In 1879, the F. J. Schwankovsky Company began selling pianos, organs and musical instruments in downtown Detroit. This was before the department store era, so all retail sales were made by specialized shops. If you wished to buy an item, you went to a store specializing in that product. The Schwankovsky firm prospered, and at the end of the 1880s, built this impressive six-story building in the heart of Detroit's expanding downtown. It is a Queen Anne style commercial building done in brick with brownstone trim. Note the stylish corner turret that extends from the second to fifth floors. This building was among the last to be erected using a cast iron frame, but it was among the first in Detroit to be built with an electrical elevator—a technological improvement that hastened the skyscraper era. The second floor of the Schwankovsky Building contains a ballroom once used for concerts. Brass ensembles once performed on the sixth floor balcony. The Schwankovsky Company went out of business just 19 years after their building opened.
From 1920 through 1978, this building was home to the Wright-Kay Jewelry firm so you may find references to that name for this classic structure. Two years later, a fabric retailer occupied the space. And some years of being idle, plans were announced to convert the building into rental units or condominiums.
Architects: Gordon Lloyd and the Fred Smith, Theodore Hinchman
and Maxwell Gylls firm.
Architectural style: Queen Anne commercial
Completion date: 1891
State Historical Register: P25241 Listed: October 2, 1980
State Historical Marker: Erected March 15, 1982
Photo: R. Farley; April, 2002
Description updated: May, 2009
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