Bye-bye, Zombieland: Park Avenue Hotel bites the dust

The Park Avenue Hotel, at right, in its dying hours. The Eddystone, left, will be spared.
The Park Avenue Hotel, at right, in its dying hours. The Eddystone, left, will be spared.

Tomorrow morning, demolition crews will use 200 pounds of TNT to level the 91 year-old Park Avenue Hotel, a storied building that has become an abandoned eyesore and that stands in the way of plans for a new Detroit Red Wings arena.

At 13 stories and 252 rooms (at least in its original guise), the building has sat vacant for more than a decade, scrapped of its windows, architectural details and much of its metal, and covered with graffiti. It’s one of the more recognizable features along a barren stretch of Woodward Avenue between the rapidly gentrifying downtown and Midtown districts.

Local billionaire Mike Ilitch is demolishing the structure as part of plans for his $650 million arena district, a mixed-use neighborhood anchored by the new sports and entertainment arena. In addition to the Red Wings, Ilitch is the owner of the Detroit Tigers, Little Caesars Pizza, Olympia Entertainment and the MotorCity Casino and Hotel, which he co-owns with his wife.

The Park Avenue was designed by Louis Kamper, best known as the architect behind Detroit’s Book-Cadillac Hotel, and built in 1924 as part of a hotel-building boom in the city, largely to house transplants who came to work in the city’s factories. As the city’s fortunes changed, the hotel transferred ownership to the Salvation Army, which converted it to senior housing, then later as the Harbor Light Center rehab facility for drug addicts and the homeless. Many people who’ve been around town longer than I have point to the Harbor Light as a primary contributor to the Cass Corridor’s infamous seediness.

The hotel was closed in 2003 and has steadily deteriorated since. You can read more on the hotel’s story on Historic Detroit.

The Ilitch family says it will preserve and renovate the abandoned Hotel Eddystone directly across the street, which is at least some consolation.

The Detroit Historic District Commission approved the demolition in June in a 3-1 vote. As Motor City Muckraker reported, that vote came after Mayor Mike Duggan intervened by removing and replacing two pro-preservation commissioners from their posts and lobbying heavily in favor of the building’s demolition.

The whole episode recalls the dramatic and sordid saga of the Madison-Lenox Hotel, a turn-of-the-century downtown hotel that Ilitch acquired, let sit vacant and neglected for years and controversially had demolished in 2005 to create … wait for it … a surface parking lot.

Whatever your thoughts about the Ilitch family or the forthcoming arena district, two things are clear: Nothing moves more quickly in Detroit than when Ilitch wants a building gone to further his economic interests.

And Detroit is losing yet another connection to its incredible history.

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