January 29, 2007 at 11:57 pm

Restoring the glory

Once-grand Book-Cadillac, Pick-Fort Shelby rise from ruins

DETROIT -- In a year that seems to promise more economic body blows for this region, two of its architectural gems are striking an optimistic pose as they regain their former glory.

Skeptics recall other false starts to restore downtown Detroit's Book-Cadillac and Pick-Fort Shelby hotels, but developers involved in the current plans are upbeat. And historic preservationists are savoring the chance to revive part of the city's shining past.

The venerable high-rise hotels -- once symbols of Detroit's glamorous history as the nation's hub of innovation and productivity, now pillaged hulks -- have drawn millions of dollars in investment to the city's center.

Indeed, two $1 million-plus condominiums already have been sold -- sight unseen -- at the Book-Cadillac site, developers say. That's a milestone price and a vote of confidence in the city's revitalization.

"I've been in the economic development business for Detroit since about 1984 (and) I remember a time we had a ton of available buildings and absolutely nobody to invest in them," said George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., a quasi-public agency that promotes economic development in the city. "Currently, if I have a property that is priced appropriately, I have no problem finding a developer."

The $180 million Book-Cadillac deal has a whopping 22 pieces of financing that includes state, federal and city tax incentives. "I've always said we should be in the Guinness Book of World Records to put that deal together," given all the different pieces of financing, Jackson said.

Monumental project begins

The Book-Cadillac is hailed as the biggest renovation project in downtown Detroit since the Fox Theatre was restored in the late 1980s. First opened in 1924, the Book-Cadillac was the city's pre-eminent hotel for six decades. Presidents, movie stars and gangsters stayed there. It closed in 1984.

Work on the Book-Cadillac, at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, began in the fall and more than 300 workers are at the site.

Its official name now is the Westin Book-Cadillac. Developers promise a 455-room Westin hotel, 67 upscale condominiums, three nationally known restaurants, a spa, a sports bar and retail shops.

A fight to save Detroit's past

The recent $73 million deal to renovate the former Pick-Fort Shelby hotel on West Lafayette Boulevard into a Doubletree Guest Suites Hotel, upscale apartments and other retail, epitomizes the tough fight to save Detroit history.

While financing pieces have been found, the developers behind the Pick-Fort Shelby say the complex deal still needs a couple weeks to close. But Detroit economic officials don't foresee it falling apart.

Then begins the massive effort to restore the building. The Detroit News will follow the restoration of the hotels online and in print throughout this year.

Both the Book-Cadillac and the Pick-Fort Shelby are salvageable, experts say, because they have steel and concrete frames even though the interiors are in shambles.

"They may look horrible, but structurally they are sound," said Elisabeth Knibbe, a historical preservationist for Quinn Evans Architects in Ann Arbor. The architect has helped to restore several downtown buildings, often serving as the expert guide on how to bring back the original look of the early 20th century buildings.

Knibbe is working on the Pick-Fort Shelby project. "That building doesn't scare me. A lot of the projects I've worked on in Detroit have looked like" the Pick-Fort Shelby, she said.

Each project takes hundreds of people, from general construction workers who must shovel out decades worth of debris to highly specialized crafts people who will try to recreate the building's look from old photos and the shards of what remains -- a piece of marble staircase or a preserved tile of decorative ceiling from a ballroom.

You can reach Louis Aguilar at (313) 222-2760 or laguilar@detnews.com">laguilar@detnews.com.

The Book-Cadillac Hotel

1917: J.B., Herbert and Frank Book purchase the old Cadillac Hotel at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Boulevard. They spend $60,000 to renovate it.
1923: Cadillac Hotel is gone and work begins on the Book-Cadillac. The Books hire Louis Kamper as the architect. He chooses an Italian Renaissance style. Construction costs exceed $14 million.
1924: The Book-Cadillac opens.
1929: During the Great Depression, the hotel's business suffers. The plan for an 81-story Book Tower falls apart.
1931: The hotel is forced into receivership.
Late 1930s: Much of the decor of the public rooms is redone. The dining rooms are redecorated in a modern style. The old Venetian Dining Room is replaced by the Book-Casino and becomes a legendary nightspot in the Detroit area.
1951: The hotel is purchased by the Sheraton Corp. for $6 million. The hotel chain modernizes the building.
1950s and '60s: The Book-Cadillac is a top moneymaker for Sheraton.
1970s: Detroit hotels fall on hard times. The Pick-Fort Shelby closes, reopens as the Shelby Hotel, and quickly closes again. The Statler Hotel, sold by the Hilton chain to a group of local investors and renamed the Detroit Heritage Hotel, closes in 1975.
1975: Sheraton sells the Book-Cadillac to hotel operator Herbert Weissberg, who renames it the Detroit-Cadillac and announces major renovations. Banks soon foreclose on the hotel. The Radisson Corp. is called in to supervise another $6 million worth of renovations and then operate the hotel as the Radisson-Cadillac. The hotel changes hands several times in the next five years, and eventually gets its original name back.
1979: With the announcement the hotel will close and with the GOP National Convention coming to town in 1980, the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. rescues the hotel. It's operated by a partnership called Book-Cadillac Properties.
1983: The Book-Cadillac Plaza is born as a way to make the hotel self-supporting and profitable. It is decided to upgrade the upper 12 floors into 550 hotel rooms and the lower 11 floors into office space for nonprofit groups. The five public floors would again be upgraded.
1984: The hotel closes for the renovations. The shops on the arcade remain open, but the bulk of the building is now unused. Soon developers start dropping out, citing economic conditions. The cost of the renovation skyrockets.
1986: The building is liquidated. Furniture, fixtures, china, silver service is sold off. The Book-Cadillac Plaza project is scuttled. The city posts a guard in the hotel to protect its decorative plaster and brass.
1993: Detroit Mayor Coleman tries to get money to demolish the building, but fails.
1997: The city's guard is pulled out of the building and thieves quickly strip the hotel of its decorative pieces.
1999: Detroit city officials begin efforts to redevelop the hotel.
2003: A plan is announced to reopen the hotel as a Marriott, but that deal falls apart soon after construction starts.
2006: Developer John Ferchill of Cleveland announces he has secured financing for a $180 million renovation of the Book-Cadillac. It will become part of the Westin Hotel group, have 67 upscale condominiums and retail.
The old grandeur
The 1923 original Book-Cadillac hotel featured:

  • 33 floors, including five floors of grand public rooms and shops.
  • Large lounges, three dining rooms, a coffee shop, three ballrooms and a tea room.
  • Radio station WCX housed in the top floor.
  • 1,136 guest rooms, including 1,035 bedrooms, 54 sitting rooms, eight alcove rooms, and 38 sample rooms.
  • A silver service containing 50,000 pieces.
  • Three basement levels containing the most modern boilers and laundry facilities of the time.
    Sources: "Detroit's Statler and Book-Cadillac Hotels: The Anchors of Washington Boulevard," published by Arcadia Publishing; www.forgottenDetroit.com, The Detroit News.
    The new Westin Book-Cadillac
  • 455 hotel rooms with 42-inch flat screen TVs, high-speed cable and wireless Internet access
  • View of Detroit skyline and the Detroit River
  • Fitness center
  • Heated indoor pool and whirlpool
  • Executive Club on 23rd floor
  • Valet parking
  • Concierge and doorman
  • 24-hour room service
  • Smoke-free hotel
  • Lobby restaurant and bar
  • Three ballrooms, with 39,000 square feet of event and meeting space
  • Steakhouse, sports bar and coffee shop

  • The Pick Fort-Shelby Hotel

    1917: The hotel opens to great fanfare with many amenities.
    1927: A 450-room addition is designed by famed architect Albert Kahn.
    1929: A second addition is canceled during the Depression.
    1934: The Fort Shelby Hotel Co. defaults on its two mortgages; four years of financial woes, bondholder lawsuits follow.
    1951: The hotel is sold to Albert Pick Hotels Co. and renamed the Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel.
    1973: Unable to compete with budget-priced suburban motels and hotels, the hotel closes in December.
    1974: The renamed and modernized Shelby Hotel opens briefly.
    1998: The last tenant, Shelby's bar, closes, leaving the hotel vacant.
    2006: An $87 million financing package is announced. It's planned as a Doubletree Guest Suites hotel, apartments and retail. Closing date pending.
    2007: Renovation set to begin.
    The old grandeur

  • 450 guest rooms in a 10-floor steel framed structure
  • Exterior featured tapestry brick and cut stone
  • Ground floor featured a formal dining room, a café and lobby shops.
    The new hotel
  • A 204-room hotel operated by Doubletree Guest Suites a division of the Hilton Group.
  • About 30,000 square feet of meeting space -- enough to accommodate up to 200 people.
  • 67 apartments that may eventually become condominiums.
  • A lounge bar
    Sources: Burton Historical Collections; www.forgottendetroit.com; The Detroit News archives; "Detroit's Statler and Book-Cadillac Hotels: The Anchors of Washington Boulevard," published by Arcadia Publishing

  • Once the city's pre-eminent hotel, the updated Book-Cadillac will feature ...
    Though renovations at the Book-Cadillac Hotel in downtown Detroit began ... (Brandy Baker / The Detroit News)
    Plans for the former Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel include turning it into a ...