Ficano's Folly, Pt. 3

February, 2011.

RETURN to part 2

Catching up to the group again, I found them gathered in the lobby of the next floor down, looking out the front windows. I was bummed to find out that the French doors to the front portico were locked as well:


The Lawyers’ Building is seen again on the right. Still vacant. Detroit Water Board Building on the right, here:


Detroit has one of the preeminent municipal water systems in the civilized world…but these days it is also in perhaps the sorriest condition of any in the civilized world.


Here was the next sumptuous board room, that of the County Supervisors, if I am not mistaken:


Look at all the rubbernecks, haha:


I’ve heard a couple times that one of the courtrooms in this building where famous American attorney Clarence Darrow defended a play charged with obscenity in the "Scopes Monkey Trail," but being that the official name of that trial is State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, I would tend to believe that it did not occur anywhere near here.

The book The Renaissance of the Wayne County Building, by Suzy Farbman and James P. Gallagher however asserts that the obscenity case against the play "The Captive" came before Wayne County Circuit Court on June 18, 1928, and was defended by Clarence Darrow (I have found other inaccuracies in that book, so take it with a grain of salt).


I have also heard that Darrow's landmark defense of black Detroiter Ossian Sweet took place here in 1925, but everything I have read says that it occurred in the Recorder's Court, which was on St. Antoine Street back then.


Jesus, look at the wood in here...


We continued on.


Here is one of the rooms that I mentioned as having a coffered ceiling left painted white:


I slunk through a darkened corridor into this room:


We went down more stairs:


Here’s one of those Tiffany windows again:






Not sure what this is all about:




One thing that struck me was that the place was scrubbed and spit polished so clean, that it was like a corpse being readied for a funeral…


County Auditor's office:


Wow, the county Registrar--this was where the deed to my house was issued, back 90 years ago:


Ahhh, and now the grand lobby:








The floor tiles used in the floors throughout the building are not the thin, delicate little pieces you usually see--they are all cubes of about ¾-inch thick! And that is why the mosaic floors here are so resilient and remain in such good condition.


Granted, during restoration some high-traffic areas needed to be taken apart and redone, but this was aided in large part by virtue of the fact that they fortuitously discovered some dusty old barrels in the basement that hadn’t been touched in ages…which turned out to be full of extra stock tile pieces of the exact same type, left over from the original construction.


Here is the fabulous original entrance vestibule, now closed off (as you can see by the presence of unused café tables):


“LEX” of course is Latin, meaning “Law.”








Elevator lobby:


I’m thinking this is something like what Michigan Central Station must’ve looked like in its healthier days…


Some interesting facts about Wayne County, per the Board of Auditors Report, 1930...

Wayne County had a population of 1,982,479 and was at that time “in better financial condition than any comparable fiscal unit in the United States…During the last twenty years, the assessed valuation of Wayne County has increased more than 1,000% from $409,817,738 in 1909 to $4,615,771,335 in 1929.” It had a margin of solvency (between its bond limit, and net indebtedness and contingent liabilities) of about +$119 million.


It continued, “Wayne County has approximately 592 miles of improved highways outside of its cities and incorporated villages…six county parks covering 275 acres of land.” It was also one of the only counties in America to own and operate its own abstract department.


This county was truly an incredible place in the heyday. “Detroit ranks fourth among American cities in population…The total value of products produced in metropolitan Detroit is greater than the combined value of those of Cleveland, Buffalo, Cincinnati, and Toledo. It is the fastest growing city in the United States.” Once upon a time, we were predicted to eclipse New York City in population and economic prowess.


The stairs here are shallow so women could more easily use them in the 1900s without lifting their long skirts, or showing any ankle while ascending, haha:


Another interesting fact is that Wayne County was also the first county in the world to establish its own institution for the rehabilitation of "feebleminded" citizens, which it did in 1919 by voter referendum. That institution, the Wayne County Training School at Northville, became the world's leading research center in its field and essentially the birthplace of modern special education, as well as making many other advances.


Look at how smoothly polished the marble is:




Inside the old County Clerk’s office:


The Drain Commissioner's office:


Here is the other Tiffany window:


We had obviously reached the ground floor again. But everywhere I looked, there was more eye-popping craziness to behold:




The old Wayne County Coroner’s office was still clearly marked with the original 1897 stenciling:


The coroner’s office got its own building at 400 East Lafayette in the 1920s, but before that time the Wayne County Morgue was housed in the basement of the Wayne County Building, somewhere below my feet. According to the same County Auditors Report quoted earlier, it was in the northwest corner of the basement, and “had a capacity for the storage of twenty bodies with an ammonia-brine cooling system.” I knew that there also used to be the infamous “Jail Tunnel” going from the basement of this building to the old Wayne County Jail…

CLICK for part four


References:
Wayne County Manual, 1926 and 1930.
How Detroit Became the Automotive Capital, by Robert Szudarek
The Renaissance of the Wayne County Building, by Suzy Farbman and James P. Gallagher
American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric Hill and John Gallagher
Buildings of Michigan, by Kathryn Bishop Eckert
The Sandstone Architecture of the Lake Superior Region, by Kathryn Bishop Eckert
The Buildings of Detroit, W. Hawkins Ferry

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