The Book-Cadillac Hotel in Detroit is undergoing a massive $176 million renovation project that, when finished, will evoke memories of how the Motown landmark looked when it first opened in 1924.
Marc Hesse of Cornice & Slate in Ferndale, Mich., received the contract to reroof the flat roof on the Book-Cadillac Hotel, and the company is also rebuilding three rectangular, stepped pyramidal copper towers that adorn the top of the hotel.
Of course, Hesse knows a little about the dynamics of the legendary Book-Cadillac since his grandfather bid on the original roof in the 1920s, but his grandfather didn’t get the job.
“I guess it’s better late than never. We finally got it,” says Hesse, who professes that his work on the Book-Cadillac is a labor of love. “This project is about bringing back one of the nation’s great hotels to the way it was when it was first built. We are one of a handful of companies in the United States who knows how to do this kind of work with copper.”
Hesse points out his company is really about 120 years old when you consider his grandfather was building with ornamental tile and copper ornaments since the 1890s. Hesse says that century-long fascination with copper makes him one of the most sought-after roofers in the market.
“There’s a handful of people who do what we do,” he says. “As far as quality craftsmanship - nobody can do what we do.”
History LessonThe Book-Cadillac Hotel was the tallest building in the United States when it first opened its doors in 1924. The hotel has hosted president John F. Kennedy, sports legends, movie stars and even gangsters during its heyday. But as Detroit’s population began to decrease in the late 1960s, the clientele at the Book-Cadillac shrank.
By 1980, the hotel’s infrastructure was in decline and the building finally closed its doors to business. Since then, thievery led to the total dismantling of hotel ornaments, leaving the structure a shell of what it once was. The deterioration of the hotel mirrored what was happening in the city.
Now, Cleveland-based developer John Ferchill is resurrecting the Book-Cadillac with a renovation project that will create a 455-room Westin Hotel with eight floors of pricey condominiums and swank restaurants. The project - set for completion in late 2008 - signals positive change in Detroit, says Hess.
“This is a project that will help Detroit’s comeback as a city,” he says. “The thing that’s going to help Detroit is bringing back the old buildings. People like the idea of preserving history.”
For StartersMarc Hesse knows about the history of building ornaments and how to create a masterpiece from a sheet of copper. Atop the Book-Cadillac are three pyramidal cooper towers called ziggurats. They were built with the ancient Mesopotamians in mind.
“Before the Book-Cadillac was built, there wasn’t a whole lot going on with copper,” Hesse says. “Maybe the Statue of Liberty and a couple other buildings in New York. The Book-Cadillac was the first to make an imprint on copper.”
Hesse says the current project at the Book-Cadillac involves about $200,000 in copper materials. “We bring a lot of the work back to our warehouse and then bring it back to the hotel,” he says. “Some of the work we do on site.”
Hesse gets his copper products from Oakland Metal Sales in Rochester, Mich. “We’re going to use something like 50,000 to 70,000 pounds of copper on this project,” he says. “We’ve always used Oakland Metals. We have a good thing with them.”
With his materials in place, Hesse says the flat roof on the Book-Cadillac will be a CertainTeed modified bitumen self adhered roof. “There’s no way we’re getting hot tar up there, so the self-adhered roof is the way to go,” Hesse says. “Problem is we have hundreds of contractors on this renovation. We need these workers to stay off this roof, but it’s almost impossible at this stage.”
Tim Rocz is the sheet metal superintendent for Cornice & Slate. He is in charge of making the Book-Cadillac roof a “centerpiece” of discussion. “We’ll still be working up here this time next year,” Rocz said in October atop the Book-Cadillac Hotel. “It’ll look great.”
Rocz said his workers use safety harnesses and guardrails as part of their safety plan. “We’re at 400 feet above the ground,” he says. “Our workers are tied off.”
Hesse said it’s been a decade of “no accidents” for Cornice & Slate. “We work on some of the tallest, most dangerous buildings in Michigan,” he says. “We are very careful. Everyone has a harness. Educated employees do not get hurt. You can see if someone is not safety conscious in the first two weeks of a job. If they aren’t, they’re out of a job.”
Other ProjectsHesse’s company, Cornice & Slate, specializes in slate roofs and copper ornaments. The company is currently installing slate roofs at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, as well as the Book-Cadillac.
“We reroofed the Engineering Building in Ann Arbor and we’re doing other jobs for U of M right now, like the Mosher-Jordan residence hall,” Hesse says. “We know how to do these roofs right the first time.”
“We’re not the low bidder in projects,” he continues. “But we stay busy. People call us all over the United States and will wait to get work done.”
Hesse admits he sees other slate jobs, but he says none compare to his work. “Some of the jobs I see are getting done marginally at best,” he says. “With us, you know what to expect. There are only 30 people in the state of Michigan who know what to do, and 20 of them work for me.”
“Copper is a lost art,” he concludes. “It is something you have to be taught. It involves centuries of understanding and learning. I know how it looks if it’s done right. That’s all we do - slate, tile and ornamental copper.”