Historic Detroit

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

Clifford Hotel

The Clifford opened Dec. 1, 1923, at Clifford and Duffield streets, the latter of which was later eliminated for the Fisher Freeway Service Drive.

It was built by Robert M. Drysdale, and replaced a number of old frame houses that stood on the site. The steel-and-concrete structure had stone and terra cotta facing; the lower two floors were faced with gray granite. It cost about $1.25 million to build. The architect was Joseph P. Jogerst.

It was an apartment hotel, so it featured all of the amenities and service of a hotel for its residents. It offered 110 two- and three-room suites that were furnished and decorated. The 10-story, fireproof building featured amenities such as "iceless" refrigeration, personal bathrooms for each room, phone service and more.

The building had eight storefronts on the ground floor and a basement concourse that was home to a barber and hair-dressing shop, as well as the Clifford's recreation features.

"Families of refinement are now making this their permanent home," an ad from November 1923 noted.

The building continued to operate for decades to come, but mostly avoided the newspapers. But there were some newsworthy events that would transpire - and not for good reasons.

Early in the morning hours of Sept. 26, 1966, an armed bandit tried to stick up the Voyager Bar inside the Clifford, but was beaten to the draw by the bartender. The 34-year-old thief, Ronald Straley, put his gun down on the bar so that he could use both hands to stuff $200 into his pockets. Bartender Darlene Hard, 24, grabbed the gun and chased the bandit out of the Voyager and into the street, where she shot Straley in the back. He was arrested and taken to Detroit General Hospital, where he was listed in critical condition.

The bartender told police that she was "only doing what came naturally." The headline in the Detroit Free Press the following morning read, "Barmaid plays Annie Oakley."

In May 1972, Centrex Development sought the City's approval for $350,000 in renovation work. That request was canceled for reasons unknown. That November, it was announced that the Clifford would be rebranded the Centrex Arms Apartments after the developer was approved for financing through the Michigan State Housing Development Authority for Federal Housing Administration-backed housing (FHA). The reborn Centrex Arms was slated for completion in May 1973, and rents were estimated to be $121 a month.

Meanwhile, however, an FBI informer said he was severely beaten inside the hotel May 28, 1972, by members of a crime family accused of trying to take over the gambling racket in Detroit. The Clifford was known to be a gambling den, where card games and the Greek dice game barbut were played.

George Nicolaou, who was 39 at the time, told a federal jury that Christ, Michael and Gregory "Pets" Katranis pistol-whipped him and attacked him with fists and a cane. In April 1974, The Katranis men were charged with obstruction of a criminal investigation, conspiracy to obstruct a criminal investigation and using or carrying firearms in the commission of a felony. Gregory Katranis was not charged at the time; he was found dead and stuffed into the trunk of a Cadillac in December 1972.

Shortly after the attack, however, the building was shuttered, with residents being displaced in late 1973 and early 1974, according to notices in the Detroit Free Press.

It would seem that the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) pulled its low-income housing contract with the building, which is often done when the building is deemed unsafe or not up to HUD standards. Because the building had an FHA-backed mortgage, when it went into default, HUD took the building's title.

In March 1977, HUD placed ads inviting bidders to buy the vacant building. It isn't clear whether HUD found any takers, but a demolition permit for the building was issued Oct. 18, 1984. Demolition was in full swing by that November.

Today, the site is a surface parking lot.

Last updated 02/06/2020