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January 2, 2013 - Pure Detroit’s Tour of the Historic Fisher Building

On Saturday, January 2nd, Pure Detroit sponsored a tour of the Fisher Building, long known as Detroit’s largest art object and considered a great example of Art Deco craftsmanship. Detroit Metro Mashup decided to attend and let you take the tour online with us. We estimate that at least 40 people attended the event that had been announced on Facebook. If you missed it, Pure Detroit plans to repeat the tour each Saturday in February. Information can be found at

Anyone can walk through the grand promenades and arcades of the Fisher Building’s first floor and be amazed at the huge barrel-vaulted ceilings, the parade of six to nine foot tall chandeliers suspended from the ceilings, and by the incomparable art deco friezes and murals that seem to tie all aspects of industry, science, technology and commerce into a sort of heavenly outcome, the hope of 1920s industrialists such as the Fisher brothers (see the slideshow). What made this tour really special was the expertise of the tour Guide, Mr. George Malloy, and the fact that he, Pure Detroit and the Farbman Group made it possible to access parts of the building that are not normally open to the public, such as the fabled 26th floor.

Mr. Malloy’s expertise on the Fisher Building stems from a lifetime of being involved with it. A lifetime literally, because his mother’s obstetrician had an office in the building and he was in the building before birth as well as having worked there for years as an adult. He pointed out that if being an expert requires either 10,000 hours of experience or gray hair, he has both. Malloy not only knew the history of the building itself, but was familiar with the family histories of the owners, many of whose descendants he personally knows. Stories, he has some stories he can tell.

The Fisher brothers, Fred, Charles, William, Lawrence, Edward, Alfred and Howard, wealthy from their auto body business, commissioned the famed architect Albert Kahn with, essentially, a no-holds barred approach to designing and building the Fisher. Money was no real object and this still shows in the structure as it exists today. It was a huge project, “The recipe called for more than 12,000 tons of steel; 350,000 cubic yards of concrete and marble; 1,800 bronze windows; 641 bronze elevator doors (inside and outside of the cars); 420 tons of bronze finishings; 46,000 square feet of concrete forms, 41,000 barrels of cement, 100,000 yards of sand and gravel and 1,275 miles of electrical and telephone wire and cable. With more than 325,000 square feet of exterior marble, the Fisher is the largest marble-clad commercial building in the world.” ( Kahn used the talents of Hungarian artiste Geza R. Maroti for the lavish displays found in the frescoes, the tile mosaics and the other artistic flourishes. Maroti, in turn, employed Antonio and Tomas de Lorenzo to paint the frescoes which, incredibly, took them only two months to complete.

The Fisher has had a few owners since sold by the Fisher brothers in 1962. Many changes have been made in some areas, probably to maintain the financial viability of the structure, while still maintaining the grandeur of the building overall. The 26th floor is a very mixed bag of residual grandeur and the despoilment of what once was... From, “Their 26th-floor reception room was often called the world’s most exclusive club and the most lavishly furnished office space in the world of business, the (Detroit) News wrote. The 25th through 27th floors had a dining room, kitchen, living room and private elevator. It was outfitted with Persian rugs, massive hand-carved desks, rich walnut paneling, bronze chandeliers and scrolled plaster ceilings. It was the site of daily informal family meetings, which the brothers combined with lunch every workday at 12:45 p.m.” Now, all that remains of the original grandeur of the 26th floor is the elevator lobby, shown in our pictures. The entire area surrounding the elevator lobby has, at some time in the past, been gutted and replaced with shoddy drywall offices, altogether too typical of the decades-long drive to modernization and economization, even at the terrible cost to history and beauty. The view of the downtown Detroit skyline is, however, still spectacular.

Even as time marches forward, some businesses strive to maintain the beauty of the past and preserve as much history as possible. Among these businesses are Pure Detroit and the Stella Cafe, both located in the Fisher Building on the first floor. Stella is undergoing remodeling and has uncovered the long-lost marble floor in their space. They had to remove layers of wood, glue and concrete to get to the floor, requiring a concrete specialist to do so without damaging the original marble. The results are amazing, revealing a floor in much better condition than the more timeworn and foot shorn marble throughout the promenades (see the slides). In addition, they are building their cabinetry with wood saved from a 100-year old house on Cadillac Boulevard by Reclaim Detroit and intend to begin serving the public 24 hours per day.

Detroit has traveled a long, sometimes difficult, road since the Fisher Building was constructed in 1928. It is truly a great thing, a testament to the human spirit, that efforts have been made and loads of money spent to preserve this historic treasure as well as has been done. Detroit Metro Mashup would like to thank Pure Detroit and everyone involved for providing this opportunity to travel the back roads and the high roads of the Fisher Building.