In the 1920s, Detroit was the most rapidly growing city in the nation in terms of population and economic wealth. There were three major efforts to develop major sections of downtown. At that time, there were still many low-rise, late Nineteenth Century building that did not capitalize upon the value of the land. Those buildings along the west side of Woodward from Albert Kahn’s 1917 Vinton Building to his 1922 First National Bank Building are among the few Nineteenth-century buildings that survived into the Twenty-first Century in downtown Detroit. The Book Brothers sought to develop Washington Boulevard from Michigan to Grand Circus Park in hopes of creating an area of shops, offices and hotels that would rival the most prestigious locations in Manhattan. This is now the Washington Boulevard Historic District. A group of developers sought to develop, in a somewhat similar manner, Park Avenue west from Grand Circus Park toward the street ten know as Myrtle and now called Martin Luther King. This is now the Park Avenue Historic District.
John Barlum led the third such effort in downtown Detroit. He purchased land surrounding Cadillac Square adjoining Campus Martius, and built three major structures: an hotel, a large apartment complex and an office building. Harrie Bonnah was the architect of he selected.
The Lawyers Building—so named, I presumed, because of its location across the street from John Scott’s ornate 1902 Wayne County Courthouse was completed in 1922. It is a ten story Chicago style structure built of reinforced concrete and steel clad in terra cotta. Note the very regular wood casement windows with their metal spandrels.
This is a Chicago-style skyscraper that emphasizes modernism. You can easily turn your gaze from this building to Albert Kahn’s , completed almost simultaneously. Kahn incorporated many classical elements in his building. You will not find those in Bonnah’s Lawyer’s Building. This may be the only unaltered Chicago Style skyscraper now standing in downtown Detroit.
Barlum lost control of all three of his impressive buildings in the first year of the Great Depression. His Cadillac Tower and his Cadillac Square Apartments are in use in 2012. However, I believe that the Lawyer’s Building is now a vacant structure awaiting reuse.
Date of construction: 1922
Architects: Harrie W. Bonnah and W. C. Chaffee
Architectural style: Chicago style skyscraper
Use in 2012: Empty structure awaiting use
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Places: Listed April 22, 1982
Photograph: Ren Farley; April 20, 2012
Description prepared: May, 2012
Return to Commercial Buildings
Return to Homepage