Flyby of Detroit’s Book Tower


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 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.

Looking up at Detroit’s One Woodward Avenue


One Woodward, Detroit MI, photo by sbmeaper1

Denise McGeen’s article on One Woodward Avenue at says (in part):

At the heart of Detroit’s Civic Center, towering over Hart Plaza, Woodward Avenue and the Detroit River stands One Woodward, one of Detroit’s most celebrated mid-century modern structures.

The building was commissioned in 1958 by the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building. Detroit architect Minoru Yamasaki designed the skyscraper in association with the firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls. The building would open in 1963 and marked a first for Yamasaki, who had never designed a skyscraper before. The building incorporates a pre-cast concrete exterior, narrow windows, Gothic arches, decorative tracery and sculptural gardens that later became the architect’s signature motifs. It has been called the fore-runner to Yamasaki’s renowned World Trade Center in New York.

…The tower’s all-welded, steel frame is clad with two-story, pre-cast concrete panels that hold 4,800 vertical hexagon-shaped floor-to-ceiling windows. The panels hang above the exterior terrace as if dripping from the building’s frame. Hexagonal grillwork wraps the building’s top two stories. The roofline features delicate crenellation — an architectural feature similar to a castle’s battlements.

Read on for much more including the challenges this project posed for Yamasaki as his first project.

View sbmeaper1’s photo big as a skyscraper and see more in their slideshow.

More architecture on Michigan in Pictures.

Charles Stewart Mott and the Mott Foundation Building

Mott Foundation Building in Flint

The Mott Foundation Building in Flint, photo by Steve Brown

My post on Tuesday generated a little controversy because I stated who I was supporting in Michigan’s primary and also that I’d continue to share my personal opinions here on Michigan in Pictures. Most readers who commented agreed, including Jim Schaefer who shared the most powerful comment I’ve ever read on my work:

Dear Farlane…I’m so glad you posted item #4 today along with the great photo. I had to move to Sheboygan, WI in 2014 for health reasons, leaving behind 45-yrs of life in Flint, MI. I’ve been saving your photos and their accompanying stories on a daily basis for several years now in their own special folder on my laptop. They are my daily reminder about all of the good things about Michigan that some Michigan residents seem to take for granted.

Unfortunately, some of these same people have conveniently forgotten about your 1st Amendment rights to editorialize on your own website. Shame on them! I am also a 72-yr old Army veteran who served a 13-month tour in a combat zone in Korea in 1966. That’s why I’m so glad that you reminded people to vote today. I was drafted against my will back in 1966 but I served my country and did my job over there and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let anyone take away my right to vote. So you keep right on posting all of those great photos along with the Michigan history behind them.

May God bless you always…Jim Schaefer

God bless you too Jim, and here’s something for your desktop folder from Flint! The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation shares this about their founder:

Charles Stewart Mott
Charles Stewart Mott

Charles Stewart Mott established the C.S. Mott Foundation in 1926, in response to his deep concern about the welfare of Flint, Mich., as well as his abiding affection for his adopted community.

An automotive pioneer, Mr. Mott was an original partner in the creation of the General Motors Corporation, founded in Flint in 1908. As one of the city’s leading industrialists, Mr. Mott was elected mayor, serving three terms (1912–13, 1918) during periods of overwhelming and turbulent growth in the city. As mayor he was responsible for instituting fair property assessments, orderly accounting audits, health and safety ordinances, building codes and a house numbering system.

Read more about Mott in Autos not Apples. Here’s a few facts about the 16-story Art Deco building that bears his name and houses the Mott Foundation:

  • Flint’s first skyscraper with a total height of 226 feet to the top of the passenger elevator penthouse.
  • Designed by Smith, Hunchman & Grylls (SmithGroup) the oldest practicing architectural firm in the US.
  • Construction took one year to complete at a cost of approximately $2,000,000.
  • Original design included seven retail stores on the first floor. There were also originally men’s rooms on every floor, but women’s restrooms only on every other floor.
  • The Freight elevator is still operated with the vintage 1930 controls.
  • Building name was changed to the Mott Foundation Building on January 1, 1945.

View Steve’s photo big as a building and see more in his Flint, Michigan slideshow.

More Flint and more architecture on Michigan in Pictures. Also check out this guide to the architecture of Flint for more of the city’s architectural heritage.

Holler, Detroit

Detroit by Ryan Southen

Detroit, Michigan, photo by Ryan Southen

Hey Motor City cats & kittens – I’m visiting Detroit this Friday & Saturday. If you have thoughts about what I should be doing, please email me or hit me up through Facebook.

View Ryan’s photo bigger, follow him at Ryan Southen Photography, and check out his incredible Detroit slideshow.

PS: Ryan was one of many Detroit photographers whose photos were featured in this classic Absolute Michigan video featuring the Detroit Cobras Holler:

PPS: More about the Fisher Building and the Penobscot Building on Michigan in Pictures.

Detroit’s Buhl Building

Buhl Building Detroit Michigan

buhl building | detroit, michigan, photo by Ryan Southen is an excellent resource for the history of Detroit. Their page on the Buhl Building says (in part):

The Buhl brothers, Frederick and Christian, came to Detroit early in the Nineteenth Century. They made their money in the fur trade and then in the hat business. As Detroit became a leading industrial metropolis, they turned to manufacturing as well as retailing and property development. They founded the Detroit Locomotive Works and then the Buhl Iron Works that later became the Detroit Copper and Brass firm. They added to their wealth by entering the hardware business and then erected an office building at the corner of Griswold and Congress that became an attractive location for prosperous law firms. Frederick Buhl served as mayor of Detroit in 1848, while his brother, Christian, served as mayor twelve years later after holding a variety of other political offices.

The skyscraper building boom in Detroit reached its zenith in the late 1920s, reflecting the demand for office space generated by the vehicle industry. A third generation of Buhls decided to make more profitable use of their prime downtown land by replacing their small office building at Griswold and West Congress with the 26 story building that you see. They selected the Smith, Hinchman and Grylls firm and, fortunately for them, the skilled and imaginative Wirt Rowland was selected as the architect. His most magnificent accomplishment is the nearby Guardian Building but he created a beautiful structure in the Buhl Building, one that has great appeal some eight decades after he first sketched it.

Read on for more and also check out Historic Detroit for more about the Buhl & architect Wirt C. Rowland, avid modernist, supporter of the Arts and Crafts movement, and key contributor to the Art Deco-style skyscrapers along Detroit’s skyline.

View Ryan’s photo bigger, see more in his Detroit slideshow, and be sure to follow him on Instagram. If you’re interested in a great wedding photographer, head over to his photography website!

More architecture and lots more Detroit on Michigan in Pictures!

Observation Deck coming to Penobscot Building

Guardian Building

Guardian Building, photo by Michael G Smith

Sometimes I find things and forget to post about them. A couple weeks ago, there was a feature from WXYZ in Detroit that the Detroit’s Penobscot Building plans to open observation deck:

New York has the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center, Chicago has the Hancock Observatory, but the doors to our city’s skyline have been closed for decades.

That’s changing, thanks to the historic Penobscot Building’s new plans to re-open its observation deck.

Kim Farmer has worked at the building since the 1990’s. She has seen owners come and go, but these new plans are what she calls, “pretty gutsy moves.”

“We plan on lighting up here, LED lights comparable to the Empire State Building,” the Vice President of Operations and Leasing told WXYZ.

There are plans to incorporate a banquet facility, and a ticket fee to reach the top. The goal is to complete the observation deck project by summer 2016.

Read on for more and thanks  for the find!

Michael took this shot a couple of years ago from the Penobscot. View it big as a building and see more in his Wirt Rowland, Architect slideshow.

PS: Read more about the Penobscot (once the 8th tallest building in the world and now 2nd tallest in Detroit) and the Guardian Building on Michigan in Pictures. They were both designed by Wirt C. Rowland, who was a heck of an architect!


One Detroit Center (Comerica Tower) & architect Philip Cortelyou Johnson

One Detroit

One Detroit, photo by Michael G Smith

The 619 ft tall, 43-story One Detroit Center is the tallest office building in Michigan and second tallest building in the city behind the central hotel tower of the Renaissance Center. Completed in 1993, it started out as the Comerica Tower. The Detroit 1701 page on Comerica Tower says (in part):

This skyscraper is distinguished from all other tall buildings in Detroit by its neo-gothic spires. As Eric Hill and John Gallagher describe them in their book AIA Detroit, these are Flemish inspired spires.

…Philip Cortelyou Johnson was among the nation’s most influential architects and architectural critics of the Twentieth Century in the post-World War II era. Born in Cleveland in 1906, he studied philosophy at Harvard. However, he had the opportunity to take several trips to Europe while an undergraduate and became fascinated with the architecture there. In 1928, he met the innovative Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe whose work is commemorated in an historic district that bears his name located less than a mile from Comerica Tower.

In the early 1930s, Johnson affiliated himself with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and sought to support himself by promoting modern architecture and commenting about it. Apparently, that was not a financially rewarding career so he became a journalist, went to Germany and covered the rise to power of the National Socialists. Apparently, that was not completely rewarding either, so he returned to the United States and enlisted in the Army. After serving for some time, he appreciated his real calling and enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to become an architect. By the late 1940s, he began his very distinguished career.

Along with collaborators, especially Mies Van der Rhoe in the early years and John Burgee in the later years, he designed a large number of modern skyscrapers. He broke away from the classical tradition that is illustrated in Albert Kahn’s nearby First National Bank Building completed in 1922. His structures also differ from the stark modernist style illustrated by Minoru Yamasaki’s Michigan Consolidated Gas building, completed in 1965, that is almost directly across Woodward from Comerica Tower. Note the rounded corners that Philip Johnson designed for Comerica Tower conveying a sense of gentleness. All other downtown skyscrapers have right angles for their corners.

Read on for more and get One Detroit details from Emporis.

View Michael’s photo big as a building and see more in his awesome Detroit Tour slideshow.

More architecture on Michigan in Pictures.

Fisher Brothers Legacy

Fisher Brothers Legacy...

Fisher Brothers Legacy…, photo by Brad Worrell

On his excellent Historic Detroit site, Dan Austin’s excellent & comprehensive article on the Albert Kahn designed Fisher Building says:

The late 1920s were a time of unprecedented growth in Detroit, especially when it came to skyscrapers. From the Penobscot Building to the Fox Theatre, 1928 saw landmark after landmark rise in the Motor City.

The 29-story Fisher is one of three National Historic Landmarks in Detroit, along with the Fox and the Guardian Building.

“The gold-capped tower has taken its proper place in Detroit’s ever-changing skyline,” the Detroit News wrote of the Fisher in October 1928, when the finishing touches were being put on the building. “This will be the most beautiful building of its kind ever created. … It is an outstanding example of the new American school of architecture, which has arisen to typify the spirit of modern progress. No expense, Mr. Kahn said, has been spared to make the Fisher building the very epitome of things beautiful.”

To achieve this feat, the Fisher was built — with only slight exceptions — entirely out of granite and marble, including on the exterior. More than 40 kinds of marble from all over the world were used. From the base of the building to 50 feet up — the first three floors — the exterior is finished in polished Minnesota pink marble and Oriental granite. Above that is Beaver Dam marvilla marble (named such because it was harvested from the Beaver Dam Quarry at Cockeysville, Md.) on the street fronts and Carthage marble on the courts. The marble was cut and positioned to give varying textures across the exterior. “The sun (plays) on differences of saw markings and grain on each block that identify the individual pieces from their neighbors,” the Michigan Manufacturer and Financial Record wrote in October 1928.

Read on for much (much) more about the Fisher Building including a sweet gallery of historic photos (including one looking up at this angle).  you can also visit the Fisher Building website.

View Brad’s photo bigger and see more in his Detroit slideshow.

More architecture on Michigan in Pictures.

Sunshine on the Stott: Detroit’s David Stott Building Purchased

Untitled, photo by BareBonesDetroit

Last week the David Stott Building, Detroit’s 13th tallest skyscraper, sold at auction for just under $9 million. Historic Detroit’s page on the David Stott Building begins:

A towering Art Deco structure honoring Detroit’s flour king, the David Stott Building stretches 38 stories above Capitol Park at the corner of State and Griswold streets.

Construction began on June 1, 1928. The tower cost $3.5 million to build – the equivalent of $46.3 million today, when adjusted for inflation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Stott opened on June 17, 1929, on what had been the sites of the Garrick Theatre, Hodges Building and the Whitney Office Building. It was designed by the architectural firm of Donaldson & Meier, though Henry Meier had died more than a decade earlier. The general contractor was the Martin & Krausmann Co.

The 436-foot tower was first conceived in 1921, and 22 sets of plans were drawn up before a winner was picked. The property was not particularly wide considering the building’s height, which created headaches for Donaldson and led him to go with a tall, slender design.

The tower is made of reddish-orange brick – faced on the first three floors with marble — and limestone, and has several setbacks that taper as the building climbs. “As the new David Stott Building rises a tall, slender but substantial mass of old rose colored brick, it makes a spectacle that arrests the attention and causes the spectator to view it in detail from the sidewalk to the uppermost of its 38 stories,” the Detroit News wrote in June 1929. “The tendency of architectural style in office buildings the country over is toward more lively colors — more lively, but still dignified, warm, pleasing to the eye.”

Read on for more of the history of this hard-luck structure and DEFINITELY click through to view their gallery of historic photos of the David Stott Building – it’s great! You can also follow the listing and sale of the Stott Building at Curbed Detroit.

Check it out bigger and see more in BareBones Detroit’s Rooftops slideshow.

More architecture on Michigan in Pictures.