Historic Detroit

Hotel Fort Wayne

The Hotel Fort Wayne was one of a number of stately hotels that popped up around downtown Detroit in the 1920s - and has become one of a number of abandoned, windowless hotels that dot the city today.

The hotel was designed by the Detroit architectural firm Weston & Ellington, opening the same year as the world’s largest Masonic Temple next door. Development often spurs development, so it is probably no coincidence that they both arrived on Detroit’s skyline in 1926. Indeed, the Knights of Pythias occupied the entire second floor of the building. Albert E. Hamilton, potentate of Moslem temple the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, was its first directing manager.

The cost of the building and land was reported as $1.8 million, about $24 million today, when adjusted for inflation. The hotel was initially operated by the Wayne Castle Hotel Corp.

It was named after, obviously, Fort Wayne, which is located in Southwest Detroit. It joins the Pontchartrain and Fort Shelby hotels in also being named after Detroit military installations.

The 300-room hotel, like nearly every other hotel built downtown in the 1920s, featured all the standard amenities: air-conditioning, private baths, salon, barbershop, restaurants and the like. But the Fort Wayne also had something no other hotel in Detroit (that we are aware of, anyway) could offer: bowling alleys in the basement. Bowling has always been a huge deal in metro Detroit, and there was a seven-story building downtown practically devoted to the sport.

The Fort Wayne, like most hotels in Detroit, did well through the 1950s, serving both travelers and those staying long term. But, like most hotels in Detroit, its fortunes started to change with the rise of the suburbs and introduction of the freeway system. By the late 1960s, the hotel was scuffling, and a reinvention was called for: The Fort Wayne underwent a modern makeover and was redubbed the American Hotel.

The Cass Corridor was well on its way to becoming a home for those down on their luck by this point. It would soon become a dive hotel, catering to prostitutes, drug users and the like. It’s tough to keep a building of this size going with that kind of clientele — but somehow the American survived like this for nearly a quarter century. It finally closed in the early 2000s. It didn’t take long for the vandals and scrappers to go to town on it.

Somehow, the hotel has managed to survive the onslaught of demolition that has surrounded the new Red Wings hockey arena. The property was bought by the vaguely named Temple Commons LLC, based in Coldwater, Mich., in March 2010 for the seemingly hefty sum of $2.1 million. This was undoubtedly fueled by the speculation going on around the rumors of the nearby hockey arena. Its state equalized value is a paltry $37,000.

Yet five years after the sale, there is no sign of movement on the property, even though work has begun on the arena. Stay tuned.