Sometimes historic buildings are easy to research, with names and appearances that never change. Others continuously morph through the decades to such a degree that researchers are left scratching their heads.
Let’s look at 415 Clifford Street as a prime example. From the start, the address was confusing since the main entrance is off Bagley Street instead of Clifford. Today, the nine story structure blends into its surroundings as an unassuming midcentury modern office building. However, hiding beneath the glass and applied paneling are the remnants of the ornate brick headquarters of the Detroit City Gas Co., built circa 1918. The company was previously housed in the Empire Building on the southeast corner of Clifford and Washington Boulevard (today a parking lot).
Detroit City Gas Co. was renamed Michigan Consolidated Gas Co. (MichCon) in 1938 when it became a subsidiary of American Light & Traction. Subsequently, the building was renamed. When MichCon’s new Yamasaki-designed skyscraper at One Woodward Avenue was completed in 1962, 415 Clifford sat vacant until 1965 when Rockwell-Standard made its new home there and completely resurfaced all sides of the building.
But by the early 1970s, Rockwell-Standard, like so many other corporations, moved from downtown to suburban Oakland County. The new occupant was the administrative offices of the Wayne County Road Commission until 1984 when it switched to the Wayne County Department of Public Services. It continues in this use to the present, although the county renamed it the Philip Neudeck Building.
So what we have is a nearly hundred year old building that looks like it is only half that age, a street address for a different street than its entrance, and at least five name changes. There are all many buildings with similarly complex histories in this city. Resources like our online digital collection help to string together related items across time despite renamed streets, moved buildings, demolitions, freeway construction, and urban renewal.