Still standing: Take a tour through Detroit’s Fisher Building

And it's open to the public

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Albert Kahn is responsible for a slew of Detroit's most beautiful buildings. We've explored a few of them in this column, including the Garden Court Apartments and the Belle Isle Aquarium. The Fisher Building, however, might be Kahn's finest work.

Known as Detroit's largest art object, the Fisher was built in 1928. The Fisher brothers, a clan of seven, commissioned it after coming into a huge fortune due to the success of their auto body business. They sold their business to General Motors in 1926 (for what amounts to $2.5 billion in today's money) and decided to dive headfirst into the real estate business.

A generous brotherhood, the Fishers wanted to give back to Detroit. Millionaires of the 1920s, their wealth was immense and they weren't shy about sharing it with charities, schools, churches, and civic causes. They planned a building that would be their ultimate gift to the city, a monument to its growing industry and a shrine to both business and theater.

They hired Kahn and gave the Detroit-based architect an unlimited budget. Unhampered by monetary restrictions, his plans included three massive towers and an incomprehensible amount of marble.

If you just remember the highlights from your high school history classes, you'll recall the stock market crashed in 1929, a historic event that led to the Great Depression. As a prosperous decade came to a startling end, so did the over-the-top dreams of Kahn and the Fishers.

By "startling end," we mean there was only one tower built, and instead of untold tons of marble, only 325,000 square feet were used to face to the exterior, making it the largest marble-clad building in the world.

Despite getting scaled back, the Fisher still remains magnificent. The three-story arcade is said to be less ornate than that of the Guardian Building, yet it remains impressive. Better than the Guardian, guests can travel to the third story of the building, getting different views of the interior along the way. Ascending each level, the changing perspective of the mammoth hanging light fixtures is possibly the Fisher's most intriguing effect.

Upon its opening, the building housed various retail spots, including a dress shop, a cafeteria, and a daycare center. Though opened as a center for retail and office space, the Fisher brothers didn't plan on profiting from the building. The enormous edifice was truly their artistic and architectural endowment to the city.

Erected in New Center rather than downtown, the building's location was no mistake. During the time of its construction, land downtown wasn't just expensive, it was also incredibly hard to come by. New Center, a burgeoning district, was located in the epicenter of the city and was considered a second downtown at the time.

The Fishers purchased 32 parcels of the land for the building. The space amounted to 332,000 square feet, which is a curiously similar amount to that of the exterior of the building. Inside, however, is 1,134 million square feet of floor area.

The Fisher soars 444 feet high, has a 30-story tower, and a gilt-tile roof. Forty types of marble, mined from Africa, Italy, and Missouri, are found in the interior and exterior. At the time of its construction, 12,000 tons of steel were used, 350,000 yards of cubic concrete and marble, 1,800 bronze windows, 641 bronze elevator doors, 420 tons of bronze finishings, 46,000 square feet of concerts forms, and 1,275 miles of electrical and telephone wire were employed. The building of the structure was an enormous undertaking and, remarkably, it was finished just 15 months after Fred Fisher turned the first shovel of soil at the building's groundbreaking ceremony.

An original budget of $30 million was allotted to the construction of the Fisher, but due to the spiraling economy, monies were tightened. In the end, the structure was completed with $9 million, a quarter of which went toward its striking art, a factor that surely makes the Fisher such a remarkable Detroit landmark.

Hungarian artist Géza Maróti was commissioned to bring the building's frescos and mosaics to life. Corrado Parducci completed its sculptures. Almost every inch of the building is outfitted with art, be it tile, marble, fresco, or paint. A number of eagles of adorn the interior, representing everything from America's future to its power, strength, and dedication to the ideals of theater, drama, art, and progress. The theater was built in the Mayan revival style by Graven and Mayger, but was later completely remodeled in the 1960s. The floors are designed to mock those of a Roman church. In fact, the entire structure beautifully marries gothic and art deco styles. — mt

Pure Detroit runs free guided tours of the building at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. every Saturday.

About The Author

Alysa Zavala-Offman

Alysa Zavala-Offman is the managing editor of Detroit Metro Times. She lives in the downriver city of Wyandotte with her husband, toddler, mutt, and two orange cats.
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