Though now the global headquarters of General Motors, and owned and renovated by them at a cost of 500 million dollars, the GM Renaissance Center was originally conceived by Henry Ford II and financed primarily by the Ford Motor Company with the intention of revitalizing the economy of Detroit. The cylindrical central tower, the tallest hotel in the Western Hemisphere, now the Marriott, opened on July 1, 1976. The 30-mile view from the 72nd floor of the hotel encompasses the Detroit skyline, the Detroit River, and the skyline of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

The 5-story glass-enclosed Wintergarden atrium, filled with tropical plants and displaying “Borealis”(said to be the world’s tallest vertical glass sculpture), overlooks the Detroit River and Promenade. Outside, on the Promenade, is a map of the world carved in granite. And the three-mile Riverwalk is part of the current revitalization.

The hotel and four surrounding skyscrapers were originally separate, unconnected buildings. The mezzanine of the central tower now houses an eighth-of-a-mile lighted ringed walkway connecting with other walkways, and the intricate indoor Circulation Ring, comprised of 288 suspended etched glass panels, connects the center’s four main office towers. With the addition of two more 21-story office towers in 1981, the office complex is now so complex that at certain junctions large tile compasses have been inlaid in the walkway so that you know what direction you’re facing. And the RenCen is large enough to have its own zip code. Particularly for a tourist, it’s very easy to get lost. Even locating in which of several garages you’ve left your car can be a challenge, but at least the buildings are numbered inside.

Hungry after our Motown adventure, before we took the guided tour we had lunch at the 1,100 square-foot food court. Considering there are about 16,000 employees in the office area, we didn’t have to wait in line too long.

We finished off the day by riding the People Mover, an elevated trolley that circulates through downtown Detroit and stops at certain strategic points—an interesting short tour of the city and a way to get around quickly. Briefly we contemplated dinner in Toledo, Ohio, just to visit another state, but quickly decided that home and early-to-bed was a better idea. We’d had a great day, but we were tired.

An interesting statistic: Excluding the atrium, two million pieces of glass were used to face the first five structures (the hotel and the four 39-story office buildings).

Trivia Question: Most hotels do not have a floor numbered “13.” This hotel is missing two others as well. What are they?

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