Back in the 1990s I watched aerial silk acrobats fly through the air in the dank lobby of the David Whitney Building. One of the automakers secured the empty building for a press event during the North American International Auto Show. The acrobats where part of the entertainment. It was fun, but even with heaters it was cold and even with decorations hanging everywhere you could see the building was in dire shape.
What a difference today. After a $92 million renovation, the 19-story David Whitney Building is home to the Aloft “boutique” hotel, which has 136 rooms and 105 apartments starting at $1,000 a month. A new restaurant, the Grand Cirque Brasserie, will open this fall. It is historic preservation at its best.
The restoration work was one of five recognized May 6 when the 2015 Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation were presented in the 136-year-old Capitol Rotunda, one of Michigan’s most important historic buildings. The rotunda was named a National Historic Landmark in 1992 after extensive restoration that was widely honored for its authenticity.
There was much to do to restore the David Whitney Building to its former glory. When they first walked into the building in the winter of 2010 there was snow on the atrium floor from the holes in the roof. Today, that four-story lobby is its most stunning feature. The marble, mahogany and terracotta that make up the opulent grand rotunda and main lobby have been preserved.
“May is National Historic Preservation Month,” State Historic Preservation Officer Brian Conway said at the awards presentation. “Throughout the country people are recognizing how important historic buildings and archaeological sites are to our understanding of the past. Each year we take on the difficult task of recognizing only a handful of the many worthy preservation projects that occur in Michigan.”
The David Whitney Building was named for in honor of lumber baron and shipping magnate, David Whitney Jr., one of the men responsible for much of Detroit’s early commercial and industrial development, according to Historic Detroit.
The announcement of award winners was originally made in March. Other recipients of the 2015 Governor’s Awards for Historic Preservation were:
- The Woda Group, Hooker DeJong Architects & Engineers, and the City of Menominee for the rehabilitation of Lloyd’s Department Store, Menominee
- Michigan Department of Transportation, Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa & Chippewa Indians, Little River Band of Ottawa Indians, Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, Match-e-be-nash-she-wish Band of Pottawatomi Indians, Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi, Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan, and Commonwealth Cultural Resources Group, Inc. for the US-31/M-231 Holland to Grand Haven Archaeological Data Recoveries
- Friends of the Bohm Theatre, Albion Community Foundation, the Greater Albion Community, Mitchell and Mouat Architects and Gordon Martin Builder, Inc. for the rehabilitation of the Bohm Theatre, Albion
- Eyde Company, Quinn Evans Architects, and Granger Construction for the rehabilitation of the J. W. Knapp Company Building, Lansing