In Detroit's downtown financial district you will find at least five financial buildings that merit walks around the block to appreciate their features. First on the list of many would be Writ Rowland's Guardian Building (1929). Also, on the list would be the State Savings Bank designed by McKim, Mead and White in 1900, and the Detroit Trust Company Building designed by Albert Kahn in 1915 and increased to its present size about a decade later. You might also include the much more recent One Detroit Center (Comerica Bank Building) designed by Philip Johnson and John Burgee and completed in 1993.
Writ Rowland studied architecture at Harvard and was, primarily, a classicist. His magnificent Guardian Building is quite a fantastic break from his classical preferences. For this Bankers Trust Building, Writ Rowland selected an Italian Romanesque theme. Note the emphasis upon the use of arches. These many arches on the ground floor were designed, presumably, to provide light for the great banking room where people came to transact their business with this firm. The theme of arches was carried to the second floor in a very attractive and appealing manner. Impressive decorations are easy to appreciate in this beautiful bank building. At the entrance green marble columns support seated lions near the arched corner entrance at the intersection of Congress and Shelby. Comerica Park is not the only building in downtown Detroit to displayed carved lions. The exterior is done in terra cotta; that is, Writ Rowland used terra cotta to imitate stone carving. The actual carving in terra cotta was done, I believe, by Detroit’s most famous artist working with that substance, Carrado Parducci.
There is another interesting aspect to this building. At the time it was completed, many other office and bank buildings in Detroit's burgeoning financial district were skyscrapers of 20 or more stories. Bankers Trust opted to erect a two-story building that retains its architectural appeal eight decades after it was first warmed by sun. This is one of the finest examples of Italian Romanesque Revival architecture in Detroit.
Bankers Trust Company was one of ten Detroit financial firms to survive the Depression. They used this building until 1948. Later they merged with other Detroit banks or trust company. After Bankers Trust moved out, the building was a brokerage office for the Merrill Lynch firm. Later it was home to a restaurant and, most recently, as a night club. I assume that its small size limits the potential uses of the structure.
Architect: Writ Rowland for Smith, Hinchman and Grylls
Date of Completion: 1925
Historic detail about the building and the Bankers Trust firm: http://historicdetroit.org/building/bankers-trust-company-building/
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: This is component building within the Detroit Historic Financial District; listed December 24, 2011.
Photograph: Ren Farley
Description updated: January, 2014