by Rebecca Binnol
The Detroit Area Art Deco Society's Board of Directors wanted to recognize the restoration and preservation of significant 20th century architecture in a formal way, so we decided to resurrect the "Detroit Area Art Deco Society Award." The award will be given for projects that have completed a significant restoration to a 20th century building in the art deco, moderne or streamline style.
We chose the Penobscot Building as the award winner this year, based on the extensive restoration that was completed last year by the building’s new owners, Capstone Advisors. Seventy years of carbon residue from exhaust fumes, mostly from diesel-powered busses, had built up on the limestone façade of the building. The cleaning, completed by Ohio Building Restoration (OBR), cost almost $1 million.
OBR used a solution of baking soda and water sprayed onto the building with a power blaster. Water was then sprayed on to rinse off the residue. The fizzing action of the baking soda lifted the dirt out of the porous limestone. It was phenomenally successful and made a dramatic difference to all of the building exteriors.
The Penobscot Building's history is more complicated than most. First, a 13-story office building was constructed in 1905 on Fort Street, and then a 24-story addition was built on Congress Street in 1913. The skyscraper that most people identify as the Penobscot Building was designed by Wirt C. Rowland of Smith Hinchman and Grylls in 1928. For half a century, the Penobscot Building — at 47 stories high — was Detroit's tallest skyscraper. Ornamenting the building are American Indian figures and motifs, which are also in the entrance archway and metalwork.
The Penobscot Building is Detroit's image-defining skyscraper. Comparable to those of New York and Chicago, it really brought the city into the 20th century world of skyscrapers. This is evidenced from the 1928 promotional brochure which stated:
"A graceful tower of steel and brick and stone...its lofty facades stand a worthy monument of man's progress upward from his primitive state. This towering structure typifies the confidence in a great destiny that is present-day Detroit. Every factor of fine materials, and the highest constructive ability that unstinted expenditure of capital may command, has gone into the building in an effort to make it the perfect expression of an ideal."
Capstone Advisors, the present owners, have demonstrated that they are committed to the same ideal that the original builders had in 1928. The Detroit Area Art Deco Society is proud to be able to honor their sensitive restoration work on the Penobscot Building.
Detroit Area Art Deco Society's award will be presented during Preservation Wayne's Annual Awards Dinner and Auction to be given on Friday, March 31, 2000. The event will have both live and silent auctions including items from downtown Hudson's and art deco fixtures from the 1938 Sear's store in Highland Park.
The event is being held from 6-10 p.m. at Marygrove College's Madame Cadillac Hall at West McNichols and Wyoming Street. The tickets are by advance purchase only, and space is limited. The cost is $100 per person, which includes buffet dinner, wine, soft drinks and free parking. More information is available by calling (313) 577-3559.