Patrick V. McNamara Federal Office Building

Michigan at Cass in downtown Detroit

The General Services Administration maintains and manages federal properties such as the one  pictured above.  Their website describes the architectural style of this building as “Brutalist.”  I agree.  In the 1970s, the federal government built large office buildings in many cities.  This was a blessing for Detroit since it ensures that a substantial number of well-paid federal workers work at downtown offices.  But the architectural style is not easy to appreciate.  This 27-story building appears to be the epitome of functional architecture with no features to distinguish it.  My picture is not a very becoming one.  I suspect that if you went into the Detroit River in a small boat, you might be able to find a perspective that would flatter this building at least a little bit.  This structure provides office space for the Detroit office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for the Army Corps of Engineers and, I assume, for several other Washington agencies.  There were other buildings designed in a similar style, including Trolley Plaza on Washington Boulevard and the Coleman Young Office Building at the intersection of Woodward and Jefferson.

Patrick Vincent McNamara, born in Massachusetts in 1894, migrated to Michigan in 1921.  He became active in union affairs and in politics while working in the city’s construction industry.  During World War II, he was appointed as the Office of Price Administration official in Detroit with responsibility to stabilize rents.  In 1946, he was elected to Detroit’s Common Council, and then in 1949, the city’s Board of Education.  In 1954 he was nominated by the state’s Democratic Party to run for the United States Senate.  He defeated the Republican candidate, Homer Ferguson, that year and was reelected in 1960 when he defeated Republican Alvin Bentley.  He died in office in 1966.  He was a reliable Democratic vote in the Senate, but so far as I know, there is no specific legislation bearing his name.  The building you see was the first major federal office building constructed in Detroit after his death.  Many federal buildings carry the name of important local figure so we have the Theodore Levin Federal Courthouse and the Rosa Parks Homeland Security Center on East Jefferson.  There is an exception: the nearby large Internal Revenue Service building on Michigan. 

Architects: Smith, Hinchman and Grylls
Architectural Style: Brutalist
Date of Completion: 1976
Use in 2010: Federal office building
City of Detroit Designated Historic District: Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph:  Ren Farley; November 12, 2009
Description prepared: January, 2010

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