Saturday, July 26, 2014

Landmarks of Detroit: Fisher and Guardian

I've lived around Detroit ever since I was a year old but my parents never really had the desire to take me there.  They probably thought the possible things I could learn there were outweighed by the possible danger that our family could be in.  That's usually how people view Detroit: a dying city where murderers, robbers, druggies, and decaying buildings surround a small oasis that is downtown.  Of course, there's also the optimistic crowd that thinks Detroit is hip, the new cool, a blank canvas, and full of awesome opportunities.  In reality, it's not really either of those.  In the last four years, I've had a few chances to begin learning about Detroit from the inside: Playing at the Detroit International Jazz Festival for three years with the high school jazz band, taking a couple tours, driving around myself, and reading lots of books.  One major thing I did was to take a college course that had "real, live," big-name speakers from old and new Detroit share their experiences with us every week and normal residents of the city could sit in and offer their opinions too.  I don't plan to ever stop learning about the city and at no point will ever I say that I know "enough" about it.

Without doubt, Detroit is an interesting city with a rich history.  I love the city's history as well as the cultures that thrive there today.  When some people, including certain friends of mine, talk trash about Detroit and emphasize its negative side, it hurts.  I do recognize that the danger of any big city is very real, but I don't let it define what Detroit is to me.  My love and interest for the city is not blind, though.  I know that it's rough around the edges (er, actually much more than just the edges) and a large portion of its physical history might need to be knocked down in order to move forward.  I don't go around the city with a camera, breaking into abandoned buildings and touring the crumbling neighborhoods for "ruin porn" but I'm also not an adventure-seeking hipster looking for a fresh start to build a new life Detroit.  Most of all, I don't mistake Detroit's current situation for being a "blank canvas." Yes, there is lots of room for improvement and up is almost certainly the way to go from here.  However, there is too much, too much cultural and physical history that is already in place and immovable for Detroit to be considered anything close to being a blank canvas.  There's also still plenty going on in the city and it's very much alive.

I'm sure I've talked myself in circles for long enough on this post already.  I'm not even sure if the above junk belongs here, if it makes any sense, or whether or not it even says what I intend to convey.  I'll leave that there.  Anyway, let's get to the point. There are two kinds of people: those who have known about Detroit's gems and to whom this is old news, and those who did not even know things like this existed.  Up until the recent few years, I was part of the latter group.  The buildings displayed below are two of my favorite landmarks of Detroit.

Disclaimer: I don't intend this to be a resource of any kind - I'm just sharing my photos and some facts that I found interesting.  Please refer to other resources for less-abridged forms of information.  

Oh wow, what's this?

Those colors ... 

The portico is practical but makes the massive archway (second photo) harder to see.

The Guardian building was completed in 1929 in Detroit's financial district on Griswold, at the height of the Art Deco and Mayan Revival craze and right before the Roaring Twenties ground to a halt.  This is one of the most extravagant examples of Art Deco style in the world.  It was designed by Wirt C. Rowland of the firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, now known as SmithGroupJJR and the Corrado Parducci was the sculptor.  SmithGroupJJR moved its headquarters into the Guardian within the last 20 years.  Let's go inside ... 

WOAH! What was it again about the exterior colors?

Main lobby.  Cast iron(?) grille separating the lobby from the former banking part.  Pewabic tiles from Detroit cover the ceiling and the red marble stair sides are from Africa, if I remember correctly.  

The interior was restored in the 1980s.  The ceiling is made of painted canvas and backed by horsehair for its acoustic properties.  It was told to me that the restoration did not require new paint here, but they did clean off a layer of decades-old cigarette soot.  In the back is a map of Michigan and its primary products.  

Every time I look up, it's like the first time.  Breathtaking.  These blue windows face Griswold Street.  

Facing the entrance from the lobby again ...

Let's not get carried away with the ceiling; every nook and cranny of the Guardian is filled with details, the floor included.  

I can never wait to come back and just stare in awe.  

Time to move on to the next.  

Something tells me this is a big deal...

... so I look up. 

The Fisher Building was completed in 1928 and designed by Joseph Nathaniel French of Albert Kahn Associates, another big-name architecture firm in Detroit.  Initially, three towers were planned but the onset of the Great Depression halted construction of the two side towers, leaving only the main one.  It is part of the New Center business district, north of downtown.  The tip of the tower was originally covered in gold-gilded tiles but with the fear of attracting bombers during World War II, they were painted green.  Since the 1980s, the tip of the tower has been illuminated at night to emulate the original gold tiles.  The lights' colors do change for special occasions.  This building is also home to the Fisher Theatre.  

Different from the Guardian but still astonishing.  It's as if this building was made of gold. 

Again, a large, ornate barrel vault. 

Where the main hallways meet.  


I hope you enjoyed the photos, although they really don't do justice to the buildings.  Hey, why not plan a trip to Detroit? There's plenty to do (many websites offer travel info) and many amazing artifacts to see and learn about.