers, we were able to preserve it”

George Stewart, Owner