Historic Detroit

Goeschel Building

On the east side of Detroit, among burned-out and abandoned structures, stands a terra cotta beauty, the Goeschel Building.

The Goeschel Building is located at Mack and Gratiot on Detroit’s east side. Designed in 1914 by the architectural firm Mildner & Eisen, the Goeschel is an example of simple, sophisticated Art Deco/Moderne.

What’s in a beauty’s name?

Otto C. Goeschel, born in 1862, became a significant figure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Detroit. Goeschel was an associate and political teammate of Mayor Hazen S. Pingree and contributed to many developments in Detroit at the turn of the century. In 1895, the Wayne County Republican caucus named Goeschel auditor, a powerful position he held until 1897. He also was a major proponent for the free water bill of 1897, and he fought for social justice, urban planning and economic stability for the city.

In 1898, he was elected alderman for the 13th ward of Detroit, as well as the president of the Common Council. It was at this time that he began pushing for the implementation of paved streets and sidewalks, including Mack Avenue and alleys downtown. During this time, he also helped to usher in changes to water, lighting and railroad development in the city. As an influential council president, he strove to gain popular opinion. A Jan. 13, 1898, article in the Detroit Free Press wrote: “If the new president of the Common Council continues to exercise the same good judgment in the appointment of all the standing committees that he showed in his first attempts, he will go a long way towards gaining the popular approval.”

In his attempts to gain public favor, Goeschel worked vigorously at several projects. In 1907, he protested against the restriction of saloons in the city. A year earlier, he worked toward the central trolley systems and placement of the cables. He sat on the special committee that signed off on changing the street layout to accommodate Michigan Central Station, constructed in 1913. He also sat on the committee that chose the materials and location for the Wayne County Courthouse, today known as the Old Wayne County Building. Always an influential force in the planning of the streets and infrastructure, Goeschel’s decisions directly affect Detroit as we know it today.

In 1914, his wife, Katherine Goeschel, died. It is at this point that Goeschel opened his Art Deco building on Gratiot and seems to walk away from politics and into real estate.

A gleaming gem

A Sept. 6, 1914, article in the Detroit Free Press talked about the Goeschel Building in depth: “Construction of the Goeschel building at the intersection of Gratiot and Mack is now in progress. The building designed by Mildner and Eisen, architects, has a frontage on Gratiot of 50 feet, on Mack of 102 feet and extends back on Elwood 50 feet. It is three stories and has a full basement. The first floor consists of five stores; second floor has five office suites at the front and storage in the rear. The third floor is one large room suitable for light manufacturing purposes. The exterior is of white terra cotta; an ornamental marquis extends around the entire street fronts. The building is steel frame and steel sash are used on the rear and west side of the building.”

Originally built with three floors, the Goeschel endured major renovation in 1931, which included the removal of the top floor. The blueprints from the renovation were recently uncovered in the basement of the property and show, in detail, the changes that occurred during renovation.

The second floor exterior of the Goeschel portrays a sleek, white, smooth appearance through the use of terra cotta tiles. Similar to the Elwood Diner that also fashions a terra cotta-tiled exterior. This fireproofing material originally was thought to “clean itself like a large dinner plate,” a hope that was soon negated. Although the terra cotta material used for the exterior does provide a smooth gleaming appearance, maintenance and cleaning of the exterior is still required.

The Goeschel retained two of the three floors, which are separated by a projecting terra cotta stringcourse between the two levels. The stringcourse is supported by a ribbon of brackets that wrap around the projecting architectural divide. This stringcourse acts as a secondary cornice, delineating the termination of the lower story. A green band for signage is located under the stringcourse and was once the backdrop for awnings used by the businesses beneath.

The forest green color on the lower level strongly contrasts with the white terra cotta upper story. The primary entrance under the nameplate prominently displays the green contrast. The door frame of the main entrance is a post and lintel design inlayed with a series of layered rectangular stone, geometrically and symmetrically placed on the interior of the frame.

Another important element of the Goeschel is its horizontal footprint and the corner facing façade. The rounded corner rises higher than the rest of the roofline. Although there are other projecting roof forms, the corner of the building is the centralized focal point. The Goeschel has a crest-like medallion in the central pediment with smaller floral medallions and four slightly projecting pilasters with ornamentation on the upper capitals.

Another Art Deco landmark with a horizontal footprint similar to the Goeschel’s is the Vanity Ballroom. The Vanity, constructed in 1929 and designed by Charles N. Agree, sits on East Jefferson Avenue in Detroit on the border of Grosse Pointe. The Vanity, much like the Goeschel, has a rising centralized corner-facing rounded roofline. This puts emphasis on the corner as the main façade, instead of a centralized front-facing façade.

Also like the Goeschel, the Vanity includes symmetrical windows placed in a row, though the framing of the two buildings is different. The Vanity uses a geometric pattern with pointed arches, while the Goeschel uses ribbons of rectangular, double-hung windows with no elaboration on the window surrounds. The windows of the Goeschel are simple wooden frames leaving ornamentation to be expressed elsewhere.

The Goeschel has been a mixed-use building since construction was finished in 1914. The bottom retail floors initially housed a men’s clothing store, a dime store, tobacco shop and ice cream parlor. The upper floors, before the third floor was removed in 1931, housed office space for dentists, doctors and architects. The top story is currently empty and in disrepair while the lower story is partially functioning as a restaurant supply store.

An endangered landmark

In October 2011, the state of the building severely declined. The floor on the second story has collapsed because of water damage. For the last forty years, the building has been owned by Samuel Solomon, a restaurant supply and furniture store owner. In that time, he has been fighting for the safety of his building and business, while the neighborhood has become more crime-ridden and the economic stability of the area has taken a nosedive.

This fight is not uncommon with business owners on the east side of Detroit. The neighborhood has presented the Goeschel’s owner with many problems. In fall 2011, thieves tunneled through the masonry wall to gain access to the interior. This breech was quickly addressed and boarded with steel support. The upper floor windows have been broken in many areas. The collapse of the second floor has been difficult for the owner. The recession and the abandonment of many properties in the area have left Solomon facing a difficult situation. The building has yet to be locally designated or added to the National Register of Historic Places, leaving it unprotected. As adamant as he is to save the building, Solomon is clearly and understandably losing faith.