Historic Detroit

Buhl Building

The Buhl Building is one of downtown Detroit’s classiest skyscrapers.

It formally opened May 1, 1925, in the heart of the city’s financial district, at Griswold and Congress streets. At the time, the Buhl would dominate its surroundings, with many of the skyscrapers that have since overtaken it yet to have been erected.

Wirt C. Rowland, working for the firm Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, was the lead architect. Renowned sculptor Corrado Parducci — whose work adorns Detroit landmarks such as the Fisher Building, David Stott Building, Penobscot Building, Masonic Temple and many more — decked the Buhl out in splendor. The building is clad in cream-colored terra cotta, with a granite base at street level The main entrance, on Griswold, is set back in an arched recess outfitted with a mosaic-tiled ceiling. “The structure presents an orderly and finished appearance from all points of view, for there are no walls of raw, uncouth brick to mar its beauty and to spoil its symmetry, conspicuous because of its great height,” The Architectural Forum wrote in 1926.

While the building’s first four stories have a rectangular footprint, the fifth through 26th floors is in the form of a Latin cross. This is a rather unusual arrangement, but allows every office to have an outside window, along with eight corner suites on each floor. “After considering over 30 schemes of varying shapes, such as “L,” “H,” “I,” “O,” “U,” “T” and others, it was found that this particular plan has all of the advantages of the other plans and none of their disadvantages,” The Architectural Forum wrote in July 1926. “Courts are eliminated, and all offices become outside offices. … No plan could be better.”

The L-shaped lobby, wrapping from Griswold to Congress, features an ornamental vautled ceiling, marble floors and marble wainscoting and is outfitted with 12 elevators featuring bronze doors.

The Buhl was build on top of what used to be the Savoyard Creek. In 1836, the creek was covered and converted into a sewer. For building the Buhl, Rowland’s plan called for caisson foundations anchored in about 70 feet of blue clay.

The Savoyard Club, a businessman’s private club, was on the Buhl’s top floor from 1928 until shrinking membership led to the club’s closure in 1994.

More on this building of Detroit coming soon.