This week in Lathrup Village history: On or around May 21, 1992, the landmark Town Hall on Southfield Road was demolished.

Not to be confused with city hall, Town Hall was the business headquarters and later also the residence of town founder Louise Lathrup Kelley and her family. Designed by Detroit architects Halpin and Jewell in 1926, it was “in the spirit of old Independence Hall…a living landmark—both a business and a service depot,” according to a marketing publication. It stood across the street from Annie Lathrup School.

In the early years of development of Lathrup Townsite (as it was then known), Town Hall provided an office for the engineers, architects and auditors working on the development, as well as a mortgage business. “The Town Hall was designed to house the community engineering and development headquarters and the home financing and free house-plan sources,” according to the publication Lathrup Townsite—a new city in the making.

During the Great Depression, the Kelleys left their nearby mansion, House-in-the-Woods and moved into the second floor of Town Hall. For a time, Annie Lathrup lived with them, and there was some remodeling to accommodate the family. Mr. and Mrs. Kelley lived and worked there for the rest of their lives.

Town Hall and House-in-the-Woods were inherited by the Kelleys’ only child, Louise Driscoll. According to newspaper clippings, Town Hall was sold in 1985. In 1991, the city had a chance to buy it but passed, due to its deteriorating condition. That same year, it was purchased by the Surnow Company.

The city’s newly formed Historic District Study Committee wanted to save the building and asked council to put a millage question on the ballot. Council said organizers should instead circulate petitions to see if there was support for their request. (I have seen no evidence that ever materialized.)

Surnow offered land to move Town Hall elsewhere, but the cost was prohibitive. In the end, it was demolished.

“The city, strapped with a bare bones budget and fresh from layoffs, simply could not bear the financial burden of purchasing, renovating and caring for the site,” a 1992 newspaper editorial states. “The fact is that Old Town Hall was lost not this month but years ago when it was allowed to fall into disrepair.”

During the demolition a huge safe, eight by six by 10 feet, was pried open and found to be full of documents, along with Louise’s own briefcase. The documents provided “a chronological history of the city going back to 1917,” according to Dr. Fred Stoye, chairman of the HDSC.  

“We were all pretty surprised,” said then-city administrator Jeff Bremer. Surnow donated these documents to the newly formed Lathrup Village Historical Society.

After a long battle over zoning and planning issues, the building was replaced by a strip of retail buildings, which remain today.

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