History Basso Building, Detroit Michigan

The first construction on Woodward Avenue north of the Grand Boulevard took place in the mid-1880s, when Detroit had a population of less than 200,000, with virtually no development more than two miles from the Detroit River. The parcel on which the Basso Building was later constructed was part of Lot 57 in the Ten Thousand Acre Tract, a quarter section of 160 acres originally granted to Augustus B. Woodward by the Governor of the Michigan Territory in 1822. In a series of conveyances in 1871 and 1872, the land passed to the Bagg family. In 1882, the Bagg family and Joseph Horton, who owned the adjacent parcel to the north, jointly gave up for public use a sixty-foot-wide strip to be used for a public highway, which became Horton Avenue.

The area east of Woodward Avenue, between Grand Boulevard and Horton Avenue, was platted in 1884, with the southern half named the Atkinson Subdivision and the northern half Bagg's Subdivision. The property where the Basso Building was eventually built included a large brick residence as early as 1885, at a time when there were no other buildings along this stretch of Woodward Avenue. Albert W. Bagg, identified as the manager of the Safety Pole Tip Company, owned the property and occupied the house until 1890, when John McLean, a prominent Detroit cigar manufacturer, acquired the property. After his death in 1907, his widow, Sarah McLean, remained there until 1913. This large, brick residence, which was set back some sixty feet from Woodward Avenue, remained unchanged throughout this time. The Gerard Stormfelts Loveley Company acquired the property in 1911, sold it to the Klatt Land Company in March 1915, and Klatt in turn transferred the property to Michael, Victor, and Albert Basso a few days later for $42,500. The house that had stood on the property since 1885 was probably demolished in 1913.

The Basso brothers erected this general-use, speculative office building in 1915 and 1921. At the time. Woodward Avenue was Detroit's major commercial spine, but this location was three and one-half miles from the Detroit River and the downtown commercial district. As Detroit boomed in the early twentieth century and the existing Central Business District became increasingly congested, architects and real estate developers hoped to build a separate new office and commercial district distant from downtown. Real estate at and near the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Grand Boulevard was developed as Detroit's "New Center" area in the late 1910s and 1920s. The first major building in this area was the Ford Motor Company Service Building (the Boulevard Building), erected at the northeast corner of Woodward Avenue and East Grand Boulevard. This substantial eight-story office building, designed by Albert Kahn, was constructed in two stages, with the first four stories built in 1909 and the remaining four in 1913. The massive General Motors Building, also an Albert Kahn design, opened in 1922, but had been planned for more than three years. The last major project in the New Center area in the 1920s was the Fisher Building, another Albert Kahn project, completed in 1923.

The construction of the first portion of the Basso Building in 1915 was closely linked to the history of the Regent Theater project on an adjacent parcel. Shortly after the Klatt Land Company acquired two parcels of land south of Horton and east of Woodward, a group of investors established the Regent Theater Company and in June 1913, announced the construction of an elaborate theater and entertainment complex. They planned a three-story building fronting on Woodward Avenue which would incorporate a large dance hall on the third floor, office space on the second floor, and shops on the first, with a large, two-story theater, with a capacity of 3,000 seats, located to the rear. The prodigious Detroit theater architect C. Howard Crane, was to design the complex. The Regent Theater Company, with William F. Klatt on the Board of Directors, planned to complete construction in six months, and offered $100,000 in common stock to the public, at $10 per share, to cover all expenses.

The original plans were greatly modified, probably because of problems selling the original stock offering. Instead, the Klatt Land Company sold one parcel of land with a frontage of 80 feet on Woodward Avenue and a depth of 65 feet to the Basso Brothers in March 1915 for $42,500, and a larger parcel to the Regent Theater Company of Detroit for $500,000. The Regent Theater, with two floors, and a capacity of 3,600, was built on the site in 1916, designed by the architects William B. Stratton & VonSchneider. The theater entrance, on Woodward, occupied the empty space that now exists between the Basso Building and the Ford Service Building, The entrance, 28 feet wide and 70 feet long, extended to the theater proper, measuring 108 feet wide and 150 long. The Regent Theater, renamed the Center Theater in 1961, remained open until the mid-1970's

The Basso Brothers - Michael, Victor, and Albert - were not long-time Detroit residents when they bought this land. The first listing of any of the brothers in the Detroit City Directory was in 1907, when Michael appeared, listed as a "confectioner." He was listed as working for a confectioner, L. Schiappaccase & Company, beginning in 1912, and eventually became the manager of the firm by 1920. The 1921 City-Directory lists him as Vice President of the Detroit United Fruit Auction Company. He was shown as the owner of record on the building permit issued on 2 July 1915, for a brick and concrete structure with an estimated cost of $20,000. The name, "Basso Building," may have been used from the start, but the first printed reference appeared on a 1918 real estate atlas. After the building was greatly enlarged in 1921-1922, Michael Basso established a building management office on the third floor, with the first reference, "Michael Basso, Manager and Fruit Broker," in the 1924/25 City Directory. The remaining Basso brothers, Albert and Victor, do not appear in the City Directory until 1925/26, because they had probably not yet come to Detroit. Then, in the 192S/29 City Directory, all three brothers appear as "Basso Brothers, Real Estate, 307 Basso Building." They maintained their building management and real estate offices, with various name changes, at Room 307 Basso Building, until 1974.

The original building (architect unknown) was a two-story structure with four shops on the first floor and offices on the second. The shops all had tenants from 1916 onwards, with a good deal of continuity during the first ten years. The "Regent Sweet Shop" occupied the space next to the Regent Theater beginning in 1917, while a men's furnishings shop, a jeweler, and a drug store occupied the remaining spaces.

The most significant alteration made to the building was the addition (architect unknown) of five stories in 1921-1922, giving the building its current configuration of seven stories. Metal lath office partitions installed in 1923 are almost certainly the ones still extant at this writing. The building remained essentially unchanged until 1949, when several alterations were made to the Woodward Avenue and Horton Avenue facades. When a real estate appraisal of the property was completed in April 1947, several snapshots attached to the report show that the building looked the same as it had appeared in a photograph taken in 1925.

In December 1948, the Basso Building, Inc. took out a building permit to "repair marquise and loose materials in front of building," with estimated costs of $1,000. However, in January 1949, the firm took out a new permit which allowed them to remove the marquise instead. Then, in July, the City of Detroit issued Victor J. Basso a permit to "remodel facade of building," with an estimated cost of $12,000. The work completed in 1949 included removing the round orbs atop the balustrade pedestals; replacing the original molded spiral columns featuring Corinthian capitals which separated the individual windows in each bay on the seventh floor with narrow terra cotta mullions; removing the metal marquise which extended the entire length of the Woodward Avenue facade; and adding sheet metal panels and a new "Basso Building" sign on the first floor.

The Basso Building served as a general office building until Basso Building, Inc., sold it to The Shaw College at Detroit, Inc., in April 1976. Shaw College at Detroit, which owned another building on the other side of Woodward Avenue, used the Basso Building for administrative offices and student services. After Shaw College went bankrupt, the property passed to Amvest. Inc., and then to Uptown Land Development Company in June 1985.