of the Border
David Khorman, Friends of Book-Cadillac
by Chris Edwards
Issue # 19- November 2001
33 floors over the sidewalk it was the tallest and grandest
hotel in the world. Today the Book-Cadillac finds itself
in an entirely different situation.On December 10, 1924
the Book-Cadillac Hotel opened as the pride of Detroit.
Soaring 33 floors over the sidewalk, it was the tallest
and grandest hotel in the world. Opening with a lavish banquet,
60 years of service to Detroit society and the travelling
the Book-Cadillac finds itself in an entirely different
situation. Vacant since 1984, the grand hotel is now threatened
by demolition. A preservation group feels that such a loss
would be a terrible blow for Detroits revival.
stated our goal is to see the Book-Cadillac Hotel survive
for another 76 years and more," says the opening page at
www.book-cadillac.org. "The Book-Cadillac is an irreplaceable
treasure, a strong statement to the era that built it. We
will never see the likes of the Book-Cadillac built again."
by architect Louis Kamper and built in 1924, according to
"The Buildings of Detroit," by W. Hawkins Ferry and published
by Wayne State University Press in 1968, it was one of the
citys most lavish hotels, featuring 1,200 rooms, an
ornate lobby and a main restaurant decorated with murals
and gilded mouldings.
to Hawkins Ferry, "two chandeliers each containing
more than a ton of crystal hung in the grand ballroom.
Guests included Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy,
Johnson and Nixon."
across the street from Detroits famed Lafayette Coney
Island, the Book-Cadillac is currently downtown Detroits
biggest unused building.
in 1915, the Book Brothers J.B., Herbert, and Frank had
a vision for Washington Blvd to become the "5th Avenue
of the West." The Books planned to accomplish this feat
with the construction of a series of new buildings along
the thoroughfare filled with fine offices and shops.
1917 the brothers purchased the old Cadillac Hotel at the
corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Blvd. However,
the First World War made materials for new construction
hard to obtain. Thus the Books had their architect, Louis
Kamper, renovate the old Cadillac; it was a temporary fix.
By 1923 the old hotel was gone and work had begun on the
an established architect, Kamper had little experience designing
hotels. To gain knowledge of hotel layout, he studied the
Statler Hotels in Detroit and New York, among others. He
had plenty of knowledge for decoration and chose an elaborate
Venetian style of the Italian Renaissance.
gave the lower five floors of the exterior a stone facade.
The ground floor was given over entirely to shops and featured
ornate metal storefronts. Above these were tall arched windows
set between massive pilasters. No matter which angle you
saw it from, the Book-Cadillac was a dramatic addition to
the citys skyline.
interiors were equally impressive. The Book-Cadillac featured
five floors of grand public rooms and shops. Among the amenities
were large lounges, three dining rooms, a coffee shop, three
unique and functional ballrooms, and a tearoom. They were
the most richly decorated interiors found in any Detroit
told, the Book-Cadillac was a massive construction project
requiring two years of planning. At 33 floors it was both
the tallest building in Detroit and the tallest hotel in
the world. This no doubt being the reason that the top floor
had a radio station, WCX.
hotel had a total of 1,136 guest rooms. There were 1,035
bedrooms, 54 sitting rooms, 8 alcove rooms, and 38 sample
rooms. The silver service contained 50,000 pieces. Three
basement levels contained the most modern boilers and laundry
facilities of the time. The total cost of construction exceeded
Book-Cadillac enjoyed success for six years. However, with
the onset of the Great Depression the situation began to
sour for the hotel. The great ambitions of the Book Brothers
were cut short. A massive 81-story Book Tower would never
1931, the hotel was forced into receivership and ultimately
changed hands twice in only 20 years. For a time it was
controlled by Ralph Hitzs hotel organization, a chain
renowned for the attentiveness of its service.
remain competitive in lean times much of the public room
decor was redone in the late 1930s. The dining rooms were
redecorated in the Art Moderne style and given
new names. The old Venetian dining room had outlived its
utility and was replaced by the Book Casino. This new nightclub
would become a legendary nightspot in the Detroit area.
Here patrons could enjoy fine dining, big bands, and dancing.
moneymaking scheme tried by the hotel at this time was less
successful. The Cadillac Apartments were portions of the
hotel rooms that had been redecorated for apartment living.
Hoping to cash in on the glamour of the exclusive apartment
hotels as well as downtown convenience, the Cadillac Apartments
offered rooms starting at $60.00 a month.
post World War II hotel industry was ruled by the big chains.
In 1951 the hotel was purchased by the Sheraton Corporation
for $6 million. Sheraton went about modernizing their newly
acquired hotel. The grand staircase on Washington Blvd.
was replaced by a duel escalator setup and the lobby colours
were converted to a "ketchup and mustard horror." Only the
ballrooms and Italian Garden were left untouched.
renovations did the trick and during the 50s and 60s the
hotel was a top money maker for the company. However, the
hotel industry was steadily losing more and more guests
to newfangled motels.
the 1970s things once again turned sour for the hotel. By
1974 its one time rival, the Pick-Fort Shelby, closed, reopened
as the Shelby Hotel, and quickly closed again. Just down
the street the mighty Statler had been sold by the Hilton
chain to a group of local investors. Quickly the Detroit
Heritage Hotel, as it was then known, flopped. It closed
in 1975, resulting in a devastating loss of up-to-date convention
space and facilities.
the late 60s and early 70s, the Book-Cadillac underwent
more renovations that included a 1974 attempt at more convention
space. Sheraton realized the hotel needed major structural
renovations and reconfigurations at a price they were not
willing to pay. In 1975 the hotel was sold to experienced
hotel operator Herbert Weissberg.
announced major renovations that would attempt to bring
back some historic character to the building, which he renamed
economic successes Weissberg lost control of the hotel when
the banks foreclosed. The Radisson Corporation was called
in to supervise another $6 million worth of renovations
and then operate the hotel afterwards. It was now the Radisson-Cadillac.
hotels fortunes did not improve and it changed hands
several times in five years. However, part of its old self
did re-emerge in this time, it was once again the Book-Cadillac
losses skyrocketed in the late 70s and by 1979 it was announced
that the hotel would close. Not wanting to see another hotel
close, have the city lose needed hotel rooms, and lose face
in the coming Republican National Convention, the Detroit
Economic Growth Corporation rescued the hotel.
by a partnership called Book-Cadillac Properties, the hotel
was on a limited reprieve. In 1983 it was decided a way
had to be found to make the building self-supporting.
renovation schemes were studied. It was decided that the
hotels best chance was to become a mixed-use property.
It was felt that the building could not survive as a hotel
alone. It was simply far too large, even with nearly 500
study found that some 92 percent of the hotels room
revenue was generated by only 528 rooms (53 percent of the
hotels rooms). That added to the figure of 25% percent occupancy
for non convention room nights that Detroits hotels
then suffered meant the Book-Cadillac could no longer survive
with any number remotely close to its full 1,200 rooms or
continue to survive with 47% of its rooms generating no
was thus decided to upgrade the upper 12 floors into 550
quality hotel rooms and the lower 11 floors into topnotch
office space for nonprofit groups. The five public floors
would again be upgraded with an emphasis on the historic.
1983 some work on this idea was begun. A portion of the
lower floors were converted into offices. The 9th floor
was turned into a fitness centre, to cater to the office
tenants. However, the main renovation would require the
hotel to close for over a year.
it did in late 1984. The shops on the arcade remained open,
as did a few offices, but the bulk of the building was now
unused. Soon developers dropped out. One after another they
signed on only to abandon the project, citing economic conditions.
Adding to the trouble were skyrocketing renovation costs.
Fifteen months passed; still the hotel sat empty.
in 1986 the building was liquidated. Furniture, fixtures,
china, silver service it was all sold off. With the
hotel portion now truly empty, the Book-Cadillac Plaza scheme
was scuttled. The last businesses left their arcade homes.
Boards went up. The Book-Cadillac joined the list of abandoned
this time the city posted a guard inside the building. His
job was to keep out the vultures who had already gutted
so many of Detroits abandoned gems of decorative plaster
and brass. He performed that job well, until 1997. In 1993
Coleman Young unsuccessfully attempted to get money to demolish
the building. The guard was then pulled out and the building
was quickly stripped of its decorative pieces.
early 1999 the hotel once again became the subject of the
citys attention. It remains to be seen if the citys
motive is demolition or renovation. However, as long as
the Book-Cadillac remains standing, there will always be
a chance of it rejoining Detroits viable hotels.
learn more about the fate of the Book-Cadillac, check the
(discussion on the fate of the Book Cadillac)