Renewing New Center: History of the New Center Buildings in Detroit

New Center Building Detroit
New Center Buildings, photo via Sean Doerr

The Nabisco Building happens to be right on the fringe of the New Center neighborhood. The name of the neighborhood dates back to about 1933, from an auto-centric newspaper that was in the area. With Detroit being synonymous with the auto industry, it is real cool to note that a few blocks away is where General Motors was headquartered for 73 years, and it is GM that made the area what it is today. When the GM Building (now Cadillac Place) was built in 1919, its location about 3 miles north of downtown Detroit was practically the edge of the city at that point. By capitalizing on this fact, as well as having great hope for the city, the executives at General Motors opted to construct their large building where the whole city block could be bought cheap – away from the expense of downtown real estate. Standing at 15 stories and designed by Detroit’s own Albert Kahn, it started a trend that pulled in the Fisher Brothers to construct their own elaborate tower, spawned General Motor’s design building (the Argonaut Building).

A year after the construction of the General Motors Building began, in 1920, a new brick building rose a short jog away. The brick and terra cotta clad National Biscuit Company built their Detroit factory. It may very well be that NaBisCo wanted to get in on a good real estate deal after seeing GM plant their flag. The location of the building today was a very intelligent choice as it sits right on Milwaukee Junction – a rail line that was completed in the 1890s. Getting flour would be no problem with adjacent rail line, which appears to be how the company got all their raw material – the cavernous basement with large cart for flour testifies to the capacity at which the rail line was used. Trains had their own spur of rail that went directly inside the building, covering the train and all of the raw flour.

Today the Nabisco Building stands like a castle with a freeway moat to its side, representing some of the many industries that Detroit once had, the southwest anchor to the New Center neighborhood, that built up overnight from a residential outskirt to skyscrapers, and industry. With renewed interest, companies are beginning to move and revitalize New Center. The State of Michigan utilizes the former GM Headquarters, the Fisher Building contains an active theater with many offices, and College for Creative Studies has invested a great sum into renovating the Argonaut Building into a new campus.

~ Sean

Sean is a huge supporter of Detroit. He runs an architecture site about Detroit (being rebuilt at He is also a freelance photographer, and enjoys visually documenting the progress of revitalization!

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