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Saturday, July 7, 2012

Radical Surgery to the "Heart of Detroit"

Bird's Eye View, showing the Heart of Detroit, Mich.
Next our attention turns to what one postcard calls the "Heart of Detroit." In this shot three primary buildings are shown - the Dime Building, Old City Hall, and the Majestic Building. The Old City Hall and Majestic Building are facing Woodward Avenue which is shown stretching northward several blocks. Both the Majestic Building and the Dime Building were designed by noted architect Daniel Burnham.

The Majestic Building was one of Detroit's first skyscrapers (Hill and Gallagher, 2003). This building was later demolished and replaced by the First Federal Bank Building at 1001 Woodward Ave, designed by Smith, Hinchman, and Grylls in 1965. The Dime Building was designed by Daniel Burnham as his second office tower in Detroit following the Majestic. This building has Classical detailing in greater evidence than in the Ford Building just down the street. In 2001 the building was renovated by Barton Malow Design.

1897 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.

Perhaps the most impressive building in this composition was the Old City Hall built in 1871. Architect James Anderson originally completed plans for the building in 1861, though work was delayed due to material shortages during the Civil War. The building incorporated elements of the Italian Renaissance and Second Empire styles. Stylistically the building has peers in the Philadlphia City Hall designed by John MCarthur, Jr. and constructed from 1871 to 1901. Both the Detroit and Philadelphia City Hall buildings hearken back to the far older and understated New York City Hall constructed between 1810 and 1812. 

Julius Melchers received a commission through art patron Bela Hubbard in 1874 to produce sculptures of Marquette, LaSalle, Cadillac, and Richard to be placed on this noted monument. Architect John M. Donaldson served as model for the Marquette sculpture. As an aside, Donaldson designed Melcher’s house, so using Donaldson showed the obvious affection and friendship between Donaldson and Melcher. Rescued from their niches when City hall was demolished in 1960-1961 and later placed in storage, these sculptures were reinstalled several years later in a park like setting on the campus of Wayne State University in 1974. The Old City Hall was demolished in 1961 and replaced by an underground 460 space, 69,000 square foot parking garage and a relatively barren above ground park named Kennedy Park in honor of the former U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. In 2005 this site further grew and evolved when construction for One Kennedy Square began. The glass box was built to house the accounting firm Ernst and Young. This contemporary structure pales in comparison to the civic masterpiece which once stood here.

The old Post Office is one other old Detroit building, no longer present, the tower of which is seen peeking out from behind the Dime Building. Built between 1891-1897 in a Richardson Romanesque style with large central tower reminiscent of Richardson's Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh. The building had several ornamental bas-relief sculptural groupings by Detroit sculptor Corrado Parducci. Later this monumental building was demolished and replaced by the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in the Art Deco style. The Chief Judge's courtroom on the 7th floor was one feature retained and carried over from the older building that was demolished to the new building. 

Post Office, Detroit, Michigan
What is perhaps most impressive when considering these building that once constituted the "Heart of Detroit" and how they fared through the years is the fact that over 90% of the buildings present and standing in 1921 are no longer standing today. Today there are a few exceptions like the Dime Building, the Book Cadillac Hotel, and the Detroit Club which still remaining standing. For each of these that remain, dozens of others have been lost.

1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map with demolitions between 1922 and 2012 highlighted in red.

1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

1999 Aerial Map (Google Earth)

2002 Aerial Map (Google Earth)

2006 Aerial Map (Google Maps)

2007 Aerial Map (Google Maps)

2010 Aerial Map (Google Maps)

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