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  • Ellen Mirro

From our far-flung correspondents: Detroit’s Guardian Building

Our colleague Katie was in Detroit last week and visited the Guardian Building, a gorgeously restored Art Deco skyscraper located in the city’s financial district. While the city has recently become infamous for its urban decay and financial misery, Detroit was once known as the “Paris of the West,” reflecting the grandeur and beauty of its architecture. This thirty-six-story building, designed by Detroit architect Wirt C. Rowland and commissioned by the Union Trust Company, was erected in 1929. Thanks to its soaring tower, spacious apse, and stained glass windows, the building was dubbed the “Cathedral of Finance”—a nod to New York City’s Woolworth Building, nicknamed “Cathedral of Commerce.”

The building was added to the National Historic Register in 1989, and currently houses the Wayne County administrative offices.

The building is located in the heart of downtown Detroit, just north of the Detroit River. Photo by Michael Barera.


A vintage postcard shows the Guardian Building (then the Union Trust Building) on a moonlit night. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library, Tichnor Brothers collection.


The grand central lobby now houses a bank, cafe, and gift shop.


The atrium’s vaulted ceiling consists of interlocking Rookwood tile in an Aztec-inspired pattern.


A mural at the lobby’s southern end, painted by muralist Ezra Winter, depicts the state seal of Michigan and its many industries, including Mining, Fishing, Commerce, “Lumbering,” Agriculture, and Industry.


The Art Deco-styled metal screen that divides the central lobby from the atrium features a Tiffany glass clock.


Colored glass brick windows contribute to the Cathedral-like feel; sunburst arches are embellished with solid gold leaf.


A mosaic in the atrium is softly illuminated by skylights.


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