When the District of Columbia was designated to be the nation’s capital there was no city. Building started from scratch based on a street plan drawn up by Pierre Charles L’Enfant that sent broad avenues radiating through circles and plazas. When Detroit was named the capital of the Michigan territory in 1805 before the new government could get up and running the entire settlement burned to the ground so it too was starting from scratch. Justice Augustus B. Woodward based his street grid for Detroit on L’Enfant’s plan for Washington. Woodward ran all his streets from the central hub of Grand Circus Park.
Standing in Grand Circus Park one can turn and see the breadth of Detroit history from a post-Civil War era church to skyscrapers crafted in the early days of the automobile to the modern sports stadiums. But we are here to walk and so our walking tour will head down Augustus Woodward’s spokes and circle Grand Circus Park more or less following his radial street plan...
Grand Circus Park
Woodward Avenue and Adams Street
As part of Augustus Woodward’s plan to rebuild the city after the fire of 1805, this was the hub for his radial spoke street grid. The city established the park in 1850. Architect Henry Bacon, creator of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, designed the Russell Alger Memorial Fountain here in 1921 and Daniel Chester French, who sculpted the sitting statue of Abraham Lincoln inside the memorial, carved the classic Roman figure symbolizing Michigan in the fountain.
EXIT THE PARK TO THE SOUTHEAST ON THE CURVED SIDE ALONG THE ROAD THAT BISECTS THE PARK. ACROSS THE PARK TO YOUR LEFT IS...
David Broderick Tower
10 Witherell Street at southeast corner of Woodward Avenue
In the 1800s only New York City produced more pharmaceuticals than the town of Detroit. In 1855 Theodore Eaton began a wholesale drug business that evolved into the manufacture of chemicals and dyes and one of the town’s early pre-automobile fortunes. This skyscraper, the second tallest building in Michigan when it was completed in 1928, was financed by his son. Louis Kamper and Paul Kamper provided the tower with a Beaux Arts/Neoclassical flavored crown. In 1945 David Broderick, an insurance broker, purchased the building and despite many changes of ownership since it still carries his name.
ON THE RIGHT IS...
David Whitney Building
1553 Woodward Avenue
Massachusetts-born David Whitney came to Detroit at the age of 27 in 1857 buying up vast stands of timber across the upper Midwest. When he died in 1900 he was the richest man in Detroit. Whitney’s heirs erected this office tower in 1915, hiring one of the fathers of the skyscraper, Daniel Burnham to provide plans. Burnham delivered a Neoclassical design with terra cotta and glazed brick, although the original decorative cornice was removed in the 1950s.
CONTINUE DOWN WOODWARD AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON CLIFFORD STREET. TURN LEFT ON WASHINGTON BOULEVARD.
1410 Washington Boulevard at northeast corner of Grand River Avenue
Louis Kamper had been designing buildings in Detroit for 40 years from the Gay Nineties through the Roaring Twenties and this was one of his last major commissions, for the Industrial Bank in 1928. Kamper tapped into his vast stylistic repertoire for these 22 stories applying Art Deco, Gothic and classical elements to the facade. The bank did not come out the other end of the Great Depression and this building has spent most of its life as residential property.
1265 Washington Boulevard
The Book brothers - J. Burgess, Herbert and Frank - had a grand vision for Washington Boulevard that would transform the wide thoroughfare into an upscale commercial street in the image of New York’s Fifth Avenue or Chicago’s Michigan Avenue. They started their efforts here with a 16-story Italian Renaissance multi-use structure in 1916 designed by Louis Kamper. A decade later the Books brought Kamper back to create a 476-foot adjoining tower which was briefly the tallest building in Detroit. At a time when many skyscraper designers were shifting to the stripped down classicism of the Art Deco style, Kamper piled on large scale ornamentation on the upper floors of the tower that is capped with a pyramidal copper roof. Kamper also designed an 81-story tower to bookend the Book Building, and dwarf anything in the city, but the Great Depression scuttled those plans.
St. Aloysius Church and Chancery
1234 Washington Boulevard
John M. Donaldson was brought from Scotland to Detroit by his parents at the age of two in 1856. Donaldson studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France, and finished his European art studies in Venice, Italy. Back in Detroit, he was producing architectural sculptures for the Detroit City Hall in 1874 and formed a partnership with Henry J. Meier in 1880. Donaldson designed buildings for more than half-a century and this was one of his final projects. The stone carvings on the limestone facade are the handiwork of celebrated sculptor Corrado Parducci whose work can be found on over 600 buildings across Michigan.
Washington Boulevard Building
234 State Street at northeast corner of Washington Boulevard
This 23-story apartment building with dark brown brick on a limestone base was constructed from 1922 to 1923. The Neoclassical design was provided by Louis Kamper, who was busy beautifying Washington Boulevard in the 1920s.
TURN LEFT ON MICHIGAN AVENUE.
Book Cadillac Hotel
1114 Washington Boulevard at northeast corner of Michigan Avenue
An integral part of the Book Brothers’ grand plan to turn Washington Boulevard into the “Fifth Avenue of the West” was a world-class hotel. The three men acquired the Cadillac Hotel here and turned architect Louis Kemper loose on the project. When the Renaissance Revival-style guest house was completed in 1924 it was the tallest building in Detroit and the tallest hotel in the world. The tab was $14 million which outfitted 1,136 guest rooms. Kemper wrapped the first six floors in limestone and used beige bricks with limestone accents for the upper stories. The four architectural sculptures above the Michigan Avenue entrance depict important figures in Detroit history: Anthony Wayne, Antoine Cadillac, Chief Pontiac, and Robert Navarre.
TURN LEFT ON GRISWOLD STREET.
David Stott Building
1150 Griswold Street at southeast corner of State Street
This Art Deco tower starts with a dark granite base and rises on orange-tinted bricks to s series of setbacks as it approaches its 437-foot apex. The building was financed by mill owner-turned real estate developer David Stott. The office building was completed in 1929 on the eve of the Great Depression and was in receivership within a year. The stylish landmark has weathered rocky times ever since, stared down the wrecking ball but still holds its place at the head of Capitol Park.
Detroit Savings Bank Building
1212 Griswold Street at northeast corner of State Street
Architects William Rohns and Frederick Spier made there reputation building churches and train stations but here they raised one of the town’s first high-rises in 1895 on beefy rusticated pillars. Today, the twelve-story structure stands as the oldest surviving steel-framed skyscraper, albeit altered, in Detroit. On the State Street facade you can see how the light well that was built on early high-rises to admit light and air into the interior of the building, has been enclosed in glass. The 10-story Hammond Building, constructed at 611 Woodward Avenue in 1889, now demolished and replaced with Chase Tower, is considered the city’s first skyscraper.
1214 Griswold Street
Matthew Griswold settled the the town of Lyme on the Connecticut coast on February 13, 1665. Griswolds served as colonial governors and built a shipping empire but none ever had any dealings in Detroit. But William Woodbridge, a Connecticut native, who spent time as territorial governor named a street for Roger Griswold who was serving as governor of Connecticut during the War of 1812, which he opposed. This residential building in turn takes its name from the street. Detroit’s favorite architect, Albert Kahn, did the design honors on this 12-story building in 1929. The facade is divided into two portions: a lower, three-story portion faced with limestone and divided into nine bays, and an upper, nine-story portion constructed of brick with five center bays set back from the main facade. Capitol Park that it overlooks takes its name from Michigan’s first capitol building that was located here from 1828 until 1847.
TURN RIGHT ON GRAND RIVER AVENUE.
L.B. King Building
1274 Library Street
The King family began peddling crockery and glassware in 1849. L.B. King was running the operation in 1910 when he hired James S. Rogers and Walter Mac Farlane, two of Detroit’s busiest commercial architects, to design a new headquarters. The six-story steel-framed building is dominated by Chicago-styled windows with a facade clad in white terra cotta. The ornate cornice is a 1926 addition. The King china wholesaling business stayed until 1932 after which Annis Furs moved in and stayed for fifty years.
AT LIBRARY STREET, TURN RIGHT AN FOLLOW UNDER THE PEOPLE MOVER.
Skillman Branch Library
121 Gratiot Avenue at Library and Farmer streets
In the early days of the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), Ohio native Robert Skillman served as the company’s sales representative for the eastern half of the country, developed 3M’s foreign sales in England and Europe, and became the company’s vice president and director. This Neoclassical structure was fitted into this odd lot in 1931 and later named for the Skillmans, whose foundation funded the lion’s share of an $8 million restoration in 2000. The building is crafted in limestone with bronze entrances and copper roofing.
TURN LEFT ON GRATIOT AVENUE.
229 Gratiot Avenue at the southwest corner of Broadway Street
This heritage building from 1906 was a speculative venture backed by Frank M. Cary, a real estate investor. Cary hired architect Richard E. Raseman to design the Romanesque-flavored structure. Look up above the compromised street level to see the remnants of its original appearance. The construction of the Cary Building began a transformation of Broadway, then called Miami Avenue, from an upper-class residential area into a fashionable commercial district.
1308 Broadway Street at corner of Gratiot Avenue
“Breitmeyer” was Philip Breitmeyer who took his father’s flower business and became one of the founders of Florists’ Telegraph Delivery, or FTD. He commissioned this exuberant red brick Beaux Arts headquarters with glazed terra cotta decoration in 1905. Breitmeyer would later serve as the mayor of Detroit from 1909 until 1911. “Tobin” was Benjamin Tobin who acquired the property in 1944. After the Depression the building was mainly vacant, save for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which carved a niche marketing policies in the black community. Following that lead Tobin was able to fill the space office with notable African-American firms.
TURN LEFT ON BROADWAY STREET.
Harvard Square Centre
1344 Broadway Street
This commercial office building was constructed in 1926 as the Broadway Exchange Building, designed in the Neoclassical architectural style with Romanesque accents and sheathed in terra cotta. Its best days came a few years later when it was bought as the headquarters for the American Radiator Company. By the 1960s most of the space was vacant, a state the building has survived in for a half-century as it awaits a hoped-for conversion to residential lofts.
206 East Grand River Avenue at Broadway Street
This terra cotta commercial building was developed by John Barlum, who financed the towers on Cadillac Square in the 1920s. Otto Misch designed the eight-story low-rise in a Renaissance Revival style in 1922. Retailers operated in the lower two stories.
TURN RIGHT ON GRAND RIVER AVENUE.
267 East Grand River Avenue at northwest corner of Centre Street
The Gesang-Verein Harmonie was a singing group formed in the 1840s as this area of town became an enclave for German immigrants. Their frame clubhouse burned in 1893 and the club organized a design competition for German architects to build a new one. Richard E. Raseman’s classically-inspired design with a rounded corner to tame the odd-shaped lot carried the day. The four-story buff-colored brick building sports Corinthian columns and a balustraded balcony at the entrance. Club members could enjoy dining, reading, cards and bowling here. The Harmonie Club closed in the 1970s.
350 Madison Street at Grand River Avenue
John Dodge and his brother Horace were inseparable. They worked as a team; hire one, hire both. In the early years of the automobile industry the Dodges had no peer as machinists. In 1903 John and Horace signed an agreement to deliver 650 “automobile running gears” to a new, undercapitalized and highly speculative venture - the Ford Motor Company. From the beginning it was apparent the Dodges were not going to receive payment on terms. As builders of the new Model A the Dodge brothers accepted ownership in the company to deliver the cars. By 1913 the Dodge brothers announced their intentions to build a touring car under their own name. By 1919, when Henry Ford finally bought the last of the stock owed by the Dodge brothers for $25 million, only Ford and General Motors were selling more cars than the Dodges. They both died unexpectedly in 1920 and John Dodge’s widow Matilda used money from one of America’s largest fortunes to erect the only Detroit venue built for the primary purpose of presenting live performances in 1928. William Kapp designed the building with a multi-colored Art Deco facade and the interior in a Spanish Renaissance motif. A 1990s renovation restored the theater to its original splendor.
TURN LEFT ON MADISON AVENUE.
Detroit Athletic Club
241 Madison Avenue
The club organized in 1887 to promote amateur athletics. As sports at the time was almost exclusively the purview of the leisure class and the Detroit Athletic Club became one of the most prosperous private cubs in the city. Go-to Detroit architect Albert Kahn was the obvious choice in 1913 to design a new clubhouse. Kahn based his work here on a Roman palazzo. Today, the Detroit Athletic Club is visible beyond center field at Comerica Park; all-time Tiger great Ty Cobb was once a member.
Detroit Opera House
1526 Broadway Street
Performance venues often took the name “Opera House” in the 19th century and the first one appeared in Detroit in 1869. The present Detroit Opera House opened here in 1922 as the Capitol Theatre, the first of several stages built around Grand Circus Park. Designed by nationally known theater architect C. Howard Crane, this was the fifth largest in the world, seating up to 4,250 people, when it opened. After several closings and re-openings, the building emerged as the Detroit Opera House in 1988.
TURN RIGHT ON WITHERELL STREET.
2100 Woodward Avenue
After playing in Tiger Stadium since 1912 the Detroit Tigers moved into this ballpark, located on the original site of the Detroit College of Law, in 2000. Among its features is a Monument Park in centerfield with statues of former Tiger heroes that currently include Ty Cobb, Hal Newhouser, Charlie Gehringer, Hank Greenberg, Al Kaline, and Willie Horton. Behind Comerica Park sits Ford Field, the indoor football stadium of the Detroit Lions.
TURN LEFT ON ELIZABETH STREET. TURN RIGHT ON WOODWARD AVENUE.
2115 Woodward Avenue at northwest corner of Elizabeth Street
Busy theater architect Charles Howard Crane designed this Renaissance Revival movie house in 1925 as the State. Today the Filmore Detroit is a busy concert venue for popular music acts. It is located in the Francis Palms Building, built by the descendants of Belgian native Francis Palms who moved to Detroit in 1832 and made his fortune in real estate development.
2211 Woodward Avenue at northwest corner of Columbia Street
Hungarian-born William Fox was brought to America in his first year in 1879. When he was 21 he started his own textile company which he sold to buy his first movie theater. In 1915, he started Fox Film Corporation, becoming a pioneering motion picture executive. In addition to making movies, Fox personally oversaw the construction of many Fox Theatres including this one, the largest of his movie palaces. The Detroit Fox was the first movie theater in the world to be constructed with built-in equipment for sound films. Designed by Charles Howard Crane, a local architect who created some 250 theaters, in a blend of Burmese, Chinese, Indian and Persian motifs, this 5,174-seat behemoth remained Detroit’s premier movie destination for until it was closed in the 1980s for restoration.
St. John’s Episcopal Church
2326 Woodward Avenue at northeast corner of Montcalm Street
Henry Porter Baldwin left Rhode Island at the age of 24 and moved to Detroit to peddle boots and shoes in 1838. Over the next 30 years when he wasn’t building his business he spent time as governor of Michigan and a United States senator and organized the St. John’s parish in 1858. Albert Jordan, also from back East, came to Detroit with his brother, Octavius, in the early 1850s. He became the go-to architect for churches and contributed the Victorian Gothic design for this building. The bulk of the exterior is rubble limestone, with the trim made of Kelly Island sandstone.
TURN LEFT ON MONTCALM STREET.
Royal Palm Hotel
2305 Park Avenue at northwest corner of Montcalm Street
Architect Louis Kamper was busy designing hotels on Park Avenue in the 1920s; he did three big ones. This was the Royal Palm Hotel in 1924 and operated continuously as a hotel until its conversion to a high-rise residential building named the Park Avenue House. The 13-story Italian Renaissance building features unusual packeted bay windows.
TURN LEFT ON PARK AVENUE.
Detroit Life Building
2210 Park Avenue at northeast corner of Columbia Avenue
Chicago architects C. Robert Arnold and Charles R. Shreve added this Beaux Arts 10-story office building to the Detroit streetscape in 1923. The building had a variety of tenants but carries he name of Detroit Life which occupied the top four floors during the earlier years. All the tenants had moved out by 1977 and despite being vacant for 25 years the building remained in good shape until a recent multi-million dollar facelift.
Women’s City Club
2110 Park Avenue at northeast corner of Elizabeth Street
Women’s clubs began to find a voice in America at the turn of the 20th century and the movement came to Detroit in 1919 with this club founded to “promote a broad acquaintance among women.” The City Club offered a number of classes and recreation programs for women, eventually enrolling over 8,000 members. The building was designed by William B. Stratton with a modern sensibility in 1922, with its ornamentation limited to the brickwork. Look inside the arched entrance to a see a band of Pewabic Pottery tile invented by member Mary Chase Perry Stratton, who was married to architect Stratton. The club moved to smaller quarters in 1974.
TURN LEFT ON ADAMS STREET.
76 West Adams Street at northeast corner of Park Avenue
Sebastian Spering Kresge’s first business enterprise was a single hive of bees he nursed into a colony of 32 hives as a young boy. He would keep bees as an adult hobby because, he said, “My bees always remind me that hard work, thrift, sobriety and earnest struggle to live an upright Christian life are the rungs of the ladder of success.” At age 21 Kresge began exploring the business field working in door-to-door selling, insurance, bookkeeping, and baking before settling into the sale of tinware for five years on straight commission. He entered into other retailing partnerships with $8000 he had carefully saved, working in stores in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Michigan. By 1899 he was on his own in Detroit. Kresge put a large number of items on open counters where they could be examined and appraised. The slogan over his door said it all: “Nothing over 10 cents.” By 1914 when he moved his company into this headquarters, Kresge had 150 five-and-dime stores. Albert Kahn provided the Neoclassical design for the 18-story tower. Kresge moved out in 1930 and the name was changed from the Kresge Building to the Kales Building.
Fyfe Shoe Building
10 West Adams Street at northwest corner of Woodward Avenue
Richard Henry Fyfe was brought to Michigan from Vermont as an infant and was forced to begin his working career at the age of eleven when his father met financial reverses. The shoe business brought him to Detroit as a clerk and Fyfe built a fortune in footwear. This 14-story Neo-Gothic tower, finished in 1919, housed Fyfe shoe offices and a retail store for many years.
Central United Methodist Church
23 East Adams Avenue
This congregation traces its beginnings to 1810 with Reverend William Mitchell and seven members forming the first protestant society in the Michigan territory. The current Gothic sanctuary dates to the early 1860s, fashioned in Ohio limestone and sandstone on plans drawn by noted church architect Gordon Lloyd. The bell tower stands 180 feet high and houses a 460-pound bell. The price tag for the chapel and sanctuary was $136,000. In the 1930s Woodward Avenue was widened and rather than lose its steeple the church tore down 28.4 feet of its building and moved the steeple back.
YOU HAVE NOW RETURNED TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN GRAND CIRCUS PARK.