Historic Detroit

Empire Building

Few buildings in 1908 Detroit could match the sheer beauty of the Empire Building.

It opened on June 1, 1908, on the southeastern corner of Griswold Street and Washington Boulevard, “the width of the boulevard permitting its architectural beauty to stand forth prominently,” Public Service Magazine wrote in October 1908.

It was designed by John Scott, the architect of the Old Wayne County Building. His 1887 Queen Anne home, at 84 E. Ferry St., still stands and is now part of the Inn at Ferry Street.

During the early 1900s, it served as the offices of Detroit’s primary gas company.

A beautiful terra cotta office building with one of the most ornate cornices in the city. In 1919, the original cornice was removed and the attic areas converted into additional office space.

On March 2, 1961, a five-alarm fire broke out in the three-story Wabeek Building next door. The blaze raged for four hours, destroying shops and offices. Fourteen firefighters were injured in the blaze. The fire spread to the Empire Building, forcing more than 100 people to flee. Among those rushed from it, a Free Press article on the blaze says, were a number of women in a beauty shop, their hair still in curlers. Also forced out of the Empire were about 30 diners from Mr. Sam’s restaurant on the ground floor. The dense smoke covered the entire block. The building survived the fire, however. A photo from 1979 shows the Empire Building, its elaborate cornice removed, standing for sale along a gloomy Washington Boulevard.

Sometime around 1997 or 1998, its owner decided to raze the building for a parking lot.