7 of Detroit’s architectural creatures watching ...

7 of Detroit’s architectural creatures watching you from above

If you take a minute to look skyward when you’re walking around Detroit, you may find someone peering back. Many of the city’s architectural marvels are graced with gargoyles, grotesques and other evocative carvings — way more than you’d expect.

You can get a closer look in Guardians of Detroit: Architectural Sculpture in the Motor City, a book released this month by Wayne State University Press. In it, historian and photographer Jeff Morrison has created an overwhelming compendium of the faces that adorn more than 150 buildings and structures. While Detroit’s architecture greats have gotten their due, Morrison has done an impressive job diving into construction history to identify the carvers and craftsmen that often toiled in obscurity (aka, the contract workers of yesteryear).

Morrison credits the wealth of architectural carvings in part to an intersection of urban growth and art history — in the 1920s, Detroit added more than 500,000 residents, leading to a flurry of development. That period was ripe for ornate flourishes on all those new buildings, thanks to popular architectural styles like Beaux-Arts, Gothic and Romanesque Revival, Art Moderne and Art Deco.

Many of those buildings are still standing, though others have been demolished. One building Morrison documented, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, was torn down since he started the project.

In hundreds and hundreds of photos, he’s captured the mischievous creatures that you wouldn’t always notice and might even need binoculars to see, like in the case of the Fisher Building, which has more than 150 carvings on its face. Which leaves us wondering: what might these ancient, all-seeing eyes have witnessed as Detroiters obliviously carry on about their business at street level? You might not notice them, but they’re watching you… and they know what you did.

These celestial beings aren’t mad, just disappointed that you walked your dog without picking up his poop.

Detroit Masonic Temple architectural carvings
The architectural carvings on the Masonic Temple, built in 1926, were created by Leo Friedlander, Bill Gehrke and Henry Steinman. Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

This lady is sick of hearing dudes catcall women from their cars.

Detroit architectural carvings
The Book-Cadillac Hotel downtown was finished in 1924, and the carvings were made by Thomas Tibble and Louis Seilaff. Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

This pelican can’t count how many times he’s seen someone park on the QLine track.

Pelican carving on Metropolitan United Methodist in Detroit
The Metropolitan United Methodist Church was built in 1926. The sculptor is unknown, but may have been prolific carver Corrado Parducci. Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

This wise owl saw you on SnapChat when you should have been in class. 

The Wayne State building Old Main, formerly Central High School, was built in the 1890s and features architectural carvings by Alfred F. Nygard. Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

This grotesque hopes he’ll never see another drunk reveler stumbling around and littering on Opening Day.

architectural carving in Detroit on St. John's Episcopal
St. John’s Episcopal Church was built in 1861, and sculptor Walter Schweikart created the carvings. Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

Neptune and his mustachioed fish weren’t fooled when you drank alcohol out of a water bottle at Belle Isle Beach. 

The sculptor of the carvings on the Detroit Yacht Club, built in 1923, is unknown. Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

This gargoyle rolls his eyes each time he catches a driver blowing through a red light.

Detroit architectural carving
Newspaper magnate James Scripps commissioned the Trinity Episcopal Church, now Spirit of Hope, and it was dedicated in 1892. Multiple sculptors carried out Scripps’ vision for a building that would “teem with animal and vegetable life in stone.” Credit: Jeff Morrison, courtesy Wayne State University Press.

Author Jeff Morrison will be talking about his work and signing books at the Detroit Public Library Main Branch this Saturday, March 30. He’s got several other appearances coming up around the metro area through June.

Kate Abbey-Lambertz is the co-founder and editorial director for Detour Media. She leads editorial strategy for the signature Detour Detroit newsletter, The Blend and special projects, while shaping Detour’s membership program, audience development initiatives and design. Kate was previously a national reporter at HuffPost, where she covered equitable cities and urban issues. She launched HuffPost’s Detroit vertical, serving as reporter and editor, and has reported on Detroit for a decade. Follow her on Twitter: @kabbeyl