Frank Murphy Hall of Justice


Date: 1970

City: Detroit

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Rob Yallop.

The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice is located on Gratiot Avenue in close proximity to the Wayne County Jail and Detroit’s police headquarters in Greektown. The building, by Eberle M. Smith, was completed in 1970. The use of poured and precast concrete and minimal window openings gives this twelve-story building a heavy, monolithic appearance. Adhering to the tenets of Brutalist architecture, the building’s internal configuration is clearly expressed on its exterior. The location of each of the building’s courtrooms is visible as a windowless bay cantilevered outward. Windowed bays indicate jury rooms and judges’ offices. Visible at each end of the building are separate elevator shafts for prisoners. Offices at the top three floors feature continuous windows.

The Frank Murphy Hall of Justice was designed in the late 1960s by architect Eberle Smith. Smith began his career with Albert Kahn Associates and established his own firm in 1942. He became nationally known for his progressive, student-centered school designs. In Michigan, Smith designed Edsel Ford High School (1955) and Henry Ford Community College (1961) in Dearborn and Lincoln Park and Flint High Schools (1960).

On the Gratiot side of the building, Hand of God, by Swedish-born sculptor Carl Milles, was installed in 1970 by the United Auto Workers as a tribute to Frank Murphy, a former mayor of Detroit, who became governor of Michigan in 1934 and served during the Flint Sit-down Strike of 1936-37. The sculpture was selected in 1959 by UAW president Walter P. Reuther and Judge Ira W. Jane, but the finished monument remained in storage until a home was found for it. This cast bronze work depicts a young man gazing skyward in awe and surprise as the hand of his creator lifts him to the heavens.

The sculpture itself was Milles’ last work as an artist-in-residence at Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, completed shortly before his death in 1955. Marshall Fredericks, himself a student of Milles, supervised the installation and recommended that the sculpture be elevated on a tall pylon of black granite. A reflecting pool, originally planned for the site, was never constructed.

The Third Judicial Court of Michigan operates from several buildings including the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice and three others.

(Text excerpted from the Detroit DrivingTour script developed by the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board staff.)