General Motors founder William C. Durant bought a bunch of land 3 miles outside downtown and told Albert Kahn to design him a home worthy of his car company.
This 15-story office complex at West Grand Boulevard and Second Avenue in New Center was the world’s second largest office building at the time. Ground was broken June 2, 1919, and it took four years to complete, though the first tenants started moving into completed sections in November 1920.
“Designing and planning the General Motors Building offered an opportunity that come to but few architects. It was a real privilege to have been commissioned with a problem at once so large and so interesting," Kahn recalled. "First of all, most office buildings are built on very costly land, with the result that it must be used with the greatest possible economy, irrespective of artistic results. The General Motors Building, located on less expensive land of ample area, made possible a plan which could not have been considered elsewhere."
Durant had planned to name the 1.3-million-square-foot behemoth after himself, but when he lost control of the automaker in 1921 over his spendthrift ways, he lost the naming rights, too. The building was named after the company instead.
The scale of the building, even now, is impressive: 15,000 tons of steel, 4 miles of corridors, 3,500 offices, 5,148 windows containing more than 7 acres of glass and 30 acres of floor space. If you laid its 8.8 million bricks end to end, they would stretch for 1,110 miles. It had two swimming pools, tennis and handball courts, 19 bowling alleys, nine auto showrooms and a four-story laboratory. As the tallest show in the neighborhood, it was said that on a clear day the 220-foot building could be seen from 20 miles away.
In addition to being GM's world headquarters, it hosted conventions in a 41,000-square foot expo hall.
GM moved out in 2000, after taking over the Renaissance Center downtown. Two years later, the building was renamed Cadillac Place after the city’s founder, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac. It now houses the State of Michigan’s Detroit offices.