Kresge's & the Traver

Summer, 2007.

The Traver Building was another of those juicy little morsels sandwiched into the bookshelf-like appearance of lower Merchants' Row, and was made even more enticing by the fact that it was adorned with the faces of "green men" and little demons—but more importantly, it was one of the rapidly diminishing number of vacant buildings downtown that I had not yet been in.


The mysterious faces seemed to withhold the secrets of the building's interior wealth behind their tightly pursed stone lips, that only the cunningest of trespassers could hope to pry out. It was a short building hewn of rustic brown sandstone, wedged between the Kresge Building to the south, and the Fowler Building to the north:

When I took the above photo in 2004, that entire block of buildings was vacant.

The Traver also had the misfortune of sharing a mid-century "streamlining" with the Kresge Building, but enough of its good looks remained visible to arouse my interest:

The Traver was built in 1889, and the Kresge Building occupying the corner of State & Woodward dated to 1917. The R.H. Traver Co. Building had the good fortune of being designed by one of my favorite architects, Gordon W. Lloyd. Traver was a mens' clothing store originally, though I do not know who last occupied the building.

But it was the Kresge Building we would have to access first, if we hoped to get to the Traver's gilded insides, and (for once) we entered via the ground floor:

This building is actually called "S.S. Kresge Store #1," signifying the fact that it was the first building that was purpose-built for his company, if I understand correctly. As you have seen by now from my older posts, the Kresge presence downtown is quite the tangled web of locations and moves and expansions. The Kresge name remained emblazoned above this building's entrance almost all the way up until the building was vacated in 1994.

The fourth of July fireworks were coming up, and since we were both tired of our usual viewing spots (as well as fully aware they would be crowded by the growing new wave of kids who were now trooping into every abandoned building in town), we were on the lookout for a new spot to watch from that would be both low-key and offer a better than usual view of the show. This one seemed to fit the bill.

Unfortunately when we reached the roof of Kresge's, we found that our view of the fireworks would be—while extremely close to the river—almost entirely screened by a forest of taller skyscrapers. Oh well, we didn't have many other options, so we chose to risk it anyway.

We did not find much of note in the Kresge Building's middle floors besides this huge safe with Kresge's name on it, which also sported a fancy oil painting.  There was a gorgeous view up Woodward Avenue.

I bet that safe is where Sebastian Kresge meticulously kept all of the nickels and dimes that came through his store. Looks like somebody busted the door off though. So much for that heirloom.

On the roof there were some photo-worthy architectural accents to drool on:

In order to access the Traver Building, we had to go back down a few floors and jump out a window of the Kresge Building and onto its roof. The Stott Building loomed mightily over us:

Once in through the Traver's roof access, we decided to go straight down to the bottom floor and work our way back up, floor by floor.

The bottom two floors were completely modernized, but all the floors above that were gorgeously preserved in their original state, having at some point been closed to the public and relegated to storage space duty. The gnarly plaster ornamentation was a sight to behold.

Not only that, but the festive wedding cake frosting was also mind-bogglingly detailed in gold and silver leaf.

It was definitely one of the more impressive interiors we had ever come across—considering this was decor not isolated to just a main lobby, but was found on every floor.

The top floor was the old board room and had a huge fancy skylight, though its glass was sadly painted over to keep light from coming in. Conveniently, there was a scaffold in place underneath it, which we utilized to climb up in it and snap a few mediocre flash pictures of the original detail:

We were both just floored at how essentially unmolested this place still was—a rare escapee from the "1970s Bomb" that went off on the interior of every office building in the city, and the resulting aesthetic butchery that followed.

As my partner Detroitblog John put it, if you have spent any time exploring downtown you can tell something happened to Detroit around that time, because the interior of every single vacant skyscraper has been frozen in time with the same f@#$%ing ugly decor from that exact time period, as if a neutron bomb had gone off downtown, and every office worker suddenly vanished from their desk without a trace in about 1977.


Somehow, they managed to slather enough goldleaf paint on the upper floors of the Traver Building to shield it from the effects of that Disco-era radiation. This was as close as we would probably ever get to experiencing the 1890s without a real time machine.

The columns on each floor were slightly different, as were the style of windows.

In that shot above, John looks out over the vast empty hole where the massive Hudson's Department Store used to be.

When the day of the fireworks came, we returned to the Kresge Building's roof and took up our viewing spots as the sun went down.

By the way, yes, there was still power on in parts of the building:

We took up a spot on the Kresge Building's watertower, the highest point of the building:

There was a very nice view across to the Bricktown area from this roof:

Next to the mostly-darkened Stott Building sat another of the very few vacant buildings left downtown that I had never been in, Colonial's Department Store:

When the fireworks started, we realized that our view was indeed quite screened, narrowed down to a tiny sliver down Woodward; I guess I overestimated the height at which they would be exploding. We also noticed that two security guards for the parking garage across the street had opted to go to their roof as well, and were becoming aware of our presence on an obviously abandoned building:

I was not too concerned about this however, since for all they knew, we were the owners. I think they were a little bummed that their view was even more obstructed than ours.

Even though we were denied a full view of the show, we had a feeling that it was for the best that we remain in a low-key spot, which ended up paying off since we later found out that all the fools who had gone up in high profile buildings that night such as the Lafayette, or Metropolitan had been busted, or had to hide from cops.

A couple years ago you could go up in any building you wanted for the fireworks and be free from scrutiny by Johnny Law. In 2007, that was absolutely no longer the case since the number of kids swarming every abandoned building in this city doubled after 2005 (then quadrupled after 2008, and every year since).

While waiting for the crowds to clear out after the show, we wandered back into the Traver Building to get some night shots. The interiors of both buildings were pleasingly bathed in that sickly, yet uncannily warm sodium-arc light from the streetlamps. Screw LEDs:

After our last beers had been quaffed, we slipped stealthily back out onto the street without incident.

Lower Woodward Avenue Historic District Final Report