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« Postcards from (old) Detroit | Main | Detroit Moxie's Weekend Roundup »

The Guardian Building: Detroit's Beauty

Other buildings in Detroit such as The Fisher, The Penobscot, and the GM Renaissance Center might get all the attention but The Guardian Building is the true gem of Detroit skyscrapers.

The building was first known as The Union Trust and opened in 1929, just before the big crash. Details of the buildings initials, “UT”, can still be found throughout, including the doorknobs of the boardroom. Wirt C. Rowland, the buildings architect, also designed the Buhl Building, the Penobscot Building, and Kirk in the Hills church in Bloomfield Hills.

The banking hall at the Guardian Building.

Rowland was told to spare no expense and he obliged. The building features Pewabic and Rookwood tiles, marble, stone, a Tiffany clock, Monel metal, and a five-story mural. The Guardian Building was nicknamed “The Cathedral of Finance” and it held most of Detroit’s riches during its heyday.

"We no longer live in a leisurely age…the impression must be immediate, strong and complete--color has this vital power.”   Wirt C. Rowland

To experience the beauty and grandeur of the building stop in anytime the building is open, the lobby and massive banking hall are open to the public. The hall features shops such as Pure Detroit, a café named after Rowland, and of course, a bank.

From the banking hall you can view the five-story mural of Michigan by Ezra Winter, the glorious ceiling, and the archway into the banking hall featuring the Monel metal grille and the Tiffany clock. Well, two Tiffany clocks, one on each side.

But to truly enjoy the building you must take a tour! Christopher Roddy, the concierge of the building for the last 6 years, leads guests on tours daily. Roddy, formerly worked security at the Buhl Building and rushed to apply for the concierge position when it became available.

Christopher Roddy, the concierge at The Guardian Building.

Roddy, impeccably dressed in his uniform and shiny black patent leather shoes, brings the building to life. His enthusiasm and smile are worth the tour alone but he is also the gatekeeper of the building and his knowledge shines through.

The tiles around the window were laid to look like an Indian headdress.

Besides the banking hall, the tour led us downstairs to the vault. Two weeks ago a film crew was using this space for the remake of Bruce Lee’s Game of Death starring Wesley Snipes.

The hallway leading to the vault.

We also went up to the 6th floor where the original boardroom sits, looking out onto the Buhl Building. The wood paneling is stunning, impressing my carpenter husband.

The tour usually features the hall on the 32nd floor but it is still being renovated. I was a bit sad that we missed this, hoping to see spectacular views of Detroit and Canada. Roddy said that the tour would start going up there again sometime in January.

Mural of Michigan by Ezra Winter.

In 2003 the building was nearly empty, earlier this year it was filled to 60%, and now that Wayne County is moving their staff to the building, Roddy said that it should be close to 100% inhabited by the new year. That’s pretty impressive for an 80-year-old building in Detroit.

The tours are free and available Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. For a day filled with wonderful views and Detroit history, combine this with a tour of the GM Renaissance Center.

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Reader Comments (13)

You do the coolest things. Thanks for sharing them with us.

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDonna

Great post. But I have one suggestion: You may want to have lower resolution images in the main body of the post with larger images to click to for greater detail. The page would load much much faster. Thanks for the work you do!

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid

Thank you Donna & David!

I've been struggling with the image problems since I got my new dSLR camera. The thing is, I don't know how to fix the problem. Just change the size or is there something else I'm suppose to do to lower the resolution? I'm a bit clueless when it comes to this, any help would be appreciated.

December 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Becks-Tim says to -export- the photos from Lightroom at the resolution you want to use (for example, long side = 300). The file size be much smaller that way, he says. The photo will still look the same size, and the original will still exist in Lightroom. Give us a call if you're still having problems with it.

I wasn't aware their were guided tours! It sounds like we -need- to make a date with Roddy! We've been talking about seeing this building...and I finally broke down and bought the book about it when I was down on campus with Tim and could get our alumni discount for it at the WSU Press office.

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDominique

Thanks Dominique and Tim!
I'll have to play with it tomorrow as I'm running out of time today. I haven't mastered Lightroom yet, I'll give you a shout if I can't figure it out.

Christopher Roddy does an awesome job and, from what he told us, the tours were all his idea. He did the research and everything. I would wait until January to do the tour so you can catch the views. We plan on going back.

December 4, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

Thank you Becks, you've inspired me to do a tour. I haven't been in the Guardian building since I worked downtown years ago.

December 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine

You're most welcome. Enjoy your tour!

December 6, 2009 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

The Guardian is the most perfect "scraper" in the US.
Look after her.

September 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKjell Fredrik Wirum

It is important to note that while Rowland did create a design for Kirk in the Hills, he died before it could be realized. The church as it stands was designed by George D. Mason and was not based upon Rowland's designs.

December 24, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSam

Thanks for the clarification, Sam!

January 30, 2014 | Registered CommenterBecks Davis

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