Progressive Architecture

Today’s post is another journey into the distant black and white past. What we have here is from a 1954 advertisement put out by the Pittsburgh Glass Company in an issue of Progressive Architecture. Pittsburgh Glass wanted the world to know of its role in the mutilation, er, modernization of the Book-Cadillac Hotel, which was then run by Sheraton.

The first image isn’t so bad. It shows the bedroom of the Presidential Suite. Both the image and the accompanying description show us that the trick of using mirrors to make a room appear larger had been discovered. For the detail-minded, we know that the room was decorated in forest green and “Carrara” glass. I’m not sure what “Carrara” glass was, but it must have been special to warrant specific mention. EDIT: As noted in the comments, Carrara glass is another name for Vitrolite.

The fancy names multiply with the description of the hotel’s new doors. The old and stuffy brass was tossed in the dumpster to make way for new “Herculite” doors featuring “Pittcomatic” hinges. These were claimed to be the first automatic doors, opening by “magic” at the slightest touch. But only the outer doors had this feature. inside the arcade people had to make due with “Tubelite” doors with “Pittco” metal. Gotta love these product names. Close examination suggest that this was the Shelby entrance, with the storefront displays of People’s Outfitting visible in the background.

Automatic doors featuring hinges with names that drive my computer’s spell check crazy were nothing compared to the marvel of the hotel’s new escalators. Not only did Pittsburgh Glass offer “Herculite” doors, but “Herculite” tempered glass as well. This back-lite glass gave the escalators a futuristic vibe. Still, I would prefer the former staircase and its two varieties of marble. I guess I am not progressive.

The escalators take us to the greatest crime of this renovation project, the lobby. While it may have been the pride of Boston architect Mary Morrison Kennedy, to my eyes it looks more like a bus station than a grand hotel. Gone were the dull marbles and the dust-catching plasterwork. The 1950s call for more exciting materials like more of the forest green “Carrara” structural glass and “Pittco” storefront metal. The ad claims that the results are an “interior that is tremendously appealing and distinctive.” Well, it is distinctive I guess.

For the record, I don’t dislike mid-century modern as a whole. And I am sure that these interiors looked better in color. But I do dislike this stuff when its creation destroyed a work of art. Remember, that “appealing” and “distinctive” lobby once looked like this. All that marble wasn’t covered up in this renovation, it was ripped out. It boggles the mind to think of the expense that went into decorating the Book-Cadillac in 1924 only to be tossed in a landfill a mere thirty years later. Granted, times change, but I think Detroit deserved to enjoy Kamper’s original interiors a little bit longer. On the bright side, Kamper’s beautiful exterior will continue to decorate the skyline for years to come.

8 comments to Progressive Architecture

  • To make matters worse, am I wrong or am I seeing corporate logos emblazoning the “progressive” wall in the second to the last image. Nothing says progress like art being subsumed by ads…

  • Phoebe

    Eh, it’s the Motor City that the car companies built. I think the logos are cool.

  • RonBeyer

    Automobile logos would be fitting as this is Detroit we’re talking about in its golden era.

  • Anonny

    “Carrara” Glass is another name for Vitrolite.

  • dk

    Unfortunately I’ve never been able to find a good clear photograph of the automobile logos.

    Thanks for the vitrolite information! It helps provide a clearer picture of how this space looked in real life.

  • Michael Pack

    DK off topic I know but, could you email me where you get the photos you use etc. I am in need of photos of old detroit architecture and am curious as to how to obtain them.


  • Tom Barnes

    I had never seen that particular view of the “modernized” lobby. Thank you for sharing it here David.

  • The columns and all of the granite and marble being used in the last photo are reminiscent of the kind of work we do. It shocks me that it was torn out and just scrapped.

    With the prices we pay for granite and marble these days I wonder if these stone products are being recycled nowadays? I’m going to have to look into that.

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