Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Citizens Building

It was known as "the Swaying Splinter."

Also known as Detroit's "littlest skyscraper," this architectural curiosity was designed by C. Howard Crane for the Woodward-Larned Realty Co., and built in 1922-1923.

This skinny Minnie stood on the southwest corner of Larned and Woodward Avenue. The 11-story building was only 20 feet wide and 100 feet long yet about 150 feet high. Plans were for a 40-foot-wide building, but the man who owned the last 20 feet backed out, forcing Crane to squeeze his design.

The story goes that the property's owner, M.M. Robinson, built the building anyway, "just to show what you could do if you wanted to put a skyscraper on a 20-foot lot," the building's then-owner, Alfred Deutsch, told the Free Press in August 1955.

The tiny slice of architectural heaven cost $350,000 to $400,000 to build. Its exterior was clad in stone, and its banking floor was finished in marble. Its original tenants included the Lincoln Bond & Mortgage Co. and the National Finance Corp.

A building that could make you seasick

In a strong wind, the building swayed about 8 inches, according to a test performed with a pendulum on an upper floor.

"On breezy days, the slim-jim building sways so that hanging signs start swinging and (Deutsch's) chair, with rollers, begins sliding away from his desk," the Free Press wrote. "On brisk, windy days, people who come to the upper floors have suddenly turned pea-green and have been escorted from the building because they are 'seasick.' "

The building was once featured in a "Ripley's Believe It or Not" column, and Deutsch said he got about 1,000 calls a year asking about the curious skyscraper.

At one time, the building was a popular office spot for architects because it was almost solid windows to the north, east and west, offering them great natural light.

Visitors would walk into the lobby and find its two elevators set "sidewise" in the building to save space. "In fact," the Detroit Free Press wrote in August 1955, "they have a saying in the building, 'Don't walk fast when you get out of the elevator or you'll walk right out of the building.'"

Most of the offices in the building ran the full length of the structure's footprint, with only the elevator area jutting out. In the 1950s, in addition to the architects, the splinter also was home to a bank and a small restaurant on the ground floor that sat 18 crammed together.

During World War II, it was taken over by the Army Ordnance, and then later it was a Social Security office.

Plucking the Splinter

With plans in the works for Michigan Consolidated Gas Co,'s major modern skyscraper, today known as One Woodward, in the works, crews began demolishing the block in 1959.

"Whoever put this together put it together to stay together," Hank Mardigan, a partner in the Arrow Wrecking Co., told the Free Press in May 1959.

The tiny building was gone within the month, and this quirky piece of Detroit's architectural history was lost.