Aside from being a total nerd who loves learning random trivia/factoids, by far the most incredible aspect of doing this series on tours in Detroit has been meeting people who are so enthusiastic about their love for the Motor City. Not only is it great to see how many of these individuals are out there, it is an utterly infectious attitude. I hadn’t experienced this quite so profoundly as I did this past Saturday when I went on a couple of tours with Pure Detroit.
Pure Detroit is so multi-faceted that it is hard to capture exactly what they do in a short blurb. At the most basic level, Pure Detroit celebrates and promotes the Motor City. Starting as a single shop opened on Thanksgiving Day 1998 in the David Whitney building, Pure Detroit now has three store locations (two of which I was able to visit on Saturday), has opened several satellite business (the Rowland Cafe, Stella International Cafe, and Vera Jane), assists in local development projects, puts on various cultural events, and much more.
This past February, to help celebrate it’s fifteen year anniversary, Pure Detroit also began conducting three separate (and completely free) public tours. The tours obviously serve to promote the business, but more than that, they promote and honor the city and buildings that are such an integral part of that business. The three tours include a Downtown Skyscraper tour, and two interior tours, of the Fisher Building and the Guardian Building, both locations of a Pure Detroit shop.
Now, it both pains and embarrasses me to admit that I had never been inside either of those landmark buildings. So it seemed impossible to select just one of the three Pure Detroit tours. Luckily, though both of the interior tours began at 11 am, the Downtown Skyscraper tour didn’t embark until 1 pm. So my mom and I decided to head to the tour of the Fisher Building at 11, then to meet my dad for a quick lunch, and head to the skyscraper tour all together at 1.
When we arrived at the Fisher Building and headed into the Pure Detroit shop just before the tour was set to begin, we were greeted by some of the friendliest employees I have ever encountered. My mom had questions about a painting and I had questions about the store, both of which were met with total enthusiasm; the people working for Pure Detroit seem to not only know about their store, but also to be truly excited to share the awesome Motor City experience with patrons. We were already off to a great start.
(Let me preface my actual tour summary by saying that I normally jot down short notes during my tours, however, I was so engrossed in simply listening to our guides and absorbing my surroundings, that I didn’t actually take any notes during our Pure Detroit tours. So, please forgive the lack of extensive specific details here and be sure to go on a tour yourself, because hearing all of the details is definitely worth it!)
Our first tour began with our guide, Ryan, relaying the history of the Fisher brothers, who made their fortune in Detroit’s booming auto industry (they owned Fisher Body Company and designed the first all enclosed steel body frame) and had the building built as a way to give back to the city that had helped make them. Designed by famed Detroit architect Albert Kahn, the Fisher Building has been called both the Cathedral of Commerce and Detroit’s largest art object. Though it was originally meant to be three buildings (the current, 29-story building would have an identical twin flanking a 60-story center tower), the Great Depression put a halt to those plans and is the reason for the somewhat off-center building we see today.
Though not center-aligned, the Fisher Building is, to say the least, an impressive structure. And it was even more impressive in it’s heyday. It was the first “mall” in the United States (they were popular already in Europe), it had a revolutionary indoor parking structure (where shoppers’ and workers’ cars were tuned up while they were inside), and the Fisher Theatre had a near unheard of indoor entrance (the Fisher Building itself served as a foyer of sorts for theatergoers).
But, though many of these revolutionary concepts are now commonplace, the building is still awe-inspiring. The more than 430 tons of brass, over 40 types of marble, intricate painted ceilings, mosaics, and general artistry that adorn the Fisher Building are breathtaking. When taking in the beauty of Detroit’s largest art object, it is not difficult to believe that a quarter of the expense of the building was dedicated to luxury materials and artwork.
After hearing a bit of history on the ground floor, we headed to the elevators. After a short walk around the 3rd floor (which offers even better views of the main arcade and decorated walls and ceilings), we rode up to the 26th floor. This is a privilege that very few experience; the top three floors were the Fisher brothers’ offices, and still serve as offices today, but the Pure Detroit team was able to coordinate trips up to see the astounding views on their tours.
Altogether, the Fisher Building tour took just under an hour, cost nothing, and was a great experience. The artistry and intricacy in every facet of the building were overwhelming, and the depth of knowledge and passion Ryan demonstrated in guiding us around Detroit’s Cathedral of Commerce made me eager to head to the Guardian Building for our Downtown Skyscraper tour.
Stay tuned to hear all of the awesome details on that very soon! And in the meantime, check out the Pure Detroit tour schedule to check out these fantastic tours for yourself!