Mural on the west side of the Cass Motors Building

5800 Cass in Midtown Detroit


Is Detroit becoming the mural capital of the United States?  Is this a result of William Valentier and Edsel Ford recruiting Diego Rivera to paint murals for the previously vacant foyer of the Detroit Institute of Art?  There is a tradition of murals appearing on walls of Detroit buildings, but it appears to me, the number of murals and their artistic quality has greatly increased in recent years.

I do not know how to officially distinguish an advertising sign from a mural.  You still find a few buildings in Detroit with painted signs dating from the 1920s advertising various products.  Quite often the same sign was placed on a variety of building.  Murals, I think, are painted by artists, are unique and may convey a message, an advertisement or express the feelings of the artist and his or her patron.

The Carhartt clothing firm obtained the former Cass Motors Building at 2800 Cass after Daglish Cadillac was put out of business by General Motors in the downsizing associated with their bankruptcy in 2009.  Carhartt remodeled the structure and realized that there was a major wall on the west side of the building facing the expressway.  Fortunately, they commissioned artists from the Golden Sign Company to paint a mural, one inspired by Diego Rivera’s artistic expression of his view of work at the Ford River Rouge plant.  However, in this mural, the laboring men are wearing Carhartt clothes.

The Carhartt business was founded in Detroit in 1889 to manufacture extremely durable apparel for railroad workers.  Although its headquarters are now in Dearborn, this privately held firm continues to produce clothes in the United States and abroad.  With downtown and midtown Detroit experiencing something of a demographic and economic boom, Carhartt opted to open a retail store in the increasingly bustling Cass Corridor.  The building was completely renovated and now serves as their retail store.  This is their twentieth retail store and their first in Motown.

Interestingly, Carhartt is another vehicle manufacturing firm that failed in the auto business but the firm survives.  With many Detroit entrepreneurs trying to prosper by making cars, Mr. Carhartt who founded the clothing firm, did not want to miss out on an opportunity to become rich.  He went into the auto business in 1910 and produced a few cars at a plant located, I believe, near East Jefferson and Baldwin.  Apparently, his vehicles were well reviewed but did not sell well.  I have read that no more than fifty Carhartts were assembled and that none of them survive.  Carhartt decided to get out the car business before he lost his entire fortune.  He returned to the successful clothing business and, more than a century later, the enterprise he created now markets their clothing from an attractive Detroit building that was erected in the late 1920s to serve as a Marmon dealership.

There are those who speculate that the economic revival of Detroit will be enhanced greatly if young people with skills and an entrepreneurial bent come to the area and establish successful firms.  Jordan Zielke and Kelly Golden attended the University of Michigan together and became interested in the art of sign painting.  They went to Los Angeles to study—for two years—with Doc Guthrie, among the nation’s master sign painters, at Los Angeles Trade and Technical College.  They then returned to Detroit and have been successful in winning commissions to paint a variety of murals and impressive signs.  The one you see on this page is 200 feet in length and three stories in height.  I infer they billed for 342 hours of their time to accomplish this work of art.  I think that, because of the expressway, this is the most frequently seen mural in Detroit.

Designers: Michael Burdick and James Noeller
Artists: Jordan Zielke and Kelly Golden
Website for firm of artists:
Story describing the firm and artists:
Date of installation: Late 2015
Use in 2016:  Mural advertising on the west wall of the former Cass Motors Building
Picture:  Ren Farley, January 16, 2016
Description prepared:  January, 2016

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