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Art Deco landmark: The Fisher Building

The Fisher Building in Detroit by Albert Kahn
The Fisher Building in Detroit by Albert Kahn
CarolSpears under GNU FDL

As the Guardian Building was called the “Cathedral of Finance,” the Fisher Building (1928) has been called a “Cathedral to Commerce." Financed by the Fisher family, with proceeds from the sale of Fisher Body to General Motors, the structure was designed to house office and retail space. Designed by Albert Kahn and Associates with Joseph Nathaniel French as chief architect, it has also been called Detroit's largest art object and is considered Kahn's most important non-industrial project.

This Art Deco skyscraper stands at the corner of West Grand Boulevard and Second Avenue in Detroit. Initially, Kahn had planned for a complex of three buildings, with two 30-story structures flanking a middle 60-story tower. The Great Depression necessitated scaling back and kept the project at one tower. Kahn's General Motors Building (Now Cadillac Place) sits directly across from the Fisher and together these two buildings now define the New Center area, a business district north of the city center.

The grand Fisher rises 30-stories with a roof height of 428 feet, a top floor height of 339 feet, and the spire at 444 feet. The building has 21 elevators. Upon completion, the Architectural League of New York honored it with the Silver Medal Award as the year's most beautiful commercial structure. The highly decorated three-story barrel vaulted lobby is constructed with forty different kinds of marble and the exterior features sculptures of Corrado Parducci, among others. A steel structure supports finish materials of limestone, bronze, granite, and marble.

The building contains the Fisher Theatre, which originally featured a lavish and exotic interior in the Mayan Revival style. In the years of the Depression it operated primarily as a 3,500-seat movie house up until 1961. Renovations brought a more spacious 2,089-seat theatre. The decor was toned down to a cleaner mid-century design. Paradoxically, the auditorium looks dated or perhaps out-of-place, while the art deco lobby looks classic and authentic. The Fisher Theatre is owned and operated by the Nederlander Organization and now primarily features traveling productions of Broadway shows.

Other tenants include the headquarters of Detroit Public Schools, office space, retail and gift stores, galleries, and restaurants. Three radio stations broadcast from the building. One of the oldest tenants, WJR, has established an identity with the gilt-topped structure by reminding listeners that “we are coming to you from the golden tower of the Fisher Building.” The Fisher Building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.

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  • Ed Cardona 5 years ago

    A very interesting building. Too bad the theater got redone.

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