The Guardian Building documents the booming, modern city Detroit had become in the 1920s. Though Detroit was already an important manufacturing center at the turn of the century, the success of the auto industry after World War I drove an economic expansion that spun wealth throughout the community. Among those benefitting was the Union Trust Company, which by that time had grown from a bank known primarily for the service it offered to average customers to one of the city's largest financial institutions. The company decided its success called for a new building, and so in 1928 it started a 40-floor skyscraper on Griswold Street, Detroit's Wall Street. Architect Wirt Rowland, who worked for the city's leading firm, created a striking addition to the rising Detroit skyline. He covered the narrow, rectangular building with orange-tan brick, a color soon called "Guardian" after the company that in 1930 developed out of Union Trust. Along the lower floors ran bands of pink granite, buff Mankato stone, and green, tan, and red-brown glazed tile and terra-cotta that Rowland used to help welcome the small depositors who formed the core of the company's business. The entrances offered more color, much of which came from tiles produced by Detroit's Pewabic Pottery, and featured stepped arches that became the building's primary motif. The tiles in the half-dome over the main, Griswold Street entrance portrayed progress through scenes of flight. The luxurious interior caused the Guardian Building to quickly become known as the "the Cathedral of Finance." Rowland divided the main banking room into three parts that resembled a nave and two aisles and designed an elaborately decorated, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Though many of these details disappeared over time, renovation projects in 1988 and more recently in 2003 by the building's present occupants, Sterling Group, returned the Guardian Building to its original glory.
The Guardian Building is located south of the intersection of Woodward, Michigan, and Gratiot Avenue at 500 Griswold Street. The Building is open to the public.
Aerial view of Guardian Building
Photograph Courtesy of Michigan Consolidated
Guardian Building Pewabic Pottery tiles
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