JUMP TO PAGE   100  >  200  >  300  >  400  >  500  >  600

Rooftop Detroit: 1899

Detroit circa 1899. "Detroit N.E. from Chamber of Commerce." The elevated vantage affords an excellent view of at least a dozen of the city's celebrated "moonlight tower" carbon arc lamps -- giant electric fixtures 165 feet tall, each illuminating several blocks. 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.

Detroit circa 1899. "Detroit N.E. from Chamber of Commerce." The elevated vantage affords an excellent view of at least a dozen of the city's celebrated "moonlight tower" carbon arc lamps -- giant electric fixtures 165 feet tall, each illuminating several blocks. 8x10 inch glass negative. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

A Wider Woodward

Look closely at the churches on Woodward, especially the first one, then compare it to the current building. This was before Woodward north of Grand Circus Park was widened.

The fronts of the many buildings, including theaters and churches were moved backwards, often by removing a full structural bay from the building, the "sliding" the front wall back. The current church is clearly shorter than the original.

Blink and you'll miss it still stands, tall and skinny.

The building with the "Knabe Pianos" sign on top still stands - at the corner of Woodward and John R.

LED in our Moonlight

Austin, Texas' 17 locally treasured moontowers are the survivors from the city's 1894 purchase of 31 moon units from Detroit. The original carbon-arc lights were replaced by incandescent lamps in the 1920s, then by mercury vapor bulbs in the 30s. WWII brought on/off switches to enable our local constabulary heroes to cut the lights in the unlikely event of an Axis air raid.

One semester in college many moons ago I lived at 42nd and Ave F, just a couple blocks from the moontower at 41st and Speedway. I remember the light shining so brightly that I had to Scotch tape some tinfoil over the top half of my bedroom window in order to sleep.

Just this week the city hauled down the moontower in Zilker Park and replaced the six mv bulbs with LED arrays. The other 16 towers will get their LEDs shortly. I haven't seen the LEDs on the Zilker moontower yet - but I'll drive by tonight on the way home from the back-to-school PTA meeting and check it out in the low light of the waxing moon. Report to follow.

Goober Pea

9/12/16 Our recent drive-by Zilker Park moontower inspection reveals LED light to be "both brighter and softer" according to my wife. I just noticed a blue-ish hue that made the grass look a funny shade of green beneath the tower. Could have been the Dirty Paloma I had after the PTA meeting. Wife drove.

10/11/16 Attended Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Park this weekend to chaperone a small herd of 15-year olds and to hear Willie Nelson run through his old standards at the "greybeard" stage as some sort of electronic dance music pulsed across the park as the young'uns gyrated wildly. I know I sound EXACTLY like my father when I say "we used to pay good money to buy a record that DIDN'T sound like it was skipping." Anyhow - our designated meeting place after the concert was "under the moontower" which was curiously unlit. Took this phone snap:

Fyfe Shoes and 1401 Woodward

Fyfe Shoes must have done pretty well with that rooftop ad, because these days the redone Fyfe Apartments high-rise is packing them in on Woodward about two blocks up and across the street from the historic Central United Methodist church, seen here which survives as does the St.John's Episcopal also seen further up the Ave. Between them and across the street now is the Fabulous Fox Theater, completely renovated to all of its Roaring 20's splendor for touring shows. Nearly hidden in the historic view just short of the first church is a sneak peek at Grand Circus Park, with green grass and statuary covering a fairly large underground parking structure. The outfield entrance to Comerica Park and the newer Detroit Tigers stadium would be just to the right of the Methodist Church in a current loo of an area that has recreated a lot of the daily hustle and bustle seen in this great view from 117 years past.

The 1401 Woodward Building in the near foreground with its graceful arched upper windows immediately identifiable remains in a current view of the street scene, and while the rooftop ads may be gone you can live for a pretty penny in the redone Lofts of Merchant Row, formerly home to Woolworth, SS Kresge, and Frank & Seder Company.

Steel light towers

This photograph shows at least two of the 100-120 foot steel towers the City of Detroit started installing in 1895 as electric street lighting. Does know if the dozens of similar towers farther away were similar street light towers?

[The caption has your answer. -tterrace]

Info on the towers.

What once was

I believe that 188 Woodward and the Ferry Building comprise the area that was once the Hudson Department store and is now basically an empty lot. Looking to the left of that area is where those lower buildings once stood. At the far left is the building that was once the Schwankovsky Temple of Music.

Piano City

Knabe, Grinnel, Steinway, and Detroit Music Co piano sales visible here.

Detroit used to have dozens and dozens of piano sellers back in the early 20th century and in 1909, more than 364,500 pianos were sold. In fact, in the city's heyday, it was one of the country's largest sellers of the instrument.


On the building with the "Knabe Pianos" is the Schwankovsky Temple of Music - you can just make out the 'Schwankovsky' above Knabe. The entire second floor was a (long, narrow) concert venue.

The Wright-Kay Jewelry Co. took over in 1920, and lasted almost sixty years there, which is why it is now known as the Wright-Kay Building. It has recently been renovated, and I continue to lobby to return its name to Schwankovsky Temple of Music.

Sort of Located

The Ferry Building (built in 1884, incidentally) was on Woodward, and the building next door is #188; but where any survivors in this scene would be in renumbered Detroit I have no idea.

Limited target market

I notice that the rooftop advertisement for Knox and Co 5 and 10 cent store, and Fyfe's Shoe House look like they can only be seen from the vantage point of the photographer. The photo looks like it is from a rooftop which doesn't make much sense to me. Maybe there is a taller building to the viewers right that looks over the rooftops?

Blink and you'll miss it

The building with the "Knabe Pianos" sign on top is a doozy -- six stories high, seven rooms deep, one room wide!

Has to be one of the highest cost-per-square foot office buildings ever.

Rare banner

It looks like the Ferry building is sporting a 42 star flag, which was never an "official" flag.


The huge flag hanging in front of the building on the right has 42 stars. If the flag is current, then the photo would have to be taken in 1889 versus 1899.

[The Chamber of Commerce at State and Griswold, the vantage point for this photo, was completed in 1895. - Dave]

Detroit Music Co - Woodward Avenue

A street that looks a lot different now.

Syndicate content is a vintage photography site featuring thousands of high-definition images. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago. Contact us | Privacy policy | Accessibility Statement | Site © 2024 Shorpy Inc.