This post was authored by Amy Swift
The story of threat and loss is nothing new to Detroiters with a soft spot for heritage and preservation work. While this list of endangered buildings represents just a handful of the historic monuments at risk of loss, we focused on those we feel highlight larger issues at stake. Threats like improper maintenance, foreclosure, looting, stripping, vandalism, lack of rehabilitation funding, and speculating are all immediate and ongoing. If left unchecked and unaddressed, the threat of demolition or some other unfortunate end is likely to become reality for many Detroit treasures.
Many thanks to Preservation Detroit for suggesting some of the properties for the list and offering their thoughts. Also, many thanks to Dan Austin and other contributors at Historic Detroit. We could kiss you, in an extremely platonic way.
The Curbed Detroit Preservation Heatmap: Detroit's Most Endangered Buildings
This post was authored by Amy Swift
We all know the Packard Plant has slowly been crumbling into rubble for years, but with the recent news of foreclosure over $750,000 in back taxes, there talk of a city-sponsored tear down. The city botched a 1993 foreclosure for owed taxes, which resulted in a lengthy legal battle with ex-con Dominic Cristini. Despite fighting the city’s wishes to tear down the structure for more than a decade – including a stunt he pulled in 1998 holing himself up for weeks in the 40 acre complex – Cristini has recently been quoted as stating, “Do me a favor and knock the Packard down… The city can kiss my ass.”
This prominent gothic revival downtown building has long sat vacant. Originally functioning as a mecca of fine jewelry and related shops, the structure closed in 1977 as a result of the rise of the suburban shopping mall – a fate similar to that of Hudson’s. The building changed hands then went into tax foreclosure in 1978, and the city has owed it ever since. In 1987 James Nicita submitted a $4.5 million proposal to develop the building into lofts, but development rights were granted to Diane and Larry Mongo. Thus began one of the longest preservation-based legal battles in the city’s history. Fast forward to today: Nicita won the case but not the rights, the building is still city owned, and the Mongos still maintain development rights. The façade has been stabilized by the city to keep bricks from raining down on people, but development plans remain vague at best.
With the city of Detroit in financial crisis, the condition of Belle Isle and its buildings, infrastructure, and monuments has been going downhill for years. The state has been trying to step in to help the city manage this decaying public resource, but no resolution has been made. A $10/year admittance fee isn’t really going to kill anyone, is it?
Grande and Vanity Ballrooms
We reported on these over the summer when we did a story on some of architect Charles N. Agree’s most at risk structures. Both are owned by neglectful owners and have several unaddressed blight violations. Located in areas far from the city’s developing core, there remains no plan for the development of either and the future of these stripped-out landmark dance halls looks grim. (Vanity Ballroom located at 1024 Newport)
Although this downtown building doesn’t have the fabled past that many others on this list might have, it seems to be scripting itself a storied end. Built in 1905 as a cheap alternative to the more luxurious Hotel Stratler and Hotel Tuller on Grand Circus Park, Charlevoix stands as one of Detroit’s oldest remaining hotels. The owner is lawyer Ralph Sachs, who has effectively neglected this corner of Park Avenue since 1981. Sach’s representatives requested permission to demolish the Charlevoix in June, but were denied because the state of the building was deemed his fault. He was given a timeline to present plans to shore up or mothball the building in order to avoid a legal mess and potential jail time, but little has occurred since then.
Michigan Central Station
Considered by many to be the best icon of Detroit decay, Michigan Central bookends the booming historic Corktown neighborhood and anchors Roosevelt Park. Built to be the tallest train station in the world, this windowless wonder has sat empty and trainless since the late 1980s. Purchased by our favorite billionaire curmudgeon Matty Moroun in 1995, the building is allegedly being stabilized with abatement, a new roof, new windows, and lights.
United Artists Theater
This poor landmark has been showering bricks since the 1980s! UA finally closed its doors after a downward spiral to x-rated flicks in the 1970s. The building changed hands for decades and was eventually sold to Mike Ilitch in 1997 while he was gobbling up property to make room for his new ballpark. UA was originally slated for demolition, but was saved from the wrecking ball when the park’s location was changed to the current spot along I-75. More work has been done over the last several years – including new doors, a new roof, and the mounting of surveillance cameras – but there are still no development plans for the building or its rotted-out theatre.
Historic Fort Wayne
Initially built in anticipation of a territorial war with British Canada in the 1840s, Fort Wayne has lead a peaceful life involving no actual battle. After 125 years in operation, the base closed in 1948 and was granted to the City of Detroit for operation as a military museum, for which they took possession in 1971. The Historic Fort Wayne Coalition is an active group dedicated to the preservation of the site, but funding is scarce and the need is great. The fort is in pretty rough shape today – if money isn’t put towards preservation soon, Detroit can kiss its most important historic military site adios.
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brewster-douglass housing projects
Mayor Bing announced a while back that this vacant, neglected, and vandalized property is definitely a goner, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong on the list. The buildings of the complex that remain (minus the Rec Center) will join the Brewster Homes and Hastings Street in historic architecture heaven. Sure, there’s a lot of rich history that has emanated from this spot over the years, but let us not forget its mention in RuPaul’s 1993 danceclub favorite Supermodel (You Better Work). Sashay. Shante.
Alfred Street Houses
Located in the open-air sports-venue parking lot that is Brush Park, the four remaining houses on Alfred Street between Brush and John R have been city-owned for decades. The only houses for blocks, they are frequented throughout the year by film crews and urban tourists alike for their “ruin porn” aesthetic. Currently, the city is looking to offload the properties to a developer that can pull off a proper historic renovation. Some may think that’s overly ambitious, but we're just hoping to avoid more suburban townhouses like those installed at Woodward Place.
Since no list of neglected Detroit buildings ever seems complete without mention of Dennis Kefallinos, we include for you this former hotel in the shadows of Michigan Central Station. Kefallinos purchased the property at the 2010 Wayne County foreclosure auction for $37,500. Since then the building has remained unboarded without redevelopment plans. Despite offers by other developers to purchase the property for up to nearly six times the purchase price, Kefallinos is holding out for a higher bidder.