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Iconic Detroit Building of the Week: The Guardian Building

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Cover photo via <a href=""> Mitten History. Gallery by Curbed Photo Pool</a>
Cover photo via Mitten History. Gallery by Curbed Photo Pool

Building: The Guardian Building
Facts: The Guardian Building, aka "Detroit's Cathedral of Finance," opened its doors in 1929, just in time for the historic stock market crash. Smith, Hinchman & Grylls' architect Wirt C. Rowland designed the building. Rowland also designed the Buhl Building and the Penobscot.
Numbers: The Guardian's facade used 1.8 million orange bricks in color created especially for the building and called "Guardian brick." When it opened, the 496-foot, 40-story Guardian Building was the tallest masonry structure on earth.

Bedrock: The Guardian's foundation consists of 72 caissons tunneling directly through the hardpan to Detroit bedrock over 120 feet underground. The Guardian literally rests on Detroit's bedrock.

History: The Union Trust Company had evolved into one of Detroit's biggest banks, and celebrated its 1920s ascendancy with a new 40-floor skyscraper. The Griswold Street structure began construction in 1928 and opened in 1929.

Materials: Mankato stone, pink granite, Rookwood pottery, Pewabic Tile, Flint Faiance tile, Italian Travertine marble, Belgian black marble, blood-red Numidian marble. This marble in the lobby wasn't mined anywhere in 1928, so architect Rowland actually traveled to Africa ad reopened a mine that went out of business 30 years prior just to get the red stone for the lobby. The lobby uses these materials in motifs that suggest the Aztecs and American Indian art. Tour guides at the building say this was a reaction against the perceived violence and general disarray of Europe post World War I.

Artists: Anthony Eugenio is largely responsible for the massive 150-foot barrel vaulted ceiling, one of the building's most recognizable features. He stenciled the whole ceiling and cut all the tile for it. His crew of 10 painted the ceiling using a 16 color pallet. Sculptor Corrado Parducci carved the building's facade pieces, two massive figural pieces that resemble knights and are intended to represent very bank-friendly ideas of Strength and Security.

Focal Point: An enormous mural map of the state of Michigan dominates the back wall of the first floor's main space. Handpainted by artist Ezra Winter, the mural uses gold leaf and a muted, primary palette to highlight Michigan industries like manufacturing, farming and mines.

Recent events: The building has been owned by Wayne County and used as the county's offices since 2008. The county now hopes to sell the Guardian, in part to help offset a deep financial deficit and provide funds to fight off state management. The county spent millions renovating the Guardian, and in April, county spokesman Lloyd Jackson told the Free Press that millions are owed on the building. "At the right price, the county will sell (the Guardian)," Jackson told the Freep, adding that "It would have to be enough to pay off the more than $65 million owed on the properties and their renovations."

Note: Is there a great building you'd like to see featured? Send photographs and ideas to for inclusion in upcoming entries in this series.

·The Guardian Building [National Parks Service]
·Guardian Building [Historic Detroit]
·Guardian Building Tour [Mitten History]
·Wanted: Expert Firm to Sell Guardian Building [Curbed Detroit]
· Wayne County seeks firm to sell Guardian Building [Detroit Free Press]

Guardian Building

500 Griswold Street, , MI 48226 Visit Website