Site Visit: Architectural Salvage Warehouse Preserves the History of Detroit

By Janis Reyes, Assistant Chief Counsel

Detroit is a city that is in a rebuilding process since its economic downturn, and one non-profit there is doing its part to reclaim its city’s historical past. Advocacy visited the headquarters of the Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit that deconstructs abandoned houses and buildings, saving the wood and often historic fixtures to recycle and repurpose.

Advocacy not only works with small businesses, but with non- profit organizations and small governmental jurisdictions. At our tour of the non-profit ASW, Executive Director Chris Rutherford gave Advocacy staff a tour of one of their two giant warehouses and showed us nearly everything, even the kitchen sink. The buildings were filled with stacks of materials including lumber, tin, fixtures, doors and hardware.

ASW was started as a response to the tremendous amount of waste being generated by the demolition of homes in Detroit and its suburb during the past several years. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that, in general, only about 20 to 30 percent of construction and demolition debris is recovered for reuse and recycling.  Rutherford and his organization are working hard to increase that percentage in Detroit to 85 percent. Since 2014, the city has taken down 13,743 vacant buildings in neighborhoods across the city; and at this pace the city can remove another 40,000 blighted structures in about eight years.

Rutherford described to us the laborious process of tearing down the walls and deconstructing a house. For example, to reuse wood planks, workers must scan the wood with metal detectors and remove every nail from the wood. Employees try to remove and restore as many of these materials as possible, such as light fixtures, bathtubs, and showers. ASW operates a retail location, where long-term residents, young families and local entrepreneurs can gain access to affordable refurbished building materials. Advocacy also saw some of the custom furniture that ASW workers built, such as a large restored historic door and a beautiful conference table from pieces of vintage wood.

Rutherford stated that his non-profit struggles to obtain and retain the necessary skilled workforce to handle all of ASW’s projects. Not only does ASW give Detroit’s building materials a second chance, but it also partners with other sectors to train and employ formerly incarcerated residents and Detroit’s youth.

Rutherford noted that one of ASW’s main regulatory concerns is complying with the array of burdensome and complicated labor rules and paperwork requirements from agencies such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Department of Labor. For example, he mentioned that OSHA’s regulations on using ladders are difficult to follow, so their organization uses scaffolding instead.

ASW is also concerned with the effect of tax reform regulations, particularly if they make it more difficult for individuals to make donations for tax purposes. For example, many clients can donate the price of the reclaimed wood towards the demolition costs of their home. Additionally, businesses also receive tax credits for preserving and salvaging as much of a property as they can. For example, ASW was involved in the historic preservation of the Detroit Foundation Hotel, a 95,000-square foot hotel created from a building that once housed the city’s fire department headquarters.

ASW is preserving the future of Detroit one building at a time — by restoring historic buildings, reducing landfill waste, providing low-cost housing materials to residents and creating jobs and opportunities for the local community.

Advocacy was in Detroit for a Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtable and NAFTA Modernization Outreach Meeting on March 13.

Can’t get to a roundtable near you? Fill out this form and tell us about your federal regulatory burdens. We will pass this information on to the appropriate agency and use it in the planning of upcoming Regional Regulatory Reform Roundtables. 

Janis Reyes is an Assistant Chief Counsel for Advocacy whose portfolio includes labor and immigration. She can be reached at



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