Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Penobscot Building

This 47-story landmark situated in the heart of Detroit’s downtown commercial district was designed by architect Wirt C. Rowland. Constructed with limestone and granite at its base, the Penobscot Building was built in 1928, during Detroit’s building boom. When completed, it was the eighth tallest building in the world. At 565 feet, the Penobscot Building was Detroit’s tallest structure until 1977 when the Renaissance Center, at 727 feet, took that title.

What we call the Penobscot Building today, is in fact a group of three buildings of the same name. The original 13-story building was erected in 1905 by Simon Murphy, a lumber baron who realized Detroit’s need for office space. He chose the name Penobscot in remembrance of the summers he enjoyed on the Penobscot River in Maine. After Murphy’s death, his son William Murphy decided to erect a second, 24-story tower in 1916 called the New Penobscot Building due to the success of the first building. The new building included both office and retail space. With the continued business boom in Detroit, William decided to erect a third, and final 47-story tower known as the Greater Penobscot Building in 1928 at a cost of $5 million. This Art Deco masterpiece was dedicated in January of 1929, a month before William’s death.

Decorative pavers lead pedestrians to the building’s imposing four-story entrance archway on Griswold Street. Sweeping bronze and glass revolving doors open to the impressive lobby. The building’s decorative friezes and carvings created by master sculptor Corrado Parducci have been carefully preserved. Many of these high-quality decorations, sculptured in granite, recall the Penobscot Indians for whom the structure is named. Additionally, and somewhat controversially, there are many sculpted swastikas on the building’s façade which are part of the Native American motif and symbolize sun worship.

Inside the Penobscot Building sits one of Detroit’s premier restaurants, the Caucus Club. Although the Caucus Club has never been a private club, until 1971 The Caucus Club, like many other downtown spots, was a dining spot available only to men. However, since 1993 the Caucus Club has been owned by a woman. The restaurant featured live entertainment most notably, Barbra Streisand who launched her career at the Caucus Club in 1961.The Penobscot Buildings are included within the Detroit Historic Financial District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 24, 2011.



Photo of the Penobscot Building, 1937 - 2009.019.129

The Penobscot Building, 1970 - 2012.044.149

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