Historic Structures

Basso Building, Detroit Michigan

Date added: October 21, 2013 Categories: Michigan Office Beaux-Arts

Located at the southeast corner of Woodward and Horton, the Basso Building is a rectangular, seven-story structure of classic symmetry and proportions, with extensive Beaux-Arts ornamentation. The two principle facades, along Woodward and Horton, are sheathed in white glazed terra cotta blocks, while the building's shields, medallions, moldings, lettering, and other decorative elements appear in green, gold, blue, and red terra cotta. This is a steel-framed building resting on a reinforced concrete foundation.

Both of the two main facades are divided vertically into four bays that are set apart by thick shafts. On the Woodward Avenue side, which measures eighty feet in length, each bay contains four windows that are separated by narrow mullions. The second story mullions are more narrow than the rest. The Horton Avenue facade, which is sixty feet long, is identical to the Woodward Avenue facade, except that is has only three windows per bay. The ground floor has multiple doors and large display windows, now boarded up. The six remaining floors have ordinary, double-paned sash windows.

The classical quality of the Basso Building is apparent in the column-like organization of the structure: the first and second floors (the original 1915 building) function as a base or pedestal; floors three through six as a shaft; and the seventh story and roof section as a cornice.

The first floor is sheathed in sheet metal panels and is separated from the second level by a ledge. Geometric tooled designs in the shapes of triangles, hexagons, and diamonds predominate throughout the second story facade on the column shafts and in the panel area between the top of the second story windows and a course of dentils. In the panel area, crosses appear over each window mullion, while crosses overlaid with medallions are located at the intersection of the shafts.

Floors three through six make up the building's body or shaft. Each floor is separated from the next by a wide horizontal band that tends to counteract the vertical lines of the structure. Letters spelling "BASSO BUILDING" are centered on the Woodward Avenue facade between the fifth and sixth floors. The top of the sixth floor, which contains moldings and other decorative elements, serves as a "capital" of the shaft section. It contains, from bottom to top, a plain bead molding; a "neck" with gold floral moldings above each window mullion and a circular disk medallion with a red inner core above each column shaft; a course of egg-and-dart; and an "abacus" formed by the protruding ledge.

The space from the seventh floor to the roof line forms the entablature of the Basso Building. An architrave and frieze extend from the window sill of the seventh floor to the cornice line. The seventh story window section appears almost as a balcony since the windows are recessed from the outer wall and because an iron grating rests before each window. There are two styles of floral-patterned iron grates, one with a circular center and the other with a square center. An arcade, which springs from the shafts and mullions, appears over the seventh floor windows. The arcade, with a single arch per window, is surrounded at the top by a green-colored floral band. The area above the arcade contains square terra cotta blocks, laid out like diamonds, with smaller, red-colored blocks embedded at each intersection. Ornaments also appear in this frieze area: floral-bordered yellow shields over each column; circular, green-colored floral medallions over the mullions; and elaborate, white, floral-bordered shields, crossed diagonally by yellow banners, located on the three corners of the Woodward and Horton Avenue facades.

The cornice of the building begins with a bed molding, followed by a green floral molding, a line of dentils, and a red band of egg-and-dart. The soffit of the cornice is divided into dark blue recessed panels, each with a single gold-colored flower in relief. The corona is supported by a series of scrolled brackets, or modillions. A red floral medallion appears on the surface facing of each bracket. The cornice concludes in a cyma recta crown.

The ornamental treatment of the Basso Building continues above the cornice. Barely visible from the ground, Roman-style, semi-circular tiles are surmounted by a balustrade that extends over the entire length of the Horton and Woodward Avenue facades. The balustrade consists of double-bellied balusters. Every fourth baluster, in line with the window Bullions, is an uncut, rectangular baluster. The balustrade is also broken into pedestals in line with the main columns.

The back and southern facades consist of plain, unadorned, and dark-colored brick. Fenestration is minimal on the southern facade, while the rear of the building is covered with numerous windows and a fire escape. In order to reduce the abrupt contrast between the Horton facade of white terra cotta and the dark brick facade of the rear of the building, some terra cotta elements are continued on the rear facade. A narrow strip of terra cotta work is wrapped around the northeast corner of the building to create the appearance of quoining. Two narrow bands o£ terra cotta tiles with unadorned molding form the cornice, while the seventh story window ledge on the Horton facade continues as a narrow, flat strip of terra cotta tiles.

The basement contains two coal-fired U.S. Radiator Capital boilers equipped with iron fireman automatic stokers, an adjoining coal bin, and a water heating system with a 500 gallon storage tank. The ground floor consists of three large shops, each with wooden floors covered with tiles, plastered walls, and drop ceilings of eariy 1960s vintage. The entrance corridor leading to the stairwell and a pair of Otis elevators has a tile floor, marble wainscoting, and an arched plastered ceiling. The remaining floors have identical floorplans, with a U-shaped main corridor allowing direct access to large offices; a subsidiary reception area leading to four smaller, private offices facing Woodward Avenue; and restroom facilities, with men's rooms on the even-numbered floor and ladies rooms on the odd-numbered ones. The men's rooms appear to have the original fixtures, while the ladies' rooms have formica vanities installed in the 1960s. All of the offices had outside windows and appear to enjoy considerable natural light. The floor-to-ceiling partitions that border the main corridor have extensive frosted glass segments to permit the diffusion of light. These partitions appear to be the ones installed in 1923, although there are some other partitions dating from the 1970s. All seven stories have twelve-foot ceilings, even though the seventh floor appears to be much taller from outside the building.