Designed in the Beaux Arts style by Daniel H. Burnham & Co., the Majestic Building opened in 1896 on the corner of Woodward and Michigan avenues. The office building stood across from old City Hall on Campus Martius and had storefronts on the ground floor.
The structure helped usher in the skyscraper age in Detroit. It was Detroit’s fourth, following six years after the Hammond Building and one year after the Chamber of Commerce Building on Capitol Park and the Union Trust Company Building downtown. The Majestic was the city’s most imposing commercial monument for more than a decade until Burnham’s 18-story Ford Building was completed on the northwest corner of Griswold and Congress.
Burnham was the acknowledged authority in skyscrapers at the time. He was the head of a firm that was likely the biggest in the country. He also was the chief consulting architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the man behind such notable structures as New York City’s Flatiron Building.
At about 222 feet and 14 stories tall, the Majestic also was Detroit’s tallest building until 1909, when it was surpassed by the Ford Building, which also was designed by Burnham.
Structurally, the Majestic utilized the most advanced techniques of its day. The building was entirely faced with terra cotta, and its foundation was of steel and concrete. It had a definite Romanesque Revival flavor.
Among its other revolutionary features were fireproof tiles. The Majestic was marketed as being fireproof, and that claim was put to the test in 1915. That’s when a fire caused by defective wiring broke out in a storeroom between the roof and the 14th floor. It took two hours for firefighters to put it out, but because of the tiles, it didn’t spread.
“The fire proved one thing to my complete satisfaction,” one of the owners said the next day. “That one thing is that we have a fireproof building here. … People come up to condole with me on my loss, when they should come up here to congratulate me on my discovery.”
Toward the end of its life, the tower had offices and a roof-top observation deck for the United States Weather Bureau for science and meteorologists performing weather observations. It cost a dime.
In March 1951, a piece of masonry from the sixth floor fell off the Majestic, narrowly missing passersby below. The close call led to calls that the building was dangerous and may have helped lead to its demise.
Despite the efforts of preservationists, the landmark was demolished over several months in 1961-62 by Arrow Wrecking Inc.
The 22-story 1001 Woodward office tower, completed in 1965, stands there today.
More on this lost landmark of Detroit coming soon.