2015 Recap: Time for the Detroit Athletic Club to Remove Swastikas -- Lengel

December 26, 2015, 7:00 AM by  Allan Lengel

This Nov. 10 article is the fifth in our set of noteworthy 2015 content, based on readership and editors’ choices. This Top 10 series runs through Dec. 31. See links to earlier installments at the end.


Symbols can change in the eyes of society over time.  What was acceptable once may become unacceptable.

The Confederate flag is a fresh example. After years of the flying it on the capitol grounds in Columbia, S.C.,  the state bowed to public opinion that it symbolized more than southern pride, that it is racist.  The rebel banner came down July 10.

Last month, Congressman Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., introduced a bill to remove J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI Building in Washington. Hoover has long been the bureau's quintessential symbol.

Detroit Athletic Club on Madison Street

“The civil rights we enjoy today are in spite of J. Edgar Hoover, not because of him,” Cohen said in a statement. “Yet, his name adorns one of the most prominent buildings in our nation’s capital and one that houses one of the agencies of government responsible for justice. Given his well-documented abuses and prejudices towards African Americans, gays and lesbians, I believe it is past time to remove his name from this place of honor.”  

Which brings me to this.

The Detroit Athletic Club on Madison Avenue in downtown Detroit needs to get rid of swastika tiles on the floor of the Grill Room on the first floor. As a Jew, I find them offensive, and I hope others would too -- members or nonmembers, regardless of religion or race.

I’m not a member, but have been there. The other night, I attended a fundraiser and showed friends one of the swastikas. 

A little history: The swastika tiles in the dining room have been there since 1915 when the building opened, long before Hitler's rise in Germany. The building was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, who is Jewish. He picked Herman Carl Mueller, a skilled ceramicist, to provide the tiles. Mueller founded the Mueller Mosaic Co. of Trenton, N.J.  He  died in 1941. Kahn died the following year.

The club says the tiles are ancient symbols and art of historic significance. 

The swastika design is thousands of years old and is a sacred symbol in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Odinism. It has also been used by Native Americans. The Nazi party adopted the symbol in 1920.  Hitler later wrote in "Mein Kampf:" 

I myself, meanwhile, after innumerable attempts, had laid down a final form; a flag with a red background, a white disk, and a black swastika in the middle. After long trials I also found a definite proportion between the size of the flag and the size of the white disk, as well as the shape and thickness of the swastika.

In religions and cultures that embraced it much earlier, the symbol has different meanings, including peace or good luck.

Well, to steal a line: The symbol wasn’t very good luck for millions of Jews who perished during World War II, or for that matter, millions of others including Catholics, gypsies, the disabled and homosexuals who were killed by the Hitler regime. It’s unfortunate that Hitler and the Nazis hijacked the ancient symbol.

The issue is sensitive among DAC members, particularly when it comes to discussing it in a public forum like the media.  

I phoned a Jewish former officer of the club, who declined to comment and referred me to current officials. I also emailed another member, who did not respond. I tried reaching of the current president. I was asked to submit questions to executive manager Ted Gillary, but did not hear back.

Most Americans would identify the marking as a Nazi swastika symbolizing hatred, not an ancient symbol of peace and goodwill.  After all, when swastikas are spray-painted on synagogues and other buildings in this country, it's considered a hate crime.

In fact, the Anti-Defamation League website says this:

Since 1945, the swastika has served as the most significant and notorious of hate symbols, anti-Semitism and white supremacy for most of the world outside of Asia. Its display is prohibited in Germany and some other countries.

I appreciate art and traditions.  But in this case, It's time for the DAC to do away with the swastikas. 

Top 10 Countdown so far

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