Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Brunswick Hotel

This hotel's opening was so momentous, police had to be called to keep the masses at bay. When it was demolished 34 years later, hardly anybody would have noticed if it weren't for a crazy kitty that made front-page headlines.

The Brunswick's story is a confusing one, filled with a number of additions and the recycling of names "old" and "new."

A new hotel with a name from old Detroit

This building on Grand River Avenue near Cass Avenue was built over a series of stages. It was originally known as the Perkins Hotel. An older Perkins Hotel on or near that intersection had been a Detroit staple at least as far back as 1860. Detroit was a small town of about 45,000 people then, but had grown to 200,000 by 1890 and was becoming more cosmopolitan. An old ramshackle shack simply would not do, and work on tearing down and replacing the wooden structure began Aug. 15, 1890. The revamped Perkins was open for business and billed as the "New Perkins Hotel" by the following March. At least part of this new Perkins would later be folded into what would become the Brunswick.

The New Perkins didn't have near the staying power of the old, however, and closed in the early fall of 1899, with all of its furniture being sold off that September. "It is understood the building will be remodeled," the Free Press wrote Sept. 3, 1899, also noting that a cash offer of $55,000 had been made for the property but was declined, with "the owner holding firm for $60,000." Though that might not seem like much today, that offer translates to $1.7 million in 2021 dollars, with an asking price of $1.9 million.

Finding no takers, architects John Scott & Co. were hired to enlarge and remake the building -- yet again. In June 1900, the firm began letting contracts for the work. This new $38,000 addition (about $1.2 million, when adjusted for inflation) was 80 by 70 feet and three stories high. It enlarged the hotel to 100 rooms, each fitted with hot and cold water -- which was not nothing at the turn of the 20th century. Twenty-five rooms even got their own bathroom. It is this version of the structure that would become the Brunswick.

But not right away.

It would be nearly two years since the Perkins' closure before Charles H. Moring -- "a hotel man of long experience," the Detroit Free Press noted in its April 7, 1901, edition -- leased the property from owner A.L. Stephens. Moring had previously run Chiera's Oriental Hotel, and served on the executive board of the Detroit Hotelmen's Association. He immediately set out to revamp the place and gave it a new name. He had considered naming it "the Michigan Hotel," but opted to go with the Brunswick instead.

Moring outfitted the building with $15,000 in new furniture and carpets. "The Brunswick," the Free Press continued in April 1901, "is now entirely modern in every respect." Moring targeted the transient trade, as opposed to a residential, long-stay type of hotel more akin to an apartment.

Old is new again -- again

Initially, Moring's business was called the New Brunswick Hotel, because a decade earlier, Detroit was home to a different hotel by that name. That one was built by the Hodges brothers in 1870 on the southeast corner of State and Griswold streets. That Brunswick was originally a four-story building and served as a hotel from 1878 to 1889, before two more stories were tacked on top and it was renamed the Hodges Building. The Hodges Building was torn down for the David Stott Building in 1928.

When Moring threw open the doors to his new New Brunswick Hotel on April 9, 1901, 3,500 people came to check it out and police had to be called for crowd control.

"The crowd was so dense that it was practically impossible to get in or out of the hotel," the Detroit Free Press wrote the following morning. "As the guests came in they were ushered upstairs, where a maid on every landing directed them through the corridors and the newly furnished rooms. ... (Staff) saw that the guests went into the dining room and had some of the dainty lunch that was provided."

As memories of the "old" Brunswick faded, Moring dropped the "New" from the hotel's name. Sadly, it does not appear that the Brunswick made many memories of its own, as it led a rather unremarkable existence over its 34-year existence.

Long outdated by larger and fancier hotels in the ever-more large and fancy Detroit -- remember, only a quarter of the Brunswick's rooms had their own bathroom -- the Brunswick was demolished in July 1935.

In its cornerstone was discovered two coins.

"Ancient building tradition required that a piece of gold be placed under the mast of a ship or in the corner stone of a public building," the Free Press wrote July 24, 1935. "The thrifty souls who built the Brunswick, however, placated the spirits that rule over architects and their colleagues by depositing a shilling and a quarter."

Also in the cornerstone was a copy of the Free Press dated Sept. 25, 1890 -- proof that at least part of Perkins Hotel 2.0 was incorporated into John Scott's 1900 remodel.

As wreckers cleared the block, they also removed the garage on Grand River and Bagley where Henry Ford assembled his first car. It was removed to Greenfield Village.

No animals were harmed in the making of this parking lot

The last time the Brunswick Hotel's name was mentioned in the Free Press was for an unlikely reason: a story about the rescue of a cat that had been buried alive in concrete.

"Profane if not profound were the observations on the patriotism of cats, which a perspiring traffic patrolman muttered Friday evening as he vainly tried to unravel a traffic snarl at Grand River and Cass Aves.," the Free Press wrote Aug. 24, 1935. "The cause of the snarl was a half-grown gray tomcat, whose love of home was so great that it had remained even after the home had become a sealed tomb."

A laborer setting posts around the parking lot being laid on the site of the Brunswick noticed that his posts kept moving on him. Ghosts of the Brunswick seeking revenge? Nah, it turned out that a cat had hidden in an interstitial space underground and was fighting to get out from under the freshly poured concrete.

After two hours, a man named Harold Gilchrist finally freed the feline.

"With tooth and claw, although weakly, the starveling declared its intention to resist eviction and expiration," the Free Press said.

The cat had faired better than the old hotel, and was taken to the Humane Society's shelter at 7401 Richmond Ave.