Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Book Tower

The Book Tower is a 475-foot tall, thirty-eight story skyscraper located on Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit. Brothers J. Burgess Jr., Herbert, and Frank Book, Detroit-born entrepreneurs and real estate developers, foresaw a demand for additional office space in booming downtown Detroit. They developed a plan to redesign Washington Boulevard, and hired local architect Louis Kamper to design their new buildings. The Book Tower was built on the corner of Washington Boulevard and Grand River Avenue, adjacent to the existing Book Building, another Kamper building built in 1917. Construction began in 1923 and ended in 1926. It was the tallest building in Detroit at the time of its completion but was overtaken just two years later by the Penobscot Building. The Book brothers had planned to build an additional eighty-one story tower to regain the title of the tallest building in Detroit, however only two stories were completed, and the remaining plans were scrapped due to the Great Depression.

Kamper designed both the Book Building and Tower in the Italian Renaissance style. The Tower is built of limestone with copper roofing. For the design of the exterior decorations, Kamper utilized the Academic Classicism style, seen in the intricately carved Corinthian columns, scrolls, florets, and crests covering nearly the entire surface of the building. A horizontal belt of Italian Renaissance sculpture surrounds the building’s midsection, featuring twelve nude female caryatids supporting the cornice. Many of these elements are difficult to appreciate from the ground. Unfortunately, Kamper failed to incorporate fire evacuation routes into the design, leading to the addition of a fire escape that travels down the side of the tower.

After many years of providing storefronts and office space, the Book Tower began to decline in the 1960s. The building changed ownership several times until in 2015 Bedrock Real Estate, owned by Dan Gilbert, announced it would purchase the three-building Book complex, with plans for mixed-use development. Restoration and renovation began in 2016, including the cleaning of the exterior that had absorbed pollutants and discolored over many years.



Book Tower postcard c.1926

Book Tower postcard c.1920

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