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Louis G. Redstone

Louis G. Redstone [1903-2002]

Louis Gordon Routenstein [†] (Redstone) was born March 16, 1903, in Grodno, then a part of the former Poland incorporated into the Russian Empire, now in Belarus near the borders of Poland and Lithuania. The family name was translated to Redstone by Louis' brother Sol when he immigrated to the United States in 1916. His parents ran a small military supply business providing uniforms and wares to the Russian Army. A talented embroiderer, Redstone's father was designated as the "Craftsman to his Imperial Majesty the Czar" after sending the Czar an embroidered pillow bearing the symbol of the State of Grodno. Redstone, who was the fifth of seven children, attended school in Grodno and developed his desire to study architecture at a relatively young age. In the wake of World War I, with few opportunities for young Jews in Polish-occupied Grodno, Redstone made the decision to travel to Palestine as part of a Zionist youth corps program. The primary purpose of the program was for the participants, who were referred to as "Pioneers," to work on infrastructure projects that would prepare the land for Jewish settlement. Over the course of several years working in Palestine, Redstone was assigned to a variety of projects including landscape restoration and reforestation work, the draining of swamps and the construction of several residences. It was while working on the construction projects that Redstone first began to develop his skills as a mason.

In the mid-1920s Redstone's brother Sol, who had already immigrated to the United States and was living in Detroit, encouraged Louis to join him in America. He emphasized that the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor had one of the best architectural schools in the country and that Louis should consider applying to the program. Redstone made the decision to leave Palestine and traveled to the United States in 1923. He did not enroll in school immediately but instead chose to "prepare" for his future study of architecture by working as a construction laborer and mason during the day and studying English and blue-print reading in the evenings. This lasted a few years until he was able to save enough money for tuition. It was during this period that Redstone met his future long-time friend Samuel Cashwan, an artist and sculptor with whom Redstone would collaborate for much of his career. Cashwan received his art training at the Architectural League of New York and also attended the Ecole des Beaux Arts. He was named head of the sculpture department at the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts and then later went on to teach at the University of Michigan. Throughout his career, Cashwan was commissioned to complete several public monuments and also provided art and sculpture for numerous building projects throughout Michigan. During the Depression he headed the WPA Sculpture section for Michigan and in 1942 his work was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art. Redstone displayed a number of Cashwan's sculptures in his home and also collaborated with him to design the wading pool in the backyard of the Appoline Street houses.

Redstone was accepted into the architecture program at the University of Michigan in 1925. He studied in Ann Arbor over the next four years, returning to Detroit each summer to work as a brick mason. Redstone excelled academically and was recognized as a member of the honorary architectural fraternity, Tau Sigma Delta. He graduated with a Bachelor's degree in architecture in 1929. In his autobiography Redstone relays an interesting exchange between himself and the Dean of the Architecture Department at the time, Emil Lorch, where Lorch expresses concern about Redstone's "modern approach" to his designs and suggests that his student work showed influence of the "style of ancient synagogues."

After graduating Redstone traveled to Grodno to see his family and then took an extended tour of Europe including visits to Paris, Florence and Rome. He returned to the United States and was able to secure a drafting position in Detroit with Albert Kahn Associates. With the onset of the Great Depression he was laid off but eventually found work for a short period of time with Frederick Howell, "an English-born architect who specialized in custom-designed homes." His employment lasted for approximately eight months until once again he found himself out of work. In 1931 Redstone responded to an advertisement for engineers and technicians with knowledge of the Russian language. He was hired by the Ford Motor Company to work on the Autostroy project, where he translated technical manuals and then worked as part of an architectural team designing automobile factories for various sites in the Soviet Union. This position lasted until 1933 when the project was completed. In light of the poor economic conditions Redstone chose to return to Palestine to seek work in the architectural field so that he could continue to gain experience in his new profession.

Between 1933 and 1937 Redstone practiced as an architect in Palestine completing projects in and around Tel Aviv. He also worked on the Levant Fair designing pavilions for the various exhibitors. The Levant Fair was an international trade fair that began in 1924 and was held in various locations near Tel Aviv until it was given a permanent home on the Yarkon Peninsula. In 1934, the year Redstone worked on the Fair, it featured exhibits from 821 foreign companies representing 23 different countries. The buildings constructed for the Fair were for the most part modern International Style structures with smooth, white stucco exteriors. Through his work on the Levant Fair project Redstone became acquainted with several local developers and decided to open his own architectural office. Redstone received a number of commissions for moderate-sized apartment buildings but also had to supplement his income by producing presentation drawings for other established architectural firms. Faced with the looming threat of another World War and an obligation to return to the United States to retain his American citizenship, Redstone decided to leave Palestine. Before returning to America, however, Redstone briefly reunited with the firm he worked with on the Levant Fair project and spent several months in Paris working as part of a team of architects designing the Jewish Pavilion for the 1937 World's Fair. After arriving back in Michigan and having difficulty finding work with established local firms Redstone made the decision to open his own architectural office. He initially started out completing residential commissions but continued to prepare presentation drawings and also provide printing services for other architects. His brother Sol served as the company's business manager and his sister Riva managed the books (a position she would hold for over 30 years). Redstone continued to apply a contemporary approach to his work and before long he was being sought after to design more buildings in the modern style. As part of one of these early residential commissions Redstone applied his innovative concept of conjoined rear yards between several residences. He achieved this by moving the garages from their typical location at the rear of the property and attaching them to the residence. He also eliminated the dividing fences between the individual lots creating a common shared yard, a design he would use again for the Appoline Street houses (Louis G. Redston Residential Historic District). Several more commissions came as a result of an exhibit of Redstone's water color paintings entitled "Palestine Impressions," held at the J. L. Hudson Gallery. This public display of Redsone's artwork resulted in him designing the Tom Borman residence for the owner of Tom's Food Markets and the headquarters for the Workman's Circle Organization, a Jewish fraternal society.

Redstone was selected to design a number of shopping centers during the 1950s. Working in association with nationally acclaimed commercial architect Victor Gruen, who would become the country's premier shopping center designer, Redstone participated in the design of Southland and Westland, the first suburban shopping malls in the Detroit area, developed by the J. L. Hudson Company, owners of downtown Detroit's leading department store, as well as several others in Ann Arbor (Arborland), Livonia (Wonderland) and Flint (Genesee Valley). In 1973 he wrote a book on the subject entitled New Dimensions in Shopping Centers and Stores.

Over the course of his career Redstone became increasingly involved in the American Institute of Architects (AlA), traveling annually to the organization's conferences and serving as president of the Detroit Chapter. He also continued his earlier work with the Architects Civic Design Group by chairing its successor organization, the Architects Urban Design Collaborative, a group of 35 architects who volunteered their time to develop a program and plan for revitalizing Detroit's Central Business District (CBD). This led to another book completed in 1976 entitled The New Downtowns: Rebuilding Business Districts. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing into the 1980s Redstone traveled extensively throughout the world, first as part of several international tours organized by the AlA and then later as an official delegate of the International Union of Architects (UIA). In 1970 the Redstone firm designed the Michael Berry Terminal at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County International Airport and then later in the 1980s was involved in several rehabilitation projects on the Detroit riverfront and at various colleges and universities throughout southeastern Michigan.

Redstone's talents as both an architect and artist were recognized and acknowledged throughout his long career. In addition to numerous design awards for individual building projects, Redstone was also recognized for his broader contributions to the architectural profession when he was inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects in 1964. In his FAIA nomination he is praised for his philosophy of design which is said to be based on the "honest expression and use of materials, special attention to details and the integration of the arts with architecture." In 1969 he was the Gold Medal winner of the AlA's Detroit chapter and later in 1978 he received a Gold Medal from the Michigan Society of Architects, the highest honor conveyed by the organization. In addition to these and several other honors he received the AlA's Robert Hastings Award for his contributions to improving the quality of the urban environment and a Life Membership Card from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftsmen, and was elected an honorary fellow of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of the Netherlands.

The Redstone architectural firm celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 1987. Louis Redstone died in 2002 at the age of 99. The Redstone firm continues to operate today with Dan Redstone serving as president.

† Rob Yallop, Lord, Aeck & Sargent, architects, Louis G. Redstone Residential Historic District, Wayne County, MI, nomination document, 2012, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.