Bedrock shows renovation progress at Detroit's historic Book Tower

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — In about one year, the historic Book Tower on Washington Boulevard is expected to open to the public and offer retail, hotel, office and residential space.

The exterior of the historic Book Tower and Book Building along Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit on Thursday, November 18, 2021 as Bedrock Real Estate restores the structure.

Bedrock gave a tour Thursday of its progress toward renovating the long-unoccupied Italian Renaissance-style building, which it bought in 2015. Work includes restoration of the original limestone and masonry façade, replacing more than 2,400 historically accurate windows, and turning former office space into more than 200 residential units.

“It’s been a labor of love and it’s come a long way since then,” said T. Morris, senior project coordinator for Bedrock’s architecture team. He stood in a light-filled, 15th-floor corner apartment overlooking Washington and Grand River — one of 229 residential units in the development.

T. Morris, senior project coordinator, Bedrock, shows a rendering of the residential lounge on the 14th of the Book Tower.

In addition to the 38-story Book Tower, Bedrock's $313 million project includes the adjoining 13-story Book Building structure designed by Louis Kamper. The spaces have sat empty since 2009. 

The Washington Blvd entrance will showcase a 3-story lobby as the news media toured the site in downtown Detroit on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

Construction crews, led by Detroit-based Christman Brinker, were on site Thursday working on the development that will take what was once an office building and turn it into a mixed-use space for residents and guests. There will be retail in the basement and on the first floor, and office space on the second and third floors, according to Bedrock.

Work continues on the rooftop bar area at the Book Building.

The ROOST Apartment Hotel will be on floors four to eight and will feature 118 studio, one and two-bedroom units. It will be operated by Philadelphia-based Method Hospitality. Floors nine to 36 will feature the residential units averaging 795 square feet and ranging from studios to two-bedroom units with den. Rental rates have not yet been released, officials said.

New features for the site will include a 1,400-square-foot rooftop bar with 2,500 square feet of outdoor terrace space atop the Book Building.

A glass roof is seen at the 4,500 square-foot event space on the 13th floor of the Book Building, where construction continues during a tour of the historic restoration in downtown Detroit on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.

Also new for the site is a 2,500-square-foot ballroom with a glass skylight on the 13th floor where the building and tower adjoin. Bedrock found the space with its original metal trusswork and a concrete ceiling. Original plans for the building had the space labeled as an auditorium, Morris said.

“We think for the office users this was a large event space that the office users could rent out and have larger meetings and functions in, so we wanted to restore that spirit of gathering and bring people up again from the ground floor to the higher levels of the building to experience the amazing spaces we inherited like this one,” he said.

Arthur Femenella, vice president of Femenella and Associates, speaks of the massive restoration at the Book Tower's historic art glass skylight (above), which will be the centerpiece in the grand three-story lobby of the Book Tower.

Among the intricate undertakings for the project are the restoration of original plaster and an art glass skylight that was blocked.

Ferndale-based Russell Plastering is handling the plasterwork while New Jersey-based Femenella & Associates is undertaking the skylight restoration.  

Original engraved elevator door on the 1st floor of the Book Tower in downtown Detroit on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

Arthur Femenella, vice president of Femenella & Associates, said his firm, along with New York City-based ODA Architecture, used an old photograph of the dome and the remaining cast iron frame with dome to aid in the design. The restoration process will involve replicating the missing framework and glass, which will feature 7,000 jewels — of which 3,000 will have to be replicated. The dome and glass will be put back into place and a new undercroft built.

A fully finished 1,240 square foot  2-bedroom 2-bath and den hotel room is shown to the news media on the 4th floor during a tour of the Book Tower in downtown Detroit on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

Femenella said the project is a rare one.

“In 75 years of experience in our office, we’ve never seen anything like this," he said. "Doing this type of design, again, is something very new to us. We’re going to make this whole entire thing based on the old means and methods, which we had to learn by reverse engineering.”

Plaster ceiling art work is restored and recreated in the lobby of the Book Tower in downtown Detroit on Thursday, November 18, 2021.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN