winners & losers
Penobscot Building, Orchestra Hall have been restored.
Old City Hall, Hudson's building were torn down
By Maureen McDonald / Special to The Detroit News / photo David Choates
The Penobscot looks as dazzling as an ingenue in its new after-five
lighting. The Michigan Central Depot just gained an 11th-hour save from
Detroit City Council, thanks to Mandy Maroun, the bankroller, and Douglas
MacIntosh, the architect.
Lowell Boileau sits in front of the former Parke-Davis Building
designed by Albert Kahn. The building was renovated and is part
of Stroh River Place.
Wayne member Jim Turner is proud the beautiful architecture of Orchestra
Hall has been preserved.
Preservationists collectively weep for Ford Auditorium, a structure
on the Detroit River facing an imminent wrecking ball.
If Detroit would hold an Academy Award celebration for its stellar,
last minute saves of doomed buildings or for its tragic failures, what
structures would be included?
On Detroit posed this question to several preservationists, including Lowell Boileau, who rates his best and worst with poetic and
photographic embellishment on his Web site, http://detroityes.com/ and Katherine Clarkson and Jim Turner, the pillars of Preservation Wayne,
which sponsors annual awards to revitalizing efforts around town. Other
panelists were Stewart McMillin, who leads architectural and cultural
tours around Detroit, and Michael Davis, former president of the Detroit
Historical Society and a longtime member of the Algonquin Club, the
Windsor-Detroit historic group.
Here are some of their suggestions:
The Penobscot Building, on Congress and Griswold, vintage 1928, was
sinking lower in the morass of Class B office space when Capstone Advisors,
a San Diego firm, arrived in 1998 and sunk $10 million into sandblasting
and renovating. McMillin conducts walking tours of downtown, showing
how the firm lights up the top 19 floors every night in art deco style.
Inside offices have been converted to high tech office suites.
In 1895 the veterans of the Civil War erected a building to reminisce
about the Grand Army of the Republic with friends and family. The GAR
Building has stood empty for 20 years while warring factions battle
over turning the castle-like structure into a theme bar or restoring
it as a military museum. Lack of a clear title is the biggest hindrance,
according to Davis, who studied the building for a doctoral thesis.
The Packard Plant, a 37-acre complex at East Grand Boulevard and Mt.
Elliott, built in 1904, has been used minimally since the last cars
rolled off the line in 1956. Clarkson notes the owners, Dominic and
Robin Cristini are recruiting funds to transform the building into an
auto museum, technology park and racetrack venue, but for many years
the city of Detroit stood in the way.
Stroh River Place
Peter Stroh and family members plowed $100 million, beginning in 1985,
into renovating the defunct, 100-year-old Parke Davis laboratories at
Jos. Campau and the Detroit River into Stroh River Place, a multi-use
space with loft apartments, a four-star restaurant, Class A offices,
hotel and parking structure. Turner said it is one of the most sizable
preservation projects in the city.
The Michigan Theater on Bagley was built in 1926 to entertain 4,000
movie patrons in palatial style. In 1977 part of it was converted to
a parking structure and the remainder into an office building. Clarkson
takes participants of Preservation Wayne's annual downtown theater tour
through the structure, where pigeons fly past crumbling frescos. Several
other theaters downtown are mothballed and crumbling.
Orchestra Hall on Woodward Avenue was saved from the wrecking ball in
the mid-1970s when a bassoon player pleaded with the city not to put
a fast-food joint on a building designed by national architect C. Howard
Crane. Turner glows with pride as he tells how investors have pumped
millions into the theater and the adjacent Orchestra Place, which now
boasts rehearsal space, a four-star restaurant and new deli. Condominiums
are rising nearby.
Gem and Century Theatres
The unanimous choice of a winning restoration by historians and preservationists
is the Gem and Century Theatres on Madison. These twin buildings were
rotting their way into ruin when Charles Forbes bought the property
in the late 1970s. He won a suit against the Ilitch family in the early
1990s and plowed all the money into moving the building to 333 Madison,
next to the venerable Detroit Athletic Club. Now it's a hot venue for
theater and club goers.
Old Detroit City Hall
The old Detroit City Hall, built in 1871 and torn down in 1961 to make
way for a new chrome and glass skyscraper, represented a first step
in a long series of downtown tear downs, according to Davis, who worked
in vain to stop it.
The Hudson's Building on Woodward Avenue at Farmer, erected in 1891,
was imploded in October 1998, after more than 14 years of neglect. Hundreds
of preservationists tried -- to no avail-- to stop the process and convert
the building to lofts and theme restaurants. Boileau boasts of the best
demolition photographs. See his Web site, http://Detroityes.com.
Wayne County Building
The Wayne County Building, a majestic Beau-Arts structure built in 1902
and restored in 1986, features the majestic bronze Victory and Progress
statues of mythic figures, horses and a chariot on the roof. It also
has carved ornamentation of cherubs and wreathes. The renovation respected
the integrity of the structure especially the marble council chambers
-- converted to a temporary courthouse for the 1996 movie Hoffa.
What other buildings are in grave risk? Ford Auditorium, a $2.5 million
structure built in 1955 on the river, faces an imminent wrecking ball.
The Ford Highland Park Plant, (1909) home of the $5-a-day wage, is surrounded
by shopping plazas. Tiger Stadium (1890) has yet to find a new use now
that the Tigers play in Comerica Park. Cass Technical High School is
worn out and city fathers are seeking a new building.
"In other words, the infrastructure of the city is endangered because
the city doesn't have enough tax base," said Katherine Clarkson,
executive director of Preservation Wayne.