Many Detroit buildings are fascinating both for their architecture and their history, but the building at 5716 Michigan Ave., recently renamed 5716 Wellness, has an especially intriguing history, from former San Telmo cigar factory in 1910 to a home for health services today.
The four-story building was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, who has also designed many other Detroit landmarks, ranging from the Art Deco Fisher building to Bonstelle Theater on the campus of Wayne State University (previously covered by Detroit City Limits in our December 2016 edition).
During the era when cigar factory was built, heavy wooden beams were used in construction, but later, construction companies changed to using steel beams. The former San Telmo Cigar Factory is one of the last, possibly the only remaining, building still standing in Detroit to still have those original wooden beams.
The building was used as part of Detroit’s thriving tobacco industry in the early 20th century, but changes in the industry lead to closing of cigar-making operations in 1926.
Between 1926 and 2007, the building was used for a gentleman’s club, retail operations, and a night club. It fell into disrepair and became a magnet for crime before being purchased for redevelopment by its current owner, Southwest Housing Solutions, in 2008.
Southwest Housing Solutions partnered with O’Brien Construction Company and used private grants and government funds to renovate the space, adding more energy-efficient windows and rehabbing the exterior masonry.
O’Brien Construction Senior Vice President Dan Ross said that making the building more energy efficient while maintaining its historic character was “pretty challenging.”
“Being that old, the building had a lot of cracks in the brick, and there was a lot of air infiltration through the walls,” Ross said. “We built a partition wall inside the existing wall and that is where we can put spray foam to stop the air infiltration.”
Today, the Covenant Community Center is located on the building’s first floor while, while social service and health programs for women, children and families occupy other floors, as well as a dental and health clinic for low-income patients who don’t have insurance.
More details about the renovations and photos of the building are available at the O’Brien Construction Company’s website: http://www.obriencc.com/5716-wellness/.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in southeast Michigan. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.