Historic Detroit

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

Palmer Park Casino

The Palmer Park Casino is one of Detroit's great history mysteries.

What is known is that it was completed in 1899, designed by the firm Rogers & MacFarlane, and cost $11,799.73 to build.

The casino stood along 2-acre Lake Harold, named for the Palmer family's son, which was filled in around 1947. (The current lake in the park is Lake Frances, named for their daughter.)

Like the Belle Isle Casino, this type of casino was not a gambling hall but a community gathering place, where Detroiters could play cards, escape inclement weather or the sun, and get refreshments. Groups would gather there, and concerts would be held. And those sorts of activities would happen for about half a century.

But that's when things get downright confusing.

A number of sources on the Internet and in print allege that the casino was destroyed by a fire. The date is usually pegged as 1945. But that appears untrue.

The Detroit News might be the source of this misinformation, as it reported that a fire believed to have been started by a carelessly tossed match destroyed the casino and damaged dozens of nearby trees on the afternoon of May 18, 1941, not 1945. "The flames spread so rapidly in the old frame building, which was being renovated for use as a summer refreshment stand, that firemen were unable to save it," The Detroit News reported the following afternoon. "An unidentified child told police he saw a man toss a lighted match under the porch shortly before the fire started." But the Detroit Free Press reported the day after that it wasn't the casino, but a pavilion. Why a pavilion would have a porch is unclear. Neither paper printed a clarification or correction on their respective stories.

Further proof that the casino didn't go up in smoke in 1941 or 1945 is a Detroit Free Press article from Aug. 13, 1946, that said the Three Score and Ten Club was to meet two days later at the casino. This is the last reference to the Palmer Park Casino that can be found in the Free Press archives; apparently, its demolition wasn't deemed newsworthy enough. The last mention of the casino in The Detroit Times is from October 1946 showing the same old-timers group at the casino.

A City of Detroit document says that the Common Council approved May 14, 1945, a contract to demolish the casino for the A-1 Wrecking and Salvage Co., with the City of Detroit retaining the boilers and radiators. The wrecker paid the City $500, likely because the wrecker got salvage rights. But if that contract were approved in 1945, the casino clearly was still standing almost a year and a half later, when the Three Score and Ten Club met there, according to The Detroit Times.

HistoricDetroit.org will continue to crack this case. It seems unfathomable that such a beautiful and iconic piece of Palmer Park's history was allowed to disappear without a drop of ink from Detroit's three major newspapers at the time. If you have any information that may help, please e-mail us at [email protected].