Historic Detroit

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Cadillac Square Apartments

Its owner may now call them the "New Cadillac Square Apartments," but this former hotel has been a mainstay in the heart of downtown for nearly 100 years and was part of an empire built by one of downtown's biggest developers, John J. Barlum.

When Barlum announced on Aug. 22, 1925, that he was plopping a fancy, state-of-the-art hotel along Cadillac Square, it was front-page, above-the-fold news in the Detroit Free Press. "$3,300,000 20-story hotel will mark the beginning of extensive improvements for Cadillac Square," the headline screamed in all caps. "Cadillac Square ... is to keep abreast of the modern development that is steadily transforming the heart of the city into a great mertopolitan (stet) business district," the story read.

After all, the Roaring Twenties had seen the Pontchartrain Hotel (1907) replaced by the First National Building (1920). The Family Theatre (1909) had risen where Jonathan Wright's old tobaccco warehouse had operated. And the Central Market that once sat in the middle of what was then Michigan Grand Avenue, in front of the future site of the Barlum Hotel, was now buzzing with Detroit-made automobiles and called Cadillac Square. It was becoming a much different place than J.J. Barlum remembered it -- and he was going to set out to make even more drastic changes.

J.J. Barlum's greatest showcase on Earth

The Barlum Hotel was the brainchild of John J. Barlum, a cousin of two-time Detroit Mayor William Barlum Thompson, who was also among the larger stakeholders in Barlum's development company. But Barlum was a major player on his own, with his business interests reaching into many areas. In addition to serving as president of the Cadillac Square Improvement Co., he also served as president of the American State Bank; the Barlum Land Co.; the Barlum Realty Co.; the Barlum Steamship Co., which ran freighters on the Great Lakes; and the White Star Navigation Co., which had a fleet of passenger steamers, like the Tashmoo and Greyhound; and was a director of the Ashley & Dustin Steamer Line, which ran the popular excursion steamer the Put-In-Bay. He also served on the Street Railway Commission, becoming its president in 1929 under Mayor John C. Lodge, and in 1914, he became the president of the Detroit Public Lighting Commission.

On top of his successful business career, Barlum inherited a sizable chunk of money from his father, Thomas Barlum Sr.. Poppa Barlum was among the many food entrepreneurs doing business at the Central Market in the late 19th century along what is now Cadillac Square, becoming a millionaire running his successful meatpacking business. The young Barlum would get up at 3:30 a.m. with his dad in order to get out the wholesale-meat orders that had to be delivered at 7 a.m. (The future Mayor Thompson also worked in the Barlums' market, for his uncle, as a boy.) Thomas Barlum Sr. left up to $1.5 million ($24 million in 2022 dollars) to his sons John, Louis and Thomas Jr. upon his death.

Barlum poured much of his inheritance and his own earnings into Detroit real estate. The three Barlum boys set out to do for the east side of downtown what the Book brothers were doing on the west with projects like the Book Tower and Book-Cadillac Hotel. The Barlums' primary goal was to turn the Cadillac Square area from the market filled with small shops of their father's era into a bustling center of office buildings and hotels.

John Barlum founded the Cadillac Square Improvement Association to lead that transformational effort, which would go on to include what is now the Cadillac Tower (opened as the Barlum Tower in 1927), the Merchants Building at 206 E. Grand River (1922) and the Lawyers Building at 137 Cadillac Square (1923). All of these were, like the Barlum Hotel, designed by Bonnah & Chaffee, Barlum's architectural firm of choice. The firm also designed for Barlum the Hotel Lewis at 5725 Woodward Ave. (1924); Lewis was the maiden name of Barlum's wife, Julia M. Barlum. It was an incredible flurry of development by one firm in a five-year period during Detroit's boom times.

"We are going to build up Cadillac Square and make it one of the finest centers in the city of Detroit," John Barlum said Aug. 22, 1925, in announcing the hotel, which he claimed was named in honor of his father, not himself. "No expense will be spared in furnishing the Barlum Hotel throughout, while it will be equipped with the finest cafes and chefs available."

The terra cotta-clad building on the northeastern corner of Cadillac Square and Bates Street was built on the site of another Detroit hostelry, the Burns Hotel, which started being torn down in December 1925. The cost of the Barlum Hotel wound up being closer to $2.5 million than the $3.3 million reported earlier (the difference between approximately $41 million to $54.2 million, respectively, in 2022 dollars, when adjusted for inflation) to build, and originally featured 810 rooms across its 21 floors -- 21 stories of "solid comfort," an advertising brochure for the hotel noted. Its lobby was a stunning, two-story ode to ornate Venetian decor. And notably, its U-shaped design meant that all of its rooms were outside rooms with natural light. The Barlum Hotel was erected by the Otto Misch Co. Interior marble was supplied by the Wolverine Marble Co.

The Barlum opened on Feb. 12, 1927. About 2,000 people turned out for opening night, including Mayor John W. Smith among about 50 City officials. About 20 huge floral offerings filled the lobby and ante-rooms.

Before the Barlum Hotel even opened its doors, John Barlum began work on his massive 438-foot Barlum Tower next door.

In 1940, the room count was reduced to 700. Rents were $30 a month, or about $620 a month today.

End of an empire

Several newspaper articles published in the late 1960s indicated that Barlum lost his hotels during the Great Depression in the early 1930s, but that does not appear to be the case. However, he did find himself in some trouble during this era, though he was far from broke, living in Indian Village, summering at a vacation home on the St. Clair Flats and being tended to by servants and carted around by his Japanese chauffeur, Sugawara. Nevertheless, with the equivalent of tens of millions of in today's dollars in real estate, Barlum may have lost a lot of money, but he was by no means destitute.

After a circuit judge took his own life following the collapse of the Federal Bond & Mortgage Co., of which he was president, an investigation found some shady dealings regarding Barlum's American State Bank and the financing of his properties through Federal Bond. It was brought out that the bank had made loans totaling $350,000 to the mortgage company in order to meet bond payments on the Barlum Tower.

John Barlum died Sept. 18, 1940, at Henry Ford Hospital after a prolonged illness at age 74. He is buried in Mt. Elliott Cemetery.

Meanwhile, things were not looking good for his ailing namesake hotel, either.

In 1941, the City of Detroit took over the hotel for back taxes. That October, the hotel's furniture and furnishings were liquidated, and the building closed. In July 1942, news leaked that the hotel would be rented to a governmental agency to run it as a residential building, possibly for lower-income earners. Instead, that same year saw the hotel sold to a group headed by Henry C. Keywell, a builder and real estate operator, for $540,000 on a 20-year land contract.

It reopened in March 1943, keeping the Barlum Hotel name, and was refreshed with new paint, furniture and the like. The hotel now advertised 620 rooms and rents of $15 a week and up (the equivalent of about $255 today), or $2.50 a day for a single (about $42 in 2022) and $3.50 for a double (about $59 now). In the early 1950s, the hotel's lobby was home to the travel offices of Transcontinental and Southern Airways. Other tenants included a luggage shop and the Detroit School of Real Estate.

On April 8, 1958, The Detroit News profiled the hotel and its place as "one of America's last theatrical hotels ... a home-away-from-home for road show companies, ice extravaganzas, visiting symphonies, ballet and opera companies on the move." Among the stars of the time who signed its register: Edward Everett Horton, Marsha Hunt, Lief Erickson, Diana Barrymore, Jose Greco, Mantovani and Johnny Long and his orchestra. Hugh M. Mackie, who served as the Barlum Hotel's manager from 1949-65, estimated that 95 percent of the troupes performing at the Cass and Shubert theaters stayed under the Barlum's roof, as did many of the ballets and symphonies taking the stage at the Masonic Temple. Many of the performers practiced their instruments and dance moves in the hotel's ballroom and, when the symphonies' cacophonies became too much, some performers would take to the hotel's sub-basement to play.

"The Barlum Hotel is stage-struck," The News wrote. "From the resident manager to the chambermaids, staff members have stardust in their eyes, the smell of greasepaint in their nostrils."

Every Henrose has its thorns

In May 1958, after some 15 years of ownership, Keywell decided to not only renovate the hotel, but rename it. Along with a $600,000 makeover, the Barlum hotel was rebranded the Henrose, combining his first name -- Henry -- with that of his wife, Rose. The work included replacing the ornate Venetian two-story lobby with a more modest one-story one lined with leather benches and walnut paneling, as well as a remodeled ballroom and banquet and meeting rooms ranging in capacity from 50 to 900. A new red granite facing was slapped onto the lower floors. The guest rooms also received an overhaul, with shades of blue and green and gold, blue and white; the number of rooms was reduced yet again, this time to 578. "An Oriental motif is introduced into the rooms through framed Chinese prints," an advertorial awkwardly boasted in the May 24, 1959, edition of the Detroit Free Press. A new cocktail bar, the Chancellor Lounge, was added, offering "subdued lighting, luxurious surroundings and old-fashioned hospitality."

The architect on the remodeling was Theodore Rogvoy. The general contractor was Kendall Construction Co.

The work was completed in early 1959, and a formal grand reopening was held that May 25, with Mayor Louis Miriani cutting the ribbon under the hotel's new marquee.

"Sparkling with newness and boasting the most modern, up-to-date hotel facilities, the Henrose stands on Cadillac Square overlooking Detroit's beautiful new Civic Center. Proud of its heritage as the former Barlum Hotel, the Henrose is new both inside and out and is certain to establish a personality all its own," the advertorial continued. "With all the reminders of the 30-year-old hotel gone, the new Henrose looks to the future."

The Venetian splendor was replaced with "uncluttered, clean-cut lines ... throughout the hotel," the advertorial continued, proclaiming the makeover "a glowing tribute to Detroit and its future."

But Keywell's big splash was met with a lack of enthusiasm. Less than four years after its grand reopening, on Feb. 17, 1963, the Henrose trotted out a "modified American plan" of room rates for permanent guests, aimed primarily at retirees and single working people. The daily rates were $5.17 for a single bed and $9 for rooms with twin beds, and included breakfasts and dinners, radio and TV sets, maid service, telephones, and access to a color TV lounge, game room and an entertainment room.

Further compounding Keywell's problems, all that modern glitz and glamour came at a price. To pay for the makeover and operations, Keywell's ownership group took out a $1.6 million loan in April 1960 from the Teamsters Union Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund. That's about $15.7 million today. The pension fund's trustees took Keywell's group to court, saying that no interest had been paid on the loan since June 1962, and the City and County taxes for 1961 and 1962 had not been paid. Keywell's group now owed the Teamsters $1,664,903 on the $1.6 million loan three years in. The Teamsters petitioned for the Henrose to be placed under federal bankruptcy receivership -- a move granted on May 10, 1963 -- and a reorganization petition was filed in hopes of keeping the hotel out of foreclosure. The pension fund soon found itself in the hotel business, and began operating it with the regular hotel staff July 8, 1963.

The union announced in June 1964 that it was selling the Henrose to a group of Detroit, Chicago and Washington businessmen in a sale that garnered $1.5 million over the course of a four-year loan -- taking a hit on the loan to Keywell. The group was said to be considering rebranding the Henrose as The Ambassador and giving it a "Detroit-Canada appeal," the News reported June 5, 1964. The new owners instead chose to name it the Embassy Hotel. However, that syndicate had even less luck than Keywell, lasting less than six months before they, too, defaulted, and the Teamsters resumed control and operations of the hotel in December 1964 while they shopped it to potential owners.

On Nov. 4, 1966, the Teamsters closed on the sale of the hotel to a Boston-based syndicate that wanted to convert it into apartments. The sale price was not disclosed, but the cost of buying the building and turning it into apartments was pegged at about $2.5 million ($22.6 million, when adjusted for inflation). The 525-room hotel was then converted into the 221-unit One Eleven Cadillac Square Apartments, with rents around $155 a month for a one-bedroom, the equivalent of about $1,400 in 2022. The remodel was done by architect Bernard Schulak of suburban Walled Lake, Mich.

The renovations concluded in early 1967, and the building's life as an apartment building began in April 1967. The building has served as apartments ever since, so it has been an apartment building longer than it was a hotel.

"No longer will actors, musicians, ice skaters, striptease artists and others be able to rent a single room with bed and table for a couple of days or weeks," the Free Press lamented April 16, 1967, while reporting on the apartment conversion. "Now there will be such things as efficiency and studio apartments with 'gleaming kitchen units ... stainless steel sink ... refrigerator-freezer and four-burner range with oven.' And leases.

"Gone are the days when symphony orchestras serenaded the pumps, boilers and boiler tenders in the building's sub-basement."

In the early 2000s, the building was renamed yet again, as the New Cadillac Square Apartments. Rents range from $785 to $1,675 for studios to two-bedroom units.

Special thanks to Elle Tivine-Austin for her assistance on untangling the Barlum family's perplexing genealogy.

Last updated 25/04/2022