Finding someone able to fix the iconic red orb atop the towering Penobscot Building was one thing.
Finding someone crazy enough to do it was another.
Enter Todd Farnum, a 47-year-old Warren resident and lighting expert with fond memories of the building and just enough crazy, er, courage for the job. Farnum, with the help of his employees, offered to climb the 100-foot tower atop the 47-story building at no cost, in freezing temperatures, to replace the custom-made neon tubes that have blinked out.
It was a deal.
“This is something special,” Farnum, who owns Green Light Detroit, told me before suiting up. “I have family that worked in the building.”
Green Light Detroit will be the first new company to work on the ball in at least three decades, said Kim Farmer, vice president of operations and leasing at Triple Properties.
“They were the first group that wasn’t afraid and that was knowledgeable,” Farmer said.
On Wednesday, Farnum donned gloves and safety gear and began to ascend the narrow ladder. But after making it a third of the way up, Farnum was forced to retreat because the ladder was coated in ice and frost.
Farnum said he will replace the lights, which he expects to take about two hours, as soon as the ice melts.
“I’m not holding off until spring,” he said after climbing down. “I want to get this done”
When the 567-foot building opened in 1928, it was the fourth tallest building in the U.S., according to HistoricDetroit.org. The red orb was used as an aviation beacon so low-flying planes didn’t crash into the building,
The Penobscot is now the third tallest building in Detroit, and its red orb is just decorative.
Triple Properties also plans to re-open the observation deck that has been closed for decades.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.