Book Building

Washington Boulevard between Michigan Avenue and West Grand River
adjoining the Book Tower in downtown Detroit

Three Book brothers—J. Burgess, Herbert and Frank—developed what Eric Hill and John Gallagher in their book, AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, call downtown Detroit's West Necklace. Before Henry Ford successfully marketed his Model T, downtown Detroit was well along to becoming a major center for business and commerce. Skyscrapers and impressive banks were built between the Detroit River and Grand Circus Park, including the Chamber of Commerce Building (1895), the State Savings Bank building (1900), the Penobscot Building (1905), the Ford Building (1909) and the Dime Building (1910). The Book Brothers saw an opportunity to develop Washington Boulevard. Many cities participated in the City Beautiful movement that emanated from the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. The most memorable persisting feature of Mayor Brietmeyer’s effort to bring the City Beautiful movement to Detroit is the Cultural Center. Edward H. Bennett, an acclaimed architect and city planner who worked extensively with Daniel Burnham and was responsible for the 1909 plan for modern Chicago, collaborated with Frank Miles Day to design Detroit’s Cultural Center. Continuing his efforts to spread the City Beautiful movement, Bennett proposed tearing down the unattractive low-rise buildings along Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit and replacing them with suitably elegant buildings. The Book brothers saw an opportunity and intended to create a “Fifth Avenue of the West”—an elegant shopping district lined with architecturally interesting buildings providing offices for booming firms. As a result of their efforts, the Book Building and neighboring Book Tower stand on the west side of Washington Boulevard near Michigan while the Book Cadillac Hotel is located at northwest corner of the intersection of Michigan and Washington Boulevard.

The Book Building is the first of four major structures that the Book Brothers intended to located upon their “Fifth Avenue of the West.” The Book Building is the 13-story structure in the center of the picture. To the right of that building, you see the lower floors of the 38-story Book Tower. The Book Building was the first major commercial structure that Louis Kamper designed. The style is basically that of a typical large downtown office building of the World War I era. It is a limestone-faced building topped with a penthouse. There is a distinguishing feature of this building, one that was completed long before John Ashcroft became the nation's Attory General in 2001. Above the 13th floor, you will find 12 caryatids supporting the cornice. Each depicts a nude woman.

The Book Brothers presumed that prosperous shops would be located at the Washington Boulevard level, with the upper floors providing prestigious, modern office space. Kamper attempted to make the exterior interesting by adding Italianate details and then placed a dozen caryatids to support the Washington Boulevard cornice. The 174-foot height of this building makes it challenging to appreciate that detail. The Book Building, the Book Tower and the Book Cadillac still grace downtown Detroit, although the Book Building and Tower pale in comparison to later structures such as the Fisher Tower and the Guardian Building. The fourth building in the Book Brothers’ series was to have been an 81-story office tower that would humble the existent Book Tower. Alas, the Depression curtailed economic activity in Detroit and their massive building was never constructed.

Demand for office and retail space in downtown Detroit plummeted after the 1960s. John Lambrecht, a Detroit developer and investor purchased the Book Building and Book Tower in 1989 with the intention of renovating them so that they would prosper. Unfortunately he died shortly after this purchase. His widow took over management of the properties and invested in their renewal, but this did not turn out to be a profitable investment. In 2006, she sold the buildings to California developers, but their firm went into bankruptcy. In August, 2008 they were purchased by a Canadian firm, AKNO Enterprises. Apparently, they were not prepared to make immediate investments in the buildings so the remaining tenants left. The final one, Bookies Tavern on the first floor, closed for good on January 5, 2009.

Architect: Louis Kamper
Architectural Style: Modern 1920s office building with classical and Italianate details
Date of Construction: 1917
Use in 2009: Empty building awaiting redevelopment.
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Places: This building is within the Washington Boulevard National Historic District.
Picture: Ren Farley; July 7, 2005

Description revised: January 7, 2009

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