The Great Copper Tower

Hancock’s rise to power and prestige was a quick one. Within just a couple of decades the small mining town found itself at the center of a sprawling industrial empire, its population growing by leaps and bounds in the process. For a time the city was at the top of the world and its downtown had become filled from end to end with a wide variety of commercial offerings including sprawling department stores, high-class banks and full-service hotels. Yet mining is an industry with a limited shelf life, and as the red metal became too expensive to procure the great empire built on its back began to crumble and fall.  As the 1970s approached the city of Hancock found itself facing a frightening new reality in which the great copper empire that had nurtured and supported it for nearly a century was no more. Hancock was on its own.

With the mines now gone so too was thousands of now out-of-work employees of those mines – workers who had left the region for greener pastures elsewhere. As a result cities like Hancock – so populous just years before – found their populations plummet. With their customer base quickly eroding away, downtown businesses soon began to follow as well. Soon confidence in the city’s future began to wane, as panicked residents and business owners found themselves increasingly pessimistic about their prospects in a region now without its industrial overseers. Yet not everyone was so ready to abandon the city. Some leaders and businesses still believed in Hancock, and were sure that the end of the empire was only a minor setback that the city would eventually overcome.  The most notable of these optimists was one of the city’s longest residents – a company whose roots went deep into Hancock’s earliest years. That company was the Detroit and Northern Savings and Loan Association, more commonly known as D&N bank.

The D&N Bank was first formed in Hancock at the tail end of the 19th century, and after moving from rented space to rented space for many years had finally built a headquarters of their own at the corner of Tezcuco Street in the late 1930s – an Art Deco limestone structure that still stands to this day. While the rest of the city began to contract in the decades to follow D&N prospered. As the Copper Empire gasped its last breaths in the late 1960s the old bank found itself on the top of the world – with 39 branches scattered all about the Midwest and a net worth and assets totaling over $1.8 billion dollars. The company had grown so large that it it was in need of a new headquarters – a building most would expect it would build in its other main theater of operation – Detroit. The company, however, had other plans. It wanted to make a statement about its hometown and its future prospects, and thus elected to construct its new world headquarters right here in the heart of the Copper Country along Hancock’s main thoroughfare – Quincy Street.

This was to be no simple commercial block either. In addition to its functional role as office space, the new headquarters would also serve as a symbol of Hancock’s resilience and fortitude in face of a changing world. The new building would represent the city’s future – casting off the heavy cocoon of industry to allow the city to finally spread its wings. This would be no place for old-school Victorian age sensibilities – this was to be a building born from the modern world. This would be a building built primarily to make a strong statement about Hancock’s role in the 20th century.

And what a statement that would be.

front

Here she is in all her glory, soon after her completion in 1972 (thanks to our time-traveling man on the spot Tom Roberts). The towering structure was like nothing else the region had seen, her only equal being the Mechanical Engineering Building erected at Michigan Tech the year before. The building’s nine stories soar 135 feet into the air, covered with over 54,000 square feet of highly reflective glass. Those upper floors were home to the bank’s “world headquarters” and housed largely office space. Downstairs on the main floor was the Hancock branch of the bank itself, a sprawling open space featuring a glass-covered solarium on its northern Quincy-facing facade.

reflection

That reflective glass makes the buildings strongest statement, providing a distorted reflection of the grand architecture and natural beauty that surrounds the towering structure. It seems to be a rather conscious architectural decision which attempts to connect the rather out-of-place modern structure with the Victorian-age world it found itself inhabiting.

shiny

Reflective surfaces aside, the building’s most interesting feature is the attached “silo” protruding from the building’s north-west corner. Inside the cylindrical structure housed the building’s main stairwell and mechanical spaces while outside it honored the city’s mining heritage with a blazing facade clad with over 17,000 pounds of laminated copper .

windows

Today the grand building still stands, its towering glass facade rising high above everything else around it. While remnants of the old D&N Bank still exist within the building (though after decades of mergers and acquisitions the bank is today known as Huntington Bank) most of the towering structure is now rented out to a variety of independent companies not related to the banking industry in the slightest.

backside

Though those reflective windows haven’t changed in the last half century of time the building has stood, the same can’t be said for its adjacent copper silo.  half century of oxidation has turned what was once a gleaming surface into a far duller dark bronze color. The rest of the building, however, looks much the same way as it did in its youth. The only other notable change is the abundance of trees which now surround the building – a wall of foliage that now partially blocks the building’s main floor solariums.

In addition to the glass and copper monolith which is the bank building itself, the structure is joined by a more brutalist inspired concrete parking deck that protrudes out from the building’s southern facade (seen to the right above). More traditional surface lots also surround the structure, along with a stand-alone concrete drive thru complex. All in all the complex occupies 13 city lots, accounting for over half of the available space along Quincy Street’s 400 block. Upon the structure’s arrival, however, those spaces were already occupied. This meant that for this building to be born, over a dozen pre-existing structures had to cleared away to make room.

demolish

Those structures can be seen above in this 1930s era view. They include nine business blocks once home to the John Henry Laundry, the Shulte Bros store, the Jaasko Novelty Store, the Owl Drug Store, and the Zerbel Confectionary. It also included six private residences, including the sprawling mansion at the corner of Montezuma Street which once belonged to George Ruppe. Though eclipsed somewhat by his retail-centric relative Peter Ruppe, George managed to obtain fortunes of his own as the president of the Superior National Bank. Interestingly it was his local rival and competitor – D&N – which ended up tearing his old home to the ground to make way for its own bank building to occupy the space.

before

Thanks to John Roberts we get to glimpse at least a few of those demolished buildings before their ultimate demise. The view above showcases four of the old business blocks which once called the 400 block of Quincy Home – taken around 1970. To the far right stands the old Zerbel Confectionary, followed by the John Henry Chinese Laundry, a private residence, and a building which once housed the shoemaking shop of Christian Ziegler. The old Schulte Bros store would have stood at the far corner, but had been torn down by the time this picture was taken. The trees seen just beyond that space mark the location of the northern end of Montezuma Park. Besides that park and the building’s beyond, everything else seen here would be torn down to make way for the new bank building arriving in just a few years.

build1

Zooming ahead a few years and Tom Roberts brings us back once again to the same stretch of Quincy. Though those line of businesses are gone, the grand tower of the new bank building has taken their place. At this point the silo has yet to receive its copper facade, but the reflective windows are in place and ready to go. To the right we see one of the survivors of this side of Quincy Street, a brick structure which originally housed Crowley’s Grocery (its a saloon and job office at this point).

sign

 

The D&N Bank building was – and continues to be – a strong visual statement along Hancock’s main thoroughfare. Yet any hopes of the towering structure spurring a new wave of investment in the city were just dreams, as without its copper guardians the city’s grand opulence had largely vanished. By the time the 1980s arrived the city had settled into a far more utilitarian role with any visions of future grandeur smothered by the realities of a far more spartan industry-free age. What was once a  grand symbol of Hancock’s future had instead become a symbol of what it could have been. Even today its towering structure seems out of place in the city’s streetscape, like a lonely only child awaiting the siblings that will never come.

Discuss…

  1. Growing up in Hancock, I was told the building was designed to represent a stack of pennies and dollar bills. I wonder if that was just a good story.

  2. MJ Electric of Iron Mountain was the electrical contractor for this building. My dad, Bob Somero, was the MJ foreman that ran the job. Good memories, thank you.

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