Historic Detroit

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

Clairwood Apartments

The Clairwood opened in late 1926 to serve Detroit’s growing population in the growing northern reaches of the city. Its name comes from its location on Clairmount, just west of Woodward.

The four-story apartment building was designed by architect Harvey J. Haughney, and offered "exclusive two- and three-room apartments” in a "highly restricted building. They are different. They are better. They have everything plus. Just see them," an ad that ran in the Nov. 28, 1926, edition of The Detroit News said.

The units were rented to only permanent residents, not day-to-day travelers.

An ad in the Free Press on Dec. 24, 1926, boasted that the apartments were "unusually attractive, different and better. Beautiful entrance lobby, unique corridors, fully carpeted, elevator, electric refrigeration, radio aerials, tile bath and shower, artistic painting, full sited bevel plate door mirror, floor plugs galore, radiator shields, etc., etc."

On Oct. 15, 1928, Dolores Powers, a resident of the Clairwood, was selected by a committee of three judges as a "twin" of Mary Eaton, star of the "Five O'Clock Girl." As a winner of this contest, Dolores won an entire winter wardrobe "from the tip of her toes to the top of her blonde head" from the Crowley-Milner department store.

On July 26, 1935, Clairwood resident Bruce Evans found himself taken to Receiving Hospital for an usual reason.

"In a moment of excitement Friday night while listening to a hair-raising radio drama in his home at 100 Clairmount Avenue," The Detroit News reported the following day, he swallowed his false teeth. "Unable to stand the suspense of a particularly tense climax, Evans reached for a glass of water and swallowed both the water and his teeth" with it.

The apartment building had a relatively quiet existence for the next six decades, and no one else swallowed their false teeth - at least that we know of.

In 1958, the apartments were $57.50 a month for a two-bedroom (about $619 in 2023 valuation) and $72.50 for a three-bedroom (about $780), including utilities.

In the early 1960s, the Clairwood was advertised as being for "colored" residents. An ad from the April 19, 1961, Detroit News noted that the building was "well-known for the same efficient management since built." That would be more than 30 years, an impressive stint.

On July 23, 1967, years of racial tension and frustrations boiled over just a mile from the Clairwood, in the 12th Street Riot/Rebellion. The fiery unrest led to a decrease in demand and desirability.

In 1982, the Clairwood was being advertised as simply 100 Clairmount. The ads said the building had been newly decorated, and the studios were $150 a month with utilities and $175 bedroom, with no security deposit required. Those rents would be the equivalent of about $490 and $571 today, what would be considered low-income housing.

By 1991, the Clairwood was a senior housing development offering rents at $203 to $236 a month, ($464 and $540, respectively, in 2023 dollars).

In December 1996, the building advertised that its units had been recently renovated; studios and one-bedrooms were increased in price, then going for $275 a month including utilities (about $540 in 2023).

On Dec. 22, 1996, Detroit Police went to the Clairwood to investigate a burglary on the fourth floor. After entering, they found three live hand grenades, three dozen handguns, a number of rifles and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition - "enough gun powder to blow up the building if it had been ignited," Police Chief Isaiah McKinnon told The Detroit News for a story the following day. Police also found neo-Nazi paraphernalia. The man, despite having his apartment broken into, was arrested because he had the weapons despite being previously convicted of a felony. His name was not released, and it’s unclear whether he was convicted of the charges.

The building then stopped showing up in ads, limping along until 2005, when it closed. It would change hands several times over the next 18 years.

In early 2011, the Clairwood was infamously auctioned on eBay for $35,000. It bounced around from LLC to LLC in the years that followed, selling for $250,000 in November 2017 and jumping to $528,000 in April 2019.

In May 2022, Detroit-based developers Century Partners bought the building from an out-of-state investor for $960,000. Unlike the previous land speculators, however, Century co-founders David Alade and Andrew Colom planned to do something with it.

Alade lives near the Clairwood and said he passed by it many times before taking the leap with Colom. Century had rehabbed more than 200 units of affordable housing in Detroit since 2014, much of it single-family housing with some multifamily properties in there, as well. The Clairwood was Alade and Colom's biggest project to date.

"If I look at the chain of title over the last 20 years, it seems like a lot of individuals have brought it I think with the intent to renovate it," Alade told the Detroit Free Press for a Sept. 11, 2023, article, "and I think a lot of folks found it to be too big a project. For us, it’s a little different. This is our backyard. This is kind of personal to us. This is a long-term investment – it’s not a quick fix and flip.”

Providing further incentive for taking the Clairwood on, the neighborhood had seen some considerable in the preceding years. The new Ruth Ellis Center opened directly across the street from the Clairwood in 2022, and the St. Rita Apartments across Woodward reopened in 2019 as affordable housing.

On Sept. 11, 2023, Century announced a $9 million, top-to-bottom rehab plan for the Clairwood. The plan called for operating it as 42 units of affordable housing. Most would be one-bedrooms units, but there would be a mix of studios and two- and three-bedroom apartments, as well. To pull off the renovation and still offer low rents, Century is seeking brownfield tax captures valued at $472,750 over 19 years and to tap a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone tax abatement.

Alade said if incentives were approved, work would start in November 2023 and possibly see residents move in sometime in late 2024.