The Post-Post-Apocalyptic Detroit (New Gilbertville)
In downtown Detroit, at the headquarters of the online-mortgage company Quicken Loans, there stands another downtown Detroit in miniature. The diorama, made of laser-cut acrylic and stretching out over 19 feet in length, is a riot of color and light: Every structure belonging to Quicken’s billionaire owner, Dan Gilbert, is topped in orange and illuminated from within, and Gilbert currently owns 60 of them, a lordly nine million square feet of real estate in all. He began picking up skyscrapers just three and a half years ago, one after another, paying as little as $8 a square foot. He bought five buildings surrounding Capitol Park, the seat of government when Michigan became a state in 1837. He snapped up the site of the old Hudson’s department store, where 12,000 employees catered to 100,000 customers daily in the 1950s. Many of Gilbert’s purchases are 20th-century architectural treasures, built when Detroit served as a hub of world industry. He bought a Daniel Burnham, a few Albert Kahns, a Minoru Yamasaki masterwork with a soaring glass atrium. “They’re like old-school sports cars,” said Dan Mullen, one of the executives who took over Quicken’s newly formed real estate arm. “These were buildings with so much character, so much history. They don’t exist anywhere else. And it was like, ‘Buy this parking garage, and we’ll throw in a skyscraper with it.’ “
One of Gilbert’s new downtown properties is an iconic Kahn creation from 1959 called Chase Tower, previously the National Bank of Detroit Building, which spans a full city block. Now nicknamed the Qube, the building houses hundreds of Quicken loan officers who sit or stand at small desks, working their phones. Employees are encouraged to write on the walls, which also display the latest tallied results in competitions between internal sales teams. Stenciled on the walls as well are the Quicken credos, 19 bits of pithy wisdom the company calls its “Isms.” (“The inches we need are everywhere around us.” “Numbers and money follow; they do not lead.”) Above the workers hover decorative, spacecraft-like orbs, in peach and pink and aquamarine, matching the colors of the cabinetry and carpeting. The overall atmosphere resembles “The Wolf of Wall Street” as art-directed by Dr. Seuss. When a loan officer closes a deal, the resulting mortgage contract is printed out in the nearby basement of the old Federal Reserve, another Gilbert holding. In rooms where armored cars once deposited bags of money, rows of printers run hot, spitting out tens of thousands of contracts a month, a total of $80 billion in residential mortgages last year.
I have received a number of calls from recruiters for job openings at Quicken Loans. A co-worker actually did quit to go work for them.
The whole idea of an elite few buying up and owning the entire city is kind of, well, nauseating.