"Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City" documents the artistry and symbolism during the city's golden age


Guardians of Detroit

A collection of guardian faces from various Detroit buildings.

Due to a fortunate confluence of water, geography and entrepreneurial vision, Detroit at the end of the 19th century was poised to experience unprecedented growth. Even before the Ford Motor Company was established in 1903, Detroit was a major industrial center and transportation hub. All this commercial activity and prosperity led to a building boom of incredible proportions at a time when the most popular architectural styles were Beaux Arts, Gothic Revival, Classical Revival, and Art Deco. Each of these styles typically required extensive ornamentation and because of this, Detroit became a treasure trove of architectural sculpture. 

Jeff Morrison’s new book for Wayne State University PressGuardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City, documents these incredible features in a city that began as a small frontier fort and quickly grew to become a major metropolis and industrial titan. Morrison will be at Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm for a presentation where he'll share more than 100 spectacular close-up pictures of architectural sculpture from throughout the city of Detroit. You will also learn about the symbolism behind the ornamentation and hear some of the untold stories of the artists, artisans, and architects involved in its creation, all drawn from the book. 

Below is a sneak peek of 10 photos from Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City:

Three Masonic Temple reliefs from the book Guardians of Detroit

The sun and the moon watch over all who enter the Scottish Rite Cathedral from inside the main entrance arch of the Masonic Temple.

Knights representing Judah Maccabee and his family from the book Guardians of Detroit

Figures representing Judah Maccabee, his father, and his brothers from either side of the main entrance of the Maccabees Building.

Gargoyle on Trinity Episcopal Church from the the book Guardians of Detroit

The stone gargoyles and grotesques on Trinity Episcopal Church show the effects of more than a century of exposure to air pollution, birds, and the harsh extremes of Michigan’s weather. Note that most of them appear to be leaving the church, showing that there is no room inside the house of God for demons and evil spirits.

Detroit of a brass grille on the Fisher Building from the book Guardians of Detroit

Details of the ornate brass grilles above the entrance of the Fisher Building, designed by Géza Maróti and executed by Anthony DiLorenzo & Company.

Portrait busts on the Book-Cadillac Hotel from the book Guardians of Detroit

Portrait busts from the keystones of the arches above the third-floor windows of the Book-Cadillac Hotel.

Owl on the Old Main from the book Guardians of Detroit

A wise owl welcomes students from a corner of the entrance pavilion at the Old Main (Detroit Central High School.)

Penobscot zodiac symbols from Guardians of Detroit

Panels from the unique Native American-themed zodiac inside the main-entrance arch at the Penobscot Building.

General Motors building from Guardians of Detroit

The main entrance of the General Motors Building on Grand Boulevard features a three-arch loggia with elaborately carved stone vaulting.

Sainte Anne church from Guardians of Detroit

One of the four unique faces that guard the north-east and northwest doors of Ste. Anne de Detroit Church. It was founded by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac a day or two after he landed here to establish a fur-trading outpost in 1701, making it one of the oldest continuously operating Catholic parishes in the United States. This is the parish’s eighth church building.

Detroit Police headquarters from Guardians of Detroit

Six of eight reliefs from the window spandrels between the fourth and fifth floors of the Detroit Police Headquarters, representing enlightenment, temptation, justice, captivity, and aggression.

Jeff Morrison talks "Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City" at Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location on Wednesday, March 27, at 7 pm. You can read the book's preface here.