Book Tower and the Michigan Building, Detroit

I find the Book Tower, the creation of three brothers, one of the more humorous but enjoyable skyscrapers built at the height of Detroit’s golden age. It was actually the product of two building campaigns: the tower and the lower structure.

You can see the Book Building, which is sort of the yellowish building to the right of the tower above. It was constructed in 1917 to the designs of Louis Kamper.

The excitement comes with the tower, which was built in 1926. It turns out the renovation was just completed in 2023.

They kept the almost iconic fire escape–or maybe they had to keep the fire marshal happy!

Honestly, the ornamentation at the of the shaft of the skyscraper is sort of silly, as if the architect didn’t know what to do, with a mixture of Italian Mannerist design elements flopped together. If it were in Italy, it would probably receive the appellation “Wedding Cake,” which is what Italians name any local bombastic pile of marble.

And boy, was it filthy before the renovation, as this photograph from 2014 shows. I do sort of wish I had the opportunity to stand on one of the upper floors and take in the view across the open expanse before it was gutted.

Vergara, Camillo J., 38 story Book Tower, 1255 Washington Blvd., Detroit, 2014. Library of Congress.

The caryatid ornamentation, which began on the earlier building and continued on the tower next door, are perhaps the most famous motif of the Book conglomeration.

Remember the hallway of Chenonceaux? This was a common ornament arising out of Roman Mannerist design that developed in the shadow of Michelangelo’s architecture and the Tomb of Julius II.

And yes, across the way is the famous (or infamous?) Michigan Building and Theater and no trip to Detroit would be complete without trying to park in the garage.

The site itself is of incredible importance for one reason that most people forget; it is where Henry Ford first established his manufacturing of automobiles. Not surprisingly, it was too small so he moved out to the Piquette Avenue plant.

But then the Michigan Building was built with its theater, which like in most urban, dense environments, was placed to the back of the street front, allowing for leasable storefronts. I went in and politely asked if I could see the famous theater-turned-parking garage, and the friendly front desk manager told me due to recent falling plaster, it was closed to parking and visitors. Oh well, maybe next time.

No, I did not try and sneak in, but below is one photo of what it looks like. It’s perhaps one of the most evocative places in America of how the automobile took over and destroyed so much of the beauty in our cities.

Vergara, Camilo J, photographer. Former Michigan Theater, now a parking garage. The theater was completed in . This garage, carved out of a 4050-seat movie palace closed 1976, provides safe parking for tenants and people attending sports events downtown. 220 Bagley St., Detroit, 1976. United States Michigan Detroit, 1976. Photograph. Library of Congress.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sean B. says:

    I’m happy the exterior of that “wedding cake,” mix match of ornaments skyscraper had been cleaned up. Plus those articles about Detroit’s Art Deco Guadrian Skyscraper, Penobscot Block, and some long ago built for a glass magnet Edward Ford building were some interesting reads. Detroit’s geographic location was too conveniently practical for French colonial trading activities to be given some oversimplified second tier label. Parke-Davis pharmaceuticals ,one Garland Brand Michigan Stove Company, another long gone big stove company named Peninsular Stove, Stroh Beer, some William K. Bixby American Car and Foundry precursors like South City, Saint Charles, and Madison, Illinois, and lets not forget those horse wagons before those Karl Bentz gasoline engined motorcars

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