Historic Detroit

Dime Building

The Dime Building is one of Detroit’s oldest skyscrapers, having towered over Griswold Street for more than a century.

But why did they call it the Dime? Because it was built by a bank.

The Dime Savings Bank of Detroit was founded in 1884. The institution was backed by only $60,000. With so little money in its vaults, it set out to lure as many customers as it could. And it came up with a novel idea. Anyone could open up a savings account at this bank, and you could open one with as little as 10 cents. And that, the story goes, is where the bank got its name. This story led one newspaper to quip that the bank was “begun with capital a few cents short of a shoestring - and a belief in the power of a dime.”

The dime deposit idea turned out to be a profitable one and was maintained for a number of years, “and there are a great many Detroiters whose first bank accounts started with a dime in the Dime Savings Bank,” The Detroit News wrote in 1929.

Under the leadership of its first president, Sullivan M. Cutcheon, the bank would grow by leaps and dimes. Upon his death in April 1900, Cutcheon was succeeded as president by William Livingstone Jr. It would be Livingstone who would lead the bank to greatness - and greater heights.

The Dime Bank was originally located in the triangle made by Griswold Street, Michigan Avenue and Lafayette Boulevard. As it grew out of those confines, it relocated to the Hammond Building. But the Dime continued to expand, swallowing up the Marine Savings Bank of Detroit in 1905, the Union National Bank of Detroit a year later, and the Citizens Savings Bank of Detroit in 1909. With all those banks - and all those customers - under one roof, it was gonna need a bigger home.

The bank enlisted American architectural master Daniel H. Burnham to design a 23-story skyscraper. Burnham would deck the 323-foot Neoclassical beauty out in the white terra cotta that was a trademark of his Chicago School of architecture. Work started in 1910, and the building was ready to go by 1912. The building housed the bank’s vaults and tellers on the first floor and offices - both for the bank and other tenants - above that.

In October 1925, Livingstone died in his office in the Dime Building. He would be succeeded by his youngest son, Thomas Witherell Palmer Livingstone. T.W. Livingstone was one month shy of his 34th birthday when he took the helm, making him one of the youngest bank presidents in the country. And it would be under his watch that the Dime Savings Bank would disappear.

On April 16, 1929, the board of Dime Savings Bank agreed to merge with the Merchants National Bank. At the time, Dime Bank’s deposits totaled more than $63 million - the equivalent of more than $794 million today. That’s 7.94 billion dimes, by the way. The merger with Merchants created the Bank of Michigan, which had assets of nearly $100 million, $1.26 billion today.

With the Dime Savings Bank gone, the landmark that bore its name became known as simply “the Dime Building.”

The building underwent a renovation in 1948. For a short time, the Dime was known as the Bank of the Commonwealth Building. Once that bank moved out of the ground floor, however, it went back to being called the Dime.

In July 1964, Parsons Investment Co. of Detroit and Birmingham, Mich., bought the Dime and the Ford Building just down the street. The mortgage loan - for both purchasing and modernizing the buildings afterword - was reportedly about $8 million, about $59 million today.

In 2002, developer Waad Nadhir sunk $40 million into renovating the Dime into a Class A office building. It was noted at the time that the owners were respecting the building’s historical integrity. Despite the renovation, the tenants didn’t come. The building was hovering around 40% vacancy when Wells Fargo Bank seized the Dime through foreclosure in 2009.

In June 2011, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert added the Dime Building to his portfolio of downtown office buildings. Gilbert’s Rock Ventures LLC bought the Dime and its accompanying parking deck from Wells-Fargo Bank for about $15 million. On April 30, 2012, Chrysler Group LLC announced that the company would lease nearly 33,000 square feet and move its Great Lakes Business Center and some of its corporate functions into the Dime.

“The future of Chrysler Group and the City of Detroit are inextricably tied,” said Sergio Marchionne, chairman and CEO of Chrysler Group LLC. “In order to reflect this we want to go beyond spiritual or symbolic evidence of our faith in the City’s future by establishing a physical presence people can see and be proud of.”

Gilbert, who has been instrumental in bringing workers back to downtown Detroit, added: “It’s very exciting that a company with the legacy and brand of Chrysler is joining the many other companies opening shop in Detroit, as we together help build downtown into the energetic, job-producing, high-tech corridor it is quickly becoming. Chrysler has always been synonymous with Detroit, but today they can truly say they are ‘Imported from Detroit,’ as their presence makes them an important participant in the positive transformation of a great American city.”

While the news of Chrysler moving workers into Detroit was celebrated, some were puzzled that Gilbert decided to rename the building “the Chrysler House.” The skyscraper had been known as the Dime Building for nearly 100 years, and the automaker would have only about 70 employees in the building.

“There hasn’t been a Dime Bank branch in Detroit for 80 or 90 years,” he said. “I don’t know that you really need to have that name on this building.”

While true, of course, the landmark was still called the Dime Building for those 83 years after the name disappeared in the merger.

More on this building of Detroit coming soon.