Large fire strikes vacant legendary rock club Gold Dollar in Detroit

Mark Hicks Louis Aguilar
The Detroit News
Detroit firefighters battle a blaze at the site of the former Gold Dollar bar on Cass Avenue just north of the Masonic Temple and Little Caesars Arena in Detroit on Monday.

Detroit fire crews battled a large fire Monday night in Midtown at the vacant legendary rock club the Gold Dollar.

The building, a former drag queen bar at 3129 Cass Avenue, is where the Grammy-winning band The White Stripes played its first show. It was part of a mass buyup of land by an entity linked to the billionaire Ilitch organization and near Little Caesars Arena.

Detroit firefighters battle a blaze at the site of the former Gold Dollar bar on Monday.

About 40 firefighters battled the blaze as night fell Monday at the former bar as well as at the adjoining building at 3127 Cass. The fire was reported about 8:30 p.m. and contained by 10 p.m., authorities on the scene said.

Acrid gray smoke billowed into the street and over buildings, and could be seen and smelled for blocks.

Authorities said they were working to determine what sparked the fire at the building, where power and gas had long been shut off. Crews would remain on the scene for hours, Detroit Deputy Fire Commissioner David Fornell said.

In 1996, the Gold Dollar became one of the centers of the city's garage rock revival scene.

Firefighters had deemed the building unsafe to enter and used a ladder to douse the interior of the structure where flames erupted.

Onlookers gathered near fire trucks blocking the intersection to watch. Bacari Ezell, a Detroiter, spotted the plumes as far away as Grand River and 14th while riding his bicycle.

“I knew it was bad,” he said.

The Ilitches' Olympia Development of Michigan released a statement about the fire Monday night: 

This is a flyer advertising a series of White Stripes performances at the Gold Dollar.

"We are aware of the fire at the Gold Dollar building," it said. "We will cooperatively work with the Detroit Fire Department to determine cause. Safety and controlling the fire is the top priority tonight."

The vacant Gold Dollar bar was a beer garden in the 1930s and had become an underground gay bar by the 1960s, Elias Khalil, a neighborhood resident, business owner and co-author of "Detroit's Cass Corridor," told The Detroit News in 2017.

The Gold Dollar was shut down in 2001 and the building has been empty. It had fallen into disrepair, with part of the roof in the back of the building gone.