Through a Crack In the Whaling Wall

Photos date from March 2004-2011; some are scanned from 35mm prints.

There was a time (shortly after the Free Press published their "Dirty Dozen" list) during which Detroit's 34-story Broderick Tower was famous for introducing the world to the idea of an abandoned skyscraper. It didn't take long for the word to spread across internetland that Detroit was home to not one, but a couple abandoned >30-story office towers, and soon it came to pass that Detroit was dubbed the "Urbex Capitol of the World," regardless of whether such a title was deserved--or in good taste--or not.

Nevertheless I had already made a few trips inside by the time the Broderick's internet fame had reached its zenith, so I have a lot of photos that show what the place looked like before it was totally vandalized (this was also before the great scrapping boom hit the city).


Yes, there have been other abandoned skyscrapers in the world, but I don't think any of them quite enjoyed the fame that Detroit's have, simply because they generally weren't as readily accessible as Detroit's. Not to mention Detroit didn't just have one, in those days it had like 20 vacant or abandoned buildings taller than six stories--and an internationally-known artist (Camilo José Vergara) promoting it as the "Skyscraper Graveyard" in his books. Also, not many of them were nearly as gorgeous as Detroit's collection of fancy 1920s towers.


Nowadays the Broderick has been renovated into apartments, and is filled to capacity with new residents, though I can't say I'm totally happy with the gut-job of a renovation they did to most of the building. I doubt that the financing would have worked out as well if they had lovingly restored all of the original surfaces however.

The Stott Building and the Book Tower subsequently took over the title as the tallest abandoned buildings in the city after the Book-Cadillac and Broderick were renovated.


There was something about the gaudiness of the Broderick's upper details that made it so enticing to try and climb, something magnetic about its grotesque state of ruin that drew us to it. And look at all those penthouse balconies to play on!


Approaching the Broderick Tower for the first time was a little intimidating; there didn't appear to be any way in, for love or money.


It took a minute but we soon realized that there were other ways...


The 7th floor window that lined up with the Madison Theater's roof next-door had been bricked up to keep people from roof-hopping into the Broderick, but a small hole was hammered through the blocks in about 2003, just big enough to wriggle through. To get to it you had to sneak into the back of the Madison Theater and climb the stairs to the roof, which had been capped over by a newer steel "roof" in 2000 (which had been part of a renovation that stalled at some point).

You then had to army-crawl under this roof for several yards and squeeze under one of the structural girders, which was a gap of about eight inches. After that you had to get on top of the steel roof and balance-beam your way across one of the exposed girders, past a huge chasm where the old concrete roof had collapsed, and to the cinder-blocked window with the hole in the "Whaling Wall", which itself was six feet off the ground:


This was like one of those "You Must Be This Tall to Ride" signs you see at amusement parks; if you weren't in good enough shape to climb all this, or skinny enough to fit under the girder, you weren't going to get to ride the Broderick. 

Ironically enough, this wasn't even the craziest method of getting into the Broderick. As the years went on, lazy people made the hole in the window bigger and bigger, and the owners soon got wise to this entrance, so other more hazardous means of ingress were called for. Probably the most death-defying was the "2x4 method," which required that one get on top of a dumpster in the alley, or the roof of the adjacent Chicken Shack in order to reach the bottom of the steel exterior fire escape ladder (seen below). I "borrowed" a scrap eight-foot piece of 2x4 lumber from the Madison Theater construction site and took it up there to use as a makeshift bridge from the fire escape platform to a kitchen vent sticking out the side of the Broderick near the service doors in the alley. Then it was a simple matter of balance-beaming across this 2x4 to stand on the filthy, greasy kitchen vent, where you could reach up about four feet to a window that was open. Mind you, these shenanigans all took place three stories above the alley, which on an average day was covered with shattered glass, rubble, dead rats, and hobo feces.

Another of my favorite methods of entry was the old 12-foot ladder that I found--and kept stashed--inside the nearby Wurlitzer Building. It was just tall enough for me to pull myself up onto the aforementioned kitchen vent.


Anyway, The 7th floor was always the starting point for the Broderick Tower; it was also where the fire stair changed over. You could go down to the lower floors, and we did, but since the bottom couple floors were still in use back then it wasn't the best idea, and you had to be in stealth-mode if you did.

This was the room that you popped out into after wriggling through the hole in the cinder-blocked window, which as you can see had some graffiti added by about 2006:


It included an admonition painted by the owners of the bar on the first floor to "PLEASE DON'T RUIN THE BRODERICK--SHOW RESPECT--NO MORE VANDALISM!" It was around that time that the flood gates had been opened and everyone wanted to go explore the big abandoned buildings that the media kept telling them were just sitting there in Detroit for anyone who happened to come along, so inevitably that's when the vandalism increased too.

In contrast, there was also this mysterious little placard whose origin I always wondered about, which somebody made by enlarging a photo from the United Artists Theater in its early stages of decay:


It was the first time I had ever heard the term "Demolished by Neglect" and it stuck with me ever since, because it was such a perfect way to describe what was going on with all these historic buildings--not just in Detroit but across the country. I was actually already a member of Preservation Wayne at the time, but since it seemed like they never did anything of merit besides collect my dues and send a yearly newsletter about some gala social function they held, the dusty old placard also sort of symbolized for me the impotence of the preservation movement in the city (such as it was back then). The placard seemed like something that might have been put together years ago for a protest or a display in order to raise awareness, but had just ended up relegated to one of the very same places that it was designed to raise awareness about, to collect dust.


There was a lot of stuff left behind in the Broderick to look through, but there was also a lot of emptiness and repetition too. After a year or two of exploring the place I got to know which floors were the good ones and which were the boring ones. A couple floors we found to be completely cleaned out that had apparently been interrupted in mid-renovation...fresh paint, drywall, carpet...some areas were clean enough to be lived in still.


Besides the main central stairwell, there was another fire escape stair in one corner of the tower that was kind of crazy because you could look up it and it looked like it just went on into infinity. Climbing this monster tower for the first time reminded me so much of that one scene in Ghostbusters...


For some reason there was also someone who drew the words "EATON TOWER" in pencil next to the door on almost every floor...it was hard to see, but it was there:


The Broderick was originally called the Eaton Tower, was built from 1926 to 1928, and was designed by well-known Detroit architect Louis Kamper, who also designed several other abandoned skyscrapers that I've explored, including the Book TowerHotel Park AvenueHotel EddystoneFine Arts Building, and Book-Cadillac Hotel (not to mention a library and a mansion or two). The AIA Guide to Detroit Architecture said that the Broderick was another example of Louis Kamper's inability to design a tall building that didn't look like a wedding cake; basically it has a gaudy Beaux Arts-style "hat" sitting atop a plain Chicago Classical-style shaft.

Like many other buildings downtown, some terra cotta ornamentation was stripped from the Broderick's roofline after 1958 when a bystander was killed by falling pieces of an old cornice on Woodward. You can see some of what the Broderick's old roofline used to look like on the old blueprints that I swiped rescued from the building and had preserved.


According to The History of Wayne County and the City of Detroit by Clarence M. Burton, the story of this building has its origins with Theodore H. Eaton, one of the more prominent Detroiters of the 19th century. I mention the Eatons in another post, about the Theodore H. Eaton & Son Co., which operated a chemical and dye wood storehouse in the Atwater District at 1450 Franklin. Theodore Horatio Eaton was a businessman who came from New York and made his fortune here in the chemical and dyestuffs industry beginning in 1838, according to their company history. His son T.H. Eaton Jr. was deeply involved in the founding of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral (among many other interests and involvements). In fact he was the one who had the privilege of breaking the first ground for its construction, according to Burton.

It was the grandson, Berrien Clark Eaton, who went on to finance and build the shimmering Eaton Tower. It seems strange in a way, since the Eatons aren't a well-known family name in Detroit history--not even Henry Ford or the Dodges have a skyscraper named after them, but the Eatons do. Berrien C. was born in 1893, and was the youngest of the family, according to Burton. The Broderick was the second-tallest building in the state at the time it was built, being just two stories behind the Book Tower, which was built the same year.


The site of the Eaton Tower at 10 Witherell Street was previously occupied by the Gladwin Building, built in the 1890s. The six-story Gladwin Building was mainly known as containing the photography studio of J.W. Hughes. Apparently Mr. Hughes had some clout as a photographer, as this was where "everyone of note went to have his picture taken," according to the book All Our Yesterdays, A Brief History of Detroit. In 1944, the Eaton Tower was sold to an insurance broker named David F. Broderick, and subsequently renamed the David Broderick Tower.

While talking to the owner of the Tavern on the Park (a bar that occupied the Broderick's first floor, and was its sole remaining tenant) I heard a couple good rumors about the construction of the Broderick: that it was built reusing some of the structural members of the Gladwin Building (which I find quite doubtful), and that it was planned to have six basement levels, with a subway station on the 5th level below ground. I find this one doubtful as well, seeing as for one thing the Broderick's blueprints that I have only show two basement levels, and for another thing the ill-fated plan to put a subway tunnel down Woodward Avenue did not come about until 1937 if I recall correctly. I suppose it's plausible that such plans could have been concocted after the building was completed.


According to the book Twentieth Century Retailing in Downtown Detroit, Meyer Jewelers opened their first downtown store in the Eaton Tower in 1936, before moving into the Rayl Building several doors down the street, 20 years later. Like the David Whitney Building, the Broderick was mainly tenanted by doctors, optometrists, and dentists by that time.


Starting in the 1960s the building went through a phase where it was trading hands every couple years. By 1976 the much-maligned amateur real estate investor Mike Higgins got ahold of it, and things took their predictable course by that point, with the tower finally closing by 1985.

The wedge-shaped hindquarters of the even longer-abandoned Metropolitan Building:


The huddled buildings of Merchants' Row, circa 2004:


Here is a view looking across more of the rooftops that line lower Woodward Avenue, many of which I have also been on:


This great view up Woodward shows the Fyfe Building (left), State Theater, Fox Theater, and the old Motown / Donovan Building (before it was leveled) all in a row:


Looking down on the Wurlitzer Building...notice the Downtown YMCA's foundation was still being dug (at right), and the old Opera House Parking Garage was still standing (at left):


Again, many of the suites in the Broderick Tower were occupied by dentists and dental laboratories. Almost incredibly, most of the equipment that was left behind in them dated to the period in which the building was constructed!


X-ray equipment was probably the most prevalent of the antique stuff, probably because it would have been the most expensive to replace with newer stuff:


One memorable thing about exploring the Broderick was that when it was a windy day, every door in the entire tower was opening and slamming very loudly...and they were heavy, solid wood, original-construction doors, so as we were walking up all we could hear was this constant din of booming doors. The windows in the tower were also still the old original sashes, and they were famous for making loud whistling and moaning sounds through the gaps between the panes. I wish I had an audio recording of this unsettling symphony to play along with these photos.


In his extremely popular 1999 book American Ruins, Camilo José Vergara recalled being shown around the empty tower by its caretaker, Jesse Willie Sr., who had been there in that capacity since the 1960s, according to Vergara. Willie said that in the old days he had a staff of nine men, but by the time of Vergara's visit he was the only one left, and 81 years of age. I can identify with Willie, because I too have been the sole caretaker of an old run-down historic site that everyone seemed to have forgotten about. The loneliness of being the only person taking care of a huge decaying place has a sublimely unique, exhilarating--yet trying--effect on one's psyche.

Vergara described Willie as being too old and feeble now to do anything about the increasing decay of the building, whose owner obviously didn't put enough money into maintaining it. The owner apparently still used it to entertain guests up in the penthouse and watch the yearly fireworks display however, who left beer bottles behind. "His back hurts, and he has trouble getting up the stairs to the roof," Vergara said of the old caretaker. "Picking up these bottles is, for him, an impossible task, so he just looks at them and gets angry at the people who dumped them."


"[Willie] is probably the last person to identify with this proud tower. He must feel left behind," Vergara continues, describing Willie as he shuffled around the place exclaiming that despite the current appearance there was really "nothing wrong with this building." Willie demonstrated that everything still worked, despite some fallen plaster and flaking paint, and even raced the manually-operated elevator to prove how well it still functioned.

Vergara got the impression though that Willie had given up trying to convince people how solid the Broderick still was, and imagined him carrying on an abstract dialogue with the old tower in his head, asking it, "What's wrong? Why don't they like us anymore?" Again, I can say that I fully empathize, because I have been there too. How did it come to this, that a person of such modest social standing can come to inherit the stewardship of an entire skyscraper unto himself alone?


Restaurants and bars intermittently occupied the part of the first floor at the corner of Woodward after this time. At some point probably in the late 1990s or early 2000s, this was again reopened as "The Tavern on the Park," a somewhat divey bar that remained open until about the time of the Super Bowl XL in 2006. I have many memories of this bar, albeit hazy ones, since we made friends with the owner / bartender in 2005, who would let us go up into the tower to explore. I think he did this for a few people that he trusted, seeing as it was better than having people try to break in, or get hurt trying.


Like many vacant downtown Detroit office buildings, the Broderick is a time capsule of late '70s to mid-'80s décor. But I will spare you the torture of having to look at yet another earth-toned piece of abstract geometrical office art on a wall behind where someone's desk used to be. You're welcome.


Just like the United Artists Building, the Broderick had its window graffiti removed in December of 2005, following the threatened removal of Robert Wyland's mural of the whales that June. The giant "Whaling Wall" mural had been ridiculed for decades as seeming nonsensically out of place in Detroit, but the recent book Art in Detroit Public Places attempts to defend the artistic merit of the Wyland whale mural, pretentiously implying that the Broderick was an "otherwise unremarkable skyscraper" before it was graced by the presence of the mural.


Back in August 2006, a massive banner ad for Jeep was hoisted into place on the side of the Broderick where it would be perfectly visible from Comerica Park (and neatly cover up the whales at the same time). Even though everybody knows that the most important part of professional sports is advertising, many criticized the idea of covering up art with ads, "the term 'art' being, admittedly, used in its vaguest way," Detroitblog chided. He summed it up pretty well:
Yes, the much-derided Wyland painting sucked and was a dumb choice for Detroit, but in the conflict between art and commerce, only the most crass among us could choose an ad over someone’s sincere expression.
To me, the "Whaling Wall" was nothing more than a barrier to be crossed, a portal to be entered like the wardrobe to Narnia. 


I remember when the work started on the banner; suddenly it seemed like the privacy of our secret hangout had been interrupted in a way that didn't bode well for being able to continue using it as our exclusive weekend clubhouse. Though it still seemed like a long way off, forces were definitely at work to reclaim the building for commerce, and it suddenly seemed foolish that we ever believed a 34-story building in the heart of a major downtown could remain abandoned for long. Work resumed on the renovation of the Madison Theater, and buzz about a downtown "resurgence," or even a Detroit "rebirth" was becoming more and more prevalent.


I think I recall hearing scuttlebutt in about 2005 that Higgins was looking to unload the Broderick, and had listed it briefly for a mere $200,000. An article from dailywealth.com gushed in 2007 that Detroit had "The Cheapest Skyscrapers In The World," and claimed that one could probably buy all three "Davids" (the David Broderick, David Stott, and David Whitney) for under $10 million. A December 2010 article in Crain's Detroit claimed that the renovation would cost $50 million.


The main hallway on each floor was "L"-shaped, and had a cut-out for a drinking fountain nook...


The footprint of the building was a very irregularly-shaped quadrilateral, so there was only so much that could be done with the floorplan.

I believe this room used to be a dance studio, with a raised platform off to the left...


...I cant remember what floors had what now; back then I used to know all that stuff.


There was a little bit of water damage to the building on the upper floors, but this was about the worst of it:


Here's another dentist's office, the one with the infamous collection of plaster mouth casts:


Basically there was a shelf full of boxes of plaster casts of peoples' upper and lower jaws, people who had horribly malformed palates. There was also a series of photos of each patient with their mouth held open, which often looked really bizarre. After the Broderick became a more popular spot, these boxes of messed-up teeth got strewn out across the entire room, making for a pretty grotesque scene.

In another room was a tub of vials containing odd extracts, such as "pork extract," and "wormwood extract." Knowing that it is used to brew absinthe, we kept that wormwood! Then we found stacks of government request forms (dated 1932) for dental narcotics such as opium-derivatives, and dilaudid (pure cocaine). There were plenty of pill bottles afoot, but no actual narcotics....none from 1932 anyway.


I remember there was also a room somewhere in the middle of the tower that was one of Mayor Coleman Young’s campaign offices from back in the 1980s, full of all kinds of political flyers and stickers.

There were four passenger elevators, and a service elevator hidden separately at the end of the hall:


Reaching the 31st floor signified the beginning of the penthouse levels, or those above the regular floors, where the fancy terra-cotta details began on the top of the tower and there were balconies on each floor. The balconies on 31 were my favorite, because they were lesser-known than those on the 33rd, and gave the best view of the tower's gaudy architectural details.


The 31st floor was also where WJLB / WMZK studios had their offices and sound booths. The entire floor was filled with a network of acoustic-tiled rooms for broadcasting and recording, all connected by very narrow hallways.

The Radical History Review reproduced an ad from October, 1961 that said WJLB had been broadcasting from the Broderick Tower's 31st floor since 1941 when the radio station was founded. The website michiguide.com says that WJLB started as an AM test station at 44.9MHz and didn't go to FM until 1945. Supposedly the station then became Michigan's second FM broadcasting station and catered to Detroit's African-American community. It did not take on its current frequency and call sign of 97.9 WJLB until 1948 however.


The c.1961 ad said that at that time WJLB boasted almost 90 weekly broadcast hours, and an audience 600,000 strong, "who listen in to WJLB because they look up to WJLB." This studio was also where Marth Jean "The Queen" started her "Buzz the Fuzz" program after the 1967 Riot. You may remember her and "Buzz the Fuzz" from a short scene in the cult blaxploitation movie Detroit 9000. During the '67 Riot, Martha Jean stayed on-air for 48 hours straight, urging folks to stay off the streets; she kept the show running for years, to foster better relations between the black community and the Detroit Police. Martha Jean was perhaps the only black female DJ in existence in her day, and she broadcasted from the Broderick Tower until just before it closed in the early 1980s.

After leaving the Broderick Tower, WJLB moved its studios to the Penobscot Building, where they stayed until recently moving to Farmington Hills. Their transmitter is in Highland Park.


Stepping out of any corner office window gave access to a balcony that wrapped around both sides, and allowed for a pretty impressive up-close view of the details:


There wasn't much room on these little "balconies," just enough space for me, a 40oz, and my fantasies of being Spiderman or Batman.


Yyyyyep...


This less-popular 31st-floor balcony was also my favorite hangout because it was on the opposite side of the building from the Trolley Plaza where some fun-governor lived, who was famous for taking telescopic photos of people on the Broderick from his apartment, which he would then post online as some sort of petty, public shaming, or in some attempt to help authorities capture the nefarious tourists of the Broderick and bring them to justice for their vile transgressions. Too bad, he never got a photo of me for his collection.


There was a time on 2008 when my Colorado buddies came out to visit and one of them couldn't quite make the climb to get in the window over the kitchen vent. I climbed up to the 22nd floor where I knew there was an eight-foot ladder, and then climbed all the way back down to bring it to him.

It was a sweltering summer's day and we hadn't really brought anything to drink...but I suddenly remembered that I once found an unopened Mike's Hard Raspberry left behind by some other explorers, which I subsequently stashed in a hole in the ceiling of a closet in the penthouse. I stuck my arm up into the hole and produced the semi-chilled beverage much to the amazement and applause of my Colorado friend. That was the best Mike's Hard that I've ever had (which isn't saying much since I never drink them).


Later that night some other friends made their way inside to watch the Tigers game, as Cavemonkey and I were making our way out to Pizza Papalis for dinner, where the game was on the TV. Neither of us knew or cared much about baseball, but as it would turn out, this was the night that Justin Verlander pitched the "no-hitter" that went into the annals of baseball history.

My baseball fan friends watching from the Broderick balcony with their little AM radio were elated to witness the event firsthand, and as Cavemonkey and I were eating pizza we could hear the incredible roar of the stadium all the way to Greektown and inside the restaurant, over the noise of all the cheering patrons inside.


And now for some gratuitous terra-cotta pr0n...


The black soot of 90 years of Detroit industry had streaked the art-deco lines of the building, and permeated the very cracks of the stone from which it was made, resulting in an effect that made it look in places almost like fine china:

 

As you can see I took more photos here than any other part of the building.


I think the 32nd floor contained the building's own management offices. This corner office always struck me as particularly swank with these fancy swing-open brass windows:


The 32nd was also the last floor that could be reached by the elevators. When the bannister in the darkened stairwell started to get fancy, we knew we had arrived at the last two floors:


The first thing you saw when popping out of the stairwell onto 33 was this tiny bar, with its mirror still intact (no graffiti on it yet), and down the hallway you can see out onto another of the balconies:


The 33rd floor was obviously set up by the building owner entirely as a private penthouse,

The photo wallpaper on the wall to the right was a spectacular aerial image of downtown Detroit, but over time the increasing number of visitors to the Broderick wrote on it and tore pieces off, until it was basically destroyed:


To the left in that shot you can see another wallpaper print of a luminous Broderick Tower when it was new...this image was almost completely destroyed by vandalism by the time the building's renovation began in 2010:


The bar itself was totally destroyed in a matter of two years--not by scrappers, but by "tourists." The next photo on the right shows what was a "secret" mini-staircase leading back down to the office on the 32nd floor that I mentioned five photos ago:


This room looked like it had once been set up as a bedroom; if I recall correctly there was a mattress set off to one side which was probably kept "in use" by certain other denizens of this tower:


Stepping out of the glass doors onto the small loggia, you could look to either side and view some more of the fancy terra-cotta scrolls on the side of the building:


Probably risked my life a little bit by leaning on that rusty old railing to get these shots...


Just imagine if this was the view from your bedroom...


...now just imagine if you could afford it. And now you understand why I was so addicted to the place.

I always wondered what these penthouse floors would look like if all the walls were knocked out and you could look out the windows in all directions. Here, one wall did collapse, and you can see out three windows at once:


On our first visit we were surprised to come around a corner and find a snazzy living room complete with a fake fireplace and two large windows overlooking downtown...all I could think of was that scene in Wayne's World where Garth says "This place is a fully functional babe lair--chicks are helpless against its powers..."


Sadly, it only took about a year or two for the place to get totally wrecked. And yes, people really did bust out the windows of the upper floors, apparently not caring where the broken glass ended up. I remember hearing about some lady who allegedly sued Mike Higgins around 2006 because she was wounded when large shards of glass came hurtling down from the Broderick and showered her as she walked on the sidewalk.


I never ran into him, but supposedly some 16yr-old kid from Livonia had run away from home and took up residence here in the Broderick penthouse for a summer, where he had his friends visiting to party all the time, and making a mess of the place. I remember seeing his groceries, candles, his little hibachi, and the massive collection of empty liquor bottles. As a matter of fact I think he was also the one responsible for tearing down the cinderblock wall to get into the building, which was a lot less discrete than the little mouse-hole everyone had previously been squeezing through. Naturally, the flood gates opened up after that, and the increased traffic in the building resulted in more vandalism.


The blueprints of this floor that I have seen show this area to have once been marked as a "ballroom," though I always found it pretty tough to imagine this tiny room as big enough to be called anything of that sort. I guessed the walls used to be configured differently and assumed that the ballroom had been done away with long ago in some bland 1950s renovation. Still, thinking about the many Louis Kamper-designed ballrooms in the Book-Cadillac Hotel, I wondered what kind of marvelous little ballroom might have been tucked into the penthouse of the Broderick back in the Roaring Twenties.

That is, until one day when I found that some vandal or scrapper had punched a hole through the wall across from the fireplace. Behind the wall was another wall--but it was curved, almost as if the room were once bigger, and oval shaped (just as shown on the blueprints). I could see that the wall was painted with a faded, old-timey scene of hunters on horseback running through the countryside or something to that effect...I could have sworn I had photos of this somewhere, but I can't find them anywhere. I thought about busting the rest of the wall down to see the whole painting, but then I realized it would probably only get covered in graffiti. I wonder if the developers found this hidden ballroom wall and whether they kept it or not.


I also wish I had a photo of the classy bathroom on this floor...it was a 1980s abomination of decor, as I recall. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all black tile and it had a black toilet. After a couple years I avoided it however, since the kid who was squatting up there had managed to fill up the commode with a pretty impressive mountain of his own feces (or whose-ever it was), which had attracted a swarm of flies. Lovely!

Anyway, the corner balconies of the 33rd floor were perhaps the highlight, with their relatively spacious patios and larger-than-life architectural appointments:


One simply stepped through a set of brass-framed glass French doors onto the balcony at any of the four corners of the building, to take in the view and the sweet city air. This floor was the most popular hangout spot in the entire building for this reason, aside from the roof itself.

The corners each had a giant terra-cotta sphere, sort of like a bed-knob, which some creative individual promptly spray-painted faces onto. That is the Detroit River and Belle Isle in the background:


(Yes, I shot black & white on occasion back then too. Artsy!)


From these corner balconies you could look down to the balconies on the 31st floor:


The ubiquitous rooftrees were not just a phenomenon of the Fort Shelby Hotel or Lafayette Building--the Broderick had a few Ents up in its Isengard as well:


Not only were there the four corner balconies on this floor, but each of the giant arched windows of the Broderick's crown also had a small spot underneath them that was big enough to go out and stand on:


So if you're counting, that's a total of 11 separate balconies on the 33rd floor alone.


Even though it didn't have any fancy balconies to chill out on, the 34th floor was still one of my favorite hangouts in the tower, because of the giant arched windows. Arches rule.


It was also on the 34th floor that the old transmitting equipment for the WJLB signal still sat, covered in dust and cobwebs like Dr. Frankenstein's lab. I never got a decent picture of it because the room was pretty cramped.


In the elevator motor room, there was a little tiny fire escape that you could step out onto that gave another rare up-close view of an art-deco detail:




Anybody who's ever been to the Broderick Tower remembers the joy of first finding this winding little staircase in the equipment penthouse, and knowing that your journey was finally at an end...


...because it led up onto the roof!

On our first visit, we were absolutely blown away by the endless vista that presented itself to us. Not only could we see the entirety of Lake St. Clair, but we could see the white top of the Pontiac Silverdome, the cooling towers of Fermi II out in Monroe, the entire eastern arc of Lake Erie, and Ohio beyond it. That’s a line of sight of about 42 miles!


Hotel Madison-Lenox and Hotel Milner, with the old Bates Garage at lower right:


The Book Tower was still occupied when the Broderick was abandoned, and right about the time the Broderick was renovated, the Book Tower became abandoned:


In this view of Capitol Park, the Book-Cadillac Hotel is still awaiting renovation, the Peoples' Outfitting, Lafayette Building, and old Free Press Building are still standing, and the Peter Smith & Sons Building was still partially occupied:


In fact, I have explored at least nine of the buildings visible in that photo.

Across Grand Circus Park, the Kales Building was still under renovation, with a still-intact Fine Arts Building to the right of it:


A closer look shows that they were in the process of building the tunnel from the Kales Building to the Grand Circus underground garage:


The David Whitney BuildingStatler Hotel, and United Artists Building all vacant, all in a row:


This photo was apparently taken before Cheli's Chili had opened in the 47 E. Adams Avenue building:


Old Tiger Stadium is still seen in this shot:


A look down from the roof, over the massive arched windows on the Witherell side of the tower:


This view from shows the corner balconies on both the 31st and 33rd floors:


Naturally, after a year or so of seeing the Broderick from the 7th floor up, we got curious about the scary bottom levels we had been afraid to try before, since as we all know curious types of people just can't leave well enough alone.


It wasn't long before complacence led to loosened inhibitions regarding our desires to finally see the lobby of the magnificent Broderick Tower. This began tentatively at first, where one night in early 2005 we accidentally stumbled into an after-hours rave, above the Tavern on the Park.

We were looking around the 3rd floor for the proper stairway, hearing booming techno music coming from somewhere below us—we assumed it was from the bar itself. We opened a random door hoping to find a discrete way to the lobby—and suddenly the music became deafening, there were people everywhere holding drinks and partying, and crazy disco lights and cigarette smoke flooded into the debris-choked corridor we were standing in! Chisel slammed it shut again, totally stunned.

We had stumbled upon the secret wardrobe portal that led from Narnia to @#$%ing City Club! We looked at each other and slowly cracked it open again to see if it was real. It took our brains a minute to figure out how to react to this sudden change of environment...we were dressed like hoodlums, covered in smudges of dirt and plaster dust, carrying maglites, backpacks, and cameras, staring like a couple of idiots. We had already been spotted by one couple of party-goers, so the only choice was to act like we totally belonged here, and join in the festivities while hoping that no bouncers saw us.


We mingled our way downstairs past tables full of pills, and people doing meth, to suddenly find ourselves in the fabulous (but narrow) lobby of the Broderick, which we were surprised to find out had been commandeered as more bar space. Our solution to this sudden unexpected development was to nonchalantly sit down at one of the empty bar tables and wait for a server to come ask us what we wanted to drink.

Sometimes, the direct approach is the best approach, and this was a shining example of that. One does not easily forget the first time they snuck into an abandoned 34-story building, nor the first time they used one to sneak into an active bar within said building without paying cover. Obviously I couldn't shoot any photos that night because we hid our cameras to avoid looking suspicious; these shots were from a later date.


When the round of beers came to our table instead of handcuff-twirling police officers, the feeling of irrepressible hilarity at the unlikeliness of this stunt was pretty much overwhelming. By the second round the waitress seemed like she had figured out what was going on (thanks partly to the insufficiently brushed-off smudges of plaster dust on our clothing), but we had already won her over with small talk, so she didn't seem particularly inclined to oust us, just so long as a healthy tip was forthcoming.


After that incident we were somehow not cured of our morbid curiosity, and attempted another alcohol-fueled mission with our friend Devnull from Indiana, to see if we could get to the rave. We were successful, but it was only 11pm and the party hadn't started yet. We were creeping through the 3rd floor, freaked-out that there was no booming techno, or people milling around taking drugs. It was like they had all been teleported back to their home dimension.

The colored lights were still on though, and so we helped ourselves to a nice thorough look about the place using tip-toes and whispers in case someone came upstairs. We found some crazy stuff, like you'd see on an episode of Dragnet or something. The room with the DJ booth had a stage and runway, and on the stage was a velvet "fainting couch" almost as if they had live sex shows or something. The room was littered with the depraved leavings of drug use and kink...cups on tables still had booze left in them, strange artwork was hung about, and the DJ equipment was still sitting there too, plugged in. 

Down the hallway was another room with some weird geometric designs on the walls, and all kinds of bizarre furniture. There also were random, freshly discarded clothing articles here and there. Off to the side was a pair of tiny rooms, each with only a chair inside. One was lit with red light, the other was lit with blue light, and had a painting of a strange person's face hung on the wall.


There was a nerve-jangling moment of sharp surprise when two big dudes suddenly walked into the room to finish setting up the sound system as we were snooping around their equipment. Our eyes met for a split second beforewith neither party speaking a wordthe two lunged toward us and we began scrambling away at top speed, back up the barricaded stairway we had pushed our way through only moments earlier, up to the 7th floor, to jump out onto the roof of the Madison and begin the grueling climb back down to earth before the managers could figure out what was going on.


Shortly after that debacle we made friends with Gabe, the proprietor of the Tavern on the Park, which heralded the beginning of our days of sanctioned access to the Broderick Tower, where we would just walk into the bar at will, order a beer from Gabe, and go right up the stairs to spend a few hours poking around our favorite derelict skyscraper. In fact I think we may have helped him try to seal the place up once or twice. We were not the only group who had this privileged access, either.


There was something special about haunting the Broderick Tower in the nighttime...


...soaking-in the exquisite influence of the sublime architectural details around you, gazing in all directions at once, I see the most vital arteries of the city—Gratiot, Woodward, Michigan, Lodge, Grand River—glittering interstices all flowing outward into the dark, unknown reaches of the Known World from a grand convergence at the foot of this mighty monolith, as if it were the axis mundi itself.

Granted, that is a very "Bostonian" attitude, so to speak, but you really get the feeling like you have your finger on the very pulse of the region...it was truly a rarefied experience enjoyed by few.


And Detroit really is laid out in a beautifully aesthetic way--but you just don't really ever get to see it like this...the beauty of its cryptic geometry only truly reveals itself from above.

Not to mention the Broderick stands at the foot of Grand Circus Park—the oldest unaltered site in the entire city, and the point of origin from which the new city was platted after its total destruction in the Great Fire of 1805. Looking down from the roof to Woodward Avenue, you can see this point (in the upper right corner), where an obelisk has been erected to mark it:


The cataclysm of the Great Fire was exactly 200 years before I shot these photos.










When I was there late one night in 2005 with my brother and another comrade, we happened upon a room on the 16th floor that contained a pile of blueprints. My friend pulled out a sheet marked "1946, New Service Building, Maybury Sanatorium" and handed it to me. There was also a shelf full of pigeon holes for blueprints. We sat down and went through all of them, carefully unrolling each one to see if there was anything important. I gasped as I quickly realized that these blueprints went to the Broderick Tower itself!

As it would turn out these were copies, not originals, but that didn't dissuade me from the idea of rescuing them from the clutches of "water and stupid men." I pulled out three mostly-intact elevations of the building and carefully bundled them up for the trip home. I would be lying if I said I wasn't at all nervous about walking down Woodward with an arm-load of blueprints at 2am, but I once again put my trust in the patent apathy of the average Detroiter.


With sudden panic we realized that our way back to the car took us directly into the path of a police officer who was standing guard on a corner, and I made another check to make sure I had sufficiently brushed all of the telltale white asbestos smudges off of my coat, and redoubled my efforts at looking completely nonchalant. Just when I thought the cop was about to ask us WTF we were doing, a huge fight broke out amongst the crowd of people that were standing on the same corner in front of the State Theater (Fillmore) bar.

The cop was obliged to shift her attention to that unexpected melee, and we slowed briefly to watch with morbid fascination as an all-out brawl erupted between about 15 people and five police, who began hosing everyone down with mace, literally inches from us as we innocently tiptoed away from the scene with our loot. It cost me a pretty penny (and my eyes were a little watery from getting second-hand maced), but I had the blueprints properly matted and framed.




Those arches...


No one photo can hope to accurately convey the feeling of being on the roof of the Broderick Tower, so I made this clockwise 360-degree panorama:

Click for full size
The Broderick was also a great place for watching the 4th of July fireworks...


...or the post Tigers game Friday fireworks...

Photo by a friend
...or a Kid Rock concert...

Photo by a friend
...or pretty much anything else you might want to look at in a 30-mile radius. I'll never forget one summer night where we were up on the roof watching a Tigers game and I noticed a strange, dark brown circle appear on the horizon over Canada, barely discernible from the rest of the black sky. A minute later I realized it was the full moon, slowly rising in the east to become rust-red and huge behind the glittering towers of the RenCen.

During the Broderick Lofts open house, I decided to go back one last time to see what they had done with the place. It was basically all generic modern living units, so that was boring, but I found the 34th floor to be pretty interesting:


They had torn down all the walls in preparation for turning this into some million-dollar condos, and the result was a 360-degree view of all the huge arched windows...something that I had always wanted to see. Personally, I think it would have been a better idea to leave it all open and make the space into a lounge or restaurant open to the public.


And this is the spot where the graffitied mirror used to be, over the bar on the 33rd floor penthouse:


I miss those days of romping around the Broderick Tower, but I'm even more glad that the building has been saved.



References:
AIA Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric Hill & John Gallagher, p. 64
The History of Wayne County and the City of Detroit, by Clarence Burton, p. 674-681
All Our Yesterdays, A Brief History of Detroit, by Woodford & Woodford, p. 207 & 227
Twentieth Century Retailing in Downtown Detroit, by Michael Hauser & Marianne Weldon, p. 112
Art in Detroit Public Places, by Dennis Alan Nawrocki, p. 16
Advertisement in Radical History Review, edited by Marjorie Murphy
"Up," May 18th, 2004, Detroitblog.org
Untitled post, June 20th, 2005, Detroitblog.org
"All Along the Watchtower," December 23rd, 2005, Detroitblog.org
Untitled post, August 1st, 2006, Detroitblog.org

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