A former drag-queen bar where the Grammy Award-winning band The White Stripes played their first show is part of another quiet, mass purchase of Detroit land by an entity linked to the billionaire Ilitch organization.
The building that once housed the Gold Dollar bar is among the properties on the 3100 block of Cass Avenue purchased in 2015 for $2.2 million in a single sale, according to public records that were made available only recently. The properties were then transferred a year later for $1 to Cass Revival LLC, whose 2211 Woodward address is the downtown Fox Theatre.
An entity called Urban Horticulture, LLC, was listed as the 2015 buyer from then-owner Joel Landy. The sale included the former bar, one of three vacant buildings, and empty lots on Cass between Charlotte and Peterboro streets.
The vacant Gold Dollar was a beer garden in the 1930s, that had become an underground gay bar by the 1960s, said Elias Khalil, a longtime neighborhood resident, business owner and co-author of “Detroit’s Cass Corridor,” a book exploring the history of the neighborhood.
“It was very much a drag queen bar,” Khalil said. “It operated that way during the ’70s until probably the late ’80s.”
In 1996, the building was reopened by a young entrepreneur Neil Yee as a bar and experimental performance space that kept the Gold Dollar name. It became one of the centers of the city’s garage rock revival scene. The White Stripes, which consisted of Jack and Meg White, made their debut at the small club in 1997.
The Gold Dollar shut down in 2001 and the building has been empty and fallen to disrepair since. The roof in the back of the structure is gone. Plans for the purchased properties have not been revealed.
The newly reported acquisitions join the dozens of properties — from empty lots, shabby homes and vacant buildings — that entities linked to the Ilitches have spent millions as part of a long-ranging plan for the area around their newly opened Little Caesars Arena.
The Ilitches have been the driving force in the effort to overhaul more than 50 blocks of Detroit into dense upscale neighborhoods full of new residences and businesses. The development plan, known as The District Detroit, is focused on the northern edge of downtown.
Little Caesars Arena, the $863 million sports and entertainment complex that opened this fall, is expected to be the anchor of the development plan. The “LCA” is home to the Ilitch’s Detroit Red Wings. Its Olympia Entertainment manages the city-owned arena, which is expected to become the top concert venue in the region in the wake of the recent closings of Joe Louis Arena and the Palace of Auburn Hills.
The Ilitch family’s host of businesses include the Little Caesars Pizza chain, the Detroit Tigers and Red Wings. Marian Ilitch and her husband, Mike, who died in February, co-founded Little Ceasars Pizza in 1959. The global franchise reports $4 billion in annual sales.
Marian Ilitch owns the MotorCity Casino Hotel. The Detroit Tigers are now in a family trust. Chris Ilitch, the son of Mike and Marian, is president and CEO of Ilitch Holdings Inc. Their combined businesses employ 23,000 people, according to the company. Forbes estimates the family’s net worth at $5.8 billion.