Wayne State dedicates Tierney Alumni House in honor of $2 million gift

Wayne State dedicates Tierney Alumni House in honor of $2 million gift
Thomas T. Tierney ’60 B.A. and Elizabeth Carr Tierney speaking at the dedication ceremony for Tierney Alumni House.

Wayne State University has dedicated the historic Hecker House on campus as the new Tierney Alumni House in recognition of the generosity of Thomas T. Tierney ’60 B.A. and Elizabeth Carr Tierney. The Tierneys gave $2 million to the university to help preserve the home’s beauty, history and importance in the community for years to come.  A dedication ceremony was held September 30, 2015 officially renaming it Tierney Alumni House.

“This house is a celebrated landmark, rooted in Detroit’s culture for more than 120 years,” said Wayne State University President M. Roy Wilson. “We are proud to help preserve the historical value of the home with the generous support of the Tierneys.”

Wayne State purchased the Hecker House from Detroit-based law firm Charfoos & Christensen, P.C. for $2.3 million in September 2014. That same month, Wayne State School of Business alumnus Tom Tierney visited his alma mater during the 2014 Detroit Homecoming. Tom and his wife Elizabeth, who are noted philanthropists, wanted to support Wayne State’s efforts to preserve a cultural gem in Midtown Detroit.

“We are passionate about supporting education, arts and culture,” said Tom Tierney. “It is a worthy investment to preserve this home that is not only a work of art, but also a beloved piece of history in Detroit.”

The Tierneys’ gift will create a $1 million endowment to ensure the Tierney Alumni House is preserved and maintained for generations. An additional $1 million will support future programming. The building will house staff from the Alumni Association, Annual Giving and the HIGH Program, as well as emeriti faculty members.

The Tierney Alumni House is located on Woodward Avenue at East Ferry Street and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was designed by architect Louis Kamper and built between 1889 and 1892 for Col. Frank J. Hecker and his family. Kamper also designed Detroit landmarks such as the Book Cadillac Hotel, Book Tower, Broderick Tower and the Water Board Building. After Hecker’s death in 1927, the home became a boarding house until Smiley Brothers Music Company purchased it in 1947. The building became commonly known as the Hecker-Smiley Mansion.

In 1991, Charfoos & Christensen, P.C. purchased the house from the Smiley Brothers Music Company and invested more than $1 million to restore it to its original grandeur. One of the firm’s members, J. Douglas Peters, oversaw every step of the renovation as 28 subcontractors worked non-stop for 10 months to complete the project. In 2011, the law firm listed the house for sale, stipulating that the buyer must be committed to protecting the historic quality of the home.

“We were not going to sell until we found a buyer that truly respected the home’s history and beauty, and felt enthusiastic about maintaining it,” said Peters. “We were very happy when Wayne State University was able to fulfill this promise.”

The university also owns the historic Freer House, located on East Ferry Street behind the Tierney Alumni House. The home was originally built by art collector Charles Lang Freer, a lifelong friend and business associate of Hecker. Today the Freer House is home to the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute.

(October 12, 2015)

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