Historic Detroit

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

Malcomson Building

This building has been home to everyone from an early investor in Ford Motor Co. to one of its most prestigous architectural firms to the heart of Detroit's techno music culture.

The six-story, brick building was originally designed by the Detroit firm Malcomson & Higginbotham for Alexander Y. Malcomson. The permit for the building was pulled on Nov. 22, 1906, and it opened the following year. Malcomson migrated to Detroit from Scotland in 1880 at age 15. After working as a grocery clerk, he opened his own store. He then founded the Malcomson & Houghton coal and coke company, which later merged into the United Fuel & Supply Co. Malcomson also was one of the early investors in Ford Motor Co., and became its first vice present and treasurer of the automaker in 1902.

The building's architects, Malcomson & Higginbotham, were also among the building's early tenants.

In May 1922, it was announced that the building would get an overhaul for the Industrial Morris Plan Bank. The alterations and remodeling was done under the supervision of architect Louis Kamper.

The makeover was to be done by Aug. 1, in time for the bank's fifth anniversary. The renovation included a new limestone front with bronze trimmings. The interior was refinished in marble and ornamental plasterwork. The Industrial Bank was organized as a medium of providing for the loan requirements of small borrowers who were unable to meet collateral requirements of other banks.

Malcomson's estate sold the building in 1927 to the Nisley Co. That year saw the building's ground-floor storefront divided into two stores. Its lobby and storefronts were remodeled in 1957, and its original cornice was removed around this time - a likely victim of a City ordinance regarding cornice maintenance that saw most of these architectural features taken down.

Like many buildings downtown, the Malcomson saw tenants leave and struggled over the ensuing decades.

In the late 1980s or early 1990s and into the 2010s, the building was a loft space, known as a home to creatives and for hosting notorious techno parties. Before downtown's latest renaissance, residents were able to rent 2,300-square-foot, barebones lofts for as little as $500 a month. These raves and techno parties gave birth to the company Paxahau, which runs the popular annual music festival Movement (originally known as the Detroit Electronic Music Festival).

On Halloween 2013, residents received a letter from Dan Gilbert's Bedrock Real Estate Services that the building was now under its management, following a $325,000 purchase of the building from Dearborn, Mich., developer Mousa Ahmad. Eviction letters came the following January and cited code violations handed down by the fire marshal. Their move-out deadline was Feb. 28, 2014. The news came on the heels of Broder & Sachse Real Estate Services forcing low-income senior citizens out of the Griswold Building across the street from the Malcomson to turn it into market-rate housing, and led to rising concerns over gentrification in the fast-changing downtown.

In February 2014, Gustav Brovold and Andrew Roberts wrote in Vice about their time in the building, "a vicious assembly of some seriously cool-ass neighbors, including a photographer, a super burly rock band, a taxidermist, a master videographer, and the most brutal prog/metal band in Detroit. My loft is on the fourth floor, and it carries the pseudonym Adult Contemporary. My roommates and I run the place as a DIY venue, a bike repair shop, a screen printing business, and the general headquarters for the galaxy of our musical operations. Across the hall is a brewery and another super swell (yet considerably less burly) rock band. A homemade skate park and a professional printmaker round out the lot. In a few weeks, this big, fat, juicy wad of creativity and human expression will be disemboweled, and the remains will have new homes in nearby dumpsters, storage units and friends' basements.

"There's no other place like this gruesome paradise, where you can pay $500 a month for a 2,500-square-foot loft just outside the Financial District and run a boisterous-ass venue out of it. There's no other place where you can take acid on a Friday, go run around in an apocalyptic world, come down, do shitty coke, drink shitty coffee, ride a snowmobile downtown to go see Carl Craig, or Erika, or someone cool like that, then come to again, get chased by a pack of stray dogs, die, take a vitamin B supplement, eat a taco in your sleep, have your shoelaces come untied, keep on partying, do a line of Ambien, and finally realize it's 3 p.m. on a Tuesday and you're late for work."

Following the evictions that February, work began on converting the 24,000-square-foot building into 25 one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The exterior was lovingly restored to mirror its historic appearance and completed in 2015, and an upscale market and nail salon moved into the retail spaces. The renovation cost about $10 million, partly covered by $1.65 million in tax credits for saving the historic structure.

In 2012, the Malcomson received local designation as part of the Capitol Park Local Historic District, and was listed in 1999 on the National Register of HIstoric Places as part of the Capitol Park Historic District

Last updated 19/03/2023