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The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Someone mentioned a while back they'd like to see some images of Detroit... in the 1920s one of the
richest cities in the world. This image I like to call "Gotham City"... America's premier Art Deco bank
Building... Detroit's 40 story (1929) Guardian Building... with a ceiling made of Rookwood Tile... in the
distance is the former (84 teller windows) main banking hall, now a shopping arcade...

And here we have the "once given up for dead"... former Capitol Theatre, now (after a $42 million
restoration, 1993-2004)... the Detroit Opera House. When it first opened as a vaudeville house back
in 1922, it was the 5th largest theatre in the world....

And the Detroit Opera House outer lobby....

Detroit's famous Fisher Building lobby...

The 5174 seat Detroit Fox... America's largest surviving 1920s movie palace... lobby....

Detroit Fox vast auditorium... who's height (108 ft.) is equal to the height of the interior of Notre Dame!

Detroit Fox upper Procenium arch...


45,465 Posts
I created this thread by moving the above post from there: Historical Reconstructions That We Love!

Great images of historical Detroit! I love the glorious architecture of its past days.
I hope Detroit manages to maintain most of these structures.

It would be great if in this thread people would also share information on the efforts made in Detroit to keep its past. Please keep going! :eek:kay:

1,772 Posts
W O W....... Detroit has so much potential O.O

living in the past
61 Posts
Ah, at last, the thread I'd been waiting for! I must say these buildings look amazing; a great counterpoint to the perennial bad news and the ubiquitous photos of Michigan Central Station.

I'm a bit embarassed to have visited Michigan eight times, but never Detroit. I'll certainly try to do so next time!

The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 · (Edited)
Most people think of Detroit as basketcase... and yes it has many problems and the recent home
mortgage meltdown really has hurt the city more than most... but most people don't realize that in the
1920 Detroit was the 3rd richest city in America, after NYC and Chicago. And it was during that 1920s
time period that much of the greatest architecture of the 20th Century was built.

The first building shown here is the Guardian Building (formerly Union Trust Company, a bank that went
under during the depression). This former bank building is arguably the finest Art Deco bank building in
the country. Entire rooms full of Rookwood and Pewabic pottery (the 2 leading potteries of the
American Midwest)... were ordered to build this fantastic 40 story "Gotham City" masterpiece.... known
as the "Cathedral of Finance".

The former Great Banking Hall (at the top of the "Imperial Staircase") once had 84 teller cages, and is
today a small shopping arcade. Unlike the ceiling of the lobby, which was done in tile, the banking hall
had a ceiling with plaster and horsehair to absorb the sounds, and prevent echoes.

The first image of this thread is a panorama of the Guaridian Building lobby and former banking hall, as
well as elevator alcoves.

Here is the former banking hall from the staircase.... at the back of the banking hall is a map of
Michigan (with the Goddess Michigana in the middle). This mural was done by Michigan muralist Ezra
Winter in 1929, before he did the great murals at the grand staircase at Radio City Music Hall in NYC.

Detail of mural....

Looking thru the Monel metal frame with clock, separating the lobby from the great banking hall....

Looking from the banking hall back towards the lobby ceiling (Rookwood tiles)...

One of the elevator alcoves (more Rookwood tiles)... the stone in the lobby area is Monkato Stone.
But there are also 22 different marbles used in the lobby/bank hall. Among them is a rare Numidian Red
marble from a long closed quarry in Tunisia (it was reopened in the 1920s to quarry every last piece of
available stone).

Main entrance on Griswold St., in downtown Detroit's Financial District (Pewabic tiles)...

Guardian Building from the street.... 6 million orange bricks were manufactured for this building....

Guardian Building roof.... also... notice the building directly behind the Guardian Building... (only a part
if it is visible). Does it look at all vaguely familiar?? It is the One Woodward Ave. Building... by Minuru
Yamasaki... the architect of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. That building was the only
office tower that local Detroit architect Yamasaki did before designing the World Trade Center, so that
26 story building is certainly a prototype to the World Trade Center in many ways...

This (1929) designed building was designed by Detroit Architect Wirt Rowland of Smith Hinchman & Grylls,
the oldest architectural firm in Michigan (founded 1850)... today known as "The Smith Group".
The Guardian Building was purchased 2 years ago by the county government of Wayne County
(pop. 2.1 million), where Detroit is the County Seat... and is used as the Wayne County offices.

The irony of Detroit is that it has buildings that are as finely constructed (if not as tall) as those in
New York or Chicago... and yet you would be hard pressed to find finer lobby spaces in either of those cities!

More buildings to come....

The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #10 ·
The Guardian Building was once the HQ for MichCon (Michigan Consolidated Gas Co.), and next door
was the the HQ of its' former parent company ANR Pipeline Co. So the 2 buildings were connected at
midlevel. Both companies no longer exist (they were acquired by other energy companies), but the
skywalk still exists (for no discernible reason).

The building on the left is now called One Woodward Ave. (named after Detroit's main street). And it
was built in 1962 by Detroit area architect Minuru Yamasaki, and was a prototype for his 1965-72
World Trade Center twin tower commission.

Here is more info on Minuru Yamasaki's One Woodward Ave. Building...

45,465 Posts
Fabulous new impressions, thanks a lot!

So what about the symbol of Detroit's downfall and car-centrism, that is crumbling for ages now?

They intended to demolish it in 2009, which was luckily prevented from execution.
I've read they're cleaning it from asbestos and repairing some of the interiors since early 2011.

But what now? Any actual definite concept for the future of the building?
There were many, but I'd like to see one realized.

If Michigan Central Station finally got renovated, it could work as an ignition spark for Detroit.
This is needed so badly!

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45,465 Posts
The same goes for the former Michigan Theatre (Michigan Building).
It was partly demolished in the 70s and (mainly) converted into a parking garage. Yeah that's right, a freaking parking garage! :mad:

Are there any plans to revert this crappy conversion and make it a place of grandeur again?

It undoubtedly is one of the most ridiculous outcomes of American car-centrism and philistine modernist ideology. It's a caricature really.

I mean... You can't even look at it without hurting your eyes :cripes:
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The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·

The Michigan Central Station was built in 1913 as the world's tallest train station at that time. Recently the billionaire owner of the building has begun to mothball it... new roof, clean out all the rubbish and debris, and put in new windows. The reason for that? It would cost more to tear down this enormous building... than to mothball it. And that's what they're doing... mothballing it. They want to add lighting to the outside as well, which would give it the look of a huge Roman building. If that is completed, this building at night would look as spectacular as the Roman Coliseum (Flavian Amphitheatre). They are even fixing up and replanting the large park in front of the building.

As for the former Michigan Theatre... it would cost about $100 million to restore it. The problem is that Detroit already has a large supply of large performing arts centers... the 5174 seat Fox Theatre, the 4404 seat Masonic Theatre, the 2785 seat Detroit Opera House, the 2289 seat Orchestra Hall, the 2200 seat Fillmore Theatre, the 2089 seat Fisher Theatre, the 1700 seat Music Hall, the 1600 Scottish Rite Theatre, the 1200 seat Detroit Institute of Arts Theatre, the 1150 seat Bonstelle Theatre, among many smaller theatres. Because Detroit has such a large theatre district (2nd only to NYC), the need to restore the former Michigan Theatre just isn't there.... unfortunately.

I'll be posting some more pics of Detroit in a few days...

68,211 Posts

The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Erbse, I believe you will be pleased with this image... posted today by Patrick Krupa, a member of the
Michigan Central Station Preservation Society. A new roof has been put on the building, all the debris
has been removed from the interior, the graffiti has been cleaned up, and new windows installed... and
for the first time in about 20 years... lights are on in the Great Hall of Michigan Central Station in Detroit...

America's most monumental train station, after NYC Grand Central Station...

... although the building has no designated purpose just yet, the billionaire owner of the building decided
to moth ball the building for future use...

The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
any big hotels company wants to restore the building?? I can't understand...

in any case, the state should restore it...

Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately in the USA... governments generally shy away from restorations, although they contribute in something called "Historic Tax Credits".

The problem with the massive Michigan Central Station is that it is some distance from downtown Detroit, where most of Detroit's large hotels are located.

Let me give you a little bit of history here... Detroit went from a sleepy midsized American city of 293,000 people in 1900 to almost 1 million by 1910. This amazing growth was fueled by the auto industry.

And while downtown Detroit was booming with large office towers, some thought that the booming population growth would continue this way for some time. So by 1920 GM decided to build their new HQ 3 miles north of downtown in a place called New Center. This would almost be like NYC where downtown was full of buildings, and Midtown became the place to build in NYC.

However Detroit's Midtown/New Center area has these huge wonderful buildings, but nothing much around them except neighborhoods. The building boom slopped by 1932, and so some of Detroit's great buildings are quite some distance from downtown.

This also happened to the Michigan Central Station. They built their massive structure 3 miles west of downtown, thinking that downtown would expand and catch up to the train station. The same scenario happened with Detroit's largest neighborhood theatre... the 3,500 seat Hollywood Theatre... the owners thought that eventually they would become part of an expanded downtown. But that never happened... and by 1953 the beautiful Hollywood Theatre was torn down, due to not enough patrons.

The train station however did have the nearby Ambassador Bridge built in 1929 (busiest border crossing between USA and Canada)... and so the train station lasted longer because it was a transportation hub. But like train stations elsewhere in the USA... trains were replaced by airlines, and train stations by airports.

The only thing that the train station has going for it today is that next door to it is an expanded and thriving Mexicantown... full of restaurants, shops and well maintained homes.

Perhaps at some point in the future, the Michigan Central Station can become a part of a thriving ethnic enclave. But I don't see it becoming a hotel anytime soon, although some plans for it to be Detroit's 4th Gambling Casino (state law only allows 3 non-Indian casinos in Michigan... all in Detroit) may bring it back... but the other 3 Detroit Casinos (MGM Grand Detroit, MotorCity and Greektown) have been fighting that plan with deep pockets.

The LEGO Guy
151 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
The next Detroit empty gem to be restored is the 1915 Daniel Burnham designed building known as the
18 story David Whitney Building on Detroit's Grand Circus Park. This building was built after Burnham
died, but it is his design.

This first image is of the building from the park. Its' exterior was unfortunately "modernized" in 1959....

Prior to 1959, the building still had its' "Burnham" classic look, which supposedly will be restored, when
the building becomes 1/2 boutique Hotel, and 1/2 apartments... Here is a 1920 post card that shows
the Whitney Building before Detroit's skyscraper boom....

The building is parallelogram shaped with a skywell in the middle. It has a 4 story Arcade with fancy
skylight, above which is a 14 story lightwell...

Here is the 4 story (Burnham original) untouched lobby arcade that will once again see use as a retail
space.... the spot where this image was taken is where a Detroit 3 mile loop People Mover station is

I had always fantasized about the moving of the 4th story fancy skylight up to the 18th floor, and
turning it into an 18 story atrium, with a look similar to the Brown Hotel in Denver, with each floors'
hallway looking down onto the ground floor.

Surprisingly optimistic!
13,088 Posts
This the same Gistok from DYes?... I've been lurking that forum since 04' or abouts. Detroit is an architectural gem, and its various ruins make all the more fascinating. It's a shame such a great deal of it has been lost, I remember the Madison-Lenox fight like it was yesterday, the court order, Rasputin arguing for the demolition... But Hudson's, the Tuller, the Statler, the YMCA... I thought it stopped and then we had the Lafayette. When will the autosarcophagy stop? Is the Whitney's facade really being restored- any news about other cornices? Do you still have those pictures from the Michigan?

Also, I was disappointed with the restoration of the Book-Cadillac, the public spaces seem subpar especially after some of them were fairly intact all those years.
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