DETROIT: One Woodward Ave

4 Dec

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 With the recent news of  Dan Gilbert’s Rock Ventures purchasing yet another Detroit landmark, the One Woodward building, we thought you might like to get a closer look.  Residing on the corner of Woodward Ave and Jefferson, this has long been a favorite building of mine. Back in 2010 Kris and I had the enormous pleasure of touring the building with the Detroit Area Art Deco Society, it was fabulous! We don’t normally feature something we did in the past, since there’s little chance we’ll have the opportunity to get up to the former MichCon executive offices again (unless Dan drops us an invite) it’s time for a little trip back in time. C’mon, we’ll show you around. But first, a little history.

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Minoru Yamasaki was the design architect, built in 1963 this was his first skyscraper; in fact, it was this building that landed him the job of designing the World Trade Center Towers. Commissioned as the headquarters for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, it was to be an important building; from its prominent location at the foot of the Detroit river to the fact that it was the first high-rise to be constructed in Detroit in nearly 30 years, it would forever change the cityscape. The structure is 430 feet tall with 28 floors, floors 27 and 28 are entirely mechanical. The building is topped with a mechanical penthouse that includes four more floors, lighting incorporated into the top two stories distinguish the tower in the night skyline. From the time the building opened until the early 1980’s, the 26th floor was home to fine dining at “The Top of the Flame”, if you ever ate there, you never forgot it. Kris was lucky enough to have eaten there with his family. The building was known as the MichCon building until 1997, when it was renamed simply “One Woodward” referring to its address. Now, let’s have a look at the place…

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The building sits on a raised platform, the lobby walls are recessed, white marble columns create a loggia on all four sides; when I look at it, I think it looks like it is on stilts. The Jefferson Ave entrance is surrounded by lush gardens that were originally reflecting pools; Giacomo Manzu’s bronze sculpture Passo di Danza still greets pedestrians. The loggia floor is the same white marble that continues right into the building. The lobby is stunning; surrounded by 30 ft glass panels it is adorned only by a few planters and a fabulous reception desk; silver in color and circular in shape it is constructed using the same narrow hexagon type panels used throughout the building. Floors and walls the same pristine marble,the ceiling, simple coffered square panels with a recessed light. The feeling is light, airy, clean. Trim on windows and railings are stainless steel polished to the highest shine.

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Elevators are located in a short open hallway, doors are ornate in a brocade like pattern and silver-colored. We exit on the 25th floor, it is unoccupied, once home to the executive offices it is now all open space. We are free to wander at our leisure; we discover a white marble fireplace, doors matching the elevator doors, offices are paneled in beautiful teak-looking wood. The view from the President’s office stops us in our tracks, windows go from floor to ceiling, the panoramic view of the city is breathtaking. The windows appear to be narrow with the top and bottom of the openings meeting in an arch of sorts. That’s because the buildings exterior is made up of pre-cast concrete sections that frame the glass in 1 foot 11 inch sections; this look later became Yamasaki’s signature style. Windsor is directly in front of us and seemingly at arm’s length, Hart Plaza sits directly below, it’s a great perspective to see it from. Cobo Arena and the Ambassador Bridge are to our right and to the left I can just make out the Belle Isle bridge. We continue to wander the floor and find ourselves in an office facing Woodward and Campus Martius, the Compuware building resides in the distance. From this height patterns in the landscape become apparent, it is October, the lawn deep green and trees glow a golden-yellow as they enter into Autumn. Every window offers a slightly different scene, we look out at the upper section of the Penobscot and Guardian, the Spirit of Detroit looks quite small from this height, on the other hand the Renaissance Center with all of its towers looms large. 

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They say that currently the building is 60% occupied, but that number will grow as new workers move in. It is an exciting time for Detroit as it enters this new chapter; more and more people are working downtown and living downtown. New business are sprouting up all over to accommodate the influx of new life. Detroit seems to be coming into its own, again………….

3 Responses to “DETROIT: One Woodward Ave”

  1. The Detroit Foodie December 15, 2012 at 11:14 pm #

    Can’t get enough of your blog! Excellent work – love the photos, write-ups, and places you visit. Keep up the AMAZING work : )

  2. Jim Aaron September 29, 2015 at 7:33 pm #

    I’m wondering if this is the first building to employ the design Idea of having the entire building structure contained in the outside walls and the inside square, like the World Trade Center, the building had no inside columns on any floor, just open space.
    I remember being in this area in the 50’s, before this building was built, they were in the process of moving Old Mariners Church that now sits next to the RenCen. The City-County building across the street is built in a tradition style of columns evenly spaced only a few years before the gas Building.

    • detroitdvotion September 29, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

      This was Yamasaki’s first skyscraper, the fore-runner to the World Trade Center. The tower is an all-welded steel frame, clad with two-story pre-cast concrete panels. It was probably an empty lot when you were here. I think it’s an amazing building, thankfully it is thriving under the care of Mr Gilbert.

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