Highland Street west of Woodward Avenue in Highland Park is particularly troubled street in a troubled city. Once the civic center of the city, it is now lined by vacant apartment buildings, schools, and hospitals. At the west end of the street is a cul-de-sac with a stately, three story brick building gutted by fire and scrappers. Carved in stone over the door is "St. Luke's Hospital."
St. Luke's dates back as far as the early 1850's. Though health care was still fairly primitive by today's standards, people were living longer lives, and there was an acute need for facilities to help the aged. In 1853, Matilda Caniff left $1,500 to St. Paul’s Episcopal church "for the purpose of erecting a Hospital for the poor of the Episcopal denomination in the city, to be called St. Luke’s Hospital." It took several years of fundraising, but St. Luke's Hospital was organized on February 7th, 1861. In 1863, Mrs. H.R. Andrews donated a house she owned on Lafayette between Griswold and Shelby to start the hospital.
The hospital was run and supported by Detroit's Episcopal churches, particularly St. John and St. Paul. Even in the early days the emphasis was more on the care for the elderly than as a hospital. There were 50 residents, in a well furnished but not luxurious house. A large garden provided food and recreation for the residents.
In 1865, the organization bought land on West Fort Street in what is today the neighborhood of Springwells. The Detroit Free Press reported that it was "Intended to be imminently a Christian asylum, combining with the physical relief of its inmates the consolations of our religion." However, lack of funding delayed construction, and for two years St. Luke’s operated out of an unoccupied building offered to them rent-free by Harper Hospital.
Construction on the first of the buildings, designed by Gordon W. Lloyd in the style of "domestic gothic," began in June of 1868 on Fort Street. The cornerstone was laid on August 21st, 1868. A little over a year later was the grand opening of St. Luke's Hospital was on September 16th, 1869, with 10 patients. Weekly charge was four dollars to those who could afford it. In 1881, a chapel was built on the grounds, and an orphanage was added.
In 1912, the organization reincorporated as St. Luke’s Hospital, Church Home, and Orphanage. Purpose was "for the care and relief of the sick and of aged and infirmed persons and orphans and for a temporary refuge for the homeless and friendless..." As industry around Fort Street continued to grow, St. Luke decided to move, and sold their property to the Pennsylvania Railroad in December of 1916. In April of 1917, work started on a new location on Highland Street in Highland Park that could hold 50 to 60 men and women.
Designed by John Scott & Co. the new hospital was described in the October 28th 1917 Detroit Free Press as "a three-story main building and a service building connected by a wide one-story corridor. The main building provides accommodations for those residing in the home and includes sitting rooms, sun rooms, reception rooms, (and) bedrooms... Part of the ground floor is given over to a memorial chapel which extends through the second floor... The corridor connecting the main building with the service building is designed also for use as a sun room and rest room. In the service building are the dining room, kitchen... housekeeper's suite, and sleeping rooms for the servants." Construction on a second wing three-story wing was announced in November of 1922.
In 1941, St. Luke's Hospital Church Home and Orphanage had a capacity of 75 women and men. Hospital functions ceased in 1948, and the facility became St. Luke’s Episcopal Church Home.
By 1990, the Highland Park building was nearly 85 years old, and in a deteriorating neighborhood. The nearby Osteopathic hospital was on the verge of closing, and the directors began looking for a new location. In 1991, the organization broke ground on a new retirement center on 40 acres in suburban Waterford, which opened in 1994. The Highland Park location was put up for sale, and sold to businessman Jon Rutherford.
In 1994, Doorstep West Homeless Shelter was founded by Rutherford as a 450-bed shelter, drug and mental health treatment facility, and job training center. The upper floors were converted into dormitories with bunk beds, and part of the service building became a library and storage space. By 1997 Rutherford was running the largest charitable operation for the homeless in the State of Michigan, with a second location on East Jefferson. During the winter over 400 women and children sheltered at the Highland Park location. In 2000, the shelter won a $22.7-million dollar contract to provide mental health services for the county, providing foster care for mentally ill adults.
Though outwardly successful, in 2001 the shelter came under scrutiny as The Detroit Free Press found that Rutherford and his property management company had donated $50,000 to the mayoral campaign of Kwame Kilpatrick, who then wrote a letter of recommendation for Rutherford in support of his bid for the mental health service contract. An investigation by the office of Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano of county contracts in 2003 found significant problems with how the contract had been written, citing it's relatively short length - only 10 pages long - and vague terms, including unexplained administrative fees. By 2005, the FBI was investigating Jon Rutherford for possible campaign finance violations, and in 2006 he was indicted by a federal grand jury for income tax evasion.
It's unclear exactly when Doorstep West Homeless Shelter closed. The last filing with the State of Michigan was in 2006, but was still being used a year or two beyond that. By July of 2009, the building had been closed and boarded up. Most of the equipment and paperwork were left behind, including a floor full of psychiatric records. Major fires in 2010, 2011, and 2013 damaged much of the main building, and destroyed the service building.
In January of 2011, Jon Rutherford was sentenced to 24 to 30 months in prison for tax evasion. The IRS estimated that Rutherford had diverted $1.3 million dollars of grant money to himself, and another $1 million dollars into his property management company. In exchange for testifying against Kilpatrick, Rutherford received a reduced sentence.
Though Highland Street today looks grim, plans for a major redevelopment of the area by New York-base Galapagos Art Space were announced in December of 2014. Most of the vacant civic structures, including St. Luke's, are part of a planned arts community.