The 47-story Greater Penobscot Building towers over Campus Martius, an Art Deco masterpiece that has dominated the city’s skyline for more than 80 years.
The building is named after a tribe of American Indians in New England. The name Penobscot means “the place where the rocks open out.” Simon J. Murphy, who made a fortune as a lumber baron before coming to Detroit, spent his youth working on the Penobscot River in Maine. As the nation moved west, Murphy’s lumber empire moved with it, and he settled in Detroit. When it came time to name his new building, his thoughts returned to his roots.
There are actually three Penobscot buildings. The first is the 13-story building Murphy erected in 1903. It was joined by a 24-story tower in 1916. The third, the 47-story tower known as the Greater Penobscot, was built at a cost of $5 million.
The Penobscot was the eighth-tallest building in the world when it opened in October 1928, and was the fourth tallest in the United States. At about 567 feet, it was the tallest building in Detroit until 1977, when it was surpassed by the 729-foot Renaissance Center. It is now the city’s third-tallest, also having been overshadowed in 1993 by Comerica Tower, which stands about 623 feet tall.