Historic Detroit

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

Milner Hotel

One of downtown Detroit's more distinctive buildings, given its triangular shape, is what is now called the Ashley Apartments.

But its story began more than 100 years ago as the Henry Clay Hotel. However, the hotel was not named after famed American statesman Henry Clay, but the man who built it, Henry Clay Hodges.

Hodges was a wealthy Detroit manufacturer, author and real estate developer. Originally from Vermont, Hodges moved from Marshall, Mich., to Detroit in 1862 to associate with his brother in the life insurance business. He built the Hodges Building on the corner of Griswold and State, now the site of the David Stott Building, in addition to the Henry Clay Hotel. The Hodges brothers also subdivided a portion of the city north of Grand River Avenue, including Trumbull and Lincoln avenues.

In addition to real estate, Henry Clay Hodges had a lifetime interest in science. Hodges was a heavily interested in astrology, and wrote books on scientific topics, including "2,000 Years in Celestial Life ... (Received through Psychic Telegraphy)" in 1901, and the seven-volume "Science and Key of Life: Planetary Influences" (1902-1910). He died Aug. 31, 1919, at the age of 91.

The Henry Clay Hotel was designed by the architectural partnership of Alvin E. Harley and Norman S. Atcheson. The original eight-story reinforced-concrete and brick hotel building was built in 1913, and was only 77 feet wide by 65 feet long; its eastern half was built in 1915.

Henry C. Hodges Realty owned the hotel until 1950, when it was sold in 1937 to Milner Hotels Inc., and its name changed accordingly. The hotel chain was founded by Earle Milner in 1947, who was looking to capitalize on America's thirst for travel on its newfangled highways. It would come five years before Holiday Inn, however, Earle Milner died in 1947 at age 55. Fourteen years of litigation trying to settle his will posed a significant challenge for the newfound company.

Nevertheless, the company did succeed, billing itself as "the largest hotel chain in the world," eventually boasting 172 hotels from coast to coast. Milner's business model was based around having standard rates and glitz-free but tidy rooms, offering "a room and a bath for a dollar-and-a-half."

The Detroit Milner Hotel was a 62,500-square-foot, nine-story brick building on a rusticated base. The building conforms with the triangular shape of its site, resulting in a narrow west end. Irregular massing due to the banks of bay windows add architectural interest to the building; the six-story bays rising from the second story are supported on large brackets extending to the first story. Store windows and projecting entrance add diversity in massing on the first story. A denticulated cornice separates the eighth and ninth stories.

In September 2012, it was reported that owner Matt Lester - and his Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based Princeton Enterprises LLC - would convert the old hotel into The Ashley Apartments, a luxury condo development. Princeton also bought the Claridge House Apartments at 1514 Washington Blvd. The deal was closed Oct. 9, 2012; the Milner's price tag was $900,000.

"We are very excited to be a part of rebuilding Detroit and are committed to making smart investments that will allow Princeton to continue to expand in the Detroit housing market," Lester said in a statement.

The last day for guests at the Milner Hotel was that Oct. 31. At the time of its closure as a hotel, the Milner was the oldest continually operated hotel in Detroit.

The Ashley was originally planned to become 50 "high-end luxury" apartments, from studios to three-bedrooms. By the time residents started moving in in March 2015, however, that plan had changed to 67 one- and two-bedroom apartment units, ranging from 425 to 1,000 square feet and renting for $735 to $1,650 a month. The redevelopment cost $9 million. A formal ribbon-cutting was held March 31, 2015.

City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board contributed to this report for the architectural description.