Historic Detroit

Park Avenue Hotel

Now among Detroit’s many abandoned buildings, the Park Avenue Hotel was once among the gems of businessman Lew Tuller’s hotel empire.

Tuller had made a name for himself and a lot of money with his Tuller Hotel, on the west side of Grand Circus Park along Park Avenue. Many considered the Tuller Hotel to be a risk when it opened in 1906, being built on the fringe of what was then downtown. But Tuller’s bet paid off, and he soon was slapping additions onto his hotel every couple of years. With Detroit’s economy pumping and Tuller’s fortunes growing, the hotelier commissioned architect Louis Kamper to design three towering hotels along Park Avenue: the Eddystone, the Royal Palm and the Park Avenue. Kamper was at the height of his popularity, having just come off designing the Book-Cadillac Hotel, the city’s most spectacular hotel.

The 13-story Park Avenue Hotel rose on the southwest corner of Park Avenue and Sproat Street, one block west of Woodward Avenue and three blocks north of what is now the Fisher Freeway (I-75). The Eddystone went up across the street; the Royal Palm was erected further south, closer to the Tuller Hotel. Causing some confusion these days, the Royal Palm was later renamed the Park Avenue House. It is home today to the Town Pump Tavern.

As downtown’s business district grew with the city, the area north of Grand Circus Park became a hotbed for development. Park Avenue was planned to rival New York’s Fifth Avenue, lined with fancy shops and hotels. Thanks to its proximity to downtown, the entertainment district around Grand Circus Park and streetcar lines, it was initially a major success. The Eddystone and Park Avenue hotels helped with that success.

From 1924-1925, nearly two dozen hotels were built in the downtown area, adding 5,441 rooms. It’s important to remember in this day and age, that many people lived in these hotels; they were not used by only out-of-town visitors.

The Park Avenue Hotel featured 252 rooms and the latest in hotel glitz and glamor: fancy furniture, hide-away wall beds and built-in dressers. Kamper outfitted the building’s lobby in the Tudor style and gave it imitation stone walls (ritzy at the time). In the back of the lobby was a lounge room with wooden paneling, English-style furniture and impressive chandeliers. If you kept on walking past the lounge, you’d come across the hotel’s main dining room and two private dining rooms. The hotel also featured many of the mainstays in hotels of the time, including a barbershop, drug store, cleaners and tobacconist.

But ahead of the Great Depression, it became clear that Lew Tuller had overexerted himself. One by one, he would lose his hotels. The Security Trust Co. seized the Park Avenue Hotel from him in 1928. While the hotels would stay in business, they did not offer the same style and service as they did under Tuller’s leadership.

And just as the 1920s through ’40s were kind to Detroit, the 1960s through ’90s were not.

With the rise of the freeway system, the suburbs and the ensuing white flight - especially after the 1967 riot - Detroit began to bleed businesses, residents and tourists.

In 1957, the Salvation Army took over the Park Avenue Hotel and began running it as the Eventide Residence, a senior housing complex. A similar move was made with the nearby Hotel Detroiter. By turning these glamorous old hotels near downtown into homes for the aged, they could offer old-timers fond memories, style and proximity to downtown shopping and entertainment.

But Detroit continued to slide downhill, and by the 1980s, skyscrapers were becoming boarded-up, drugs and the destitute were moving in and crime was on the rise. This led the Salvation Army to turn the old hotel into a rehab center for the homeless and drug addicts, called the Harbor Light Center. It would be the largest such treatment facility in the country and helped countless metro Detroiters get back on their feet. However, this, too, would not last. Citing rising costs, the Salvation Army closed the Harbor Light Center in 2003.

It would not take long for the building to be pillaged by scrappers and vandals. Windows were stolen. Copper pipes and architectural details were swiped. Graffiti was splattered inside and out. The once grand Park Avenue Hotel was yet another eyesore in a city littered with them.

Rumors of demolition were quick to follow, but a lack of money kept the bulldozers at bay. In 2005, developers who revamped the Carlton Hotel across Woodward in Brush Park got the city to grant the Eddystone and Park Avenue hotels local designation, to help pave the way for their redevelopment into condos or apartments. The projects never happened.

In 2012 or so, the billionaire Ilitch family purchased both the Eddystone and Park Avenue buildings as it eyed the area north of I-75 and between Cass and Woodward avenues for its new hockey arena district. Shortly after the new arena was green-lighted in 2014, the Ilitches announced they wanted to raze both of the old hotels.

A preservation battle broke out once again between the Ilitch family and those committed to saving the city’s historic architecture. In a shocking compromise, the Ilitches agreed to save the Eddystone, rehabbing it into residential — if they were given permission to tear down the Park Avenue. They said it was necessary in order to accommodate a loading dock. It was not clear why the loading dock couldn’t have been moved to accommodate saving the Park Avenue.

After a prolonged fight, which saw the mayor do some controversial maneuvers involving appointments to the Historic District Commission to get the demolition approved, the building was imploded at 8 a.m. July 11, 2015.

Stay tuned to HistoricDetroit.org as their futures unfold.