July 30, 2019

Wayne State bids fond farewell to Helen L. DeRoy Apartments

Helen L. DeRoy Apartments, circa 1970. Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially to a campus building that thousands of Warriors (and Tartars!) have called home. Following the end of the winter ’19 semester, the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments officially closed on May 1, 2019.

Since construction finished in 1974, the 15-story building has housed more than 350 students, faculty and staff annually, and was home to the College of Education’s Early Childhood Center and the newly relocated Campus Health Center.

Watch the ongoing construction live here

Following the end of the winter ’19 semester, the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments officially closed on May 1, 2019. In the spirit of the building and her care for the community, a number of furnishings and appliances set aside before demolition have found new purpose in local nonprofits that fight homelessness in metro Detroit.

For 45 years, the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments overlooked campus as one of Midtown’s tallest buildings. It witnessed Wayne State’s growth into Michigan’s only urban public research institution, and watched the campus and the city around it change and develop into a place students want to call home. The design itself was groundbreaking for its time, and, when completed, was the first apartment building in Michigan to be barrier-free and accessible, well before the Americans with Disabilities Act became law in the ’90s. 

While the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments will be missed, it is remembered through alumni stories of their college experiences, and because it proved Wayne State was much more than a commuter campus. Subsequent waitlists and demand for campus housing showed how much students wanted to be a part of Detroit’s story by living in the center of it all. DeRoy’s legacy remains strong in the new campus residence halls and neighborhood apartments that have taken shape over the years. Inspired by the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments, these new housing options have transformed the Warrior experience, bringing new energy to campus and adding vibrancy to its Midtown neighborhood.

The DeRoy Testamentary Foundation and Wayne State are honoring Helen L. DeRoy’s legacy in ways that reflect her generosity and commitment to Wayne State and the entire metro Detroit region. In the spirit of the building and her care for the community, a number of furnishings and appliances set aside before demolition have found new purpose in local nonprofits that fight homelessness in metro Detroit.

Demolition began in late June 2019 and will continue through August as part of the 2016-2026 Campus Housing Master Plan. You can follow the progress and learn more about the Campus Housing Master Plan online at housing.wayne.edu/about/masterplan.

A student reads outside the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments, circa 1975.
Photo courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Who was Helen L. DeRoy?

Aaron and Helen L. DeRoy were both born in Pennsylvania in the 1880s. The couple came to Detroit in 1923, where Aaron created the Aaron DeRoy Motor Car Co. and opened a Hudson Essex distributorship, eventually expanding his business throughout the region. The DeRoys gave generously to the community during the very difficult Depression years.

After Aaron’s death in 1935, Helen L. DeRoy (1881-1977) took over the family businesses, becoming a pioneering woman executive in the industry during an era when few women owned any kind of business. She led the companies with great financial acumen while continuing the family’s philanthropic tradition by creating the Helen L. DeRoy Foundation in 1946.

When Helen passed away in 1977, the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation was founded; it has since provided funding for thousands of projects that improve the quality of life and promote the well-being of individuals, primarily in the greater metropolitan Detroit community. Among the many organizations supported by the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation are the Helen L. DeRoy Apartments and the DeRoy Auditorium at Wayne State University, Jewish Federation, Detroit Arts Support, Vista Maria, JARC, Oakland Family Services, and the Detroit Zoo, a tradition that began in 1928 when Aaron DeRoy purchased the first two giraffes for the zoo.