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Ten Detroit Developments That Never Quite Made it

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This post authored by Christian Salcedo and Paul Beshouri

Detroit has a long history of planning big, grandiose projects. The city planned ostentatious skyscrapers to celebrate the wealth of the 1920s, demolished and rebuilt entire neighborhoods in the '50s, and desperately courted megaprojects in the '70s and '80s intended to stop the city's bleeding.
Only a fraction of that planning ever became reality. Even the skyline-dominating Renaissance Center looks rather timid compared to its intended size. Ahead: Ten city-altering designs from decades past that never quite made it.

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1. Fisher Building

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3011 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48202
(313) 298-9630

The Fisher Building is one of Detroit's most remarkable structures. It's hard to believe that less than a third of the original concept was built. The Fisher family essentially gave Albert Kahn a blank check for construction. Kahn envisioned an incredible structure, with two smaller towers flanking a 60-story center tower that would have stretched far beyond the current Fisher Building’s footprint. The Great Depression halted construction, leaving New Center with just one of the smaller side towers.

2. Cultural center

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North East Corner of E. KIrby
Detroit, MI 48202

Planned in the 1960s, an ambitious expansion of the city's Cultural Center (the blocks surrounding the DIA) would have seen the construction of a planetarium, natural history museum (called The Hall of Man), performing arts theater, and a musical arts theater, all surrounding a large ornamental garden. Parts of the plan, like the expanded DIA, were eventually completed, but the connected and aesthetically consistent site never came together.

3. Book Tower

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1260 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226

The Book family has left their mark on Washington Boulevard, but their never-built Book Tower would have dwarfed all of it.Planned adjacent to the current Book Building, the Book Tower would have soared 70 stories into the sky. Designed in the late 1920s by architect Louis Kamper, a completed Book Tower may have been the tallest building in the world.

4. Two Detroit Center

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500 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

Our newest sky scraper, One Detroit Center, was originally one of a pair. John Burgee and Philip Johnson's original plan called for two identical towers right next to each other, but Two Detroit was scrapped while building One Detroit Center during the early 90's. The city was left with a pretty lame consolation prize: a parking structure with the same name now exists close to the Two Detroit tower would have stood.

5. GM Renaissance Center

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Towers 100-600 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 567-3126
Visit Website

Believe it or not, the Renaissance Center was originally supposed to feature many more giant glass tubes. The vision for the complex included up to 15 towers. Architect John Portman's master plan even featured tiered residential towers right against the Detroit River.

6. Civic Center plan

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1 Hart Plz
Detroit, MI 48226

Approved by voters in the early 1920's, The riverfront Civic Center plan was designed by Eliel Saarinen and his son, Eero. Detroit would eventually constructed several elements of the plan in the 1940s and '50s, but nixed original centerpiece—an open grassy area with scattered trees—in favor of the vast awfulness of Hart Plaza. The old Saarinen plan is visible in the photo.

7. Kern Block Tower

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1 Campus Martius
Detroit, MI 48226

Detroit had big ideas for the Kern Block long before the Compuware Building rose there in 2003. In 1966, Glen Howard Small was approached to design an office skyscraper for the site and came up with what you see here: Two main towers connected with a staggered array of smaller building forming a sweeping, solid structure.

8. Comerica Headquarters

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Atwater Drive & Bates Street
Detroit, MI 48207

Ceaser Pelli designed the Comerica Tower for the Comerica Bank Company in 1990. The building was almost universally disliked and eventually abandoned. Making it even more unpopular, the Comerica Tower plan would have required the demolition of the Ford Auditorium. Comerica Bank relocated its headquarters to Dallas in 2007. The Ford Auditorium was demolished in 2011.

9. Woodward Avenue Mall

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1275 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

The idea of making lower Woodward Avenue a pedestrian-friendly mall was thrown around for decades as a means to revitalize the downtown shopping scene. In 1976, Rossetti and Associates took it to the next level, proposing that a glass canopy completely cover Woodward in front of the Hudson's Building. Rossetti's plan closed the avenue to all non-bus traffic and envisioned a street filled with park-like amenities. (Note: Image is not Rossetti's plan, but a similar proposal called the Carnival Mall.)

10. Domed Stadium

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1 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226

Detroit long dreamed of a domed stadium to host the Tigers and Lions, often imagining it right on the riverfront. Unlike many of the projects in this article, this one is solidly in the thank-goodness-this-never-happened column. One Rossetti-designed iteration of the dome had a capacity of 80,0000. The dome dream was dealt a serious blow when the Lions moved to the new Pontiac Silverdome in 1975. The Tigers would have to wait another few decades for a new home.

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1. Fisher Building

3011 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202

The Fisher Building is one of Detroit's most remarkable structures. It's hard to believe that less than a third of the original concept was built. The Fisher family essentially gave Albert Kahn a blank check for construction. Kahn envisioned an incredible structure, with two smaller towers flanking a 60-story center tower that would have stretched far beyond the current Fisher Building’s footprint. The Great Depression halted construction, leaving New Center with just one of the smaller side towers.

3011 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48202

2. Cultural center

North East Corner of E. KIrby, Detroit, MI 48202

Planned in the 1960s, an ambitious expansion of the city's Cultural Center (the blocks surrounding the DIA) would have seen the construction of a planetarium, natural history museum (called The Hall of Man), performing arts theater, and a musical arts theater, all surrounding a large ornamental garden. Parts of the plan, like the expanded DIA, were eventually completed, but the connected and aesthetically consistent site never came together.

North East Corner of E. KIrby
Detroit, MI 48202

3. Book Tower

1260 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

The Book family has left their mark on Washington Boulevard, but their never-built Book Tower would have dwarfed all of it.Planned adjacent to the current Book Building, the Book Tower would have soared 70 stories into the sky. Designed in the late 1920s by architect Louis Kamper, a completed Book Tower may have been the tallest building in the world.

1260 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226

4. Two Detroit Center

500 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

Our newest sky scraper, One Detroit Center, was originally one of a pair. John Burgee and Philip Johnson's original plan called for two identical towers right next to each other, but Two Detroit was scrapped while building One Detroit Center during the early 90's. The city was left with a pretty lame consolation prize: a parking structure with the same name now exists close to the Two Detroit tower would have stood.

500 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

5. GM Renaissance Center

Towers 100-600 Renaissance Center, Detroit, MI 48226

Believe it or not, the Renaissance Center was originally supposed to feature many more giant glass tubes. The vision for the complex included up to 15 towers. Architect John Portman's master plan even featured tiered residential towers right against the Detroit River.

Towers 100-600 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48226

6. Civic Center plan

1 Hart Plz, Detroit, MI 48226

Approved by voters in the early 1920's, The riverfront Civic Center plan was designed by Eliel Saarinen and his son, Eero. Detroit would eventually constructed several elements of the plan in the 1940s and '50s, but nixed original centerpiece—an open grassy area with scattered trees—in favor of the vast awfulness of Hart Plaza. The old Saarinen plan is visible in the photo.

1 Hart Plz
Detroit, MI 48226

7. Kern Block Tower

1 Campus Martius, Detroit, MI 48226

Detroit had big ideas for the Kern Block long before the Compuware Building rose there in 2003. In 1966, Glen Howard Small was approached to design an office skyscraper for the site and came up with what you see here: Two main towers connected with a staggered array of smaller building forming a sweeping, solid structure.

1 Campus Martius
Detroit, MI 48226

8. Comerica Headquarters

Atwater Drive & Bates Street, Detroit, MI 48207

Ceaser Pelli designed the Comerica Tower for the Comerica Bank Company in 1990. The building was almost universally disliked and eventually abandoned. Making it even more unpopular, the Comerica Tower plan would have required the demolition of the Ford Auditorium. Comerica Bank relocated its headquarters to Dallas in 2007. The Ford Auditorium was demolished in 2011.

Atwater Drive & Bates Street
Detroit, MI 48207

9. Woodward Avenue Mall

1275 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48226

The idea of making lower Woodward Avenue a pedestrian-friendly mall was thrown around for decades as a means to revitalize the downtown shopping scene. In 1976, Rossetti and Associates took it to the next level, proposing that a glass canopy completely cover Woodward in front of the Hudson's Building. Rossetti's plan closed the avenue to all non-bus traffic and envisioned a street filled with park-like amenities. (Note: Image is not Rossetti's plan, but a similar proposal called the Carnival Mall.)

1275 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

10. Domed Stadium

1 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226

Detroit long dreamed of a domed stadium to host the Tigers and Lions, often imagining it right on the riverfront. Unlike many of the projects in this article, this one is solidly in the thank-goodness-this-never-happened column. One Rossetti-designed iteration of the dome had a capacity of 80,0000. The dome dream was dealt a serious blow when the Lions moved to the new Pontiac Silverdome in 1975. The Tigers would have to wait another few decades for a new home.

1 Washington Blvd
Detroit, MI 48226