Encyclopedia Of Detroit

David Whitney Building

Lumber baron David Whitney earned his title as one of Michigan’s wealthiest individuals through the lumber business, Great Lakes shipping, and banking and insurance companies. He was also one of Detroit’s largest landowners. When he died in 1900, his fortune, estimated at close to $300 million in today’s dollars, passed to his son, David Charles Whitney.

The young Whitney hired legendary architect Daniel Burnham to redesign the old Grand Circus Building which was built by his father in 1887 on the site where Charles Lindbergh’s mother was born, creating the David Whitney Building. Completed in 1915, the building is a 19 story Neo-Renaissance style skyscraper that cost $1 million (about $24 million today). The first five stories enclosed an atrium with walls covered in marble or terra cotta and a skylighted roof that allowed light to enter the building’s many shops.

After modernization of the David Whitney Building in the 1950s, many of the shops were converted to medical and dental offices. The cornices that once created an Italian Renaissance feel were removed in order to make the Whitney Building seem more modern. In 1965, the Whitney family sold the building. With the advent of freeways and the growth of the suburbs causing a population shift out of Detroit, many physicians wanted office locations near the suburban hospitals they practiced in, vacating the Whitney building. By 1980, this had created a serious economic problem for the Montreal Corporation, the owners of the Whitney Building. In the late 1990s the nearly empty building was sold at foreclosure value, finally closing in 2000.

In 2011, the Downtown Development Authority approved a loan of $1 million to Whitney Partners LLC to purchase the building for $3.3 million for their mixed use development. Following a $92 million renovation, the building reopened in 2014 as the boutique Aloft Hotel featuring the restored four-story atrium, 136 rooms on floors five through nine, and 105 high-end apartments occupying floors 10 through 18.



David Whitney Building Postcard, 1920

David Whitney Building Photograph, 1920

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