Trapped in 1980
Located in Detroit, MI
Photo © 2007 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Wurlitzer Building History
Since the 1650s, the Wurlitzer family had been selling high quality instruments in Europe, but it wasn't until Rudolph Wurlitzer moved to Cincinnati and started his own company when business really began to boom in 1856. The Wurlitzer store in Detroit began as a small shop offering a line of pianos and similar instruments, but as the company and the city of Detroit grew in the 1920s, a large 14-story skyscraper was built in the Grand Circus Park district to house the business. With silent films becoming increasingly popular at the turn of the century, movie theaters demanded large organs to provide soundtracks to the movies. Wurlitzer organs were famed for their versatile sound making abilities and high wind pressures, which made the instrument capable of producing very loud music.
The heavily ornamented Renaissance Revival style building was opened to the public in December 1926, with several floors dedicated to listening studios and displaying instruments, including the now-famed pipe organs known as the The Mighty Wurlitzers, which were desired by theaters, homes, and churches. Starting in the 1930s, the Wurlitzer company expanded heavily in the jukebox and radio business. In 1940, the building was stripped of many of its ornamental features to become a slimmed-down "modern" and functional space for sales, display space, and repair shops. Piano salons on one floor exhibited many of the company's finest instruments; on another were radios and turntables in fake living room settings. A four-hundred seat theater was also contained inside the building for concerts and recitals.
Due to declining sales, Wurlitzer company returned to Germany and left their Detroit building sometime in the 1970s. Subsequent owners found it difficult to keep tenants in the building, and with only a 40% occupancy rate, it became impossible to pay the heating bills during the winter. The last tenants left in 1982, and despite various owners, the building was left to be open to vandalism and decay. In recent years, the building has literally been falling apart, releasing 50-pound slabs of Terra Cotta to fall onto neighboring buildings, and a collapsing brick wall, spilling debris into the back alley.
The building was sold to a New York City based developer in 2015 for $1.4 million, who plans to develop the skyscraper into a 97-room boutique hotel with restaurant, bar, and event space.