I grew up in Michigan. I’d stare through our glass sliding doors to see our picnic table covered in at least six inches of snow for what seemed to be months at a time. With such long and frigid winters, I learned to appreciate interiors.
It was not snow, but rain, that compelled us to take shelter in one of Detroit’s landmark buildings one recent morning. Heavy, dark clouds filled the sky. When the downpour began, we rushed into the Guardian Building on Griswold Street.
The Guardian’s grandeur and bold styling impressed me upon entering the three-story lobby. Wirt C. Rowland, the building’s designer, chose brilliant blue, green and yellow mosaics for the lobby, arranging them in geometric Aztec and Native American patterns. Muralist Ezra Winter made a massive mural of Michigan, highlighting the state’s industrial process. The building’s completion in 1929 coincided with a boom time in Detroit’s automobile industry.
With a respite in the rain, we headed north to another famous Detroit landmark. Completed one year earlier in 1928, the Fisher Building on Grand Boulevard is considered Detroit’s Largest Art Object. Designer Albert Kahn fashioned the thirty-story Art Deco building in limestone, granite, and marble. While the exterior is stately, the building’s drama lies in its interiors. The three-story barrel-vaulted lobby is filled with frescoes, mosaics and painted ceilings – completed under the direction of Geza Maroti. The lobby alone contains forty different kinds of marble.
The completion of both buildings came just before the stock market crash of 1929. The owners of the Fisher building subsequently scrapped plans for two additional buildings originally intended for the project. Never again would office buildings be built with such splendor. The Guardian and Fisher buildings represented a gilded age; the awe-inspiring designs and use of exquisite materials all testify to the confidence, ambition, and daring of Michigan auto barons.