GP Park levels buildings
Detroit — After a long battle with preservationists, Grosse Pointe Park this week leveled two dilapidated buildings it owned in Detroit, including one that housed one of the city’s first gay bars.
The adjoining buildings, near Jefferson and Alter, were located in a Detroit historic district. Grosse Pointe Park battled for nearly 10 years to tear them down, but courts sided with preservationists who advocated for the buildings, which were built around 1918.
Detroit’s building department issued permits on Jan. 22 that allowed for the buildings — deemed unsafe and irreparable — to be razed, said Gregory Theokas, Grosse Pointe Park’s mayor pro tem.
“It’s simply a building that needed to be removed because it couldn’t be rebuilt,” Theokas said. “It was a safety hazard.”
Detroit’s Historic Commission unanimously denied a Dec. 10 request from Grosse Pointe Park to demolish. But Detroit’s building department, citing a threat to the public, overrode the commission’s decision.
One of the structures once housed the Deck Bar, one of Detroit’s first gay bars, which opened in 1957. The adjacent portion was a former party store.
Grosse Pointe Park originally bought the vacant two-story brick building from a private owner in 2004 for about $485,000 to enhance the entryway into the suburb at Jefferson and Alter. At the time, officials planned to tear down the building and develop the property with Detroit’s Department of Transportation, making it into a new bus turnaround.
Permits were approved and internal demolition began. But later, a historic designation was created for the area, which prompted both the historic commission and State Historic Preservation Review Board to rule the buildings should be protected.
Ultimately, the courts upheld the right of the city to declare it a historic district, which prohibited demolition and left future decisions in the hands of the Detroit historic commission.
The city now intends to work with Detroit to turn the space into a neighborhood park, he said.
Detroit’s Building Safety Environmental & Engineering Department conducted its own assessment in the fall and sided with Grosse Pointe Park.
Eric Jones, director of the department, said the November inspection of the property determined it was “unsound” and “severely dilapidated.” There was falling debris, mold and the building was “showing signs of collapse,” he said.
Devan Anderson, chairman of the Detroit Historical Commission, said the commission will discuss the demolition during its February meeting and then determine any next steps. “It was a contributing building to the district and it’s a shame that it’s gone,” Anderson said. “It had a rich cultural history for both Detroit and Grosse Pointe.”