Climbing the Ladder

Grimly screwing my courage into place, I asked my partner if he was really ready to do this, before making one last quick check of the scene outside. We were both filthy and suffering from exhaustion, but we couldn't see the police or the guard anywhere. Holding my car keys in my teeth, I grabbed the rope and fearlessly jumped out the window, two and a half stories above the street—

Wait a minute. Let's rewind.

In late 2011 when I heard the David Stott Building was finally giving up the ghost, I obviously began paying attention. Here, you can see workers moving the last tenant out of the building, and painting over their sign:

Depressing. Anyway, when renovations for the Sky Bar Lounge began, infiltration was a real possibility. But we didn't really bother ourselves too much to try it out. When the bar opened, we knew that if one merely went to the bar it was possible to sneak up the stairs to explore the entire building. Still, I was too lazy to put forth the effort. After all, I had already somewhat explored the building in 2004 when it was still semi-active, so I didn't make it a priority.

Note the presence of the Statler Hotel in this view from the 27th floor:

Anyway...according to the seminal Buildings of Detroit, A History, by W. Hawkins Ferry, the David Stott Building was designed by Donaldson & Meier and completed in 1929, representing the birth of the modern skyscraper as “a slim, evocative silhouette...freed from historical ornamentation,” in stark contrast to the nearby Book Tower which was built a mere two years earlier, and seemed to represent a step backwards.

In his The Guardian Building: Cathedral of Finance, James Tottis says that the Stott Building was also influenced by the recently completed Guardian Building nearby, especially in the application of tan-orange clay bricks as cladding on such a tall structure. Donaldson & Meier reportedly were involved on the Guardian project, and subsequently modeled some of the Stott's features based on their experience with it. The Stott would end up being the tallest structure that Donaldson & Meier ever designed, and according to Korom also marked the high point of their career. Unfortunately, due to the Depression it was also the last skyscraper that would be erected in Detroit until the 1950s.

The AIA Guide to Detroit Architecture asserts that “Few captured the ideal of Eliel Saarinen's landmark Chicago Tribune Tower proposal as well as this,” that the debut of the Stott elevated tall building design “to fine art.” Ferry quotes the March 4, 1928 Free Press as writing that when it was built, the Stott was “American in architecture,” and not “copied after the great buildings of any city, or country, or period.”

“At last,” Ferry declared, “the skyscraper had been crystallized into a generic type. Perhaps more than any man, it was Eliel Saarinen that had given it a definitive form.” Even still to this day one can look at the modern, monolithic-slab style of skyscrapers being erected and see the clean lines and vertical emphasis that buildings like the Stott pioneered. One can also see from Saarinen's drawing that his concept also influenced Albert Kahn when he designed the Fisher Building in Detroit's New Center.

Eliel Saarinen had emigrated from Finland to teach at University of Michigan in the 1920s. Among his students was the son of influential Detroit News publisher, George Gough Booth, who was also a leader in the Arts & Crafts Movement in Detroit. Shortly thereafter, Eliel devoted himself to the design of nearby Cranbrook Institute, one of the finest and most influential designs in architectural history. His son Eero Saarinen became the designer of the renowned GM Warren Tech Center, and the landmark St. Louis Arch.

Though Eliel's submission for the design of the Chicago Tribune Tower in 1922 only came in second place, it is now widely agreed that his was the superior entry, and the fact that it has since inspired so many other great buildings (such as the Stott) attests to this. Eliel Saarinen also designed many great landmarks in Finland, especially in the capitol of Helsinki. The Donaldson & Meier firm are also responsible for the following notable structures in Detroit: the Julius Melchers House, St. Aloysius Church and the adjacent Chancery Building, the Sacred Heart Seminary, People's State Savings Bank, and the St. Anthony Church and school on Gratiot.

The David Stott was the fourth-tallest structure in Detroit when it opened, and also features stone carving by Corrado Parducci. There are 37 total floors, and I count 14 different roofs or balconies of varying size, including the very top. The setbacks begin after the 23rd floor, with the terracotta of the parapets gradually becoming lighter in tone with each higher level. The tower's base is slabbed in dark, carnelian marble. According to Emporis there are three basements, and the building has a total height of 452.77 feet.

Joseph Korom in his The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940 ranks the Stott as no less important than the Penobscot or Fisher Buildings, suggesting that it "reflected the spirit of the age more successfully than the others." Though David Stott, Korom writes, died over ten years before the tower that would bear his name was to be constructed, he founded the David Stott Flour Mills in 1879, by which he became rather wealthy. He also controlled Moorehead Manufacturing Co. and Stott Realty, through the latter of which he held many downtown properties and would eventually come to have this office tower named in his memory. According to Capitol Park: Historic Heart of Detroit, by Jack Dempsey, Stott Realty took up residence on the 17th floor of their new self-titled building, though it fell almost immediately into financial distress with the Great Depression hitting mere months after completion. The seven Stott children ended up in Michigan Supreme Court to sort out who was responsible for the burden. The tower was sold to pay off the mortgage and stood mostly vacant through the 1930s.

Korom excitedly describes the effect of the Stott's appearance as "the ultimate vertical rise, a rise without one dissenting line, a thing of beauty." He also goes on to adeptly point out that the Stott's snazzy art-deco design may have not been inspired solely by Saarinen's Tribune Tower, that Donaldson & Meier may have in fact been influenced by concepts from German Expressionism. Looking at the motifs present in some of the terracotta details a little more closely now, there definitely seems to be a tip of the hat to some of the visual queues present in Fritz Lang's classic 1927 film, Metropolis.

When the Sky Bar opened, we agreed that maybe stopping for a drink wouldn't be such a bad idea. In fact, my partner (who I will begin referring to as "Chisel") seemed downright excited by the idea. However it wasn't long before we both realized that as evidenced by their website, the Sky Bar Lounge looked awful was decorated like you'd imagine the East Dearborn living room of a titty-bar owner to look, replete with poofy drapes, vases, and confusing furniture, it probably catered to the playas, or the guidos. There was no way we would fit in there without some sort of costume...I would have to put on my job interview/court/wedding/funeral clothes. Which at present consisted of: a spare pair of bran new work boots—not yet scuffed or faded (so as to look like dress shoes when covered by the pant-leg of my likewise as-yet-unworn shop pants), a black button-up shirt, and a clip-on tie (which I had actually stolen from a security guard uniform at Ypsilanti State Hospital). Chisel was coming straight from his business-casual job.

It occurred to me as he was en route that being a weeknight, the place was likely to be dead, and we would stick out like bent plywood. What if they had a dress-code? I fixed myself a drink and began priming the pump.

We arrived at precisely 10pm, perfect timing to dodge the annoying newly extended “cash-in-on-the-rich-hipster-crowd” parking meter hours, and went in to find that the place was indeed very swanky, and very empty. But it was not “playas and high rollas” swanky as I had feared, rather it was—at least tonight—populated by two or three hip Ferndale-looking kids. The bartender handed us thick, leather-bound drink menus, suggesting the ridiculous priceyness of the joint. Luckily the bartender mentioned that Long Islands were on special for $7 tonight, and Chisel instantly indicated that this was a good deal, so instead of looking at the menu I merely followed his lead, since I never order anything except beer at bars. It was already bad enough that the place was lit up like a disco, but when he brought our drinks out with glowing colored ice cubes in them I was supremely embarrassed, and actually glad that no one else was in here now to witness this (the Fashionable Ferndalites had just left).

Now as the only souls in the place, we were thus forced to chat with the young bartenders, a boyfriend and girlfriend couple who were recent transplants from rural Illinois or somewhere, full of "rah-rah, Detroit!" spirit, but little in the way of city smarts. We knew this would play in our favor.

We learned from them that there was indeed a dress code and mandatory coat-check on the weekends, which are their only busy days, other than ladies' night Wednesdays, which also get a little busy. I figured that would be our best bet for trying shenanigans. We also chatted them up about the owner and the renovation, and the plans for the actual "Sky" Bar on the 32nd floor, and the fire code and liquor licensing problems they were getting from the city bureaucracy before the construction on it could continue.

My associate excused himself to use the facilities, which were located in the equally swanky lower level bar, that according to the bartenders was usually hopping on the busier nights. No one was down there tonight obviously, and I knew just what Chisel was doing. Business as usual; I stayed behind sipping my drink, trying not to go blind. The lower level bar was reached by a set of stairs at the end of the bar we were sitting at, and was not hidden from anyone's view, especially that of our hosts.

In a minute Chisel had returned, and I pulled out my phone to text him, “Find anything good?” We continued BS'ing for a bit, and then I took my turn to use the bathroom. I noticed that there were a lot of nightvision security cameras in this joint...the likelihood however of anyone going back to watch the footage was nil unless a crime were to take place. The door to the main stairs could not have been any more obvious if it had a red carpet leading to it with a sign that said “Trespassers Only.” I pushed on it, and it swung freely. Neat.

Returning to my seat, I noticed that Chisel was now suddenly way ahead of me on his drink. He asked me what I thought. The bartenders were attending to some business in the kitchen and I asked him if he actually planned to make a move tonight. I was under the impression that this was to be a mere recon raid and that any move we made would be unavoidably obvious since we were the only ones in here. We had judiciously avoided paying by credit card, and we even lucked out in that they did not ID us to check if we were 21. But still, the only way to the stairs was in full sight of the staff. I wondered if my associate would use the outright “do you ever let people go upstairs?” routine, but so far I noticed he had carefully avoided going there. But I also noticed he was now almost done with his drink, having been slurping on it rapidly for several minutes...I was thinking “whoa man, cool it, I've still got half a Long Island here!” He stood up and with a very instructive look, said, “You ready?” At first I thought this meant “are you ready to go home,” but I quickly realized that wasn't the case. Suddenly I was like, “Shit—lemme finish my drink” and began uncomfortably guzzling, while half-standing up to go.

The bartenders were occupied at the moment in the kitchen, and I knew that he intended to make a break for the stairs. As soon as we got to the end of the bar however, the girl had come back out to wash some glasses or something, and asked if we wanted another round. My friend stopped to engage her in conversation again. I could tell he was annoyed by her sudden reappearance and I listened curiously as he rehashed some of the questions and conversation that he had gone over with the guy earlier. Initially this was to my confusion, but I perceived that he was leading up to something. Much respek to my man, who laid down the social engineering skills so smoothly that I didn't even fully realize until much later how he set it up. The conversation again was on the set up and decoration of the bars, and how cool they were (yeah right), and he complimented her on how good the place looked (yeah right), and that despite the fact that we had only come for just one drink tonight to "check the place out," we "really liked it" and would "definitely be making a return trip" sometime. He also asked if she minded whether we "wandered around and checked the place out a bit," motioning with his hand down the stairs to our left, and the girl cheerfully said "no not at all—go right ahead!" having no idea what Chisel was actually inserting between the lines. We wandered into the beautiful main lobby, heads craned upwards in mock interest.

The girl then immediately took her rack of glasses back into the kitchen and out of sight. Chisel and I filed swiftly from the lobby to the basement stairs, and out of sight so that she would assume we wandered back outside. This was it. I told Chisel to note the time—11:30pm. The bar closed at 2am, but we both agreed that we should not be gone that long.

Careful not to brush up against the decaying plaster walls in my all-black finery, we trudged upward at a very determined pace. Judging by my glimpses into the Stott's windows from the Peter Smith & Sons' Building across the street, I remembered there being a lot of detritus left behind. As we would soon learn this was no longer the case, as 95% of the building had been cleaned out to attract potential new tenants. Naturally we checked every doorknob we came across, but disturbingly, none would open. Some were merely locked and would not turn, but others were seemingly sealed by some means only accessible from the opposite side, as we could see the latches opening in the jamb.

We were getting not only quite irritated but also quite exhausted from all the locked doors we were finding. In fact I was getting out of breath and little dizzy, having already done my one mile jog for the day. Also, quaffing a Long Island and immediately engaging in strenuous activity might not be the most recommendable course of action. We were moving at such a pace because we knew we were working against the clock. I was still a little concerned as to how we were going to effect a clean escape, in case the staff were standing there when we emerged from the stairs again. Were we going to play it off and use the suave attack on them again, play dumb, or just make a break for it while giggling like schoolboys? Chisel's answer to this was a rather disconcertingly relaxed “Iono...does it really matter?” Okay, on to more important matters then. I guess his finesse was not without its caveats.

It was the 15th floor when we finally found a door that would open for us. I had hoped that it was not solely the roof that was accessible. I fully intended to seek out and sample all the setback balconies that I could. It only took us a few seconds to realize that 15 was pretty dull. There was not a stick of furniture in the place, and what's more, the windows were all screwed shut. It also had a nasty smell wafting around due to there being an open drain pipe somewhere. The lack of pigeon shit crunching underfoot or scummy gray feathers wafting dangerously close to one's mouth was a welcome comfort however.

We snapped a few celebratory pics through the grimy window glass before switching over to the secondary stairwell to continue our climb. This as it would turn out was a mistake, because yet again it seemed every door was sealed from the opposite side. We were getting f---ed here!

This time, we were trapped in the stairwell until we got to the 25th floor. Which infuriatingly turned out to be just as empty as the 15th. Well, at least it didn't look anymore like we would have to be too concerned about going over our time allotment, pfft.

We also found that now we could not go back into the main stairwell because the door was sealed from this side, and would have to stay in this crappy one. It turns out that whoever did the securing in this building went through and ran a bunch of nice beefy 3-inch self-tappers right through the steel jambs and into the fire doors to hold them closed.

We lucked out on the 30th floor thankfully, because I was starting to get very annoyed that I had not yet sat on a scenic balcony. When we stepped out from the stairwell, we instantly saw all around us for 360 degrees the terracotta crenellation through each window, appearing like the battlement of a castle, encircling the entire rim of the tower.

The mostly open space of this floor was also lit up in ghostly sodium-orange from the high powered floods that were accenting the classy upper details of this art-deco swank tower. I was in heaven. Chisel was quite pleased too.

We both began moving around in search of windows that would actually open, making exclamations of approval such as "hell yeah," and "'bout f---ing time," all the while. It didn't take long before we were standing outside in the brisk but unseasonably balmy winter air. It wasn't windy either.

It occurred to me that though it doesn't happen very often, when Chisel and I do team up, shit gets taken care of.

The intense direct light of the floods caused my camera to make the rest of the scene appear more dark than it was:

I would have taken a lot more pictures tonight, but my spare camera battery was mysteriously not charged.

We spent quite a bit of time soaking in the glory of one of the better views in the city, but soon pushed onward and upward, mainly due to our time constraint. I asked Chisel again what time it was, and he said it was about 12:20am.

There were a couple more locked doors, including the one to the 32nd floor, which by the view through the window we could see was where the half-constructed Sky Bar would be. The carpet was plush, and the light fixtures were gaudy. But we had to pass on it, and keep heading up to the next open one: 35. We were now higher than the Broderick.

As soon as we stepped out of the stairs we were greeted by a huge tarp suspended in midair in the darkness as some sort of construction site dust barrier or protection against water leakage. As my eyes adjusted I could tell that in the distorted amber glow of the exterior floodlights coming through the old windows, the walls and ceilings on this floor had been stripped down to the skeleton for remodeling or abatement. There was a lot of stray ducting laying in piles on this level, which by now we could tell was of significantly diminished size than lower floors, due to the building's setbacks.

In a way this is what had helped build the excitement...

One of the things that makes the act of climbing skyscrapers compelling (for those who are inclined to be excited by such things) is that you're going to a place that is somehow rarefied by its remoteness or aloofness from the plebeian world below, and the fact that as you ascend to each successively higher level or echelon, you find that it becomes more and more rarefied with each step; the floor plan becomes narrower and more pinnacle-like, the ornamentation becomes more prolific and of finer beauty, the view becomes more and more unobstructed as neighboring structures of lesser stature are left behind.

At least that is how it has always seemed to a lowly prole such as myself. It almost seems implicit by the image projected by this type of architecture that the tops of buildings of this scale were not designed for persons of low social standing; that these heavenly peaks were meant for the elite, the powerful, to rule over street-level folk such as us from their lofty penthouses and boardrooms.

Chisel and I were not only committing a statutory transgression by climbing the stairs without leave, in a sense we were also committing a class transgression by climbing a social ladder that was reserved for our "betters," and whose heights we had not yet earned the right to impinge upon from the American "trickle-down" system of economics.

Detroit, once upon an (albeit brief) time, typified the ability to break through or transcend these social laws and barriers however...the birth of the true middle class via automobile production and labor rights advances represented the first time in history that Anyman could grasp the social ladder if he willed, and pull himself up to a higher station within his lifetime or that of his son, without special permission from those above.

The verticality of the skyscraper jutting mightily to the heavens suggested not only physical ascent, and the rise of the new nation, but also the American ideal of bettering one's social standing, and improving the quality of life for all. The skyscraper age seemed to symbolize this collective ascent (if not literally then at least figuratively, at least for Anglo males), and the Stott—being the purest exemplar of Saarinen's archetype—was one of the first and purest symbols of that architectural movement.

Ironically, with the fall of that ideal the metaphor has been inverted—simply, there just weren't enough rich people left in Detroit anymore to occupy these regal spaces, and the rabble of the street roam about at will within the buildings of the Skyscraper Graveyard in the dead of night, treading upon crumbled plaster and shattered marble up to their heights, to behold a vista of faded eminence and fallen empire. Of course with the regentrification of the city in the works, that was all about to change.

One final stairway remained.

Chisel had been eager to complete the last leg of the journey and went on ahead as I shot a few pics out the windows of the 35th floor.

The lozenge-shaped crown accents seen in the next photo, to me, especially suggest the visual queues of the Metropolis comparison I mentioned earlier. In fact the film itself is a dystopian work where the capitalist and proletarian social castes are shown in stark contrast, even to the extent that the lowly laborers of the city are relegated to life under the ground while the soaring towers of glitz and glamor rise above for the enjoyment of the privileged.

The ascent to this echelon had been arduous. However the main stairwells that had taken me this far had come to their terminus and could take me no further...I would have to seek out and tackle the final climb on my own intuition, in darkness. I turned on my flashlight and forged upward to the last levels, which were all utility areas. Plenty of telecom and radio equipment hummed and blinked at me from the darkness, one of which Chisel later noted was a radio repeater for Checker Cab. I vaguely remembered there being a similar unit in the upper suites of the David Whitney Building.

We were now inside the small square penthouse that sits majestically atop the summit of the tower like a king's crown. No longer were there wide, well-lit marble stairs; here were only steep, utilitarian steel steps leading up through the darkness amongst giant water tanks, elevator hoist engines, and electrical slates—a rare sort of loophole at the very top of the capitalist construct where a few proletarians were able to exist above their masters. The tall, slender arched windows surrounding this top room provided a muted, yet very titillating view of the infinite, encircling city skyline radiating out all around us:

But they also reminded me of lancet windows in the belfry of a great cathedral, projecting an outward image of high design while obscuring their unrefined mechanical contents. I tried a longer, slightly light-painted exposure next:

Chisel was still here waiting, because he could not get the final hatch to open. I traded places with him on the tall ladder and tried my hand at it. The latch operated freely, but sure enough, the hatch itself would not lift open. I had to take a deep breath, grab the red manual handle and force with both arms upward against the groaning hinges like Atlas, hefting the entire globe into the firmament upon his shoulders.

I love doing this...if you have never popped the roof hatch on an active skyscraper before, you're missing out on something. As soon as the seal is broken, you can feel every molecule of heated air within the building suddenly migrate upwards like a chimney or an uncorked champagne bottle and spew into the heavens, giving you a feeling of near weightlessness for a split second as the unobstructed sky opens wide above you. Usually the hatch will want to explode open on its own, but this one was stubborn for some reason.

Stepping out topside, I saw the array of active cell equipment and microwave dishes spewing their “invisible airwaves crackling with life,” and decided I was safe from having my bits & pieces “crackled with death,” seeing as they were all aimed outward, and no one who has been up here so far has reported any ill effects on reproductive capabilities, such as nutsacks melted to their thighs.

The views down off of this spectacular mountain of terracotta were worth the hassle. I only wished I had more time to enjoy this at a relaxed pace. Which reminded me, “Chisel, what time is it?”

It was about 12:30am. We had to keep chugging along. I didn't get the best exposures or composition for a lot of my shots due to the rush, and the threat of my battery waning, but I am pretty happy with what I got. I also made the assumption that there would be return trips in the future to allow for better coverage.

I climbed the tallest aerial antenna that I could find, and braced my camera for these next four shots:

The Broderick Tower was newly lit up...

...while the Book Tower was newly darkened:

Towering head and shoulders above the Book-Cadillac:

On our way back down into the building, we took the opposite stairwell from the one that we had got trapped in for most of the way up, so as to hopefully explore some different floors on the way down. Here was a scene on the 34th floor, with more windows that were screwed shut:

We had pretty good luck getting onto floors from this stairwell “B,” at least down to the 25th. After that, everything was locked again, except the 15th. But again every floor we checked out was basically blank. We decided that since it was getting past 1am and we were both getting tired, and since our buzzes were fading, we should make our exit.

We came down to the bottom of this stair only to find that it was locked. We both looked at each other in disgust and disbelief...were we really going to have to go back up to the 15th floor to get in the other stairwell? Yes, we absolutely were. We were both already winded by this point, and I had a hellish case of cottonmouth. Nonetheless we began that sluggish trek back up 15 floors, sweating through our button-up shirts. Chisel tried to work on a few doors on the way up, but none would budge. Those f---ing screws really do the trick.

Reaching the 15th, we were horrified to learn that in fact the stairwell “A” had been screwed shut as well and was inaccessible from this floor! The mental notes I had committed to short-term memory of which doors and which stairs were okay to use was becoming muddled. I could have sworn we had just came through this door on our way up.

Feeling that things could get a little hairy in a minute, I chose to rip one of the “ALL TENANTS MUST VACATE THE PREMISES BY JUNE 10, 2010” notices off of a door and use it to scrawl notes on which floors were accessible from which stair. We had no other choice at this point other than to go up to the next open door in stair “B” and try again. I remembered that pretty much everything in “B” above 25 was open, so I jotted that and we began hiking again. Panting, and hardly moving with anything that could be referred to as a quickness, we reached the 25th again and went in.

Now this is where things begin to get a little fuzzy, so forgive me for the seeming cloudiness of the details from this point on, as both exhaustion and dehydration were beginning to set in. That Long Island can go f--- itself all the way back to New York.

I had a can of Stroh's in my pocket which I had not cracked yet due to the strength of the buzz I had caught at the bar, and contemplated using it now to wet my parched mouth, but I decided against this, since I needed all my wits to be as sharp as possible, and at the moment my head was swimming a bit. Predictably, the drinking fountains were mostly dead up here, sputtering forth with brown sludge at best.

If I am not mistaken, we did indeed get access to the “A” stair from 25, and began our descent, once again trying to be quiet as we neared the lower levels just in case the distant thunder of our heavy footsteps could be heard. I asked Chisel what time it was as we approached the final door. He replied, "1:30am." I remember being disappointed by the lateness of our return, but whatever. It also occurred to me that this definitely was not the same basement door that we had begun our adventure from, this was the one that led directly into the lobby. I wasn't too stoked about this, but again, whatever, I just want to go find some water. We listened for any activity, but could hear nothing. It didn't occur to me at the time, but the bar music was also missing. Chisel gently pushed the bar and eased it open a crack, but the expected sliver of light from the other side did not appear as expected. Chisel hissed angrily, “They f'n closed early! What the f---!”

The predictable range of reactions to this played out in my mind as the realization sank in, and I listened as Chisel continued, “And there's a motion sensor right above our heads. And it just started blinking.” He instantly slammed the door back shut again, as if that would somehow protect us from the shrieking of the alarms. “Okay, what are we gonna do now?” he asked over the deafening noise, a slight rising tone of concern in his voice. My initial thought was that we needed to just simply run right now to the doors, unlock them, and let ourselves out before anyone responded. Chisel told me to hold the self-locking stair door for him while he ran and checked to see if the outside doors would open.

I saw him struggle with one, then another, and finally the last one. He had opened revolving doors before, but these latches were keyed, meaning unless you have the key, you cannot open them from either side. He ran back, and I knew that he was being filmed perfectly by the expensive night vision cameras all over the lobby. This was not good in the least. He came back inside the stairs with me and asked what to do now.

Without any further idea of what we should do, we finally obeyed the instinct to retreat from the deafening alarm. About three flights up, we ran out of gas and sat on the steps gasping for breath, to once again try and think clearly about what we should do. Clearly we could not hang out in the lobby. I was already thinking back to the time we had tripped an alarm in the Michigan National Bank in Merchant's Row, and had to run our asses hard to avoid a pinch. In that case the only thing that occurred was a DPD scout car arrived to shine the unmolested building briefly with his spotter before moving on.

Both Chisel and I had on the tip of our tongues the fact that the Detroit Police had in the past year announced they would no longer respond to building alarms. We both knew that there was not a whole lot of worry that we would be apprehended if we stayed hidden upstairs. That alarm may ring all night and no one may respond, and if they did, they wouldn't search the whole building. But somehow, we had to get out—neither of us had any intention of hiding out in here until 4pm tomorrow when the bar reopened. The obvious solution was to find something heavy and hurl it through the largest pane of glass we could find, emerging onto the street like the Kool-Aid Man, but neither one of us wanted to cause any property damage for the owners to have to deal with, and more importantly, Chisel's face was now all over their security footage, probably mine as well.

The other option was to call the police ourselves and say we're trapped in the building, but we also realized that the DPD's legendary response time might leave us waiting until 4pm tomorrow anyway. We sat in silence for a few more seconds, now starting to catch our breath a little and agreed that we should regroup and give this more thought. At bare minimum we should at least act like we know what we're doing, and go find a window to monitor the situation outside instead of sitting in a blind stairwell.

We went back up to the first open floor—the 3rd—and each manned a window. I watched State Street while Chisel watched Griswold. At least the alarm wasn't so loud here, and I finally pulled out that can of Stroh's to wet my sandpaper-dry mouth, and perhaps gain a little energy. The streets were completely dead. Not a single sign of life was to be seen in any direction. It was just the same old ghost-ship city of Detroit—you can hear it running, and the lights were on, but no one was at the helm.

I began to relax a little more, and hoped that the alarm would shut off soon. After a few more minutes, it did. Still no sign of anything on the street. I pondered more logically at a means of escape. My first thought was to get in the other stairwell again and take it to the bottom, get it open somehow, and go through the kitchen to a fire exit. There has to be a fire exit that will open from inside...isn't that code? Sure it'll set off the alarm again, but at least we can skate. Chisel volunteered to go investigate this while I stayed up here on the 3rd to keep lookout. I also began to think of ways that we could perhaps call someone on the outside to assist, but the only thing I could figure on that was again, to bust a window out. It also occurred to me that the Stott Building was hemmed in on two of its four sides by other buildings, and that it did not have any alley access...Chisel was probably working in vain. A few minutes later I saw a Jeep with a light-bar round the corner at State and go left onto Griswold before busting a U-turn in front of the building and park on the sidewalk. Security.

I wasn't too concerned however, seeing as he would immediately see that the building remained secure on the exterior, and the alarm had timed-out already from inactivity. Therefore he probably would not call the cops, and probably didn't have keys himself, so hopefully would need to get the owner down here in order to gain access, but all the same I sent Chisel a warning text informing him that we had company. I could not see the Jeep from here without sticking my head out a window, but I could basically see its reflection in the polished marble of the building across the street. Now I saw that he was out of the vehicle and shining around with his flashlight. I had a strong hunch that the chances of the owner getting down here at this hour were low. The owner lived in Florida but a manager might be tasked with responding to this. A few minutes later, Chisel reappeared and we discussed our options further. We looked out the window at the guard and he was back in his Jeep, doing paperwork. I wonder how often alarms are set off like this by sewer rats wandering up from the depths to prowl. With the outside of the building secure, and the alarm already reset, there would be little reason for the owner to show up.

Chisel said that he could not get through the door at the bottom of his stairs, but he did get into the 2nd floor. I had an idea that we could perhaps climb out if we were on the 2nd story. Neither of us were too fond of it, but we had to consider it. At this point I also remembered that I had made a mental note earlier on our way up the building that there was a nice long thick yellow nylon rigging rope piled up on the floor in front of the door to “B” stairwell on the 14th floor. We both decided to start going back up a few floors to find things to perhaps get us out. On the 5th was a construction area with lots of tools and spare materials strewn about, so we wandered that for a bit trying to get some ideas. Chisel found an extension cord, but after my ordeal with climbing down a printer cord at the C.F. Smith Warehouse on Vinewood, I was not enthusiastic at all about using one again. I hesitantly brought up the idea of calling Sloop for help. Back when we were trying to get into the People's Outfitting Building for the first time, one of my ideas was to have Sloop bring his 22-foot extension ladder, but it turned out to be too short to reach the window I had picked out, so I wasn't sure that it would be long enough for this either. Plus I didn't want to have to drag Sloop out of bed on a work night and involve him in potentially disastrous shit, even though I knew he would do anything for his homies at the drop of a hat.

Still though, we had extracted ourselves via that exact method from the Book-Cadillac several years ago when we were cornered in there.

I looked out the window at my car directly across the street. So close, and yet so far. From this angle I couldn't tell however if the guard was still lurking around. Chisel agreed we should call Sloop, since at least he could help try to come up with some ideas. He answered, and was duly amused at our predicament, spending several seconds guffawing in disbelief. I told him I was on my way back up the building to locate a rope to climb out a second story window, which of course brought more well-deserved laughter. But by this point I was huffing and puffing again at about the 10th floor, too tired to make any witty retort. I was running on fumes, still sparingly sipping at the remaining Stroh's. I got to the door at the 14th and saw no rope through the window. I continued up. Maybe it was the 24th? I was pretty sure there was a 4 in there somewhere. I also thought about using a firehose as a rope but I didn't have my knife to cut it off with. In my rush I forgot that you can just unscrew them.

It was about this time that I lost the call due to bad signal. Nothing at the 24th floor either. I sat down, pissed off, realizing that I was climbing this goddamned building yet again, for probably no reason. On autopilot I continued upstairs trying every knob as I went. I didn't know what else to do. Coulda f'n swore that every door above 25 was open in this stairwell. Whatever.

I ended up back on the 35th floor again, wondering what the f--- good I was doing way the hell up here, but hoping that this under-construction area would yield some useful tools. Suddenly I realized I had seen another rope earlier in the communications suite one floor above. I trudged up there at snail pace. I found the rope. It was kinda ratty and frayed, and would need some knotting to hold it together if we were going to use it, but it looked plenty long enough. Then I looked directly next to me and saw a nice fire hose, neatly hung up on its hanger. I unfurled it, and grabbed both that and the nasty rope up in my arms, and painfully inched back down to where I hoped Chisel was still waiting. It was about 2:30am, judging by time stamps on my photos.

By the time I got back down to 10 or so, I could hear loud banging going on below. Chisel was obviously trying to force entry into another floor. I was so fatigued and dehydrated I was nearly shaking.

I stopped there and plopped down, on the 7th I think, and wearily told him to cool it because I had the ropes needed to get out. One of the ideas that popped in my head while he and I were wandering the 5th floor is that the old Colonial Department Store which abutted the Stott on its eastern side had likewise been vacant for many years, and in fact one could theoretically open an 8th floor window of the Stott and step onto the Colonial's roof, as this 2008 shot from the Kresge Building shows:

However one would have to assume that there is a way in through its roof, and that there is a way out of that building once you're in, and that it does not have an alarm itself. I always told myself that if I ever got in the Stott I would have to try to get into the Colonial, because so far I have never seen any chink in its armor at street level, but unfortunately tonight was not going to be my night to pioneer it.

I also told Chisel that Sloop was currently putting his ladder on his truck and getting ready to head down here. He seemed pleased by this and we headed to the second floor to take a closer look at the window situation. Sloop said that he had brought up Google Streetview on his laptop while he was talking to me, in order to try and better gauge the height of the windows on the 2nd floor and whether his ladder would reach.

When Chisel showed me the 2nd floor, I was amazed to see that we were in fact right behind the huge decorative arched portal above the building's main entryway. Chisel was still pretty uncertain about a rope descent, being that he is not much of a climber, but once we opened the panes of the big arched window and looked down, we agreed that this was a much safer looking alternative to the third floor. Sounding like we had a good consensus, I threaded one end of the hose around a huge column that contained one of the building's main supports, and secured it with a taut-line hitch so that I could adjust it out to allow the maximum amount of free slack on the hanging end. I then lowered it out the window to see if it would be long enough. I reeled it back in and Chisel instructed me to tie some handholds into it, which I did. Then I told him we should sit and take a breather for a few before we do this shit.

I plopped my now filthy, out of breath ass on the floor and let my heart rate go back down for several minutes. I was spent. But escape lay just a few minutes away. I called Sloop to let him know that Operation Shoestring was a go, and for him to hold back. He replied that he had just finished lashing his ladder to his truck and was making ready to come downtown. He stated that he would continue ahead until he heard back from us that we were in the clear.

The streets were totally bare again. You could hear a pin drop in Capitol Park. Both Chisel and I eyed the descent one more time and discussed how this would pan out, and I related my aforementioned episode with the printer cord, but it didn't really instill much confidence in him. Nonetheless I felt pretty comfortable that we had this shit owned.

We didn't have any gloves or anything, and I told him that in all likelihood he would not have the strength to climb hand over hand, and that we would be sliding the whole way down and getting rope burn, so the best bet would be to try and do it like a fire pole with our legs wrapped too. We both decided that this was an acceptable scenario.

I gave the far end of the hose one last tug for safety and made ready to take the plunge. Just then out of the corner of our eye we noticed a wooden 8ft. A-frame ladder on the other side of the room. I knew it was too short to use by itself, but I could tie it to the end of the hose and lower it down. Chisel seemed to like this idea better, so that's what I did. Now, we were finally ready for the moment of truth.

We both hauled it gingerly through the open window, opened it, and slowly lowered it to ground level. It didn't quite reach, and hovered several inches above the sidewalk, swaying back and forth. Brazenly unconcerned, I clenched my car keys in my teeth, and dropped out the window. I went as fast as I could, passing the huge bronze art-deco letters affixed to the polished marble spelling out “DAVID STOTT BUILDING,” and was able to stand on a marble ledge above the front doors, allowing me to reposition myself quickly for a more graceful transition onto the ladder's top. I've never climbed down a ladder that was swinging before, but it wasn't too bad.

Without pausing for even a second, I turned and strode confidently but swiftly out into the middle of Griswold Street, spitting my keys into my hand and getting the car started. A piece of litter stirred in the mild breeze half a block away, and it was the loudest sound to be heard in this deserted city. I turned just in time to see Chisel clambering down the ladder, and jumping to the pavement. He paused for a second in the middle of the street to take a photo of our handiwork with his phone:

My Buick roared to life and we pulled forward a few feet to instantly hook a right on Michigan Avenue westbound to the Lodge, and one more successful escape was in the books. I wonder what the management thought the next day when they found that shit hanging out of their window, or whether they finally locked the basement access to the upstairs? In any case I have not been back to find out...

Buildings of Detroit, A History, by W. Hawkins Ferry, p. 331-332
AIA Guide to Detroit Architecture, by Eric J. Hill & John Gallagher, p. 78
Detroit Architecture AIA Guide, Revised Edition (1971), by Katharine Mattingly Meyer & Martin C.P. McElroy
The American Skyscraper, 1850-1940: A Celebration of Height, by Joseph J. Korom, p. 374-375
Art Deco in Detroit, by Greg Kowalski and Rebecca Binno Savage
The Guardian Building: Cathedral of Finance, by James W. Tottis, p. 41-43
Capitol Park: Historic Heart of Detroit, by Jack Dempsey, p. 61-63
The Metropolis of Tomorrow, by Hugh Ferriss, p. 46

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