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Skyscrapers & Commercial Buildings



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Detroit is well known for its stunning collection of pre-depression era commercial architecture.  Legendary Detroit architects such as Albert Kahn, George D. Mason, and Wirt C. Rowland collaborated with master architectural sculptor Corrado Parducci to shape the Detroit skyline and infuse the city with cultural icons.  Amazingly, many of these beautiful structures remain vacant and have struggled to survive as Detroit claws its way out of economic decline.  As such, this tour may leave you with mixed feelings.  After all, it includes some magnificent and historic buildings that simply may not escape the wrecking ball.  But it is reality, and we want you to see both the tragedy of Detroit and the triumph that is emerging with its revitalization.  With Detroit on the rebound, many of these buildings are being resurrected and restored to their original luster.  Detroit is a hidden gem of opportunity just staring to catch on!



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Michigan Central Depot -- David Rohrman (forgottendetroit

Michigan Central Depot [A]

Michigan Avenue and 14th Street


No other vacant Detroit building has become such a center of attention as the Michigan Central Depot.  The attention is likely due to the station's monumental but battered architecture.  However, if you look beyond the vandalized exterior and gutted interior, you will find a structure unmatched in the city in terms of shear magnificence.  A few years ago, the City of Detroit announced it would refurbish the building and relocate its police headquarters there, but plans were abandoned when the cost for restoration was determined.


Book-Cadillac -- forgottendetroit


Book-Cadillac Hotel [B]

1114 Washington Boulevard



Downtown's largest and perhaps most beautiful vacant skyscraper is the Book-Cadillac Hotel.  Its builders in the early 1900s had a vision to make Washington Boulevard the "5th Avenue of the West".  The Book-Cadillac and its rival, the Statler Hotel (now demolished), enjoyed great success in the 1920s.  The Book-Cadillac offered 1200 guest rooms and some of the most amazing interior spaces in the city.  It is the supreme symbol of 1920's Detroit's wealth and optimism but eventually fell on hard times and closed in the 1980s.  Fortunately, investors poured $200 million into this signature building and it reopened as the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel in 2008.


Penobscot Building -- Wikipedia


Penobscot Building [C]

645 Griswold Street



At 566 feet (173 m), the 47-story Penobscot Building was the tallest building in Michigan from its completion in 1928 until the construction of the Renaissance Center's central tower in 1977. Upon its completion, it was the eighth tallest building in the world and the tallest outside New York City and Chicago. Like many of Detroit's Roaring Twenties buildings, it displays Art Deco influences, including its "H" shape (designed to allow in maximum sunlight) and the sculptural setbacks that cause the upper floors to progressively "erode."  At night, the building's upper floors are dramatically lit in floodlight fashion, topped with a red sphere. The Penobscot was designed by Wirt C. Rowland and features architectural sculpture by Corrado Parducci.


Guardian Building -- Michigan Consolidated (National Register of Historic Places)


Guardian Building [D]

500 Griswold Street



Like the Book-Cadillac Hotel, the Guardian Building is a testament to the booming, modern city Detroit had become in the 1920s.  The Union Trust Company grew to be one of the largest financial institutions in the city and decided its success warranted a new building.  They hired Former Albert Kahn and George D. Mason understudy Wirt C. Rowland who designed this striking addition to the Detroit skyline.  The building is colorful inside and out, with an orange-tan brick covering the exterior and a multitude of granite, stone, tile, and terra-cotta on the lower floors and interior.  The luxurious interior caused the Guardian Building to quickly become known as the "the Cathedral of Finance."


Wayne County Building -- flickr

Wayne County Courthouse [E]

600 Randolph Street


The Wayne County Courthouse is a prime example of growth in metropolitan Detroit in the 19th century.  It also highlights Detroit's present day resurgence and interest in historic preservation.  When built, the courthouse was an elaborate design featuring a granite and sandstone exterior with two sculptures of four-horse chariots at the base of the four-tiered tower.  The interior was similarly elaborate and included marble, mahogany and oak, and mosaics. The Courthouse served as the center of Wayne County government from 1900 through the 1950s.  After most government offices were relocated, the facility fell into disrepair.  Fortunately, a private partnership restored the building and reopened it to the public in the late 1980s.


Kales Building -- David Rohrman (forgottendetroit

Grand Circus Park [F]

Vicinity of Woodward Avenue and Park Street


Grand Circus Park has often been called a skyscrapter graveyard.  But Grand Circus Park is perhaps the best place to see Detroit's troubled past giving way to a bright future.  Such gems as the Kales Building (an Albert Kahn design) sat vacant for 20 years.  The building has become an excellent example of adaptive reuse with its conversion into lofts and commercial space in 2005.  With some luck (and a few investors!), many other office buildings, theatres, and other structures in the Grand Circus Park area will experience the same rebirth.  Fortunately, the plethora of of entertainment options in this area make it a good bet that the tranformation will continue.  Grand Circus Park is perfectly situated within a block or two of Foxtown, the Stadium District, Harmonie Park, and the Theatre District.  You can catch a game at Comerica Park or Ford Field, live music at the Fox or State Theatres, or a performance at the Opera House or Music Hall.  A number of popular bars and restaurants are located in this area as well.


Cultural Center -- National Park Service Register of Historic Places (Michigan State Historic Preservation Office)



Cultural Center [G]

Vicinity of Woodward Avenue and Putnam Street

Full Tour Page


There is no better place than here to explore Detroit's intellectual and artistic influences.  Development of the Cultural Center dates back to 1913 as part of the City Beautiful movement which advocated the clustering of important public buildings.  Three buildings make up the core of the Cultural Center -- the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and the Horace H. Rackham Education Memorial Building.  Since the establishment of these architectural monuments, the Cultural Center has expanded to include a number of other museums, galleries, theatres, and attractions, most within walking distance of one another.  In addition, the area is home to two highly regarded educational institutions, Wayne State University and the College for Creative Studies.  The Cultural Center's location two miles north of downtown along Woodward Avenue.


New Center General Motors Building Cadillac Place -- downtownpartnership

New Center [H]

Vicinity of Woodward Avenue and West Grand Boulevard


New Center is definitely the house that Albert Kahn built!  The master designer developed two National Historic Landmarks here -- the Fisher Building (shown at top of this page) and the General Motors Building (shown at right).  The Fisher, perhaps the most significant structure of Kahn's career, houses shops, restaurants, art galleries, business offices and the renowned Fisher Theatre.  The General Motors Building, also known as Cadillac Place, served as GM's headquarters from 1923 to 1996 prior to relocating downtown to the Renaissance Center.  Consisting of eight wings projecting from a central spine and a five-story hipped-roof annex connected to the rear façade, the building symbolized General Motors' dominant position in the automobile industry.


Tour Map

Number of Destinations:  8

Overall Tour Time:  1 day (assumes a leisurely pace and extended stops at several locations)


Architectural Tours - Skyscrapers and Commercial Buildings


Related Tours

Architectural Tours -- Churches & Cathedrals

Architectural Tours -- Mansions & Great Estates

Architectural Tours -- Historic Neighborhoods

Automotive Heritage

Cultural Center

Downtown Detroit

Historic Sites

New Center

Woodward Avenue Scenic Tours


Resources & Links

Fabulous Ruins of Detroit

Forgotten Detroit


Model D

National Register of Historic Places



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