The Guardian – Detroit’s Cathedral of Finance – Photographs and History
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It was a time of magic for Detroit: the late 1920’s. Detroit was known as the “Paris of the Midwest” and it was a boom town. Skyscrapers were going up all over downtown, and the Union Trust – the City’s largest bank – was ready to make its mark.
The Union Trust Bank specialized in home mortgages. These were abundant in Detroit as the auto industry was growing and better-than-average salaries opened doors to home ownership for blue collar workers.
Wirt Rowland, a young architect with the renowned Detroit firm Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, was selected as the architect. He collaborated with other designers and craftspersons including Mary Chase Stratton of Pewabic Pottery; Ezra Winter, designer of the glass mosaic facing the Griswold Street entrance and the great mural in the main banking room; and Thomas DiLorenzo, the designer of the ceiling in the bank lobby.
Rowland’s design for this 36-story tower was reminiscent of a cathedral, with a high tower at one end, and a nave and aisles extending to the other end. It is fitting that it was called the Cathedral of Finance.
Rowland worked to design and formulate a specialized orange-tan brick for the exterior. The building has 1.8 million of these bricks, which became known in the industry as Guardian bricks.
Six months after completion of the building, the U.S. stock market crashed and the Union Trust Bank soon failed. The company reorganized in 1930 as the Union Guardian Trust Company, and the building has changed hands many times over the years. It is currently owned by Wayne County.
All photos by Rod Arroyo, All Rights Reserved