Tag Archives: Architectural Tours

Detroit Deco: Kresge and Cliff Bells

29 Mar


Since we’re not out and about at the moment Kris and I thought we’d share some of our older posts; a reminder of the beauty and history that surrounds us. Here’s one from February 2012.  


wayne 005

We attended the Preservation Detroit 2012 Membership Event at the former Kresge World Headquarters on Second and Cass Park. We never pass up an opportunity to get a look at another one of Detroit’s beautiful historic buildings.  First a little history: Sebastian S Kresge (SS Kresge) started out with two 5 & 10 Cent stores, in 1912 he incorporated the SS Kresge Corporation with 85 stores. By 1928 the company had outgrown its 18 story world headquarters at Adams and Park (now known as the Kales Building), Sebastian hired Albert Kahn to design a larger headquarters. Opened in 1929, the result is a stunning limestone building; created in the shape of an E, the wings point away from the park, the 250,000 sq ft structure covers a city block. The central portion of the building is 5 1/2 stories tall, while the wings are 4 stories; it’s topped off with a copper-clad mansard roof and terracotta cresting, an excellent example of Art Deco design.

wayne 012

wayne 010

wayne 001

The first Kmart was built in 1962, SS Kresge died in 1966, then in 1972 the offices were moved to their new headquarters in Troy MI. The old building was donated to a vocational school by the name of the Detroit Institute of Technology. Now known as the Metropolitan Center for High Technology and owned by Wayne State University, the space is home to several small businesses and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. Ok, fast forward to the tour.

wayne 007

wayne 038

wayne 041

We parked in the fenced in lot behind the building and entered through the back; the interior is granite, the floors polished to a high shine. We found our way to the lobby crowded with people milling about the silent auction and food tables, music could be heard faintly in the background, the light from the large chandelier played softly off the granite and multitude of brass accents. The lobby is lovely; inlaid walnut paneling and architectural sculptures all done by Corrado Parducci are a feast for the eyes.The ceiling is divided into a series of squares, raised medallions are painted copper and gold, large windows overlook the park. Building tours were announced; the mass of attendees moved from the lobby to the hall waiting their turn to take the elevator up to the second floor. In the hallway intricate brass rails and banisters line the stairways, gorgeous Art Deco light fixtures decorate the ceilings, the elevator doors are amazing!

wayne 030

wayne 1

wayne 029

 The executive offices are located on the second floor, Mr Kresge’s on one side, the VP’s on the other, we had the opportunity to see both. The offices are finished in stunning walnut paneling, in place of sharp corners you will find curves, the same goes for the hardwood floors. The ceilings are wet plaster, a raised design goes around the perimeter giving the room a formal feel, the original light fixtures still remain in Mr Kresge’s office. Next up to the fourth floor, this area was previously used as a laboratory complex, though it is unused at the present time there is hope a new tenant will lease the space. It was interesting to see the area, the best part was the wide array of Pewabic Tile; bright colors in pretty designs, it still remains. 


LD weekend 532

LD weekend 531

It was still early, so we thought we’d end the evening with a nightcap at Cliff Bells, if you’ve never been put it on the top of your list of places to go. Located on Park Ave, the exterior is easily recognizable by the lovely wood and half-circle awning entrance. Once inside it’s like walking onto the set of an old movie, some swank Art Deco club straight out of the 30’s, I almost expect to see Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby or Benny Goodman appear on stage. This place is incredible; triple cove ceilings, mahogany everywhere including the bar, the cool deco stage and large light fixtures hanging from chains providing just enough light to create the perfect ambiance. One of the unique features I really love are the bar side tables, and ladies there is even a hook to hang your purse! A mural takes up the far wall, it fits the mood of the place perfectly, vintage photos and menus are enclosed in glass and hung on the wall to be enjoyed by patrons. 

LD weekend 534

LD weekend 535

Cliff Bell’s was opened by John Clifford Bell in 1935, the building was designed by Albert Kahn and built by the Campau family. The club itself was designed by famed architect Charles Agree, what a wonderful  job he did. Through the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s Cliff Bell’s and the Town Pump Tavern anchored the ends of a lively district of pubs, clubs and burlesques up and down Park Ave, actually not too different from today (minus the burlesques), John ran the club until his retirement in 1958. Through the 70’s and 80’s it went through name changes including The Winery, La Cave, and AJ’s On The Park, it closed permanently in 1985. In 2005 it was purchased by the current owners and a six-month restoration began. It re-opened as Cliff Bell’s and the rest as they say is history. 

LD weekend 536

LD weekend 543

Recently discovered in a Detroit warehouse, the club is now home to a vintage Steinway Grand Piano that was purchased in 1960 by the City Of Detroit for Cobo Hall. After being stored for 25 years and 6 months of restoration it now sits on stage. In addition to great Jazz  they also serve French-inspired cuisine for lunch, dinner and brunch, they offer great Happy Hour specials. If you are looking for an Ultra-Cool night on the town give Cliff Bell’s a try !

DETROIT: The Amazing Guardian Building

29 Nov

guardian 082

It was the 1920’s and America was roaring. The Great War was over, the United States was coming into its own. We were changing everything; we put the world on wheels and now we were altering the face of city skylines with the skyscraper. In Detroit buildings such as the Buhl, Book Tower, Fisher and Penobscot soared high towards the sky, in 1929 the Guardian Building joined them. Originally named the Union Trust Building, Wirt Rowland of Smith Hinchman and Grylls Associates was responsible for designing the structure, and what a grand job he did! The Guardian looks as good today as it did in 1929; home to a branch of Bank of America, Pure Detroit, a coffee shop, cafe and City of Detroit offices, hundreds of people come and go from the building each day, free tours are available too. Let us show you around.

guardian 090

guardian 003

guardian 028

Located on Griswold Street in the Financial District, you can easily pick out the Guardian; while most buildings are made of limestone or granite, Wirt Roland chose a red-tan brick, I read that almost 2 million bricks were used to construct the 535 foot building. Be sure to spend some time taking in the exterior of the building; on either side of the main entrance Indian-like figures carved by Corrado Parducci represent safety and security, colorful tilework patterns enhance outdoor alcoves. Once inside be prepared to be awestruck, the lobby is magnificent. The vaulted ceiling is Rookwood tile from Cincinnati, colorful patterns in blue, green, yellow, red and gold dance across the space, floors are Italian Travertine and Belgian black marble, lower portions of the walls are Numidian marble and Mankato stone. It is here we meet up with our tour guide and Guardian Concierge Christopher; his enthusiasm for the building is apparent the moment he begins to tell us about it.  The building itself is an Art Deco masterpiece, keep in mind it was built as a banking institution. The Indian motif is carried on throughout the entire structure; we find symbols of security, fidelity, safety and progress. Notched arches line the length of the lobby, at the end of each elevator hall are majestic stained glass windows featuring elaborate Indians. Our guide points out splendid lanterns that MichCon had made from the original architectural drawings found when doing renovations. Elevator doors are fabulous; Christopher shows us the letters UT carved into the doors representing Union Trust. We hop on the elevator and go up.

guardian 017guardian 010

guardian 034

guardian 044

We stop on the executive floor; CEO’s, CFO’s and board members gathered here for important meetings, it’s very swanky. Beautiful wood lines the walls and floor of the outer area, inside the boardroom a huge conference table and chairs take up most of the space; walls are beautifully paneled, windows are tall and elongated and provide a picturesque view of downtown. Back in the elevator we stop when we reach the top floor: the Ballroom. The decor is reminiscent of the lobby; notched arches, bright colors, but here we get a panoramic view of the city and the river, wow! This time we ride the elevator back to the lobby, then head down the stairs to the safe.  As we descend the design becomes less intricate, but it is not without decoration; Flint Faience tiles add a splash of color. We arrive at the safe, all of us walk inside as Christopher explains how cash was stored in piles back in the day. As we exit we stop and examine the door, they didn’t kid around when it came to protecting money. A small room houses safe deposit boxes, I imagine wealthy ladies wearing hats and gloves making frequent trips here to retrieve their finest jewelry for special occasions. 

guardian 043

guardian 021

guardian 053

At last we arrive at the Cathedral of Finance, now called the Retail Promenade, it is stunning! A decorative grill made of Monel metal separates the lobby from the cathedral, a Tiffany clock  graces each side of the grill, after many years of being dark it is once again illuminated, it is a true work of art. The main banking room was once lined with 80 teller cages, yes, you read that right, 80. The theme is Aztec design, the ceiling is hand painted in colors popular at the time including turquoise, and terracotta. Oils, acrylics and solid gold were used to achieve the look, it is amazing. The south wall embraces a giant map of Michigan; Michigania, the goddess of our state is placed in the center, symbols of mining, fishing, finance and auto manufacturing define commercial strengths of the time period, it is still in its original condition. Currently Bank of America continues the banking tradition of the space, who wouldn’t love to do their banking here?  There is just so much to look at, it’s hard to take it all in, as many times as we come here I always manage to notice something new. This is where the tour ends, we thanked Christopher for a most enjoyable time. We had a quick espresso drink at Rowland Cafe, you won’t find a coffee shop with a better view, before stopping in at Pure Detroit to check out their latest offerings. From Detroit themed t-shirts and Pewabic Pottery to original artwork and a vast selection of books, the shop is home to “all things Detroit”. Whether you’re visiting from out of town and looking for something uniquely Detroit to take home or a local looking for a way to show your pride in the city, you’ll find the perfect item here!

guardian 072

guardian 061

guardian 069

We walked over to Woodward for lunch at Forans Grand Trunk Pub; in the mood for a great sandwich and a beautiful setting, it fit the bill perfectly. The building went up in 1879 and was known as the Traub Brothers Jewelry Building. In 1911 it was renovated and turned into the ticket office for the Grand Trunk Railway, the company’s Grand Trunk logo still graces the terracotta detailing on the front of the building. Inside they removed the second floor and installed a gothic style vaulted ceiling, the antique brass chandeliers are still hanging. The place has a definite sense of character, I can visualize folks lining up to buy their train tickets in this very space. The ticket office remained until 1934, in 1935 it was established as a bar and has been one ever since. We arrived after the lunch rush and took a table near the window, our waitress was quick to come over, take our drink order and offer us menus. Forans is well known for its commitment to the city and the state; they have 15 Michigan craft beers on tap and 100 more in bottles, they take the”Buy Local” trend seriously. The menu is filled with delicious things, they even  have some of the old Eph McNally’s sandwiches (oh, how we miss that place!). It has been too long since our last Sabrina Duncan; turkey breast, dill havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and honey mustard on an onion roll…..it was even better than I remembered. A side salad with their homemade maurice dressing and a pile of Better Made wavy chips completed our meal, it was delicious! Did I mention they serve Faygo? Yep, regular flavors come in a glass bottle, diet in cans, you just can’t beat a Faygo Root Beer. 

guardian 096

guardian 094