Guardian Building, part three


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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


Guardian Building, part two


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Guardian Lobby - North view

The lobby is five stories, vaulted ceiling of polychrome tile in an interpreted notch arch design from the Rookwood Tile Company in Ohio. The notched arch appears in a myriad of sizes, materials, and textures as you can see in the black Belgian Veinless marble on the floor. Another fantastic marble used in the lobby and staircase to the banking room, is the Numidian marble. Because the color was non-existent at the time, Rowland traveled to Africa to open a mine which had been closed for decades.

The Monel Metal screen which divides the banking room (now the retail promenade) features a clock made of Favrile glass from the Tiffany Studios in New York. It’s stylized numbers are concurrent with the notched arch design.

Guardian Lobby - South view

Over 40,000 pounds of Monel Metal was used on the lift doors, the screen that separated the banking room (now retail promenade) to the main lobby, the teller windows, handrails, switch plates, waste bins, banking desks, mailboxes, directories, vault gates, lamp stands and inkwells  – only to name a few! A combination of nickel and copper, it’s properties did not allow for casting – it could only be rolled and cut.

The hallway to the lifts. Notice the notched arch design from above the lifts, the marble near the rug, and even the ceiling.

Lift doors of Monel metal

Favrile Glass detail

The lift doors were created by the Dalstrom Metallic Door Company. At the end of the hall, are colorful stained glass windows of rolled and painted glass made by George Green from Shields, Pennsylvania.

Stained glass window detail

Chandelier near lift doors

More to come tomorrow!

Photos (c) 2005 – 2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross

Guardian Building, Part One


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At 486 feet Wirt Rowland's Guardian Building still stands tall

Union Trust Building which we now know simply as the Guardian Building, was completed in March of 1929. When the building opened, all three major papers ran special commemorative sections. This was the second building built for the Union Trust – the first was a Beaux-Arts structure built in 1896 by Donaldson & Meier where the Chase Tower stands today.

Semi-dome in Pewabic Tile

This historic structure came from the desk of Wirt C. Rowland, where the repeating motif of 30, 60 and 90 degrees of the notched arch design was found in window grilles, mosaics, doors, furnishings, tableware and even staff uniforms, and became the Guardian Building’s signature. In his book, The Guardian Building, Jim Tottis tells us, “unification of design, harmonization of color and use of uncommon building materials were all of Rowland’s inspiration.” Rowland began his design of the Guardian Building in 1927, and broke ground the same year. The building was dedicated on April 4, 1929. At a height of 486 feet, it was the second tallest building in the city. It sits on a plot 80’ x 270’ – the width taking up an entire city block. It’s original cost to build was $12 million. (If those were today’s dollars, the cost would come to: $151,299,417.81!)

Corrado Parducci's Safety and Security

Mary Chase Perry Stratton developed her glazes based on Rowland’s pencil sketches and above the main entry Stratton designed a figure with outstretched arms as a symbol of progress and prosperity. Flanking her semi-dome, Corrado Parducci modeled the multistoried figures guarding the entrance. Safety, holding the sword and Security, holding the key are massive yet the figures almost go un-noticed as they are literally projected from the buff colored Mankato stone.

Another of Parducci's exterior details. Notice the "wings" are actually stylized eagles.

Stay tuned… tomorrow we head to the interior!

Photos (c) 2005 – 2011 Jack P. Johnson and Jennifer Baross

First Church of Christ, Scientist (Hillberry Theatre)


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This building currently houses Wayne State University’s Hillberry Theater – one of the two theaters at the University. (The other being Albert Kahn’s first Temple Beth El located on Woodward Ave, now the Bonstelle Theatre.) Here is a photo of the beautiful terra cotta details created by the New York Architectural Terra Cotta Company for Smith, Hinchman and Grylls.

Built in 1917 in a neoclassical style, the theatre was remodeled by WSU in 1964 to accomodate 500 patrons. For some time, the Hillberry’s neighbor, the David MacKenzie House, was used as their green room for make up and costume changes.

Photos (c) 2007-2011 Jack P. Johnson & Jennifer Baross

Greetings from Detroit

So… a fairly unknown fact about me is that I collect old postcards that relate to Detroit architecture. Since I need to catch up for my lack of posting something yesterday, here’s a postcard that I recently picked up at a postcard show.

What I like about this postcard is the historic view of Griswold Street, the financial district’s “main street”. Although the concept of a waterfront center was proposed by Mayor Hazen Pingree in 1890, at the time this photo was taken the north/southbound streets ran right to the water. I’m guessing that this postcard is close to the first part of the century. At its oldest, it could be from 1912, since we can see the Daniel Burnham’s Dime Building clad in white terra cotta on the left side of this image. Diagonally from the Dime Building, we can see the original Union Trust Building built by Donaldson & Meier in its 1896 Beaux-Arts style.



Additionally, I love that this postcard has the image of the streetcar. See? Detroit was on track (literally) with public transportation over a century ago. What was your favorite historic Detroit memory? Did you ride a streetcar to Hudson’s?

The use of one cent stamp for postcard use began in 1898.


Get ready for 365 days of architecture!

January 1 is always a date for new things. It’s a new beginning. A fresh start. I’ve decided that 2012 will be the year I dedicate to blogging every day. Today I’ve decided to share some photos from our adventures today. Jack had several locations on our “shoot list” and we managed to check a few off the list.

The first, which was actually on my list, was the Arden Park brick fence, or more so entry to this historic Detroit neighborhood. I’ve passed this entry so many times, an noticed that probably about a year ago that the tile on the north side of the entry was missing its decorative tile marked AP. When we got up close, it is actually made up of mosaics instead of one large tile.


After going to Arden Park, we headed south on Woodward – the next building on the list was a party store decked in beautiful terra cotta… But now luck. There were cars in front, so off to the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Public Library. Although we’ve photographed both buildings many times, Jack wanted to get some shots without cars in the shot. Here are a few photos…






Here’s Jack’s awesome panoramic shot of the library.


Photographs (c) 2011 Jennifer Baross and Jack P. Johnson

The work of Geza Maroti


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Geza Maroti was a Hungarian artist and sculptor who was exceptionally well known in Europe and based his art on the Magyar tradition in Hungary. As W. Hawkins Ferry tells us about Maroti, “using stylized patterns and brilliant colors, he made sculpture and painting the willing servants of architecture.” (Love it!)

Maroti came to Detroit around 1927 to work on the Cranbrook School on George Booth’s estate. Because of the mutual friendship of Booth, Maroti was introduced to Albert Kahn who at the time had on his drawing board a magnificent skyscraper tower that totaled 28 stories. This, of course, would be one of the greatest contributions to Detroit architecture: Kahn’s Fisher Building. The photo shown is the ceiling of the main arcade, and of Maroti’s design.

Maroti went onto design several other commissions for Kahn until he returned to home in 1930. More Fisher Building and Maroti to follow…

Photo courtesy of Jack P. Johnson, Copyright 2010.

The C.J. Netting Company

Located in Harmonie Park, The Netting Company was built by Conrad J. Netting as a home for his lighting fixture company. These beautiful tiles are on the exterior and there are two great lion medallions which flank the main entrance. The building’s currently occupied as a cigar shop, and in past years was the home to Harmonie Studios. I have been digging through countless editions of the Michigan Architect and Engineer, and have seen many advertisements for the Netting Company. Additionally, the Netting Company seemed to be “the place” where architects and decorators would visit their showroom and select fixtures for their most exclusive projects.

The Penobscot Building


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The Penobscot Building in the financial district is one of the most prominent buildings that has shaped our city’s skyline. The second to be built of the Rowland “big three” is actually the third of the Penobscot Buildings – the first two of the cluster were built by Donaldson and Meier. Donaldson and Meier were in line to build the third building, however, the owner decided to go with a modern style and chose Wirt Rowland of Smith, Hynchman and Grylls (now the Smith Group). The Donaldson and Meier proposal looked very similar to their David Stott Building, just north on Griswold.

I recently found this Free Press article from 1932, and thought the color illustration was such a great graphic, I had to share it here. More on the Penobscot to follow!