Wirt C. Rowland

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Wirt C. Rowland
Born (1878-12-01)December 1, 1878
Clinton, Michigan
Died November 30, 1946(1946-11-30) (aged 67)
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Nationality American
Occupation Architect

George D. Mason Co.
Designer (1902-09)

Malcomson and Higginbotham
Associate (1912-15)

Albert Kahn Associates
Designer (1915-18)
Chief Designer (1918-22)

Smith Hinchman & Grylls
Chief Designer (1922-30)

O'Dell and Rowland Associate Architects 1931-38
Buildings Bankers Trust Co Building (1925)
Buhl Building (1925)
Penobscot Building (1928)
Guardian Building (1929)

Wirt Clinton Rowland (December 1, 1878 - November 30, 1946) was an American architect best known for his work in Detroit, Michigan.[1][2]


The Guardian Building in Detroit, with its lavish interior.

Rowland was born December 1, 1878 in Clinton, Michigan to Clinton Charles and Melissa Ruth Rowland.[3] In 1901, he landed a job as an office boy for the Detroit firm of Rogers and MacFarlane, quickly moving on to the prestigious George D. Mason firm. In 1909, he joined the office of Albert Kahn Associates, who had also apprenticed under Mason. In 1910, with the encouragement of both Mason and Kahn, Rowland attended the Harvard Graduate School of Design in Cambridge, for a year.[1]

The combination of Rowland's natural design talent, Harvard education, and Detroit's healthy economy positioned him to make major contributions to the city's architecture. Rowland is a case study in design attribution. In 1911, in the office of Kahn, he and Ernest Wilby are said have been primarily responsible for the Hill Auditorium at the University of Michigan. Through 1915 Rowland worked for the local firm of Malcomson & Higginbotham. He then returned to Kahn's office, contributing to the firm's classic projects, namely the Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan, the Detroit News Building, the First National Building(1922), and the General Motors Building (1922) renamed Cadillac Place.[1]

Rowland's career peaked as Head Designer (1922–1930) of Smith Hinchman & Grylls (SmithGroup). There, he designed a dozen major structures in downtown Detroit; among these, are a number of the city's most accomplished and evocative buildings. To a large extent, Rowland helped define Detroit's architectural genre.[1][4] Of the Guardian building Rowland said, We no longer live in a leisurely age, . . What we see we must see quickly in passing, and the impression must be immediate, strong, and complete. Color has this vital power.[5] For the Guardian Building, he had assembled a multitude of artisans, mosaicists, sculptors, painters, and tile manufacturers including Corrado Parducci, muralist Ezra Winter, and tile from the Rookwood and Pewabic pottery companies.[1] He thus recreated the architectural synthesis of a medieval cathedral. Hence, Rowland had reached a climax, when his Union Trust/Guardian Building became known as the Cathedral of Finance.[6]

The Guardian Building opened in 1929. With the onset of the Great Depression, most of the employees of Smith Hinchman & Grylls were let go, including Rowland. In January 1931, he joined in a partnership with his long-time friend, Augustus (Gus) O'Dell. The firm secured a small number of important commissions supplemented with reconstruction necessitated by the widening of Woodward Avenue, and by insurance re-valuations of existing buildings.

Late in life, he returned to a purer, Gothic idiom for his last few projects, notably preliminary sketches for the Kirk in the Hills. The church was built after the war to a design by George D. Mason & Co., Rowland having died in 1946. He was a member of the Chandler Park Partnership, a group of nineteen architects and engineers that designed Parkside housing project (1935–38) in Detroit.During World War II, the Guardian Building would serve as headquarters for war time production.[6]

Rowland Designed Structures[edit]

  • T. B. Rayl Company Building (1915) Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan; designed by Rowland for Baxter and O'Dell, featured an early use of colored terra-cotta[7]

Designs for George D. Mason, 1902 to 1909[edit]

Designs for Malcomson & Higginbotham, 1912 to 1915[edit]

Designs for Albert Kahn Associates, 1915 to 1922[edit]

Designs for Smith Hinchman & Grylls,[12] 1922 to 1930[edit]

Designs for O'Dell and Rowland, 1931 to 1938[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Tottis, James W. (2008). The Guardian Building: Cathedral of Finance. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-3385-3. 
  2. ^ Sharoff, Robert (2005). American City: Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3270-6. 
  3. ^ Historical Society of the Village of Clinton, Michigan. Wirt Rowland Architect (2004). Retrieved on June 17, 2012.
  4. ^ AIA Detroit Urban Priorities Committee, (January 10, 2006).Top 10 Detroit Interiors.Model D Media. Retrieved on July 28, 2008.
  5. ^ Mazzei, Rebecca (November 30, 2005).Still Standing. Metro Times. Retrieved on July 28, 2008.
  6. ^ a b Zacharias, Pat (March 10, 2001).Guardian Building has long been the crown jewel in the Detroit skyline. Michigan History, Detroit News. Retrieved on June 2, 2008.
  7. ^ Text of obituary, retrieved from membership file at American Institute of Architects Archive at [1].
  8. ^ The American Contractor, May 30, 1914, p. 62, col 3.
  9. ^ The American Contractor, May 2, 1914, p. 100, col 2.
  10. ^ Construction News, Dec. 5, 1914, p. 20, col 2.
  11. ^ a b c d e Letter from Wirt C. Rowland to The Harvard Architectural School Alumni Association, dated March 24, 1932. Available online at: Wirt Rowland - A Short Biography. Retrieved on June 17, 2012.
  12. ^ Smith, Hinchman & Grylls is now known as SmithGroupJJR
  13. ^ a b Original Smith, Hinchman & Grylls building plans for Denby and Pershing high schools.
  14. ^ Chicago Daily Tribune, June 4, 1933, p. E7.

References and further reading[edit]

  • Ferry, W. Hawkins (1968). The Buildings of Detroit: A History. Wayne State University Press.
  • Hill, Eric J. and John Gallagher (2002). AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3120-3. 
  • Holleman, Thomas, edited and compiled by Rebecca Binno Savage and Sharon Scott (2004). Wirt C. Rowland Exhibition Catalog. Wirt C. Rowland Exhibition Committee, Historical Society of Clinton, Michigan. 
  • Holleman, Thomas J. and James P Gallagher (1978). Smith, Hinchman & Grylls : 125 years of architecture and engineering, 1853-1978. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0814316158. 
  • Meyer, Katherine Mattingly and Martin C.P. McElroy with Introduction by W. Hawkins Ferry, Hon A.I.A. (1980). Detroit Architecture A.I.A. Guide Revised Edition. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-1651-4. 
  • Sharoff, Robert (2005). American City: Detroit Architecture. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-3270-6. 
  • Savage, Rebecca Binno and Greg Kowalski (2004). Art Deco in Detroit (Images of America). Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 0-7385-3228-2. 
  • Sobocinski, Melanie Grunow (2005). Detroit and Rome: building on the past. Regents of the University of Michigan. ISBN 0-933691-09-2. 
  • Tottis, James W. (2008). The Guardian Building: Cathedral of Finance. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8143-3385-3. 
  • Tutag, Nola Huse with Lucy Hamilton (1988). Discovering Stained Glass in Detroit. Wayne State University Press. ISBN 0-8143-1875-4. 

External links[edit]