Tag Archives: Detroit Skyscrapers

DETROIT: The Amazing Guardian Building

29 Nov

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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!

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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. 

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DETROIT: The Auto Show

25 Jan

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Detroit is still the Motor City, no name is more synonymous. We still build cars, engines, transmissions, axles and millions of untold parts in the city and its metro. Once a year we have our own red carpet preview; The North American International Auto Show. While not a hidden gem by any means, it is one of the most iconic, Spectacular and historic events in Detroit. It is estimated to gross hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for the metro area, and this year alone raised $3 million for children’s charity.  Weeks of work and months of planning go into elaborate displays dedicated to what Detroit does best: build cars. Whether you’re looking for a Chevy Volt built in Hamtramck , a Chrysler 200 from Sterling Heights, a Mustang from Brownstown or an ultra exotic Falcon from Holly, they’re all here. For 105 years we’ve been proudly showing our vehicles to the world.

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  The first Detroit Auto Dealers Association Auto Show was held in 1907 at Riverview Park on Jefferson near the Belle Isle Bridge. The show grew from year to year, as it did, it moved from location to location; The Light Guard Armory on 8 Mile, Wayne Gardens Pavillion, and the Michigan State Fair Grounds. 1957 marked the first year international manufacturers displayed their vehicles at the show. In 1965 the Auto Show moved to its permanent home at Cobo Center. The show was  (and still is) a huge deal for Detroit, in the old days manufacturers would transport the vehicles to the venues ‘under wraps’, the wraps would stay on until the show opening. The dealer showrooms often copied this tactic; showroom windows would be covered over as the vehicle lines changed over from year to year. It was a big deal when the new model year was unveiled.  In 1989 the Detroit Auto Show officially became the North American International Auto Show, Detroit hosts the only domestic show to be distinguished as a Major International Show. In 2007 the DADA celebrated the centennial of the show which had grown from a regional event with 17 exhibitors to an internationally sanctioned show with over 90 exhibitors! With their headquarters located in metro Detroit, the “Big Three” have always been the life-blood of the city.

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Kris and I ventured down to the NAIAS on a Friday morning hoping to beat the crowds. I love this time of year downtown; city streets are filled with cars bearing license plates from neighboring states, scores of people fill the sidewalks leading to Cobo, local bars and restaurants overflow with folks on their way to or from the show. It is more than just an auto show, it is an event. Manufacturers transform Cobo into  an almost science-fiction type atmosphere; cars rest upon platforms and turntables at strange angles rotating to showcase every view. Entire sets and stages are constructed, there are multiple levels, funky lighting, lounge areas and music. As you pass from display to display beautiful models  recite dialog pointing out the most interesting features of each vehicle. There are give-aways, free tote bags, and plenty of brochures to place inside.  There is an electricity in the air here; American muscle is back and it’s cool; Boss 302 Mustang, a Supercharged ZR1 Corvette, Challenger SRT 8, the Charger SuperBee, ZL1  Camaro, even a 556 HP Cadillac CTS-V . Cars are exciting again, the lines are sleek, the colors are outstanding; the Black Diamond on Cadillac is rich with metal-flake, Ford paints cars in lime green and Grabber Blue, Chrysler has Header Orange, you should have seen the paint on the 2012 Hot Wheels Camaro, a cross between chrome and anti-freeze green it was wild!  I like to do a bit of research before I write each post, while reading the history of the  auto show I came across a quote I’d like to share with you: Detroiters have always endured, excelled and exceeded expectations. I think our auto industry is a perfect example of that.

For more Auto Show photos click HERE

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Back in the “Mad Men” days there was such a thing as the “businessmen’s lunch”, it would last longer than the typical lunch hour, it usually included a cocktail, and took place in a restaurant with a club-like feel; dark wood, dim lighting, small space.  The Caucus Club is located on the ground floor of the Penobscot Building, opened in 1952 it has been a long time favorite lunch spot for judges, lawyers, bankers and executives. The interior is dim, light by a series of Tiffany-style lamps, it consists of two rooms separated by a small kitchen, dark paneling, brass sconces, antiques and paintings decorated the spaces. The Caucus Club was opened by Les and Sam Gruber and was the sister restaurant to the world-renowned London Chop House. The Gruber brothers were well-known in the industry not only for their food, but for the talented young people they hired to perform at the Caucus Club. In 1961 Les received a call from Irwin Arthur in New York City, telling him of a young woman singer he thought would be perfect for him, Les agreed to give her a try. In February 1961 Barbra Streisand began singing in the back room of the Caucus Club for $125 per week. She performed there off and on from February to August that year. Sometime during her stay she was invited to be on the Jack Parr show, which of course kicked off her professional career. 

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It is a short walk from Cobo to Caucus Club, they serve lunch and dinner during the week and dinner only on Saturday. We were seated near the window, brought menus and glasses of water. The menu has changed little, you will still find menu items such as a Chef’s and Maurice salad, a tuna plate, the John Hancock and Old Glory sandwiches and of course their famous fresh lake perch.  We chose the Waiters Salad; iceberg lettuce, julienne ham, turkey and swiss, a hard-boiled egg and tomato with the waiters dressing. Along with that a good old-fashioned club sandwich; nothing fancy, just turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo on toast.  The restaurant still caters to the business lunch crowd, people from nearby offices came and went while we were there. Bobby Flay’s Food Nation visited a while back and featured the Caucus Club sautéed Lake Perch and Oysters in Champagne Sauce. I am sad to report that after 60 years in business, Caucus Club closed their doors in late 2012.

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 The Buhl Bar is a throwback to the time when each one of the buildings in the Financial District had its own after work cocktail bar. The bar is definitely old-school, located in the Buhl Building it is open from 3 to 8pm Monday through Friday. This former bank lobby has been transformed into a relaxing place for a drink after a long day. With its dark wood, dim lighting and ornate plaster ceilings this cozy space has a distinctly masculine ambiance. We arrived shortly after the bar opened, we were the first customers of the day, old standards played softly in the background. We sat at the bar and ordered our drinks, as we sat there a few regulars began to trickle in. Tables by the window provide a view of The Guardian Building and activity on Griswold and Congress.  After a short respite it was time to move along, but we will definitely be back.