The Book Building and Tower
A mishmash of styles, built a decade apart, the Book Building and Tower are an icon of Washington Boulevard Historic District. The Book Building began as a modest office building in 1917 paid for by the Book brothers. It was the first commercial space completed by famous Detroit architect Louis Kamper. In 1926, Kamper again designed the Book Tower addition, which became the tallest structure in Detroit at the time at 475 feet. However, it has been hailed as an odd piece of architecture since it was built, as it was the first skyscraper design for Kamper, who placed intricate Italian Renaissance details on a building too tall to be appreciated.
Backstory and Context
The Book Tower was constructed adjacent to the Book Building, and when it opened in 1926, it became the tallest building in Detroit at 475 feet. This was Kamper’s first skyscraper though, and architectural critics have not been kind to his design. He used the classic flourishing, ornamental details of the Italian Renaissance that he knew so well…on a building so tall that they couldn’t be appreciated. There are massive amounts of sculptural work set throughout the building, including a now-famous set of twelve nude women around the middle. Topped with a copper roof, the soft limestone exterior was not an ideal material choice for polluted city life. What’s more, he forgot to include a fire escape into the design, so it had to be slapped onto the outside, zig-zagging down the entire length of the building. 2
The Book Building and Tower were fortunate to be placed on Washington Boulevard, which proved to be a bustling success for Detroit (the Book brothers would have been proud), and this kept the building occupied for awhile even into the more troubled years for Detroit. However, for decades it has also passed through various owners who couldn’t seem to manage to stay out of debt, especially when it came to unpaid utility bills. In 2015, billionaire Dan Gilbert of Bedrock Real Estate Services bought an entire city block that includes the Book Building and Tower, with plans to create a mixed use of retail, office and residential tenants. 3