1889 : Hammond Building Becomes Detroit’s First Skyscraper

February 3, 2023 all-day

On February 3, 1889, the ten-story Hammond Building became Detroit’s first skyscraper. Located at West Fort and Griswold Streets, the building was demolished in 1956 and replaced by the new headquarters for the National Bank of Detroit, which is now known as The Qube.

When the Hammond opened, “Detroit was astir with excitement over the completion of its first skyscraper,” William Hawkins Ferry wrote. To celebrate, tightrope walker Tommy Davenport was hired to walk across Fort Street, a dizzying 10 stories up.

“I remember when the Hammond Building was the eighth wonder of the world as a skyscraper and a tight-rope walker walked from the City Hall tower to the new Hammond Building. Our tonsils were sunburnt for days after,” Detroit News editor Malcolm W. Bingay wrote in 1935.

On Aug. 31, 1890, the Free Press reported that every window of the Hammond was illuminated, creating a “pillar of light” and a “splendid sight” for throngs of onlookers, both common Detroiters and visitors to that year’s Detroit International Exposition. “The 246 offices and the stores on the ground floor have been brightly lighted up with Edison incandescent lights and gas every night during the past week to give exposition visitors an opportunity of viewing the magnitude of the building after dark,” the Free Press wrote. The building was open during the day and evening to allow Expo visitors to climb to the top for “a splendid bird’s-eye view of the city.”

Detroiters “clamored for an opportunity to climb to the roof and look over the sprawling city,” the Free Press wrote in 1938. “Up-state communities, arranging for excursions to this metropolis, began to advertise the unprecedented opportunities for a bird’s-eye view of Detroit from the roof of the Hammond Building.” Such excitement, festivities and awe made the Hammond a beloved landmark to Detroiters for decades.

The Hammond’s height led to it becoming the headquarters of the local weather bureau. Captains of freighters headed up the Detroit River would look to the Hammond’s roof, where flags during the day and oil lanterns by night signaled storm conditions on the Great Lakes. The building’s main floor was used for stores and bank offices, and the rest was office space, which housed some of Detroit’s most influential movers and shakers, from the Joys to the Newberrys to the McMillans. The Detroit Tigers had an office in the Hammond, and fans would look up to its roof to see whether a white flag with a blue circle was flying: That was the signal that the Tigers were playing that day at Bennett Park, which was located on the site of Tiger Stadium before the beloved ballpark was constructed.


Michigan Historical Society Page (February 3 entry)

Dan Austin, Hammond Building, HistoricDetroit.org