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16 dormant buildings in Detroit awaiting life

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Around the turn of the century, dozens of buildings with architectural significance in Detroit became vacant. So many, in fact, that it seemed unlikely that a meaningful number would ever be brought back to life.

That of course is changing. Yes, Detroit has demolished its share of buildings and had planned redevelopments stall. But more often of late, buildings have been redeveloped and ambitious projects are moving forward. Some of these seemed incredibly unlikely just a few years ago.

But there’s still plenty of dormant buildings around town awaiting life. Here are the ones we’d most like to see redeveloped.

We’ve tried to stick to plans that either haven’t been announced publicly or which we’re skeptical about. Readers probably won’t be surprised to know that many of these buildings are owned by the Ilitches, the family that also owns Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Red Wings and Tigers, and recently built Little Caesars Arena.

Which ones did we miss? Leave a comment below and maybe we’ll include it in the next update.

Note: Buildings are listed geographically from west to east.

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1. Cooley High School

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Cooley High School
Detroit, MI 48227

An astounding work of Mediterranean Revival architecture, Thomas M. Cooley High School was designed by the renowned Detroit firm Donaldson & Meier. It opened in 1928 and flourished as a school for many decades until it was closed by the district in 2010.

One group, the Cooley Reuse Project, has been trying unsuccessfully to redevelop the building for years. In 2017, a fire ravaged the showpiece auditorium, making it less likely the school will be saved.

2. AMC Headquarters

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14250 Plymouth Rd
Detroit, MI 48227

Built in 1927 for the Kelvinator Corporation, an appliance manufacturer, this complex eventually expanded to 1.46 million square feet. The company merged with the American Motors Corporation, hence the building’s name change, which was later bought by Chrysler. After going bankrupt in 2007, Chrysler sold the building for $2.3 million.

The AMC building nearly got demolished in 2016. Then there were hints in 2018 that the city might buy it from the county and find a developer. But there’s been no news since.

3. Lee Plaza

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2240 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48208

“It went from a towering symbol of wealth to a towering symbol of Detroit’s decay,” writes Historic Detroit.

This extravagant Art Deco building opened in 1927 as “residential hotels” for Detroit’s elite. It struggled to stay afloat almost immediately and eventually closed in 1997. It’s suffered from vandalism ever since: its copper roof was stripped and 24 terra cotta lion stolen.

It’s also been the subject of redevelopment speculation (and failed plans) for years. In 2019, the city of Detroit sold the building to developers who presented a $50 million plan to turn it into 180 apartment units, many of which will be for low-income renters. Because of the amount of work required, we’re still taking a wait-and-see approach.

4. Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church

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8501 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

Arguably, the most famous church interior in Detroit. When the Woodward Avenue church opened in 1911, the Detroit Times called it “one of the most handsomest churches in the country.” There was infighting in the congregation in the later part of the 20th century, and when its controversial pastor died in 2005, the church closed.

Plans to revive the church in 2009 fell through. It’s been heavily vandalized and there’s been little news of late.

5. CPA Building

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Despite being in a prime real estate location across from Michigan Central Station, this attractive triangular building has sat undeveloped since it closed over 20 years ago. New York-based Sequoia Property Partners bought the building in 2014 for $900,000 and has done nothing with it since. It avoided demolition in 2016, but we’re still waiting for someone to develop it.

6. Hotel Fort Wayne

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408 Temple St
Detroit, MI 48201

Built in 1926 as the Hotel Fort Wayne, after new ownership its name changed to the American Hotel in the 1960s. The 300-room hotel closed in the 1990s and has remained vacant since.

Owned by the Ilitches, the family’s firm Olympia Development of Michigan said that it would restore and convert the building into 163 apartments as part of its multi-neighborhood and unfulfilled District Detroit project. Aside from boarding up windows, there’s been no visible movement on the property.

A vacant rectangular brick building at an intersection. Photo by Michelle Gerard

7. Alhambra Apartments

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100 Temple St
Detroit, MI 48201

Built in the late 1800s, the six-story Romanesque building had high-end apartments for most of its existence. As the Cass Corridor declined, so did the building, which first became a motel, then back to apartments for low-income renters before closing in 2006.

The Alhambra is also owned by the Ilitches, which bought the building in 2009 and announced plans to turn it into a 46 apartments as part of District Detroit. It missed a development deadline in 2018 and there’s been no movement since.

A multi-story boarded up building whose bricks have been painted red and white. Photo by Michelle Gerard

8. Hotel Eddystone

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One of three three Italian Renaissance hotels built by Lew Tuller, the Hotel Eddystone was designed by renowned Detroit architect Louis Kamper and opened in 1924. Like many other buildings on this list, the Eddystone had trouble staying afloat and closed in the late 1990s.

The building was bought by the Ilitches and saved from demolition as part of an agreement in which Olympia did demolish its neighbor, the Park Avenue Hotel. The company announced plans to turn it into a 96-unit apartment building, but missed deadlines. It reached an agreement with the city to pursue a $40.9 million development, but we remain skeptical.

A tall, vacant stone building in front of a cement parking lot. There’s graffiti around the first floor. Photo by Michelle Gerard

9. Loyal Order of Moose Lodge

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426 W Elizabeth St
Detroit, MI 48201

This Neoclassical building was built for the fraternal organization of the same name in 1922. While several plans have been floated over the years to bring it back to life, including one from 1994 to turn it into a nightclub, it’s been vacant for decades.

The lodge is yet another building owned by the Ilitches, which bought it in 2007 for $1.5 million. The company did some cosmetic work to the facade in 2013, and teased the public with possible redevelopment plans in 2017, but nothing has come to fruition.

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10. Fine Arts Theatre

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2952 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

It’s surprising that this over 100-year-old theatre designed by C. Howard Crane, with its prominent location on Woodward near Brush Park, hasn’t been redeveloped. Perhaps it has something to do with its fascinating and sordid history.

It last sold in 2016 for $1.3 million to Birmingham pharmacist Hany Boutros. He never released his plans for the building, which has been lightly used over the last two decades, and no visible work has taken place.

11. Park Avenue Building

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2210 Park Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

This Albert Kahn–designed office building on the edge of Grand Circus Park opened in the 1920s but has been vacant for many years. In 2018, it had begun to deteriorate so badly that debris was falling on the sidewalk.

Later that year, it was bought by Rino Soave for $4.9 million. The developer announced major plans to convert the building into up to 100 apartments at a cost of $10 million to $15 million. But little work has been done on the buiding since

Google Street View

12. Detroit Life Building

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2210 Park Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

Named after the Detroit Life Insurance Company, this Neoclassical building downtown opened in 1923. It’s been abandoned since 1977. Mike Ilitch bought the building, along with the Fox Theatre, in the 1980s. A new roof was installed in 2005 and it had some facade work done in 2018. Olympia has proposed various development plans for the building over the years, but none have come to fruition.

13. United Artists Theatre

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150 Bagley St
Detroit, MI 48226

Opening in 1928, it was another of Detroit’s “movie palaces” designed by C. Howard Crane. Historic Detroit has a great description of the interior: “The UA featured a grand, circular lobby, complete with mirrors and huge Indian maidens on the walls that looked down on audiences. The United Artists’ auditorium was like a cathedral of cinema and said to be acoustically perfect, and was decorated with Gothic plaster and interesting brass light fixtures.”

After years of decline, it closed in 1975. The Iliches bought the building in 1997 and even back then planned on demolishing it. Olympia released the development rights to Bagley Development, owned by Emmett Moten who is planning a $56 million redevelopment of the building, but at the cost of demolishing the theater.

14. Old Wayne County Building

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600 Randolph Street
Detroit, MI 48226

An ornate work of Beaux Arts architecture, the 44,625-square-foot, 18-court room Wayne County Building opened in 1902. From Historic Detroit: “The interior is decked out in mahogany, oak, birch, maple and sycamore. The halls are lined with a variety of marbles, including Sienna, English vein, white Italian, Alps green, Verona, red any yellow Numidian and others. The columns throughout the building are imitation marbles representing Siennas and Numidians, among others.”

Though the county left in 2010, the building is still in good shape. Unlike others on this list, parts of the building have been restored over the years, most recently in 2018. It’s owned by a group of New York investors who have been looking for a tenant since purchasing the building for over $10 million in 2014.

A Renaissance Revival stone courthouse with columns at the front entrance and copper statues on the roof. Photo by Michelle Gerard

15. Brodhead Naval Armory

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7600 E Jefferson Ave
Detroit, MI 48214

Detroit has always been an important shipment hub, as proven by this former armory just east of Belle Isle, which served as a training site for the Navy and Marines. The Art Deco building with a huge indoor drill floor opened in 1930—Joe Louis fought his first bout there in 1932.

The building closed in 2004 and scrappers have done significant damage to it. For years, the city, which owns the building, has unsuccessfully tried to find a developer. It would certainly be a fascinating opportunity should the right buyer come along.

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16. Vanity Ballroom

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1024 Newport St
Detroit, MI 48215

An incredible piece of Aztec-themed Art Deco architecture, the Vanity Ballroom was an iconic venue on Detroit’s east side that hosted jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as punk rock pioneers the Stooges and MC5.

It closed in 1988 and is considered “the last intact ballroom of Detroit’s great dance halls.” Preservation of the venue will be tough—for years the building didn’t have a roof—but not impossible. Jefferson East, Inc. has taken steps to secure the building and fundraise for its restoration, which it estimates will cost around $12 million.

Wikimedia Commons

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1. Cooley High School

Cooley High School, Detroit, MI 48227

An astounding work of Mediterranean Revival architecture, Thomas M. Cooley High School was designed by the renowned Detroit firm Donaldson & Meier. It opened in 1928 and flourished as a school for many decades until it was closed by the district in 2010.

One group, the Cooley Reuse Project, has been trying unsuccessfully to redevelop the building for years. In 2017, a fire ravaged the showpiece auditorium, making it less likely the school will be saved.

Cooley High School
Detroit, MI 48227

2. AMC Headquarters

14250 Plymouth Rd, Detroit, MI 48227

Built in 1927 for the Kelvinator Corporation, an appliance manufacturer, this complex eventually expanded to 1.46 million square feet. The company merged with the American Motors Corporation, hence the building’s name change, which was later bought by Chrysler. After going bankrupt in 2007, Chrysler sold the building for $2.3 million.

The AMC building nearly got demolished in 2016. Then there were hints in 2018 that the city might buy it from the county and find a developer. But there’s been no news since.

14250 Plymouth Rd
Detroit, MI 48227

3. Lee Plaza

2240 W Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48208

“It went from a towering symbol of wealth to a towering symbol of Detroit’s decay,” writes Historic Detroit.

This extravagant Art Deco building opened in 1927 as “residential hotels” for Detroit’s elite. It struggled to stay afloat almost immediately and eventually closed in 1997. It’s suffered from vandalism ever since: its copper roof was stripped and 24 terra cotta lion stolen.

It’s also been the subject of redevelopment speculation (and failed plans) for years. In 2019, the city of Detroit sold the building to developers who presented a $50 million plan to turn it into 180 apartment units, many of which will be for low-income renters. Because of the amount of work required, we’re still taking a wait-and-see approach.

2240 W Grand Blvd
Detroit, MI 48208

4. Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church

8501 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202

Arguably, the most famous church interior in Detroit. When the Woodward Avenue church opened in 1911, the Detroit Times called it “one of the most handsomest churches in the country.” There was infighting in the congregation in the later part of the 20th century, and when its controversial pastor died in 2005, the church closed.

Plans to revive the church in 2009 fell through. It’s been heavily vandalized and there’s been little news of late.

8501 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

5. CPA Building

Detroit, MI 48216

Despite being in a prime real estate location across from Michigan Central Station, this attractive triangular building has sat undeveloped since it closed over 20 years ago. New York-based Sequoia Property Partners bought the building in 2014 for $900,000 and has done nothing with it since. It avoided demolition in 2016, but we’re still waiting for someone to develop it.

6. Hotel Fort Wayne

408 Temple St, Detroit, MI 48201
A vacant rectangular brick building at an intersection. Photo by Michelle Gerard

Built in 1926 as the Hotel Fort Wayne, after new ownership its name changed to the American Hotel in the 1960s. The 300-room hotel closed in the 1990s and has remained vacant since.

Owned by the Ilitches, the family’s firm Olympia Development of Michigan said that it would restore and convert the building into 163 apartments as part of its multi-neighborhood and unfulfilled District Detroit project. Aside from boarding up windows, there’s been no visible movement on the property.

408 Temple St
Detroit, MI 48201

7. Alhambra Apartments

100 Temple St, Detroit, MI 48201
A multi-story boarded up building whose bricks have been painted red and white. Photo by Michelle Gerard

Built in the late 1800s, the six-story Romanesque building had high-end apartments for most of its existence. As the Cass Corridor declined, so did the building, which first became a motel, then back to apartments for low-income renters before closing in 2006.

The Alhambra is also owned by the Ilitches, which bought the building in 2009 and announced plans to turn it into a 46 apartments as part of District Detroit. It missed a development deadline in 2018 and there’s been no movement since.

100 Temple St
Detroit, MI 48201

8. Hotel Eddystone

Detroit, MI 48201
A tall, vacant stone building in front of a cement parking lot. There’s graffiti around the first floor. Photo by Michelle Gerard

One of three three Italian Renaissance hotels built by Lew Tuller, the Hotel Eddystone was designed by renowned Detroit architect Louis Kamper and opened in 1924. Like many other buildings on this list, the Eddystone had trouble staying afloat and closed in the late 1990s.

The building was bought by the Ilitches and saved from demolition as part of an agreement in which Olympia did demolish its neighbor, the Park Avenue Hotel. The company announced plans to turn it into a 96-unit apartment building, but missed deadlines. It reached an agreement with the city to pursue a $40.9 million development, but we remain skeptical.

9. Loyal Order of Moose Lodge

426 W Elizabeth St, Detroit, MI 48201
Google Street View

This Neoclassical building was built for the fraternal organization of the same name in 1922. While several plans have been floated over the years to bring it back to life, including one from 1994 to turn it into a nightclub, it’s been vacant for decades.

The lodge is yet another building owned by the Ilitches, which bought it in 2007 for $1.5 million. The company did some cosmetic work to the facade in 2013, and teased the public with possible redevelopment plans in 2017, but nothing has come to fruition.

426 W Elizabeth St
Detroit, MI 48201

10. Fine Arts Theatre

2952 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

It’s surprising that this over 100-year-old theatre designed by C. Howard Crane, with its prominent location on Woodward near Brush Park, hasn’t been redeveloped. Perhaps it has something to do with its fascinating and sordid history.

It last sold in 2016 for $1.3 million to Birmingham pharmacist Hany Boutros. He never released his plans for the building, which has been lightly used over the last two decades, and no visible work has taken place.

2952 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

11. Park Avenue Building

2210 Park Ave, Detroit, MI 48201
Google Street View

This Albert Kahn–designed office building on the edge of Grand Circus Park opened in the 1920s but has been vacant for many years. In 2018, it had begun to deteriorate so badly that debris was falling on the sidewalk.

Later that year, it was bought by Rino Soave for $4.9 million. The developer announced major plans to convert the building into up to 100 apartments at a cost of $10 million to $15 million. But little work has been done on the buiding since

2210 Park Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

12. Detroit Life Building

2210 Park Ave, Detroit, MI 48201

Named after the Detroit Life Insurance Company, this Neoclassical building downtown opened in 1923. It’s been abandoned since 1977. Mike Ilitch bought the building, along with the Fox Theatre, in the 1980s. A new roof was installed in 2005 and it had some facade work done in 2018. Olympia has proposed various development plans for the building over the years, but none have come to fruition.

2210 Park Ave
Detroit, MI 48201

13. United Artists Theatre

150 Bagley St, Detroit, MI 48226

Opening in 1928, it was another of Detroit’s “movie palaces” designed by C. Howard Crane. Historic Detroit has a great description of the interior: “The UA featured a grand, circular lobby, complete with mirrors and huge Indian maidens on the walls that looked down on audiences. The United Artists’ auditorium was like a cathedral of cinema and said to be acoustically perfect, and was decorated with Gothic plaster and interesting brass light fixtures.”

After years of decline, it closed in 1975. The Iliches bought the building in 1997 and even back then planned on demolishing it. Olympia released the development rights to Bagley Development, owned by Emmett Moten who is planning a $56 million redevelopment of the building, but at the cost of demolishing the theater.

150 Bagley St
Detroit, MI 48226

14. Old Wayne County Building

600 Randolph Street, Detroit, MI 48226
A Renaissance Revival stone courthouse with columns at the front entrance and copper statues on the roof. Photo by Michelle Gerard

An ornate work of Beaux Arts architecture, the 44,625-square-foot, 18-court room Wayne County Building opened in 1902. From Historic Detroit: “The interior is decked out in mahogany, oak, birch, maple and sycamore. The halls are lined with a variety of marbles, including Sienna, English vein, white Italian, Alps green, Verona, red any yellow Numidian and others. The columns throughout the building are imitation marbles representing Siennas and Numidians, among others.”

Though the county left in 2010, the building is still in good shape. Unlike others on this list, parts of the building have been restored over the years, most recently in 2018. It’s owned by a group of New York investors who have been looking for a tenant since purchasing the building for over $10 million in 2014.

600 Randolph Street
Detroit, MI 48226

15. Brodhead Naval Armory

7600 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit, MI 48214
Wikimedia Commons

Detroit has always been an important shipment hub, as proven by this former armory just east of Belle Isle, which served as a training site for the Navy and Marines. The Art Deco building with a huge indoor drill floor opened in 1930—Joe Louis fought his first bout there in 1932.

The building closed in 2004 and scrappers have done significant damage to it. For years, the city, which owns the building, has unsuccessfully tried to find a developer. It would certainly be a fascinating opportunity should the right buyer come along.

7600 E Jefferson Ave
Detroit, MI 48214

16. Vanity Ballroom

1024 Newport St, Detroit, MI 48215
Wikimedia Commons

An incredible piece of Aztec-themed Art Deco architecture, the Vanity Ballroom was an iconic venue on Detroit’s east side that hosted jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald, as well as punk rock pioneers the Stooges and MC5.

It closed in 1988 and is considered “the last intact ballroom of Detroit’s great dance halls.” Preservation of the venue will be tough—for years the building didn’t have a roof—but not impossible. Jefferson East, Inc. has taken steps to secure the building and fundraise for its restoration, which it estimates will cost around $12 million.

1024 Newport St
Detroit, MI 48215