Detroit has some of the best examples of art deco architecture in the world. At least that’s what Rebecca Binno Savage, author, historian, preservationist and president of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society, says.
For those unfamiliar: Art deco architecture is characterized by buildings with prominent angles, splashes of color and the use of patterns on floors and walls. The genre, made popular by folks like Raymond Hood and William Van Alen, reached the height of its popularity in the 1920s and 1930s, and was originally considered a modernistic style because of its "progressive" look. It was strongly influenced by cubism, futurism and constructivism — one of the best-known examples of art deco structure is the Empire State Building. To many, it’s among of the most majestic architectural styles.
Savage is co-author of Art Deco in Detroit, a collection of photos and information on metro Detroit’s art deco buildings, ranging from downtown Detroit’s Guardian Building to abandoned structures off the beaten path.
The style is found throughout the city mainly because Detroit’s building boom coincided with the art deco period.
Although art deco architecture can be found almost anywhere in Detroit today, Savage says it’s greatly underappreciated.
"Because it’s not even 100 years old yet, art deco is still considered ‘new,’" she says. "People look at Victorian buildings and say that they’re preservation-worthy because they’re so old." But Savage says art deco deserves the same respect.
The inspiration for the book came about 12 years ago when members of the Detroit Area Art Deco Society began to survey all the art deco-style buildings in the area. Then the organization started to photograph them. Savage and crew then proceeded to dig up information on each building. There’ve been some problems.
"Buildings that were originally in the survey that inspired the book have since been torn down or turned into fast-food chains," she says. "It was very disappointing. But part of being a preservationist is realizing what we lost."
That’s not to say that Detroit’s art deco treasures are all gone.
"Sometimes you have to look above the ‘Liquor/Lotto’ sign to see it. But it’s there," she says.
You just need the eyes to see.
Rebecca Binno Savage will sign copies of Art Deco in Detroit from noon-2 p.m. on Friday, June 10, at Borders Express in the Renaissance Center, Tower 300, Level One; 313-259-8263.Melanie Seasons is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org