University District

University District is a neighborhood in Detroit, Michigan, United States. Located one mile west of Woodward Avenue, the University District is named for its neighbor to the south, the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM)[1]. The neighborhood is bounded on the north by residential Seven Mile Road, on the south by McNichols Road and the UDM campus, and on the east by the Detroit Golf Club and Golf Club Estates. The western boundary is Livernois Avenue: once known to Detroiters as “the Avenue of Fashion,” this commercial boulevard of small shops is becoming “Gallery Row,” home to a growing collection of art galleries and art-related businesses.


The area now called the University District was originally farmland in the survey township of Greenfield, Michigan, organized by its residents in 1833 and named for its prosperous farms. A typical title abstract in the neighborhood shows a first sale by the "United States of America, Martin Van Buren, President," on April 1, 1837. The University District was annexed to the City of Detroit in the election of November 7, 1916. In November 1920, John P. McNichols, S.J., the newly appointed president of the University of Detroit, traveled with armed companions from the campus on Jefferson Avenue in downtown Detroit to Six Mile Road (then known as Palmer Boulevard, now called McNichols Road). He carried a satchel supposedly containing $100,000 in cash (it contained sliced newspaper—the cash was in his overcoat) to purchase the farm that is now the Main Campus of the University of Detroit Mercy. Four months later, 33 building lots along Livernois north of Palmer were sold in a three-day period. Gesu Catholic Church was soon established despite proximity to the Seven Mile and Livernois area known for anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan activity. For several decades, the southwest quadrant of the University District was home to large Catholic families, including that of Detroit Mayor Jerome Cavanaugh.
In the 1920s and 1930s, building lots were sold by the Detroit Land Contract Company. Deeds specified single detached dwellings, no nearer than 30 feet to the front lot line, built of brick, stone or concrete, and at least two stories high, although permission to build a bungalow was occasionally given. The deed required a building to cost at least $6,000 in the eastern half of the neighborhood and at least $5,000 in the western half. The buildings were to be residences only, no "intoxicating or spiritous liquors" could be made or sold, and the homes could never be sold to or used by persons other than "of white or Caucasian race." The first homeowners were primarily realtors, senior partners in law firms and insurance agencies, or the owners and managers of prosperous Detroit businesses. The University District gained a substantial Jewish population beginning in the 1940s, when racial covenants were no longer enforced and synagogue Adat Shalom (now Bailey Cathedral, Church of God in Christ) was built on Curtis a block west of Livernois. Among the notables were numerous physicians, business owners like Stanley Winkleman of the Detroit department store chain bearing his name, and musicians from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Concertmaster Mischa Mischakoff entertained visiting conductors and soloists at his University District home: subsequent owners have preserved the foyer wall autographed by these artists.

African-American families began moving into the University District in the 1960s. "White flight" began and increased after the rebellion and rioting in central Detroit in 1967 and the imposition of court-ordered school busing. Although the University District is now, like the rest of the city, majority black, the early days of the transition were difficult. That experience has recently been captured on stage in "Palmer Park," a play by Joanna Glass, who lived in the neighborhood during that time.