The Guardian Building

The Guardian Building (Union Trust Building) in downtown Detroit at night, 1929.
The Guardian Building
Courtesy of Walter P. Reuther Library, Wayne State University


The night lends a distinctly dramatic air to a city’s skyline, with massive hulks of skyscrapers, dotted with scintillating lights, chiseled against the sable sky. The bright starburst, shining like an otherworldly beacon, crowns what was then the Union Trust Building, which later became known as the Guardian Building.

Even the blazing red ball atop the Penobscot Building (right) dims in comparison. The elaborate Art Deco Union Trust edifice, designed by Wirt Rowland, earned the sobriquet “The Cathedral of Finance.” When it opened in the heart of downtown on Griswold in 1929, it was the city’s second-tallest building. The old 10-story Union Trust Building stood on the northeast corner of Griswold and Congress. The Union Trust Co. was founded in 1890 by Col. Frank Hecker, whose magnificent chateau-style home still stands today at Woodward and East Ferry. His business partners included Russell Alger, Dexter Ferry, C.H. Buhl, and Sen. James McMillan. During the booming ’20s, the Union Trust was the city’s largest bank and was known for assisting common laborers in buying homes. For security reasons — and to conserve energy — illuminations such as the Guardian’s were discouraged during World War II. The fear was that enemy planes could more easily bomb targets. Its starburst summit is long gone, but the tangerine-colored Guardian remains one of Detroit’s brightest architectural lights.