Ann Arbor's First Skyscraper

Published In:
Ann Arbor Observer, April 1992,
April 1992

Author: Grace Shackman

The Glazier Building was a monument to its builder's financial chicanery

When State Treasurer Frank Glazier started the Glazier Building at the corner of Main and Huron in 1906, he was forty-four years old and at the height of his power. He was the most important man in Chelsea, where he owned the Chelsea Savings Bank and the Glazier Stove Company, and had held every local political office from school board member to state senator. Now he was intent on making a similar impact on Ann Arbor.

Glazier spared no expense to secure Ann Arbor's most important corner for his edifice. According to the February 2, 1906, Argus-Democrat, he paid $26,500 just to buy the three buildings then on the site, making it "the biggest real estate transaction in the history of the city," before a single brick was laid. "Some of the interested parties didn't want to sell," the paper explained. "The price was finally set at such a figure that all objections were overcome."

His site obtained, Glazier set about planning the tallest building the city had yet seen. Glazier "had a passion for building," says local historian Lou Doll. His neoclassical Chelsea bank and sprawling red brick stove factory, with its signature clock tower, remain village landmarks to this day. Glazier modeled his Ann Arbor building on Detroit's fourteen-story Majestic, which when built in 1896 was that city's tallest building. Like the Majestic, at Michigan and Woodward, the Glazier Building had ornate bottom and top sections with a simpler brick area in between. Glazier's newspaper, the Ann Arbor News, proudly called it "Ann Arbor's First Sky Scraper." (Glazier's News was just one of several local progenitors of today's Ann Arbor News.)

By the time the Glazier Building was completed in 1908, its namesake had declared bankruptcy and been forced to resign his state office.

In the 1906 campaign for state treasurer, Glazier's opponent had tried to make an issue of Glazier's habit of depositing state money in his own bank in Chelsea. At the time, Glazier responded that he deposited treasury funds in 144 banks all over the state. But in fact, Glazier was guilty of massive fiscal chicanery.

Glazier's rise and fall is documented in detail in Lou Doll's recently published history, Less Than Immortal: The Rise and Fall of Frank Porter Glazier of Chelsea, Michigan. (The book is currently available at the Village Shoppe in Chelsea, and Doll hopes soon to have it in stores in Ann Arbor as well.) During the Panic of 1907 (an economic recession), he ran out of funds to pay his debts--including debts to his own bank that had been financed from state deposits. Glazier's 1910 trial for misusing state funds, Doll writes, revealed "a story of three-way bank, Stove Company, and state fund juggling that is amazing."

Glazier had not only been depositing state funds in his own bank; he had been borrowing huge amounts through what amounted to a shell game. He had used the same stove company stock as collateral for loans from eight different banks, including his own. The total exceeded $1 million, far more than the stove company was worth.

How was Glazier able to dupe both the state and his fellow bankers on so grand a scale? "A possible explanation is that he was Frank P. Glazier, wealthy manufacturer, state treasurer with the power of depositing or withholding state funds from banks, and possible future governor of the state, and they did not want to offend him," Doll writes. But once the extent of the debt became clear, Glazier was declared bankrupt in 1908.

Both the stove company and the bank went into receivership; though the bank survived under new ownership, the stove company, its products outdated by changing technology, soon closed permanently.

The money Glazier borrowed from the state was recovered. His other creditors were not so lucky. Most of his assets, including the Glazier Building, were sold at fire sale prices. According to Doll, Glazier had already sunk $130,000 of his own money into it, plus another $80,000 borrowed from the Chelsea Savings Bank. It sold for just $77,000 to the Goodspeed brothers of Grand Rapids, formerly of Ann Arbor.

Glazier himself was sentenced to five to ten years in Jackson State Prison. He was pardoned two years later and spent much of his time living quietly at his home on Cavanaugh Lake. He died January 1,1922.

The Goodspeed brothers rented the street front to the First National Bank. The office space not needed by the bank was rented to various businesses, mostly lawyers who appreciated the location near the courthouse and other banks.

In 1928 the First National moved into its own skyscraper--the eleven-story First National Building, one block south on Main Street. The Ann Arbor Trust Company took its place at Main and Huron, where it has continued (with several changes in ownership and identity) to this day.

The trust company was started in 1925 by Russell Dobson and purchased in 1928 by Earl Cress and future Ann Arbor mayor Bill Brown. The investment partners had been in business together since 1921, with offices on the top floor of the Glazier Building. By the time they took over the lease on the whole building in 1928, their businesses included securities, real estate, mortgage loans, insurance, and property management. In 1939 the two men divided the businesses, with Brown taking the insurance and Cress the trust company.

In 1973, the Goodspeed heirs finally agreed to sell the building to Ann Arbor Trust. The next year, the trust company changed to a full-service bank. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, it is now part of Cleveland-based Society Bank; George Cress, Earl's son, continues to run it, along with Society's other Michigan branches.

After more than eighty years, the exterior of the building looks much as it did in 1908, except for two changes made during a 1969 remodeling: the top cornices were removed because they were in danger of falling off, and a small addition was built on the back because the fire marshall said a second stairway was needed.