The “Just Married” sign hung from the back of their Chevy when the couple, clad in gown and tux, pulled up the gravel driveway. A friend hopped out of the back seat and snapped their photo.
Property owners Katie Doerr Parker, ’69, MA’71, and William Parker didn’t know the newlyweds, but they weren’t surprised that strangers would stop by for a photo op at the M Go Blue barn. Visiting U-M alumni, local alumni, and alumni celebrating a variety of events have shown up with cameras.
The Parkers bought the 1890s dairy barn in 1992, along with an 1850s farmhouse and seven acres of fields and gardens. The barn had been partly blown off its foundation and was leaning toward the street. “We worried it would fall over,” says William, co-founder and executive vice president of 3D Vision Systems. Repointing the foundation and ratcheting the barn onto plumb were among their early tasks. They shored up the floor, replaced a sill beam, and rebuilt a hayloft.
None of this makes the red barn near the corner of Scio Church Road and Oak Valley Drive near Ann Arbor an iconic landmark. But re-shingling a leaky roof did have something to do with it.
On a Tuesday in 1992, the Parkers’ eldest son, Christian, ’97, was sitting at the kitchen table, working on his college applications. William was on the phone, talking to a representative of the roofing company Sherriff Goslin.
“If you look around the country, farm barns have names of property owner or pictures of chickens or corn painted on the roofs,” says Christian, president of the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Tennessee. The representative told William that lettering or an illustration came with the roof, at no additional cost.
Christian overheard his father tell the roofer that, no, they did not want chickens or horses or ducks running across their four-sided gambrel roof. Although manure troughs and milking stations remained from bygone days, the Parkers had no plans to farm the land or keep cows—today, the barn houses a tractor and assorted tools. They certainly didn’t want their name blasted across their property.
Then Christian said: “How about M Go Blue?”
The Parkers are all enthusiastic U-M fans. “We live just a mile from Michigan Stadium as the crow flies,” William says with delight.
Katie, a regional consultant for the Michigan Department of Education, hails from a family of Victors. In addition to the two U-M degrees she holds, her father, Robert Doerr, DDS’50, MS’53, was the associate dean of the School of Dentistry from 1962 to 1986.
“He was instrumental in planning the construction of a new School of Dentistry building in 1971,” she says. Her sister, Diana Doerr, ’74, brother Tom Doerr, ’71, MD’75, and assorted uncles and aunts are all Michigan alumni.
It took them only a second to decide. The rest is local—and national—history.
When Matthew Doerr, the Parkers’ younger son, was living in Los Angeles, he went to watch a U-M game at The Parlor, a sports bar in the Melrose district.
“I walked under a banner with a photo of my own barn on it,” he recalls. The U-M banner with the barn’s image flies above doors of many venues hosting games. The image also has been featured in magazine spreads and game day TV broadcasts.
“Anyone who has gone to Michigan in the last quarter century knows where the barn is. It’s both exciting and humbling that so many alumni know it, regardless of where they’ve gone on to in their lives,” says Matt, a project director for the ed-tech company Noodle Partners. For Ann Arbor townies, it’s impossible to miss.
“Fifteen thousand people drive by it every day,” says Matt, noting that it’s a gateway to the southwest side of Ann Arbor and to neighboring Lodi Township. People also drive or walk past on the way to the Big House.
The Parkers say they have been approached with offers to sell the house, the barn, and the land—including an additional five acres they purchased in 1995. If they did sell, that would be the end of the M Go Blue barn. Developers, who find the area attractive, could put up a housing development in the prime location.
Tear down a 121-year-old barn? The M Go Blue barn?
The Parkers have another idea: reinvent the barn at the side of the road. Plans are underway for the Barn & Grill, a restaurant, bar, and beer garden with indoor and outdoor seating. The Parkers say it would serve the immediate neighborhood and Ann Arbor in general. The proximity to Michigan Stadium would make it ideal for tailgates.
Local architect and historic preservationist Chuck Bultman and general contractor David Haig are at work on plans. Bultman has overseen redesign and preservation of barns in southeast Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania; both builders collaborated on Zingerman’s Cornman Farms in Dexter.
The Parkers created a Kickstarter campaign to raise the $200,000 needed to do the work necessary to have the property rezoned. They will need another $2,250,000 for construction.
The land has come a long way since the Allmendinger family, for whom a local park is named, first farmed it—and since the Znyder family, who owned the land after them, built the barn.
Today, the Parkers dream of all kinds of possibilities—a general store on the site, for instance, or a train for children to ride around the landscaped property. And it would be a dream come true if they could open the Barn & Grill—the M Go Blue Barn & Grill—in time for the 2023 game against Ohio State.
Davi Napoleon, LSA ’66, Rackham ’68, is a freelance writer and theater historian.