Detroit’s Cultural Center is about to get even more culture.
The Hellenic Museum of Michigan, at 67 E. Kirby, across from the Detroit Institute of Arts, will open its doors next month with an exhibit on the Greek-American experience.
The museum will also offer Greek-language classes taught by Wayne State University (WSU) professors, lectures, library and archival resources, as well as a gift shop, bookstore, and coffeehouse.
Board president Ernie Zachary says the idea for a museum had been brewing for years, but it picked up steam fairly recently. “We realized that nothing was going to happen unless the Greek community came to support it,” Zachary says. “There were a number of people and organizations that got involved to purchase the property.” Last November, the 1906 structure was bought from WSU for $355,000.
“The building was empty for years, but WSU maintained it, so it was in fairly good shape,” Zachary says. Spreading awareness of Greek culture is the goal of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but Zachary says the center isn’t just for those claiming Greek heritage.
“This institution will be for the general Detroit community,” he says. “We did focus groups with students who are part of WSU’s Greek-language program, and we were interested in what non-Greeks said. One was going to be a doctor and wanted to learn Greek because the language is the basis for medicine. Another was interested in architecture and wanted to learn the Greek Classical style.”
Zachary also stresses that the museum won’t be a place of dusty artifacts. “We want to host lectures and exhibits that emphasize modern Greek culture and literature, not just ancient marble statues,” he says.
The museum opening isn’t the only milestone area Greeks have to be proud of. In Greektown, the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral at 707 E. Lafayette is marking its centenary. Special events will continue through December, when a time capsule will be created.
In 1910, when the first church (it was elevated to a cathedral in 1962) was built on Macomb Street, it served about 900 foreign-born Greeks who recently moved to the neighborhood, which acquired the moniker Greektown. In 1968, a larger edifice was erected to replace the old church, now demolished. Like most of Detroit’s ethnic enclaves, denizens gradually moved outside the city. But the cathedral still serves its flock from the original neighborhood.
The cathedral’s Rev. Father Athanas (Tom) G. George attributes the cathedral’s perseverance to his parishioners, saying: “We have a very close-knit community, and our parishioners are very loyal.”