Wirt C. Rowland considered himself a modernist, although he was fascinated with Gothic style of architecture, as well as material associated with the Arts and Crafts movement. You can clearly see this in almost all of Rowland’s projects and especially here in the Guardian Building. The orange colored brick and the shape of the north tower can be seen as far as eight mile road heading south on Woodward Avenue. There are actually four tile companies that did the work for this project – there was simply too much work for one pottery to handle. We’ve looked at the Pewabic entry and Rookwood lobby. Additionally, Rowland choose Flint Faience and The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company.
Atlantic Terra Cotta on the Guardian's exterior
The Atlantic Terra Cotta Company (originally A. Hall & Sons Terra Cotta founded in 1846) was able to handle the exceptionally large pieces for the exterior in green, white, black and gold. This terra cotta powerhouse located in Perth Amboy, New Jersey was able to execute large quantities and large scaled projects.
Flint Faience in hallway to lower banking room
The Flint Faience Tile Company was founded in 1921 as a division of AC Spark Plug. There are several area where their tile can be found. First, in the tympanums in hall to the lower banking room, and the other is the 32nd floor dining room.
Flint Faience tile in the dining room
The board room is located on the 6th floor and of course is just as spectacular as the rest of the building. Here Rowland choose the Moline Furniture Works to fabricate the cabinetry and marquetry made from his sketches of mirrored veneer patterns – again, we see the similarities of the 30 / 60 / 90 degree motif.
6th floor Board Room
Detail of wood floor border in Board Room
Board Room reception area
In the banking room is a beautifully painted ceiling set with jewels of amber Czech glass lights. The ceiling holds a secret: horsehair. The horse hair was used for two purposes: one, it provided great acoustics so that your banking concerns could be quietly discussed with tellers, and second, it provided a better surface for the decorative paint of Thomas DiLorenzo in gold and silver leaf.
Banking Room ceiling painted by Thomas DiLorenzo
After a receivership in 1933, the Guardian Building bounced around to a few owners when in 1951 a group formed the Guardian Building Company and began “modernizing” the building. I won’t go into detail of exactly what “modernizations” where made, but let me just say that we need to give a HUGE round of applause to Steve Ewing, the President / COO of then MichCon (Michigan Consolidated Gas Company) who was so very instrumental in restoring the building to its original grandeur. The Guardian Building would not be what it is today if it weren’t for him. It is now protected on the National Register of Historic Places.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Steve Ewing about the Guardian, and he shared with me a very beautiful story: after the Guardian restoration was complete, he invited DiLorenzo to view the building again and his son brought him to view the building. When the wheelchair bound DiLorenzo saw the ceiling which he painted, he had tears of joy streaming down his face.
Rowland created the Guardian Building to be bold and massive in terms of color and design, saying that this is what design called for in the age of the automobile, delicate details would be lost by the automobile whizzing by.
Whew! That was a lot of information on the Guardian Building! Thanks for following this three part post. Hope you enjoyed the photos. Any suggestions for new material that you would like to see, or have questions? Send them to me! 🙂
Photos (c) 2005 – 2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross