Friday, August 9, 2013

Wurlitzer Building

The Wurlitzer was billed as "the world's largest music house" when it was designed by Percy Walker and Alber Eisen in 1924 (the Platt Building juat down the block was also built to house music companies and had the same architects). In both buildings, one floor--according to Richard Schave of LAVA--was a concert hall, and the building was filled with practice rooms and offices.

The 13-story building would cost a million dollars to erect, and go up in six months-- incredible speed, according to an LA Times story in 1923. It confirms that that there would be a large recital hall, as well as a showroom for pipe organs. And I found this interesting: even in 1924, Wurlitzer occupied the bottom four floors and basement area, but leased out the top eight floors as loft space to other concerns.

Thirteen stories was the legal limit in those days, and I believe the first floor usually encompassed a 2nd floor mezzanine, so that there was never a 13th floor. Please, someone, correct me if I'm wrong.

The other tenants of the Wurlitzer included milinnary companies that sold hats and clothes, which we know because they suffered losses in fires in the 1920s. Since the building was concrete, the fires did not spread to other floors.

If you look closely at the photo above, the names Mozart and Verdi are carved in the medallions beneath the Wurlitzer name. The detail of bas relief  and sculpture on the place is incredible.

 There's also a Wurlitzer Building in Detroit, built two years later on a corner of Broadway in that city, and it was that building's website that gave me a history of the Wurlitzer Company itself. The founder was Rudolph Wurlitzer, whose family had been "trading" in musical instruments since the mid-1600s. Quite a legacy. Rudolph, a recent immigrant, founded the Wurlitzer Company in Cincinnati in 1856.

The company hit its stride during the early 20th century, when it built large organs for theaters that were--at that time--showing silent films, most of them pretty short and thrilling. Organs were ideal for that sort of venue because besides simply playing Bach loud enough for the sound to fill a large auditorium, organs "could produce a variety of sounds, from banjos to harps to orchestra bells to train whistles and galloping horses."

(Wurlitzer automatic phonographs--which I think were jukeboxes--came along in the 1930s but were sold from a different location, on Highland.)

This photo from the library is dated 1931.

Today, the Wurlitzer leases office space for companies like Aesthetic I found this detailed article (but undated and probably pre-2009) with a photo spread about one of its tenants--the architectural firm Tag Front--in Dwell. Coincidentally, Tag Front has a 3000-sqft office on the 7th floor--where (according to Steve of LAVA) the concert hall once was.

As for the Wurlitzer building in Detroit, all tenants moved out in 1982 and the beautiful building was sold several times and allowed to deteriorate. The roof failed, and recently the rear wall has suffered two collapses, sending concrete and whatnot into the alley behind it. Given Detroit's current problems, it doesn't look hopeful that much can be done to save that structure.

In fact, the building seems to be for sale again and Curbed Detroit has posted this recent picture, with commentary.


Debra Ann Pawlak said...

Great article, Vickey!

Debra Ann Pawlak said...

So interesting, Vickey!

Anonymous said...

Great article. I'm from North Tonawanda, NY - the former HQ of the Wurlitzer Jukebox and Organ Co. and have lived in the Detroit area 20 years. I have admired the Detroit Wurlitzer Building for many years as a sentimental connection to home and only recently read there was another one in LA built earlier.

Despite the popular Detroit doom/gloom narrative loved by so many around the world, the Detroit Wurlitzer Building is finally under reconstruction as of late 2015 by a developer in NYC. It's supposed to be reopened as mix use sometime by the end of this year.