Historic Detroit

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

Leland Hotel

The Leland Hotel is a survivor, one of the city's few hotels that has weathered the good times and the bad since opening April 20, 1927.

Designed by famed architects Rapp & Rapp (a rare non-theater commission for the brothers), the 20-story hotel was done in the Italian Renaissance style and faced with brick and terra cotta.

The hotel was erected on Cass and Bagley avenues, near the city's two grandest movie palaces, the Michigan and United Artists. It also was close to Detroit's thriving shopping district on Washington Boulevard and to Grand Circus Park. Its location helped to put the Leland in the heart of it all.

The Leland offered "800 rooms -- 800 baths" to the city's healthy stock of accommodations for out-of-towners. By this time, hotels like the Book-Cadillac, the Statler and the Tuller were already well-established.

The Leland's rooms were air-conditioned -- a state-of-the-art amenity at the time -- and the hotel boasted nearly a dozen stores and a gorgeous ballroom. It was considered a four-star hotel.

But the hotel also was known for having a rather seedy reputation for a stretch of time. Its bar was said to be a hangout for Detroit's notorious Purple Gang, and Jimmy Hoffa spent a lot of time there. The story goes that as soon as Hoffa wound up missing, the Leland was the first place police looked. Mobsters often wined and dined in the Leland's ballroom.

In 1955, the closed-door drama between UAW President Walter Reuther and chief Ford negotiator John Bugas unfolded leading up to their agreement on the guaranteed wage at the Leland.

By the mid-1960s, the Leland was going by the name the Leland House. Robert K. and Donald Werbe bought the Leland on Jan. 9, 1964, and said they planned to spend at least $5 million to turn it into a luxury apartment-hotel. In 1965, owner Robert Werbe announced plans for a night club "dedicated to the greater glory of banjo music" called Your Father's Mustache. It had an 1890 decor and waiters with handlebar mustaches.

In January 1966, the owners of the Leland secured a $4.3 million loan ($28.9 million today) to convert the hotel into apartments and pay for modernization improvements, an outdoor swimming pool, parking garage and the renovation of commercial space on the first floor.

It was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 20, 2005.

The hotel had spent the last few decades as part of the Ramada chain before reverting to its historical name before the Super Bowl in 2006.

In January 2018, it was announced that the Leland would undergo a $120 million renovation, turning it into 339 affordable and market-rate apartments, along with a 650-space parking deck.

"The renovation of the Leland Hotel represents an enormous opportunity to transform a historic Detroit structure into a modern and vibrant 339-unit apartment building," Rockford Construction, the Grand Rapids, Mich.-based development manager for the project, said in a statement at the time.

The project was to start in September 2018 and wrap by in March 2020. For reasons never made public, that work never started.

Today, the building remains open. It is also the longtime home to the industrial City Club nightclub. Opened in 1983 as the Lidernacht, or Night Song in German, the City Club is in what was the hotel's ballroom. The Leland also has a 1950s diner in one of its storefronts called Lucy & Ethel's.

Last updated 01/04/2023