Detroit was once a boomtown. In 1920 there were about 993,000 people living in the city. By 1940 the population had nearly doubled to 1,623,000 people, an incredible increase in such a short period of time. Fast growth came with expansion, and that meant plenty of new schools, homes, and business such as gas stations, movie theaters, hardware stores, etc. These had to be built to accommodate the influx of people. That period was also a time when many of the city’s tall skyscrapers were constructed, including two of the most famous from that period: The Guardian and Penobscot, both designed in the ornate Art Deco architectural style.
The Art Deco style can be defined by its unique brickwork and sharply defined zigzag designs made of colorful Pewabic tile. It also features Terra-cotta facades and unusual door openings that remind me of an entrance to an ancient tomb. It was at its peak during the 1930s and 1940s. However, the Deco style was not limited to the tall buildings of downtown Detroit.
Many of the smaller single and two-story commercial buildings could be found along any of the city’s major roads. Gratiot Avenue, Grand River, Michigan Avenue and others had buildings constructed in the same style. They, too, featured flowing, rounded brickwork; colorful, elaborate highlights; and other sleek design elements of the era.
In some cases, a few of these smaller 1930 classics have been restored, but unfortunately, many haven’t, leading to deterioration through abandonment. Others have been “updated” and “modernized” over time, losing much of their charm. During this period of change, most of the Deco elements such as the decorative tile, ornamental three dimensional sculpted reliefs, geometric patterns, and other highlights have been lost. Riding past these little gems and looking past the changes the buildings have gone through, it is quite easy to see the overall integrity of the design and slick lines of the structures are still in place.