Stevens House, at 816 S. Forest Street (1943 - May 25, 2004), was the first house owned by the Inter-Cooperative Council; previous homes had all been rented. Residents of this small (20-member) house enjoyed a cozy, familial atmosphere. As a result of these factors, it came as a significant emotional blow to the ICC when Stevens House burned down in the early morning hours of May 25, 2004.
Stevens House was purchased in 1943, as area rental prices climbed in response to the influx of wartime manufacturing workers. University of Michigan Professor A.K. Stevens, who had served as a faculty advisor to the ICC for some time, agreed to co-sign the loan to buy the house, which was gratefully named in his honor.
In 1969-71 Stevens was a women's house, and we all boarded across the street at Tri-house. We also went over there to watch ourselves on TV after anti-war demonstrations, and we periodically had draft dodgers or guys who were trying to get out of the military sleeping on our living-room couch. It was a lovely homey place to live, particularly the big top-floor room with a stairway up into a tiny attic space.
On May 25, 2004, a fire of unknown origins tore through the house, completely destroying the structure. No one was injured - the house was closed for a summer of renovations, and the gas and electricity had been shut off. Ironically, the renovations included rewiring the entire house for improved fire safety, a process that involved exposing the stud walls. With dry, century old lumber exposed throughout the house, and the doors removed to storage during the renovation, the fire moved through the house exceptionally quickly - within half an hour of the first notice of the fire, the roof was in the basement. The fire department was unable to save Stevens, focusing their energy on preventing the fire from spreading to adjacent homes.
A rather apocryphal story involves foreshadowing of the disaster by a member of the ICC Board of Directors: Stevens was one of the smaller houses that have no commercial-grade kitchens, so are unable to serve public meals under the health code. As the ICC required members to board (eat) within the co-op system, members of these houses are required to board at some nearby house. With several co-opers preferring to opt out of meals, the Board had taken up discussion the previous year of allowing Stevens House members the option of no-boarding contracts. During the heated discussion, one Board member had loudly proclaimed, "I would rather see Stevens burned to the ground than exempted from boarding!" When his curse was borne out, he decided he'd been wrong.
Stevens was a topic of much discussion during that summer and the following fall. Many ICC members wanted to immediately build the house back, exactly as it had been - or, perhaps, exactly as it had been, only better. Perhaps with a commercial kitchen, even. Various issues made this difficult, ranging from zoning compliance to financing. At the far extreme of opinion was the proposal that the lot simply be sold, and the sale proceeds, insurance, and money not-yet-spent on Stevens renovations be applied to capital improvements and deferred maintenance projects on other ICC houses, or used in part to reduce member charges. In the middle, members objected to the idea of shrinking the ICC by making no effort to replace Stevens, and thought some replacement, whether through purchase or construction, ought be made. Some saw the opportunity to diversify the ICC's building stock, perhaps into apartments (like the popular King House), or even to family units.
In the end, the lot on which Stevens sat was sold, for the astonishing price of over $400,000. A few alternatives were considered further, including the investment into deferred maintenance proposal and the purchase of a small apartment building, but the eventual choice was to purchase 808 N. Kingsley Street, a house broken into three apartments, and turn it into another small house-style co-op, now named Zeno House.
Around 2007, a new structure was built on the site. The new building, put simply, has no architectural merit whatsoever.