Flyby of Detroit’s Book Tower

flyby-of-the-book-tower-in-detroit

Fly By, photo by Tom Hughes

Historic Detroit is definitely one of the best websites if you want to dig deeper into the history of Michigan’s largest city. Dan Austin’s entry on the Book Tower & Book Building has current and historical photo galleries of both buildings, map and an extensive account about the history of the structure. It says in part:

She’s one of a kind. Some might even say beautiful in its ugliness.

No skyscraper in Detroit, let alone the Midwest, looks quite like the Book Tower on Washington Boulevard. It’s a rather awkward-looking building, whether you look at its unusual maze of an external fire escape or the intricate, over-the-top details on its crown that are tough to appreciate without a pair of binoculars. It’s an undeniably unique piece of the city’s skyline and a rare breed of classical Renaissance-style architecture and skyscraper. As an added bonus, joined at its hip is one of the city’s oldest surviving office buildings.

The 36-story Book Tower opened in 1926 on the southwest corner of Grand River Avenue and Washington, coincidentally, the original lot that the Books’ grandfather had bought on the boulevard. Its first tenant was Detroit Bond & Mortgage. At 475 feet tall, the Book Tower would lay claim to the title of tallest building in town. Though it would hold the honor only briefly: The 47-story Penobscot Building would overtake it two years later. Today, the Book Tower is good for only the seventh-tallest landmark in town.

 

…Intricately carved Corinthian columns, florets, scrolls and crests are all over the place. Horizontal bands of Italian Renaissance ornamentation break up the towering skyscraper with nude female figures gracing its midsection like a belt. Nearly from ground to the top of the 36th floor, the building is covered in detail. Ferry quotes Kamper as saying, with a trace of a Bavarian accent, “I like it varm.” “Varm” or not, Kamper’s strategy on the Book tower didn’t work. His decision has been ridiculed and criticized by critics almost from the onset for not realizing the limitations on designing a structure so tall. He didn’t take a fire evacuation route into consideration when designing it, necessitating the addition of the unusual fire escape all the way down the tower. Kamper had the building faced in a porous limestone that sucked up pollutants in the air, making it almost impossible to keep clean.

Read on for lots more and follow HistoricDetroit.org on Facebook – good stuff!

View Tom’s photo bigger, see more in his Detroit slideshow, and view and purchase work from his website.

More buildings & architecture on Michigan in Pictures.

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