Old Wayne County Building

Detroit, Michigan

In the 1980s, when redevelopment for tax credits was at its height, the Old Wayne County Building was successfully repurposed as the County’s administrative center. The approach was to define zones of treatment: Restoration, Rehabilitation, and Tertiary (or “new construction”) so that the exterior envelope and key interior spaces and materials would receive the highest level of restoration treatment and the remainder of the building would be updated in a respectful and complimentary manner, meeting the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation. The partnership of owners received substantial tax credits and the project team was recognized with accolades and awards from across the country.

I designed the exterior and interior restoration treatments and provided oversight during construction to ensure that the work was completed as specified. The work entailed climbing up into the tower for inspections, as well as on scaffolding at the exterior stone and interior plaster cornices of the historic Beaux Arts-style office building. The original mahogany sashes were rehabilitated with new hardware and insulated glazing. Based on colored sketches I prepared, spaces that had never before been decoratively painted were given dramatic interior treatments that complemented the marble and scagliola columns and wainscoting. Plaster cornices were repaired, with fire suppression piping discreetly placed above moldings. Leaded art glass windows were fully restored off site and returned to their original openings. Spaces were reconfigured to maximize open offices at the perimeter, and to capture some of the wide corridors for office use. The historic assembly spaces were fully restored. What a surprise we had when, peaking above the dilapidated lay-in ceiling of the Fourth Floor Commissioners room, we found the entire decorative plaster ceilings and pendant light fixtures fully intact and in good condition! The joys of my work are tenfold, when this happens!

Returning in 2014, the building was reinspected for repairs needed at the tower, the roof parapets, the rest of the stone cladding, and masonry conditions at grade. Twenty-five-year-old modular offices were sadly in need of modernization, as were building systems, lighting, and restrooms. I was particularly happy to note that, except for needing a new coat of paint, the mahogany windows were in excellent condition. Pending decisions by new owners, the fate of the building remains uncertain.