RETURN to part 1
For the past decade or so this building has sat mostly vacant, while Wayne County’s offices were housed back with Detroit city offices again. The county seat moved into new City-County Building in 1955 (now the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, another 1950s glass & steel exercise in boredom), while this building was used to house the Friend of the Court and the Detroit Traffic Court. As time went on, the old building's condition continued to decline (read: its decor was too old-fashioned for the snooty politicians' palates, and it did not offer views of the river, so they grew tired of it and let it go). The building was saved from demolition allegedly only by the fact that it was estimated it would cost too much to tear down. Gee, you think that might be a reason to take better care of a place?
Today the county leases space in the Guardian Building, which is perhaps equally as beautiful as this old courthouse, but is still merely an office tower designed for big business. This move was met with much criticism and debate, especially since the Guardian needed another $39 million taxpayer-funded restoration before the politicians could move in! By the time the fiasco was completed with all the bickering and flip-flopping on how to carry out the move to the Guardian, the county could have bought back their old historic building that was purpose-built for them here at 600 Randolph. A brilliant waste of taxpayer money. Oh well, anybody want a loft? Great views, historic ambiance, close to the stadiums--cheap, cheap, cheap!
Anyway, enough of that--let's get to it. Inside the carriage entrance vestibule:
Shoeshine shop in the nook to the left:
The building is five stories tall, but used to be numbered according to the European system (Ground, 1st, 2nd, 3rd…), meaning that the second floor is actually the first floor, and the bottom floor is called “Ground” level. Again, this hearkens back to the ancient Romans and their systems of architecture and government. Today however the signs have been changed to reflect the American style of floor numbering, which I’m sure cost the taxpayer a pretty penny. But the room numbers stenciled on the ornate Arts & Crafts style transom-windows over all the offices retain their original numbering, so yeah…it was a ham-handed and pointless move anyway:
The grand staircase leading into the main lobby:
This was the only part of the building's restoration where they had to actually reconstruct parts of it using non-original materials, though you can hardly tell.
Uh, we’ll just see about that.
The doors to the left lead into the Wayne County Board of Commissioners chambers:
I wandered some more:
One of the stories the lady told us was of a murder that occurred here on the first floor of the county building. A judge shot four people he had been in a real estate venture with. They were all longtime acquaintances, and I suppose when this deal went sour for him (it was riskier than he was led to believe, and he lost big money on it), tensions arose between the men. One day he called for a truce and summoned them all into his chambers at the county building to discuss the matter. Once they were all seated, he produced a revolver from his desk, and shot all four in cold blood. According to the subsequent investigation, the judge then calmly went directly across the street to Jacoby’s, had a drink, and left. He then walked down to the river, shot himself, and was found washed up on Mud Island across from Ecorse the next morning.
I have since verified this tale in a 1940 article from the Detroit Free Press archives, which calls it "one of the strangest criminal cases in Detroit's history." The killer was Judge Robert E. Sage, and his victims were attorney Maurice Smilay, and promoters Ralph and Albert Nadell--Smilay survived his shot to the chest. The four men had planned to create a sports park at Livernois & Elmhurst for use by amateur athletes, but when the venture failed, Sage killed them and then himself. In Judge Sage's pocket was a key to Room 635 of the Strathmore Hotel, residence of Walter Priebe, a close friend from who the revolver was taken. Today the corner of Livernois & Elmhurst is a commercial strip, but there are two small city parks within a block of there: Knox Court Park, and Russell Woods Park.
Out the window here, you can see the corner of the base of the tower, rising up through the skylight:
CLICK for part three
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
"Wound Shows Sage Shot Self," Detroit Free Press, October 13, 1940, p. 1