Minoru Yamasaki’s McGregor Center named historic landmark

Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press

The McGregor Memorial Conference Center, a Modernist masterpiece located at Detroit’s Wayne State University, was among five sites added to the nation’s list of historic landmarks today by the National Park Service.

An Indiana house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park, an 1872 covered bridge in California and the Brookline Reservoir in Massachusetts were the other sites added to the list of National Historic Landmarks, joining more than 2,500 other sites.

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Photo: John Gallagher/Detroit Free Press

McGregor Memorial Conference Center, Photo: John Gallagher/Detroit Free Press

Designed by renowned Japanese-American Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center towers in New York City, the two-story steel-frame and concrete folded slab McGregor Memorial Conference Center was built in an evolving International style, which eventually gave Yamasaki a worldwide reputation.

“Beautiful architecture and landscape are some of the signatures of our Midtown Detroit campus and we are honored to have the National Park Service recognize one of its most iconic buildings,” Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson said. “Anyone who would like to visit our campus and check out the McGregor Memorial Conference Center and the other historic buildings is always welcome.”

As the Free Press’ John Gallagher wrote in 2010, Yamasaki, in his best work, “softened and humanized the sometimes cold and rigid glass-box style of architecture that prevailed” in the 1950s and ’60s using “geometric patterns as decoration, pearl-white exteriors and abundant glass.”

Completed in 1958, the conference center — financed by the McGregor Foundation and one of four structures designed by Yamasaki at Wayne State — includes meeting rooms and reception space overlooking a lobby featuring free-standing columns and partitions highlighted with teakwood.

With a refurbished reflecting pond and sculpture garden nearby, the conference center remains the university’s primary conference facility. In 2013, the Free Press called it “jewel-like” and “a touchstone of greatness.”

Yamasaki also designed the annex to the Federal Reserve Bank Detroit branch where the Free Press is now located. He died in 1986. His son, Taro, won a Pulitzer Prize as a photographer for the Free Press in 1981.

Established in 1935, the National Historic Landmarks Program works with preservation officials, property owners and others to nominate properties, which are considered for landmark designation by the U.S. Interior Department. Once selected, property ownership remains in place but each site receives a designation letter and becomes eligible for technical advice on preservation from the NPS.

The other sites designated for inclusion on the list today included the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Samara, or John E. and Catherine E. Christian House, in West Lafayette. Ind.; the Lake Hotel in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming; the California Powder Works Bridge in Santa Cruz County, Calif.; and the Brookline Reservoir.

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