Detroit – Landmarks

Back to DETROIT home

Back to home

The Renaissance Center 

Architect: John Portman
Completed: Phase I: 1977, Phase II: 1981. Substantial Renovations completed 2004.

Championed by Henry Ford II, who rallied over 50 partnerships/companies to sign-off on the development, the marquee of downtown Detroit’s skyline opened in 1977. Four 39-story office towers surround a central 73-story Marriott Hotel, all resting on a common podium base that includes retail, restaurants and an attached Wintergarden (completed in 2001) that opens to the Detroit Riverfront promenade. Derided by urban planning critics as a failed fortress-in-a-city, efforts have been made since the 1990s to open the complex more to the historical downtown core. General Motors, which bought the complex in 1996, has spent several hundred million dollars in renovations. Recently, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan moved several thousand employees to one of the two 21-story phase II skyscrapers that were completed in 1981 on property immediately east of the initial development.

Ally Bank at One Detroit Center

Architect: Phillip Johnson
Completed: 1992

Michigan’s tallest office tower was completed in 1992 to serve as the headquarters of Comerica Bank. Neo-gothic elements comprise this post-modern signature skyscraper. While Comerica has since moved their headquarters to Dallas, and their Michigan operations to a midrise tower several blocks west, One Detroit Center continues to attract major tenants, including a recent announcement that the tower will become the headquarters of Ally Bank. Another recent enhancement to the 45-story tower has been the addition of LED exterior lighting to the building’s spires at night.


Penobscot Building (3rd Tower)

Architect: Writ C. Rowland
Completed: 1928 (two connected portions of the tower were completed in 1905 and 1922)

When the third phase of the Penobscot Building was completed in 1928, it was among the five tallest buildings in the world. For the next 50 years, this landmark address at 645 Griswold Street would be Detroit’s tallest building and most prominent postcard image. As office needs and technologies have changed, the Penobscot has worked to grow and retain a wide array of tenants – from small lawfirms to Wayne County’s Friend of the Court.  The building’s glowing red orb – a Detroit nighttime landmark – is said to be visible up to 40 miles away. The building’s owner has unsuccessfully lobbied to demolish historic structures near the Penobscot Building in order to develop a dedicated parking deck adjacent to the tower in order to grow the occupancy of the tower.

Guardian Building

Architect: Writ C. Rowland
Completed: 1929

Described as one of the most exuberant art deco skyscrapers in the world, the Guardian Building was christened as Detroit’s “Cathedral of Finance” when it was completed in 1929. Over the years the financial institutions have dissolved,  which allowed the jewel of Detroit’s skyscraper collection to adapt to become a corporate headquarters, a multi-tenant office building and, in its current form, the center of operations for Wayne County government. Open to the public remains the stunning lobby and banking hall, which delights through the visual overload of color and shapes.

One Woodward Avenue Building (formerly the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company Building)

Architect: Minoru Yamasaki
Completed: 1961

Designed by one of the leading architects of the day, One Woodward Avenue’s 28 stories rest upon the graceful stilts that form it’s base and surround the glass-enclosed lobby. The mechanical floors are placed in a geometric cube on the building’s roof, which is illuminated each evening as one of the city’s skyline elements. Paying homage to the adage that real estate is all about “location, location, location”, One Woodward Avenue sits at the foot of Woodward and Jefferson – overlooking the city’s Civic Center, the Detroit River and Windsor, Ont. beyond. A recent feather in the building’s cap came in 2014, when Fifth Third Bank announced it would relocate its Michigan headquarters from suburban Southfield to One Woodward Avenue.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *