Historic Detroit

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

Majestic Hotel

Under every parking lot in Detroit lies pieces of our city's history - sometimes, even "Majestic" ones.

The building was built, owned and managed by William S. Buckley. Buckley was born on Christmas Day 1882, and had founded the National Drapery & Carpet Co. in 1906. Deciding to expand his business repertoire to cash in on all the workers moving to Detroit for factory work, Buckley hired architect J. Philip McDonnell to design this 250-room hotel on the northeast corner of Montcalm and Clifford streets. It stood across the alley from the Film Exchange Building, which still stands today.

McDonnell went with buff-faced brick trimmed with terra cotta, and gave the hotel an open parapet at the top. The hotel cost about $450,000 to build (the equivalent of about $8 million in 2024, when adjusted for inflation).

Construction started in late August 1925, and the Majestic opened a little less than a year later, on May 1, 1926. It catered to both permanent guests and those just passing through. The four-story hotel reserved an entire floor for female guests, at least initially. Its six ground-floor retail spaces were home to a cafe, a barbershop, a tailor and a drugstore.

An ad announcing its opening from the April 29, 1926, edition of the Detroit Free Press proclaimed it to be "thoroughly modern in every respect. ... Comfortable, convenient, pleasant, homelike, plus an alert service that anticipates your every wish."

Of its 250 rooms, 50 had their own private bathroom attached; the others had to share a communal restroom and showers - not uncommon for non-luxury hotels of the time. Its rates at opening were $1.50 a day for transient guests, $35 a month for a single room with no private bath, and $50 a month for a room with its own bathroom. You could also snag a key for $5 per week per person.

In 1929, the Majestic started advertising free parking for its guests and residents. Interestingly, even in the 1920s, this part of downtown was home to a surprising number of surface-level parking lots thanks to the number of movie theaters and hotels in the area.

The following year saw ads for the Majestic offering "home-like and cheerful surroundings" with "an excellent opportunity to enjoy first-class hotel accommodations at exceeding (sic) low cost." The winter 1930 rates were $7 per week without a bath, $10 a week with one, and rates as low as $25 a month. The day rates were $1.50-$2.50. With the Great Depression raging, the monthly rates were dropped to $15 a month by 1932.

The Majestic Bar opened in the hotel July 13, 1935, under the management of Jack Carney.

William Buckley died March 1, 1945, of a cerebral hemorrhage in Miami Beach, Fla. He was interred at Mt. Elliott Cemetery in Detroit.

The Russian-born Harry Raskin, a prominent lightweight boxer in the 1920s and boxing manager, opened the appropriately named Pow-Wow Bar in the Majestic around 1942. Raskin's first main bout occurred at the Avenue Theatre and ended in a definite knockout: his opponent, John Saltine, died after the fight. Raskin was exonerated of a manslaughter charge. Raskin retired from the beer-slinging business in May 1968 and sold the bar, and died the following January.

The last ad for the Majestic appeared in papers in January 1969.

The building was acquired by landlord Charles C. Costa in 1972, but fell victim arson just six months later, on March 30, 1972.

At the time of the fire, there were about 95 people living in the Majestic. The damage was confined to the second and third floors. Police arrested a man on suspicion of arson, but he was later released. Costa told the Detroit News for a story the following day that he had no estimate of the damage, and was unsure whether he would be able to reopen it, nor did he know whether insurance would cover the damage.

The hotel never reopened after the fire, and scrappers soon started ripping it apart.

"I had hopes of restoring that vacant hotel's 200 living units, but, before I could start, it had been vandalized to the point that I've considered leveling or abandoning the burned hulk," Costa told The Detroit News for a Sept. 12, 1974, story. "Although we boarded up the burned hotel time and again, it had been stripped of all its metal and marble fixtures within three months of the fire. Nobody can convince me the police never noticed the trucks and noise involved in removing all the metal pipes, radiators, plumbing fixtures and even the elevator motor."

Then, on Oct. 22, 1974, yet another fire ripped through the Majestic. About 60 firefighters using 17 trucks were needed to quell the flames. Investigators from the arson unit said the blaze appeared to have started in a fourth-floor apartment and quickly spread through the trash and debris that littered the abandoned hotel.

The Majestic had been "easily accessible to anyone who cares to walk in," the Detroit News reported the day after the second fire. "The building is loaded with various kinds of trash which helped the fire to spread throughout the building so rapidly, arson investigators said."

A demolition permit for the Majestic was issued Oct. 28, 1975, and the site has been a parking lot ever since.

Last updated 10/03/2024