The Detroit Club on Cass Avenue was sold last week to Emre Uralli. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
The Detroit Club, a downtown social haunt for early- and mid-20th century elites, has been sold.
The 35,000-square-foot, Romanesque Revival building at the northeast corner of Cass Avenue and Fort Street was bought last week by Emre Uralli for an undisclosed amount, according to Lorna Abraham. Lorna and Nick Abraham had owned the building since 2011. The two are longtime members of the Detroit Club and they hoped to revive its one-percenter glory.
New owner Uralli said Thursday afternoon he couldn’t comment because he was rushing to board an airplane.
“I believe you will see more of the same in the future,” Lorna Abraham said Thursday. “It will be a place where top business leaders will meet and socialize.”
The club’s website declares “a number of pivotal events in the 20th century took place” in the four-story building, which opened in 1891. In 1902, the Automobile Club of Detroit was formed there. In Depression-era 1930, Gov. Fred Green meet Detroit bank presidents and worked out details to shut down banks. In 1944-45, Henry Ford II used it as strategy room to wrest control of Ford Motor Co. from Harry Bennett.
Dignitaries who entertained at the club included presidents Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Royalty who visited included Empress Zita of Austria and the Duke of Windsor. Corporate titans Henry Ford, John D. Rockfeller and Lee Iacocca also dropped by.
Even at its peak, membership was never more than 1,000 people, according to news reports. In 2005, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
By 1996, the club had dwindled to 30 members and the building was nearly sold to Matrix Human Services, a nonprofit that aids the region’s poor. At the time, the building needed half million dollars in repair.
Matrix planned to create a culinary arts training program in the building’s vast kitchen facility, while still allowing some of the building to be used by the social club.
That sale fell through and longtime member John Booth II, retired president of broadcasting firm Booth American Co., took control of the building. According to Crain’s Detroit Business, the club borrowed about $325,000 to pay taxes and keep the building open for the next 16 years.
In 2011, the Abrahams bought the building and fixed the roof. “We retained the great character,” of the building, he said.
Two years ago, developers David Di Rita and James Van Dyke were approached to help boost membership. That plan hasn’t been carried out yet and the two hope to meet with new owner Uralli soon to determine whether the Detroit Club can remain in the building, Van Dyke said.
“We would like to see the Detroit Club get back to about 100 members and have it be a great social club for business and civic leaders,” Van Dyke said.
Uralli is a Florida-based investor who has owned the David Stott and Detroit Free Press buildings. Both of the downtown buildings were sold in auction to Chinese investors. The old Free Press building and the club are linked by a second-floor tunnel.