The Fisher Building is an Art Deco skyscraper in the heart of Detroit, Michigan. Completed in 1928, it was one of architect Albert Kahn’s most notable works. The building — which also contains the famous 2,089-seat Fisher Theatre — was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1989.
Here’s a look into the history behind this incredible structure.
The architectural vision
Albert Kahn Associates designed the building, with Joseph Nathaniel French serving as chief architect. The three-story and barrel-vaulted lobby was constructed with 40 different kinds of marble and decorated by Hungarian artist Géza Maróti. The sculpture on the exterior of the building was created by several famous sculptors, including Maróti, Corrado Parducci, Anthony De Lorenzo, and Ulysses Ricci.
The Fisher Building rises 30 stories with a roof height of 428 feet, a top floor height of 339 feet, and a spire reaching 444 feet. It’s been called “Detroit’s largest art object,” and in 1929, it was honored by the Architectural League of New York with a silver medal in architecture.
• Initially, the project team planned for a complex of three buildings, with two 30-story structures flanking a 60-story tower. However, the Great Depression reduced the project to a single tower.
• The Fisher brothers decided to locate the building across from the General Motors Building (now Cadillac Place) because GM had recently purchased the Fisher Body Company. The two buildings spurred the development of New Center, a business district north of downtown.
• In 1970, building staff discovered a storage room sealed with tape. None of the staff knew what the room contained or why it was sealed. When they located the key, they found the flags of 75 nations that were created in 1928 and originally intended to be flown for foreign visitors.
• Taking advantage of the general decline in Detroit real estate values, a group of investors purchased the Fisher Building and adjacent Albert Kahn Building in 2015 for only $12.2 million at auction.
The Fisher Theatre
The Fisher Building is also home to one of Detroit’s oldest theatre venues. The Fisher Theatre originally featured a lavish Aztec-themed interior and once had Mexican art, banana trees, and live macaws that patrons could feed. After the Great Depression, the theatre operated primarily as a movie house until 1961.
Originally containing 3,500 seats, the interior was renovated into a 2,089-seat playhouse that allowed for more spacious seating and lobbies for patrons at a cost of $3.5 million. At that point, the decor was changed to a simple mid-century design. The theatre continues to host Broadway shows today.
The signature roof
The building’s hipped roof was originally covered with gold leaf tiles. During World War II, the tiles were covered in asphalt out of fear that the reflective surface would attract enemy bombers. After the war, the asphalt couldn’t be removed from the gold tiles without harming them, so they were replaced with green tiles.
Since the 1980s, these tiles have been illuminated at night with colored lights to give them a gold appearance. On St. Patrick’s Day, the lights are changed to green, and to celebrate the NHL playoffs, the tower is illuminated with red lights in honor of the Detroit Red Wings.