Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Herman Kiefer Hospital

Herman Kiefer was one of a number of hospitals sprinkled across the city of Detroit. But unlike Henry Ford Hospital and similar facilities, Kiefer focused on treating contagious diseases and prevention.

Kiefer dates to 1893, when it was a clinic for contagious diseases, such as measles, tuberculosis and smallpox. For that reason, it was built far away from the city center, on the northern outskirts along Hamilton.

After several outbreaks swept through the city in the early 1900s, the push was on to build a more permanent, more suitable facility. The first two buildings of the complex opened in 1911, and was designed by George D. Mason, a renowned Detroit architect.

###Kiefer the man

The hospital was to be named by Dr. Guy Kiefer, a city health official who had fought to get a permanent infectious-disease hospital. However, Kiefer asked that it instead be named for his father, Herman Kiefer, a physician and civil rights activist.

Herman Kiefer was born in Sulzburg, Germany, on Nov. 19, 1825. Having joined the revolutionary movement in Germany during the 1840s, he was forced to flee the country after that movement was put down. He emigrated to New York on Sept. 19, 1849, and then moved to Detroit in a month later, opening a medical office downtown. In 1859, he was appointed to the position of city physician for District Four (which included Wards 1-3 at the time). In 1861, he co-founded the Detroit German American Seminary, and served on the Board of Education in 1866-67 and Detroit Public Library Commission in 1882-83.

Kiefer the hospital

By 1919, Herman Kiefer Hospital had grown to include five pavilions.

But as the city grew, especially with immigrants and lower-income residents, so did the number of illnesses -- and so did Kiefer. In 1921, voters signed off on a $3 million dollar bond to expand Kiefer, and Albert Kahn was hired to design the pavilions 6 and 7 and a modern powerhouse. These facilities were finished in 1922. The main building of the complex today was opened in December 1928. This gave the hospital 1,265 beds across its six pavilions and the main hospital building.

With advances in technology and treatment, including vaccines, large portions of the sprawling complex were not being used. Pavilions 3 and 5 were demolished in 1964 for construction of Sanders Elementary School. In the late 1970s and early '80s, Kiefer became a general hospital and clinic, as well as a drug treatment center.

In more recent times, the building housed the city health department and was known as the Herman Kiefer Health Complex.

In 2011, the city's Department of Health and Human Services was found to be in unsanitary, hazardous conditions and was relocated to Kiefer, with the city spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations. But about a year later, in March 2012, DHHS was shut down following an investigation into widespread misuse of funds. On Oct. 1, 2013, the city closed the complex and offered the building for sale.

Last updated 28/03/2023