Lost Detroit tells the stories behind 12 of the city's most beautiful, all-but-forgotten landmarks and of the people behind them, from the day they opened to the day they closed. While these buildings might stand as ghosts of the past today, their stories live on within these pages. The team behind BuildingsofDetroit.com brings you the memories of those who caught trains out of the majestic Michigan Central Station, necked with girlfriends in the balcony of the palatial Michigan Theatre, danced the night away at the Vanity Ballroom and kicked out the jams at the Grande Ballroom. As Detroit Free Press Architecture Critic John Gallagher said, the buildings in these pages held a central place in the story of Detroit's Auto Century. It was America's story, too. Detroiters lived, loved, toiled, played, celebrated and dreamed great dreams in these buildings and thereby helped shape a nation."
About the Author
Dan Austin is a journalist at the Detroit Free Press and a historian of the city's landmarks. He began researching and writing about Detroit's architectural wonders in 2006. His first book, Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City's Majestic Ruins, "? tells the stories behind the boarded-up windows of Detroit's most spectacular abandoned buildings. He runs HistoricDetroit.org."
Read an Excerpt
Thousands of Detroiters once got their teeth drilled high in the sky above the bustling streets of downtown.
The Broderick Tower, one of the city's most recognizable skyscrapers, opened in 1927 as the Eaton Tower, named for what was then one of Detroit's most recognizable families. Theodore H. Eaton came to Detroit in 1838 and invested his savings in a run-down drugstore that had folded in the Panic of 1837. At the time, Detroit was just an out-of-the-way frontier town of about eight thousand, but the twenty-three-year-old Eaton had pioneering in his blood: He was a direct descendant of Thomas Eaton, who helped settle the New World in 1660.
Eaton bought the Riley and Ackerly drugstore, a bet on Detroit that would pay off. He stockpiled paints, soaps and other supplies for the ships that came sailing into Detroit, often staying open late into the night so as to not miss a ship coming in, the Detroit Free Press noted in 1953. Eaton adapted his firm to Detroit's changing business climate. As wool mills opened in the city, Eaton started selling them chemicals, dyes and machinery. He taught his son, Theodore H. Eaton Jr., the family trade, and the younger Eaton oversaw the company switch to selling dry cleaning supplies and heavy chemicals for the city's booming auto industry. But it was Berrien C. Eaton, the grandson of the company's founder, who would build a lasting monument to his family's legacy.
BUILDING A BEHEMOTH
Berrien Eaton took over the company in 1920 and also was a trustee of the Eaton estate. His father bought the site of the Broderick on May 25, 1904, then home to the Gladwin Building, a six-story structure built in 1896. The parcel is located on the southeastern corner of Grand Circus Park and Woodward Avenue, the city's main thoroughfare. Before the Gladwin, the land had been home to everything from the Grand Circus Hotel to Turkish baths.
On July 10, 1926, Berrien Eaton announced that the estate would build a thirty-four-story, classically inspired shaft with elaborate Baroque-style ornamentation at the top. The family tapped architect Louis Kamper for the job, and his son Paul L. Kamper served as associate architect. The tab for the building came in at about $1.75 million (about $21.5 million today, when adjusted for inflation). Work started on the 370-foot behemoth of Indiana limestone on September 1, 1926, a building that would be "a landmark worthy of Detroit and the street on which it stands," the Detroit News wrote in December 1926.
On March 3, 1927, Berrien Eaton drove the final rivet into the skyscraper bearing his family's name. Paul Kamper handed Eaton the red-hot metal during a ceremony on the thirty-third floor. When it opened about a year after it was announced, it was the second-tallest building in the city, behind the Book Tower. Starting in mid-May 1927, the top of the tower "blazed forth" with powerful floodlights illuminating the top four floors of its crown, the Free Press reported at the time. The sight was visible for miles around, and advertisements for its office space declared it "a beauty by day — a jewel by night."
The building was full of marble wainscoting. Its lobby featured Belge marble with a travertine marble floor. The lobby's slender but ornate barreled ceiling led clients to the five elevators that would zip them above the bustling streets below. The elevator doors were made of bronze and featured reliefs of Zeus riding in a chariot wielding fists full of lightning bolts. All of the elevator corridors throughout the building were finished in Botticino marble with floors of Tennessee marble. It had retail stores and shops on the first five floors. The rest was for small businesses and professional offices serving tens of thousands of Detroiters over the years. Lawyers, accountants, a dozen barbershops and dozens more medical offices, made their home there. "At one time, there were so many doctors' offices that it was practically a medical center," the Free Press recalled in January 1970. Radio station WJLB also was housed in the tower.
The prime location and soaring height enabled the building to prosper for decades. On July 1, 1944, the tower was sold for an undisclosed price to a group headed by insurance broker David F. Broderick. Broderick moved his business offices into the building and renamed the Eaton after himself. He also converted the thirty-third floor into a suite where he could entertain his friends and business associates. Broderick died in 1957, and his family sold the building in September 1966. It was sold again in April 1969 to George Fleischer and Bernard Glieberman, but by this point, the building was starting to show its age. Most downtown office buildings still boasted 90 percent occupancy rates at the time, but the Broderick was hovering around 70 percent. They set out to reinvent the building, "and the very first thing we did was raise the rents," Fleischer told the Free Press in 1970. They also embarked on a remodeling project, installing drop ceilings, air conditioning and fluorescent lighting. "We bought a slum building in a good area," Fleischer told the Free Press in January 1970. "We don't subscribe to the theory that downtown Detroit is dying." But he couldn't have been more wrong.
Businessman Michael Higgins and a group of investors acquired the building in 1976 and have owned it ever since. During the mid-'70s, Higgins had been investing in several major downtown buildings while others were abandoning the city. "You might say in retrospect that he was making the wrong bets and they were making the right ones," said Fred J. Beal, president of JC Beal Construction, which has been working to redevelop the Broderick. That bad bet was because the city continued to bleed commercial tenants — and the Broderick was far from exempt. Most of the tower's doctors had moved their offices to the suburbs. The exodus became like a cancer. The practitioners had all benefitted from the one-stop medical shopping, and once many had left, the rest followed. Tenants complained that heat, water, security and other services were uncertain at best.
In the mid-1980s, as the building was limping along at about the break-even point with 40 to 50 percent vacancy, Higgins was approached by an investor who bought the Broderick on a land contract and wanted to convert the tower from office space into a residential building. The new owner encouraged the remaining office tenants to leave while planning his project, which never came to fruition. The building reverted to the Higgins group under the terms of the land contract, but because the investor had let the tenants leave, the building was now empty save for the first-floor restaurant space. The Broderick has remained vacant since 1985. On October 11, 1991, the Witherell Corp., of which Higgins was vice-president, filed for chapter 11 reorganization, owing $75,000 in unpaid utilities, among other debts. After the bankruptcy, Higgins retained ownership of the building and continued to seek a plan to renovate the Broderick.
In the meantime, artist Robert Wyland, who grew up in nearby Madison Heights, Michigan, painted a 108-foot mural of humpback whales on the Broderick's windowless eastern wall. The piece, titled Whale Tower, took three and a half days to complete and was dedicated on October 13, 1997. It became something of a landmark, with five-story whales splashing about among the buildings downtown. Wyland, who has painted dozens of whale murals around the world, called it a gift to the city that was designed to draw attention to the plight of saving humpback whales.
TOWER OF DECAY — AND POSSIBILITIES
Today, the building sits empty and vandalized, with senseless graffiti dotting the marble along its corridors and plaster walls relieved of their plumbing. On many of the Broderick's thirty-four floors, time has stood still. A dentist chair sits covered in paint chips. Drawers sit full of fake smiles from a dental supply company. Office equipment gathers dust on desks. A post office box sits alone in a corner office. It is one of the tallest abandoned buildings in the country. But compared to many other abandoned landmarks downtown, the Broderick is in surprisingly good shape. Despite its many windows left ajar — making it the world's largest pigeon coop — the Broderick has been better secured than many other empty landmarks and is mostly just cluttered with junk.
In 1995, the Detroit Tigers announced that they would build a new baseball stadium next to the Broderick. Higgins said he planned to dust off the tower and turn it into one hundred lofts and a three-story nightclub and remodel the restaurant space. The plan was the first of at least three attempts to bring back the Broderick, each hitting financial snags.
Despite the setbacks and skeptics, work on reviving the Broderick began in early 2011. After more than twenty-five years, the tower is once again buzzing with life. A ribbon-cutting attended by political luminaries and business leaders was held on April 18, 2011. The $55 million project is to wrap up in September 2012 and is to include a restaurant, lounge and nearly 130 apartments.
The Broderick is a sleeping giant that is finally being reawakened, another sign that Detroit is once again rising from the ashes. In July 2006, John Carlisle wrote on his seminal "DetroitBlog" that the Broderick "is the Cinderella of abandoned buildings — neglected, ignored, seemingly ragged and tarnished, yet underneath it all, more splendid and engaging and brimming with possibilities than the others. For now though, it sits meekly and quietly, waiting to be transformed back into what it really is."CHAPTER 2
CASS TECHNICAL HIGH SCHOOL
In a city filled with factories pumping out automobiles, Cass Tech was a factory of learning, where students were taught to use their hands as well as their heads.
More than fifty thousand students graduated from it, and hundreds of thousands of others attended class there. Among the distinguished students who wandered the old Cass Tech's halls were singer Diana Ross, rocker Jack White, comedians Lily Tomlin and David Alan Greer, auto executive John DeLorean, jazz musicians Donald Byrd and Earl Kluge and artist Charles Wysocki. Aviator Charles Lindbergh's mother, Evangeline Lindbergh, taught chemistry at Cass from 1922 until 1942.
A SITE RICH WITH EDUCATION HISTORY
The building along the Fisher Freeway and Grand River Avenue traces its roots to February 1907, when the school was founded on the third floor of the old Cass Union School, a three-story brick building built in 1860 on farmland donated by General Lewis Cass. The plot of land, today near downtown, was then a field filled with grazing cows on the outskirts of town. General Cass served as governor, secretary of war, secretary of state and minster to France and was the Democratic Party's presidential candidate in 1848.
Records of the early 1900s show that only 35 percent of high schoolers graduated, and only 10 percent went to college. Benjamin F. Comfort, the principal of Cass Union, suggested that fewer students might drop out if they were given industrial training that they could put to use in the city's growing number of factories. Detroit schools superintendent Wales C. Martindale went to Europe in 1908 and studied its technical schools. Impressed, he decided to establish one in Detroit, choosing Cass for the experiment and putting Comfort in charge as Cass Tech's first principal. The school opened with nine teachers, including Comfort.
The fledgling school started with modest offerings — mostly commercial and shop courses. The idea was so revolutionary that many Detroiters opposed the idea as a frivolous waste of tax dollars. But the idea was a hit with the kids, and enrollment jumped from 110 in 1907 to 700 by 1909. A new wing was added to the Cass Union School in 1909 to meet the demand, but the old building was destroyed in a fire just a few months later, on November 16, 1909. The new addition, however, survived, and classes continued. Cass Tech graduated its first class in 1910, though it was only 6 or 7 students. The next year, the council approved $225,000 (more than $5 million today, when adjusted for inflation) to build a new building on the site of Cass Union. The triangular-shaped building was named Cass Technical High School and formally opened on October 23, 1912.
But even with the new quarters, Cass Tech's surging enrollment rendered the building too small by the time it opened. The waiting list for enrollment was limited to two hundred, yet hundreds more applied. The school started offering evening classes to shift class loads. Even then, it was said that it was nearly impossible to move through the halls during class changes.
By 1915, Detroit was building two-thirds of the country's automobiles, and Detroit's population had skyrocketed from 465,766 in 1910 to just shy of 1 million ten years later. The combination of the city's booming industry and booming population was enough to convince the city that a new building was necessary. Construction didn't begin until 1916, but by the time the money was there, there was a war waging. As the government started clamping down on wartime spending, construction was delayed yet again.
WHEN OLD CASS TECH WAS NEW
The Detroit firm Malcolmson & Higginbotham was selected for the job, and the eight-story building finally opened on September 11, 1922. It cost about $3.93 million to build (about $50.9 million today). Mayor James Couzens was outraged, lampooning the project for being poorly planned and over budget, and the city's fire marshal deemed it a fire hazard. But educators praised the building as being as beautiful as it was successful. The High School of Commerce took over the old Cass Tech building, focusing on business education and serving as a finishing school for female students in such areas as secretarial skills, typing, penmanship, shorthand and bookkeeping.
Cass Tech "is by far the largest, most modern and most fully equipped of any high school not only in Detroit but in Michigan as well, and it ranks among the largest in the country," with room for nearly forty-four hundred students and fifty classrooms, the Detroit News wrote in September 1922. The construction of Cass Tech was a first in Detroit; not only had a technical school been built, but the city began to shift from a classical concept of education to a practical one designed to prepare students for the job market. The school was essentially a college-prep high school, where the top scholar was more honored than the star quarterback of the football team.
"I went to the University of Michigan my freshman year, and I talked to people who had gone to Cass Tech, and they would talk about having qualitative analysis, quantitative analysis and organic chemistry in high school," said Mike Poterala, who taught college-prep math at Cass Tech from 1965 to 1996. "I've heard a lot of stories about Cass students who went away to college and found college easier than what they had in high school."
The new Cass was connected to the High School of Commerce by the Victory Memorial Arch, a second-floor Gothic-style bridge that crossed High Street (later known as Vernor Highway). It opened on January 31, 1922, and was dedicated to the city's high schoolers who died in World War I. Carved on a center panel in relief were the words: "Victory Memorial, Great World War, 19177–19." It was built to save time when the teachers and pupils changed classes between buildings and to protect them from inclement weather. The concept was designed by Mr. Ray, a Cass Tech English teacher, and made of Indiana limestone. Its cost was $400,000 (about $5.2 million today).(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Lost Detroit"
Copyright © 2010 Dan Austin and Sean Doerr.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Foreword, by John Gallagher,
Cass Technical High School,
Grand Army of the Republic Building,
Michigan Central Station,
United Artists Theatre,
The Vanity Ballroom,
Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church,
About the Author,
About the Photographer,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Lost Detroit stands apart from other recent offerings in Detroit's ruin porn collection with it's "stories behind the motor city's majestic ruins." While the photos offer a beautiful and fascinating glance inside the shuttered windows and locked doors of a dozen buildings, the words of the author partner well with the city's slogan, Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus. Brief histories, but engaging in their quick and short reads. A wonderful chance to get beyond the pale, into the heart of the passion so many share for their city.