CuriosiD: What’s the Story Behind the NBC Building in Midtown Detroit?

An historic building in a low profile corner of Midtown is reborn to attract students and health workers.

In this installment of WDET’s CuriosiD, listener Terry Segal asks about the history of the NBC Building in Midtown.

“I pass a tall old business building that appears to be empty now but it has a very decorative lintel over the entrance that has the capital letters N-B-C and I was wondering what that was and if it was the National Broadcasting Corporation or something else.” | Terry Segal

The Short Answer

Detroit Free Press 1831-1922, ProQuest Historical Newspapers

The NBC Building was built by the National Biscuit Company in 1920. It was one of 7 large state-of-the-art factories the company built around the country at the time — and part of a building boom in the city. This ad from the era shows how much building there was in Detroit in a very short period of time and how much more growth was expected.

There was already a smaller NBC factory and business office on East Woodbridge in Detroit. The new factory offered a private railroad on its grounds and access to the Grand Trunk Railroad and Detroit United Railway for distribution throughout the region.

The building was designed with an emphasis on safety and worker accommodations. It’s steel frame and automatic sprinkler system provided fire protection for six-and-a-half acres of floor space. Two-story ovens and massive cooling rooms would be used to produce the crackers, biscuits and cookies the company — that decades later would be known as Nabisco — was famous for. The factory had a restaurant…large restrooms for women and smoking rooms for men. A 1919 article in the Detroit Free Press said the plant had “sanitary appointments to equal the best hotels.”

The NBC Building Today

Sascha Raiyn/WDET

In 2012, the building was purchased by U-Haul. After investing more than $6 million dollars in renovations, 3 of its 7 stories are now used for storage and rental truck services.

U-Haul said they chose the location because of its proximity to Henry Ford Hospital and Wayne State University. Choosing an historic building was also important to the company’s commitment to sustainable reuse. U-Haul has purchased several historic buildings throughout the U.S.

U-Haul is working with Wayne State University to study how the renovation and use of the NBC Building affects economics, crime and revitalization in the neighborhood around it.

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  • Sascha Raiyn

    Sascha Raiyn is Education Reporter at 101.9 WDET. She is a native Detroiter who grew up listening to news and music programming on Detroit Public Radio.