Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

First National Building

When the First National was completed in March 1922, the 25-story building was Detroit’s tallest skyscraper. Though it wouldn’t hold the title for long, it did help Detroiters get over the loss of the popular Hotel Pontchartrain, which was demolished to make way for this Albert Kahn design at Woodward Avenue and Cadillac Square.

“The ‘Pontch’ is gone and a structure of which all Detroit is proud looms in its place,” The Detroit Free Press wrote ahead of the opening.

The First National’s banking lobby was one of the five largest in the country, with 69 teller windows, and the building’s elevators were the zippiest in town. The two dozen other floors held a number of other tenants.

The bank traced its origins back to 1863, and First and Old Detroit National Bank grew to be one of the city’s larger financial institutions. Two months ahead of the opening of its new HQ, the bank shortened its name to simply First National Bank.

On July 12, 1927, ground was broken on a 25-story addition that included an 800-car parking garage, which opened April 10 of the following year.

Today, the 750,000-square-foot First National Building is the oldest structure ringing Campus Martius. The huge structure has an unusual "Z" shape, designed so that most offices would have natural light and ventilation.

It was bought in August 2011 by businessman Dan Gilbert, one of his earlier real estate acquisitions downtown, who embarked on a significant renovation and restoration effort worth over $110 million. The property’s main lobbies and central concourse were modernized with 15,000 square feet of new retail space. The ornate decor of the original ceiling was exposed and combined with modern design elements such as a video display wall, custom-designed LED lighting panels, and new interior marble wall features. On the outside of the building, four new canopies were installed to add to the decorative elements of the property’s original era.

One of the key tenants in the First National Building is Honigman LLP, one of the largest law firms in Michigan;

The thumbnail image shows the entire Z-shaped structure of the First National Building with the Vinton Building in the front.

More on this building coming soon.

Last updated 26/06/2023