In 2009, Dan Gilbert, chairman of Rock Ventures and Quicken Loans, made a commitment to the city of Detroit. Gilbert said he would push to develop a creative, tech-focused urban core where people would want to live, work, and enjoy their leisure time. Since that announcement, Gilbert’s Rock Ventures, the entity that oversees his portfolio of companies, has invested more than $300 million in downtown Detroit.
The list of acquisitions is impressive. Since 2010, he has bought 20 office and retail structures which, combined, total 2.8 million square feet of space, four parking structures (one under construction); and has moved more than 7,000 employees into the central business district. In turn, he plans to close shortly on the acquisition of a majority interest in Greektown Casino-Hotel.
Downtown Detroit hasn’t seen such a flurry of activity since most of the historic office structures Gilbert acquired were first built.
During a recent presentation before the local chapter of Smart Growth America, Bruce Schwartz, Quicken Loans’ Detroit relocation ambassador, says the company was close to finalizing two leases that would fill the former Federal Reserve Building at Fort and Shelby streets. Gilbert bought the structure in early 2012.
“When you look around downtown, there are a lot of opportunities to draw more residents and businesses, and the next phase for us is to attract shops, restaurants, and all the things that go into an active city,” Schwartz says. “We have some exciting plans that we’ll roll out soon to activate the streets.”
Prior to 1920, Detroit had 39 buildings of 10 stories or more. Most were under 15 stories, but there were three “real” skyscrapers: The second phase of the Penobscot Building (24 stories), built in 1915; the 23-story Dime Bank Building (now the Chrysler House), completed in 1916; and the 20-story Cadillac Square Building, finished in 1917.
During the 1920s, Detroit saw more than 80 major buildings of 10 to 47 stories filling out the skyline. The decade was capped off with Detroit’s tallest buildings: the final phase of the Penobscot Building, of 47 stories; the 40-story Barlum Tower (now Cadillac Tower); the 40-story Guardian; and the 38-story Book Tower.
It wasn’t until 1977 that the Renaissance Center took over as the city’s tallest structure with the completion of the 73-story Marriott hotel, which accompanied four, 39-story office towers. Two more towers were added in the 1980s.
On deck is a new $650 million hockey arena for the Detroit Red Wings, which includes a neighboring residential and commercial district. Projected to open by 2016, the location will likely be at the northeast or northwest corner of I-75 and Woodward Avenue.
The following are profiles of some of the city’s landmark buildings, including historical data, size, original cost, and 2012 assessed value.
ONE WOODWARD AVENUE
1 Woodward Ave.
One Woodward was designed by famed architect Minoru Yamasaki and was originally built for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. The design is often called an early predecessor of the Yamasaki design for New York’s World Trade Center. A three-story recessed glass lobby consisting of 82, 30-foot glass panels wraps the entire building at the ground level. From the building’s early days through the 1980s, the 26th floor was occupied by an upscale restaurant known as The Top of the Flame. Overlooking Hart Plaza, the building’s major tenants include the Detroit Regional Chamber, two law firms, and employees from Quicken Loans.
FIRST NATIONAL BUILDING
660 Woodward Ave.
Designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the building has an unusual Z shape, intended so that most offices would have natural light and ventilation. The building, which occupies almost an entire city block, was home to the First and Old Detroit National Bank as well as the Central Savings Bank. It was constructed mainly of a buff-colored limestone similar to that used on the Detroit Athletic Club. Besides offices, the banks used the basement and sub-basement for storage space, a printing department, safe deposit vaults, storage vaults, and safe deposit vault offices. Today, Title Source, Honigman Miller, and United Way of Southeastern Michigan are major tenants. In late January, Roasting Plant opened its first location outside of New York on the building’s first floor.
CHRYSLER HOUSE (DIME BUILDING)
719 Griswold St.
The Dime Savings Bank of Detroit was founded in 1884. It was said the institution was backed with very little money, so the company set out to lure as many customers as it could. They came up with a novel idea: Anyone could open up a savings account with as little as 10 cents. And that is where the bank got its name. Chicago-born architect Daniel Burnham, whose work includes the famous Flatiron Building in New York City, designed the building. Rock Ventures purchased the building in August 2011 and, in April 2012, with the announcement that Chrysler Group would move nearly 70 employees into the facility, its name was changed to Chrysler House. The building is now nearly 100 percent occupied with employees from Quicken Loans, Just Baked, and more than a dozen other companies.
160 W. Fort St.
The official name of the large masonry building on Fort Street is the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago Detroit Branch Building. In 1951, architect Minoru Yamasaki designed an eight-story glass and marble annex to the building. According to newspaper reports of the day, some of the then-modern features of the building included: “radiant (floor) heating, air-conditioning, king-sized windows, fluorescent lighting, music ‘piped in’ to offices, electrically controlled doors, a bulletproof-glass gun-turret room, and electronic (security) gadgets.” Currently unoccupied, the building was purchased by Rock Ventures in January 2012. Plans are for a single or possibly two large tenants, along with first-floor retail and restaurant operations.
611 WOODWARD AVE.
Designed by Albert Kahn Associates, the building has had three official names, for each of the three successive banks that have owned it: National Bank of Detroit, Bank One, and Chase. Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans bought the building in August 2011. Today, it is fully occupied with employees from Chase Bank, which still occupies two floors; Quicken Loans; and In-House Realty. Quicken Loans’ employees have nicknamed the building, “The Qube,” because of its large, square shape. When built, it was part of Detroit’s financial district, and stands on the site of Detroit’s first skyscraper, the Hammond Building. The building now features bright neon-colored walls; open floor plans; and high-tech, collaborative meeting areas. There are plans to have some first-floor retail establishments on the Woodward Avenue side of the building.
DAVID BRODERICK TOWER
10 Witherell St.
The building was originally called the Eaton Tower, named for owner Theodore Eaton, an early Detroit manufacturer and distributor. It had retail stores on the first five floors. The rest was for small businesses and professional offices. On July 1, 1944, the tower was sold to Intertown Corp., headed by insurance broker David F. Broderick. Broderick moved his business offices into the building and renamed the Eaton after himself. The building is among those viewed from inside Comerica Park. Madison Heights artist Robert Wyland painted a 108-foot mural of humpback whales on the Broderick’s eastern wall. Motown Construction Partners bought the building in 2010 and just completed a $53-million renovation, adding 125 apartments, office space, and three bar/restaurants.
645 Griswold St.
The Native American name Penobscot means “the place where the rocks open out.” There are actually three Penobscot buildings. The first is the 13-story building erected in 1903. A 24-story tower joined it in 1916. The third, the 47-story tower known as the Greater Penobscot, was built at a cost of $5 million and was completed in 1928. Until the Renaissance Center was built in the 1970s, the Penobscot was Detroit’s tallest building and the fourth largest in the nation. In 1929, The Detroit News reported 40 “girl elevator operators” went on strike forcing the 6,000 office workers to use the stairs. Current owners say in the next two years they will be installing new windows. Two new restaurants have leased space and are expected to open this spring. Other concepts being discussed include a new retail promenade and more elevators.
DAVID WHITNEY BUILDING
1553 Woodward Ave.
The Whitney Building, designed by Daniel Burnham, who also designed New York’s Union Station, was billed as “an exclusive shopping center” when it opened in January 1915. Retailers occupied the first few floors, with offices for doctors, dentists, and other professionals on the upper floors. What made the building stand out was its dramatic, skylight-covered, four-story atrium lobby. The building, closed in 2000, is undergoing an $82.5-million renovation to convert it into residential apartments, a hotel, and retail space. It was recently awarded a $7.5 million loan and a $1 million community revitalization grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund. The redevelopment will consist of an Aloft Hotel with 136 guest rooms, 108 rental apartments, and 7,000 square feet of retail space.
500 Griswold St.
The building — created for Union Trust Co. — fell victim to the stock market crash the year it was completed, but it was saved by investors who believed in Detroit and was reorganized as the Union Guardian Trust Co. Called the “cathedral of commerce,” the Guardian Building was built for what was at the time Detroit’s leading financial institution. The steel-framed building was sheathed in 1.8 million bricks in a specially formulated orange shade, dubbed “Guardian Brick” by the architect. The brick was unusual in its use for a building of this size from this era. The interior consisted of an Aztec design with multicolor, interlocking hexagons of Rookwood pottery and Pewabic Tile. In July 2007, Wayne County bought the Guardian Building for $14.5 million and relocated most of its offices to the landmark tower.
CADILLAC TOWER (BARLUM TOWER)
65 Cadillac Square
Originally called Barlum Tower, it was Detroit’s tallest office building when it was completed in November 1927, and was the third skyscraper erected on Cadillac Square. It boasted 1,500 offices and a two-story lobby that opened to a mezzanine with nine shops. In 1935, a Detroit News article said: “Kate Smith, the big radio star, stepped into the Barlum Tower at 11:30 a.m. and a stone fell off the top of the building. The stone, about six inches square, struck the hood of the car from which Kate had just alighted, broke, and scattered over the street and sidewalk.” Today, the owners say more than 70 percent of the offices are leased.
1265 Washington BLvd.
Designed by architect Louis Kamper, the building is named after the Book Brothers (J. Burgess Jr., Herbert, and Frank), who owned more than half the frontage along Washington Boulevard. The Book Tower was the tallest building in Detroit until the Barlum Tower (now Cadillac Tower) was completed a year later. Along the Washington Boulevard side, the Book Building has 12 sculptures of nude women, known as caryatids, which appear to be holding up the building’s cornice. Back in the 1970s, the priests across the street at St. Aloysius Catholic Church used to call them the wives of the 12 Apostles. Today, owner Akno Enterprises of Italy plans to invest up to $100 million in renovations for offices and apartments.
615 Griswold St.
The Italian marble and Terra cotta structure was designed by Daniel Burnham, known for his layout of the 1892 Chicago’s World Fair, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in America. The Ford Building is Detroit’s second-oldest skyscraper, and was the tallest building in Detroit until 1913. The name has nothing to do with Henry Ford; the building was built for the headquarters of the Edward Ford Plate Glass Co., which later merged with Lilley-Owens Glass Co. An underground tunnel links the Ford Building with the Chrysler House (Dime) Building across the street. The Ford Building underwent an extensive remodeling under its new owner, Tom Paglia Jr., in 1991. Today, the building is primarily used for offices and retail shops/
DAVID STOTT BUILDING
1150 GRISWOLD ST.
The David Stott Building, one of the most recognizable buildings in Detroit’s skyline, is made of reddish-orange brick — faced on the first three floors with marble — and limestone. When it opened in 1929, a Detroit News report said: “… the 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 37 stories.” When the building was conceived in 1921, the architectural firm of Donaldson and Meier drafted more than 22 sets of plans. The building today is undergoing a renovation, including five floors of offices and 110 apartments, complemented by retail space. The SkyBar and Lounge Detroit is on the main floor, along with another lounge on the 33rd floor.
1001 WOODWARD (FIRST FEDERAL BUILDING)
1001 Woodward Ave.
The building was constructed in 1965 to house the headquarters of First Federal Savings and Loan of Detroit and was known as the First Federal Building. Dark granite, specially quarried in Minnesota, was used for the exterior of the twin towers. “The combined effect of its well-proportioned glass and dark granite will be strikingly beautiful and harmonious, a showplace in the heart of the city,” said Hans Gehrke Jr., president of First Federal, when the construction plans were announced in July 1962. When built, the floors and interior lobby walls were faced with white marble. The First Federal Building was used as the bank’s headquarters until it was sold in 1998. Dimitrios “Jim” Papas purchased the building in January 2008. Today, the building is home to GalaxE.Solutions and several smaller tenants. As of early February, Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures was in negotiations to buy the building.
535 Griswold st.
Assessed Value // $5.3M Owner // Buhl Building LLC Stories // 29
The Buhl Building was Detroit’s first skyscraper and was built of granite, Terra cotta, and steel. Above the third story, the floor plan takes the shape of the Latin cross, with its long beam laid toward Griswold, to allow more offices to have windows. A news report in The Detroit News at the time of the building’s construction highlighted the fact that the Buhl would be “home to the Savoyard Luncheon Club, a group made up of business and professional men of the city. Prominent in the interior decorations will be the club’s crest showing the Savoyard River, which once ran across the present site of the building.” Today, the historic building is home to many of Detroit’s prominent attorneys, financial advisers, and political leaders. Retailers include Quizno’s, PNC Bank, a travel agency, Diamond Drop Shoe Shine, Buhl Bar, and a SMART bus transit center in the lobby.
4500 Renaissance Center
The Renaissance Center is a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers and includes The Marriott Hotel, the tallest building in Michigan, which offers 1,298 guest rooms. In 1970, Ford Motor Co. Chairman Henry Ford II teamed up with other business leaders to form Detroit Renaissance, a private nonprofit development organization, in order to stimulate building activity in the city. From The Detroit News: “On the afternoon of Friday, April 15, 1977, 1,000 spectators cheered as Henry Ford II and Detroit Mayor Coleman Young unveiled a plaque commemorating the private investors whose funds made the project possible.” In 1996, General Motors announced that it was buying the RenCen for its global headquarters for $73 million, and would spend up to $500 million in renovations. Today, the RenCen is home to more than 5,000 GM workers, along with 4,000 employees from private firms.