Lee Plaza Hotel (Part I)

Built in 1929 as an upscale residential hotel, closed it’s doors to residents in 1997.

During the final years of the 19th century, society’s view of hotel life transformed from one of disgust and disdain to admiration. No longer the abode of the damned, they were, where one went, for all manner of functions. By the early 20th century it was actually fashionable to reside permanently in hotels. Thus it seems natural that hotels would be built specially for residents.  Such was the case with the this hotel. Essentially an apartment building with hotel services.  On May 1 (circa 1928), ground was broken on the art deco masterpiece that would rise above the stately elms of the boulevard below. The price tag would be $2.5 million (a whopping $31 million today).  The idea of residential hotels was a popular one at the time. In residential hotels, well-off residents could live in luxurious apartments that had many of the features of hotels, such as room service and concierges.

The hotel opened with 220 luxury-class apartments ranging from one to four rooms. The one- and two-room apartments came furnished; the three- and four-room option did not. The basement had a beauty parlor, a game room with driving nets for golfers and billiards; a white-walled playroom for children at the front of the building with a specially trained supervisor; and a meat market and grocer for the tenants so they didn’t have to leave the hotels comfy confines. There also was a circulating library, a flower shop, a cigar stand and a beauty parlor.

But with the onset of the Great Depression, the hotel was plagued by problems almost from the start because of the owner’s lavish spending. The hotel would help bring down one of Detroit’s biggest real estate barons.  Shortly after it was built, it was sold, however the new company/owner was delinquent on payments. By fall 1935 the hotel was bankrupt, and would be the subject of over 8yrs of court battles. In 1969 it became housing for low-income senior citizens.  However, in February of 1987 tragedy struck when an 84-year-old resident was found murdered in her room, suffocated with a pillow. The hotel continued to lose residents and head downhill.

In 1997, its entrances and ground-floor windows were barricaded with cinder blocks, but they couldn’t keep the scavengers at bay. For five years a solid fortification of cinderblock held off the thieves and protected the 1920’s elegance inside. However, as the mighty walls of Rome failed, so did the hotel’s fortifications.  Once the walls were breached, nothing could spare the landmark from trespass and from that point on, few buildings in Detroit have been more ravaged than this hotel.  By the fall of 2000 countless exterior terra-cotta pieces as well as interior plasterwork were gone. Gradually the aluminum framed windows disappeared and only gaping holes remained.

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