Ford Auditorium Sculptures, 1956

Photograph courtesy of The Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University

1956It was the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s (DSO) Hall for more than three decades. Malcolm X spoke there. Since opening in 1955 on Detroit’s riverfront, Ford Auditorium, which was erected as a memorial to Henry Ford and his son, Edsel, served as a venue for all sorts of events. Outside, the dark-granite façade flecked with blue mica made the edifice scintillate in the sun, and the sides were white marble. But it was the interior that was most arresting. In the foyer were three relief sculptures by Marshall Fredericks (1908-1998). Besides the 120-foot-long Ford Empire, there were two smaller reliefs commissioned by Eleanor Ford (Edsel’s widow). On the west wall was Harlequins (Juggler, Acrobat, and Lovesick Clown) and Circus Parade. On the east wall was Harlequins (Clown Musicians) and Ballerina, Orchestral Parade, pictured here as it was being installed in October 1956. The Harlequin sculptures were hammered and welded in copper, brass, nickel, aluminum, and stainless steel. The DSO left Ford Auditorium for Orchestra Hall in 1989. The Harlequins were dismantled in 2003 and put in storage until 2007, when the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum in Saginaw negotiated with the City of Detroit to have them moved to Groening Commons in Curtiss Hall on the campus of Saginaw Valley State University, where they are displayed today. But they first had to be restored. “They were sitting in an empty building [Ford Auditorium], but somebody got to them because there were pieces missing,” says Marilyn L. Wheaton, director of the Fredericks Museum. “Because all of the pieces had been hand-pounded, it took a year [for Detroit’s Venus Bronze Works] to fully restore it,” she says. Wheaton says the massive Ford Empire also needs restoration and is in storage. The final curtain for Ford Auditorium came in July 2011, when it was demolished.

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