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Allan

Guardian Building Shops to Open in August

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It's nice to see that the renovation of the Guardian Building is progressing. I was in there a couple weeks ago, and crews were hard at work replacing tiles on the floor of the old banking room.

TOM WALSH: Guardian to uncover splendor

Shops in ornate promenade to open in August

July 29, 2004

BY TOM WALSH

FREE PRESS COLUMNIST

For the first time in a quarter-century, the spectacular vaulted mezzanine of the historic Guardian Building in downtown Detroit will soon be open again for public access and use.

Sterling Group, the development firm that purchased the building last fall, will reopen the 10,000-square-foot space as a retail promenade, says Danny Samson, a Sterling vice president. Tenants will include a Pure Detroit store selling Pewabic pottery and Detroit-themed apparel, food and beverages; a new Standard Federal Bank branch; a Becca Belle gift shop; an Andy's Sundries convenience store and the Rowland Cafe, named after the building's architect.

A grand opening event is scheduled for Aug. 24, but some of the shops could open by mid-August as renovations are completed.

The 40-story Guardian Building, built in 1929 and designed by architect Wirt Rowland, is at 500 Griswold Ave., between Congress and Larned streets. It opened as headquarters for the Union Trust bank. The initials "U.T." inlaid on the ornate elevator doors in the lobby are still plainly visible.

During its years as a banking center, the great vaulted six-story hall on the mezzanine saw lots of public traffic. But around 1980, when Michigan Consolidated Gas Co., later called MCN Corp., acquired and occupied the building, the hall was closed off from public access, although MichCon did repair and upgrade the vaulted ceiling covered with designs painted on horsehair fabric.

MCN left the building after the company merged with DTE Energy Co. in 2000, and the SmithGroup architectural firm occupied the mezzanine-level space.

Last fall, the Detroit-based Sterling Group partnered with New York investors to buy the Guardian Building, then only 6-percent occupied. Sterling decided to convert the mezzanine hall for public access and retail use. SmithGroup, a descendant of the original Smith Hinchman & Grylls firm where Rowland worked, agreed to move upstairs and now occupies floors 17-20 of the building.

"We're excited to bring the building back to the public," Samson says. "We expect there will be concerts, book signings, all kinds of special events in the promenade space. We've already been contacted by groups who want to do cocktail parties and events during the 2006 Super Bowl and the annual auto show."

A stroll through the magnificent hall, as work crews complete renovation of the travertine marble floors, leaves one overriding thought:

It's about time!

How sad, that this architectural jewel has been tucked away from public view and use for so long.

"Yes, it's been hidden away for a long time, but it's back now and we're looking forward to having a bunch of new neighbors," says Carl Roehling, president of SmithGroup, which has been in the Guardian Building for five years and is now beginning construction on a new design for its 17th-floor office entrance.

In the mezzanine hall that SmithGroup has vacated, renovation crews have polished the elaborate grille of Monel metal over the grand archway that contains a Tiffany clock. New lighting will also show off the six-story mural depicting Michigan's great industries, created by artist Ezra Winter.

Samson says the building is now about 35-percent leased. Sterling is charging an annual rental fee about $15 to $17 per square foot in the building, which Samson said he hopes to have fully leased in two years.

Standard Federal, the latest tenant to sign on at the Guardian Building, will lease about 5,000 square feet on the retail promenade level for a consumer banking, relocating its Detroit bank branch from another downtown building. Standard Federal, a unit of the ABN AMRO banking group, will also lease the 26th floor.

Sterling Group is also renovating the Guardian's smaller street-level lobby area a few steps below. The lobby currently features a display on the work of Rowland, who also designed Detroit's Buhl and Penobscot buildings as SH&G's chief designer during the 1920s.

Still more renovation work has turned the building's 32nd floor, with spectacular views of Detroit and Windsor, into a conference and banquet facility.

Samson says MCN had kept the Guardian Building in good shape overall, and that Sterling Group is spending more than $1 million on additional renovations.

The public, I suspect, will see it as money well spent when the grand old building becomes a public gathering place again.

Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or [email protected]

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I was just in there again on Friday and the work is progressing nicely. I will be pleasantly surprised to see a store open by mid august since they are still on the mezzanine. Then again, according the to the drawings, there won't be a whole lot to do since the stores will have glass fronts and go between pilars.

It will be so nice to see this gem open and happening again. Things like this get people to really appreciated the architecture from Detroit's prime, and maybe it will get them to see these buildings are worth saving.

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