National Bank of Detroit

People: , Walter Sanders

Date: 1959

City: Detroit

Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, photo by Steve Vorderman.

When new, the National Bank of Detroit building was to be part of a proposed $50 million "face-lift" downtown. In bold lettering, a headline in the Detroit Times on August 17, 1956, announced the "Death Knell for an Era in Building," with the demolition of Detroit's first skyscraper, the Hammond Building (1890-56), on this site. Several turn-of-the-century commercial buildings and the Old City Hall of 1871 were razed within a brief period of time. The Times predicted, "When work is completed, the block . . . will ring with the sound of modern-day contractors erecting the 12-story structure, destined to shelter many future generations."


Work on NBD's headquarters bank building, begun in the summer of 1957, marked one of only a few major commercial construction projects in downtown Detroit in the previous twenty-five years. The bank moved into its new headquarters on September 14, 1959. Today, this idiosyncratic building designed by Albert Kahn Associates is called the Chase Tower. In 1995, NBD merged with the First National Bank of Chicago, which in turn merged three years later with Bank One, which was then bought by JP Morgan Chase & Company in 2004. The building is about to undergo another transition under new ownership.


The rectangular-shaped building is set back forty feet from the street to create a generous esplanade originally shaded by a row of trees enhanced with planters. Built on the rise from the river, long horizontal steps progress to its entrance. The building's upper stories form a box that rests on a taller recessed base surrounded on all sides by a colonnade of square structural columns faced in marble. Structural columns are also spaced throughout the interior of the two-story banking room lobby space. Faced by a glass wall, this lobby interior was designed by W. B. Ford Design Associates, a well-established Detroit design firm. Above, the twelve-story curtain wall is arranged in a checkerboard fashion. Comparatively small windows with gray porcelain enamel spandrels and aluminum framing members alternate with white Georgia Cherokee marble infill panels that were chosen by the architect to harmonize with the white marble of the civic center buildings.


General Contractor: Bryant and Detwiler Co.


(Text excerpted from the Detroit Modern Civic Center/Financial District Tour script developed by the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board staff.)