Detroit Cornice and Slate Building Local Historic District

Detroit Cornice and Slate Building Local Historic District

733 St. Antoine near the corner of St. Antoine and East Lafayette
near Greektown and close to downtown Detroit


This history of architecture includes many innovations, some highly successful and still used frequently; other short lived. Stones were the basic building material for many major buildings in the Nineteenth century and are still used now, but they are very difficult to cut, move, ship and shape. You can imagine the cost of transporting stones from a distant location to construct a large building such as the Detroit Public Library or the Detroit Institute of Arts. The cost of arving them is also great. As an alternative to the costly and cumbersome stone, New York architects in the 1850s began using iron columns, then iron panels and later iron facades. Steel proved to be much easier to use than cast iron.

In 1888, Detroit residents Frank Hesse and James Creswell founded the Detroit Cornice and Slate Company to supply the city's builders. Nine years later, they asked Harry Rill to design a building for their business. They apparently wanted a very impressive structure, but they were also concerned about costs. They knew that there were few productive quarries nearby and that skilled stonemasons and stone carvers commanded substantial wages. The architect designed a three-story, brick-walled beaux-arts building with a flamboyant façade facing St. Antoine. What makes this building distinctive and historically important is the façade—galvanized steel. Note how attractive this building is in pristine white. The three bays on the first floor are topped with attractive decorative work. Indeed, each level of the building displays a different type of decorations. If you look closely, you will see finely crafted garlands. This is pressed and hammered steel—a much less expensive process than recruiting talented stone carvers. I am not overly fond of ostentatious patriotic symbols but, for this building, the soaring American eagle at the roof pediment is great. Imagine how unusual this building was at the end of the 19th century. Downtown Detroit was full of brick and stone building—as well as many frame structures surviving for earlier in the century—but this one was done in galvanized steel.

Detroit Cornice and Slate occupied this building until 1972. It was renovated in 1974 and the building now is home to an establishment marketing libations and food on the first floor while the second and third floors offer office space. The Detroit Cornice and Slate firm no longer occupies this space but they are in business and their website proudly displays the metal cornice from the building you see pictured here.

If you drive by the Detroit Cornice and Slate building on your way to Greektown's casinos or restaurants, you will be convinced that this is a stone building. Stop your cars—actually you better park your car—walk over and rap your knuckles firmly against the façade. Then look around. You will see both St. Mary's and the Church of Evangelismos—places where the story of doubting Thomas has been told in Latin and Greek.

Architect: Harry J. Rill
Architectural Style: Beaux-arts with extreme ornamental flourish on the façade.
Date of completion: 1897
Website for Detroit Cornice and Slate Company:
Michigan Registry of Historical Sites: P4475 Listed January 21, 1974
Michigan Historical Marker: Erected June 10, 1975. This is clearly visible on the St. Antoine face of the building.
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Established 1972
National Register of Historic Sites: Listed December 16, 1974
Use in 2012: Bar and grill on the first floor; offices on the second and third
Photo: Ren Farley, October, 2002
Description Updated: December, 2012


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Michigan: P4475, Listed: January 21, 1974, Local District: 1972
National Register of Historic Sites: December 16, 1974
This local historic district includes just the Detroit Cornice and Slate Building at 733 St. Antoine in downtown Detroit