This stately Second Empire structure was built by two of the pre-motor Motor City's most powerful and influential businessmen and politicians.
The building opened in 1879 on the southeast corner of Griswold and Congress, and was designed by architect Gordon W. Lloyd. Lloyd's choice of architectural style gave a bit of French flair to the French-founded city's downtown.
Before building this structure, Newberry & McMillan was located in the Moffat Block.
James McMillan, one of Detroit’s early powerbrokers during its industrial and economic surge. He was born May 12, 1838, in Hamilton, Ontario, moving to Detroit in 1855. He and Newberry were instrumental in starting the Michigan Car Co., a rail car manufacturer. Among his bigger accomplishments were serving as a Republican U.S. senator, serving from 1889 to 1902; co-founding the Union Trust Co., which built the city’s landmark Guardian Building and Union Trust Co. Building; serving as president of the Detroit Dry Dock Co., which built steamships; and running the Detroit & Cleveland Steam Navigation Co., an overnight passenger steamship company. With McMillan’s family at the helm, the D&C line would flourish and become the stuff of Detroit legend. The fleet had “the largest boats, the heaviest traffic, and, save for the Old Bay Line, the longest survival of any of the major lines,” George W. Hilton wrote in "The Night Boat," a chronicle of overnight steamers of the United States. He also served as president of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad and of the Detroit Board of Park Commissioners. He died Aug. 10, 1902, at age 64.
Gov. Aaron T. Bliss proclaimed that his death ended "the active and highly honorable career of one of the most eminent of Michigan's many illustrious public men. ... A self-made man, resolutely he climbed the ladder of success in both business and public life, at all times clear of head and keen of judgment, a man to be depended upon, a true friend, honest of purpose and fair in his dealings with all men."
John Stoughton Newberry is considered a founding father of Detroit industry, but also was successful in the lumber industry and politics. He was born Nov. 18, 1826, in Waterville, N.Y., and graduated from the University of Michigan in 1847. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him first provost marshal for Michigan, with the rank of captain of cavalry, in 1862. He left the post two years later in order to pursue his manufacturing empires. He founded the Michigan Car Co. in Detroit in 1862, as well as the Detroit Car Wheel Company. He was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1879, serving until 1881. He helped McMillan fund Grace Hospital’s construction. He had an elementary school in Detroit and a hall at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor named after him. Newberry had tapped Lloyd to design his luxurious 30-room mansion on East Jefferson in 1876. (The house was demolished in 1961.) He died in Detroit at age 60 on Jan. 2, 1887.
"In the death of John S. Newberry," the Detroit Free Press wrote the morning after his death, "Detroit loses a citizen who, by his sagacity, enterprise and faith in Detroit, did much to give the city the impetus which led to its rapid advance as a great manufacturing center. His name was always identified with business progress, and while his health permitted he ever took an active interest in public affairs. It is he and such men as he who build up great cities, utilizing the natural resources which lie at their doors, stimulating trade and industry, and conferring by their enterprise blessings upon thousands and tens of thousands."
On Nov. 4, 1928, the Detroit Free Press reported that William D. Traitel had negotiated a lease for the property, "on which there is at present one of Detroit's old landmarks, the Equity Building, which will be wrecked for an automobile parking ground."
The Dec. 16, 1928, Detroit News ran a classified ad listing 100,000 bricks "laid in soft mortar" from the building's demolition available for sale.
By 1957, there was a White Tower hamburger joint sharing the site with the parking lot. All of which was cleared with the rest of the block for One Woodward.