The Dunbar Community Center by Alden B. Dow

The Dunbar Community Center was founded in 1923 in Ann Arbor by the Rev. R.M. Gilbert of the Second Baptist Church.  Named for the noted Black poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, it was a vibrant gathering place for the predominantly Black community in which it was located, with recreational and educational activities for all ages.  By the late 1950s, it was ready to expand from the brick house it occupied at the time.  Leading the momentum for a modern new building was Margaret Dow Towsley, treasurer of the Dunbar building program and Alden B. Dow’s younger sister.

Mr. Dow began the preliminary drawings for the new center in February 1958 and completed the working drawings by October.  Because the new building was intended serve the entire city, the Dunbar Center board voted to change the name to the Ann Arbor Community Center the same year.   The Collinson Construction Company of Midland was awarded the construction contract for its bid of $151,676.  Contracts for the mechanical and electrical work brought the total project cost up to $200,976.

The tan brick exterior is topped by a flat roof with a bevel wood frieze along the roofline.  It sits close to the street with the entrance just steps from the sidewalk.  A low brick wall running along the sidewalk shields a large sunken courtyard from street traffic.  The L-shaped footprint follows the sloping grade of the site and allows for a two-level building that appears to be one level when viewed from the street.  Windows lining the upper and lower levels are separated by wood spandrels.

On the upper floor of the interior, original floorplans show a large assembly room and adjacent kitchen dominating one wing, with a conference room, lounge
area, and two offices in the other wing.  On the courtyard level are a large recreation room, an arts and crafts room, sewing room, and two small apartments, each with their own bathroom and kitchenette.

The new Ann Arbor Community Center was dedicated on January 24, 1960.  The building was sold in 2017 to a local tech entrepreneur, who took an active role in rehabilitating the structure and addressing deferred maintenance.  His healthcare technology company currently occupies the upper level space and the community center leases the lower level.

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