Balcony Railings … Lost and Found

Take a look at this picture of the El Moore taken in 2002. If you look closely, you’ll notice the shadow of iron railings on the 2nd and 4th floor balconies.  We’re not sure when the 3rd floor railings went missing, but we do know what happened to those 2nd and 4th floor pieces. In the early 2000s, the El Moore was undergoing plans to be redeveloped as condominiums, and due to the fact that a third of the railings were missing, the developer decided to remove the remaining two and sell them as part of an auction that also included many of the building’s original interior built-in cabinetry, fireplace mantels and antique plumbing fixtures.  And so that was that … by the time the Green Garage purchased the El Moore in 2010, all that remained were marks on the building where the railings had once been secured.  We knew we wanted to reconstruct the railings, but without detailed photographs or plans, we figured we’d have to approximate what they might have looked like and do our best to honor what the architect, A.C. Varney would have designed.  El Moore Balcony Railings

Flash forward to earlier this year: I was attending an event hosted by Midtown Detroit Inc. and I ran into an old friend, Tom Delaney. Our conversation circled around to our work at the El Moore.  Tom has been a long-time supporter of Midtown and fan of the El Moore building, so he was very interested in hearing about our plans.

What happened next will prove to be a cornerstone story in the El Moore’s long history.   Tom asked, “What are you planning on doing with the balconies?”  After explaining to him that we’d be repairing the broken stone elements and working to create an appropriate replacement for the missing railings, Tom interjected: “You know I have the original railings pieces, right? I purchased them at the auction years ago.”  Within minutes, we were discussing how to reunite the railings with the building.  As I mentioned, Tom loves Midtown and the El Moore, and he made it clear that he’d love nothing more that to see the railings returned to their home.

Sounds simple, right?  They had come from the building; we simply needed to bolt them back in place and fill in the missing blanks.  Not so fast.  First off, we were already missing the 3rd floor sections and post, and many of the pieces that Tom had saved at auction were badly damaged by rust and corrosion.  We needed a talented blacksmith and someone that could make patterns from the intricately cast posts and recast all the missing pieces.  As luck would have it, I had received an email a few months earlier from Gabriel Craig, owner of the Smith Shop in Corktown, where he introduced himself and his shop and expressed that he was interested in lending his talents to El Moore’s rebirth if we had an appropriate project.  One week later, Tom, Gabriel and I met at Tom’s home to start planning how we’d go about returning the railings to the El Moore.

If everything goes according to plan, we’ll be hoisting these beautiful pieces back to their rightful home this fall, restoring an elegant and distinctive feature of the El Moore that might otherwise have been lost to history.