Downtown Detroit: a photo essay

April 12, 2011

I was in Detroit last weekend participating in Art X Detroit, a five-day festival of art, music, dance and discussion.

Fortunately, I squeezed-in a Saturday morning photo stroll of the city's downtown, taking stock of the wealth of buildings that remain despite Detroit's well-recorded decades of decay, demolition and disinvestment. The city has a fine collection of vintage downtown architecture, much of which can hold its own against any Chicago or New York has to offer.  And while many sit vacant, scores are being reused, bringing life and vitality to the city's core. The above six-story building, completed in 1891, is a former conservatory of music and is among the first generation of tall buildings on Woodward Avenue. And it's still impressive after 120 years.

And look out below: The shuttered National Theatre, built in 1911 and is the only theater designed by the famed architect Albert Kahn. The last remaining building of Detroit's old theater District, the National has been vacant and dodging the bulldozer since 1975--36 years, can you imagine?--although time, water, and thievery have robbed the theater of its Baroque interior.

The Guardian Building at 500 Griswold is still in use. And it is as breathtaking a building as they come. The 36-story tower, completed in 1930, is hybrid of Art Deco and adopted Native American motifs.

Designed by Wirt Rowland of the architecture firm that is now known as the SmithGroup (the modern day firm has its headquarters in the building), the Guardian Building has an interior so astounding, I switched to color--kinda like they did in The Wizard of Oz--to show what's there:

And talk about adaptive reuse! An old theater is a thriving barbershop--Shaw's Grooming Center--at 1224 Randolph. Check out the second-story barber pole:

I think a return trip to the Motor City is in order.