One of the main reasons I had come to Detroit was the fantastic architecture that this city has to offer. Detroit celebrated its heyday in the early 20th century when the automobile industry took off, and car ownership became available to everyday people. Witnesses to this boom are the many stunning historic skyscrapers in Detroit, particularly from the 1920s, buildings that still define one of the most recognizable skylines in the world.
The Westin Book Cadillac shines again
Of course the Great Depression of the 1930s put an end to this exuberant construction activity, but to this day Detroit features a great collection of architectural treasures. One of the most well-known landmarks is the former Book Cadillac Hotel, which at its opening in 1924, was the tallest building in Detroit and the tallest hotel in the world.
Great view of Detroit’s historic skyscrapers from the Westin’s roof
The Book Cadillac was developed by three brothers who intended to turn Washington Boulevard into the “Fifth Avenue of the West”. They commissioned prominent Detroit architect Louis Kamper to design their hotel property which was to be built on the location of the earlier Cadillac Hotel, a property dating back to 1885. With big fanfare this grand hotel opened in 1924, featuring 1,136 state-of-the-art guest rooms. The Book Cadillac Hotel was Detroit’s most luxurious and venerable hotel property for many years. The first five floors of the original Book Cadillac had three ballrooms, a spacious lobby and retail stores on the ground floor. Even a radio station was located on the top floor.
The historically restored Venetian Ballroom
In 1931 finally, caused by the financial crisis of the Great Depression, the Book Brothers lost control of this property, and it was then run by the National Hotel Management Company. In May of 1939 Lou Gehrig, the New York Yankees’ famous first baseman, collapsed in the grand staircase of the hotel. He took himself out of the lineup which ended up breaking his string of 2,130 consecutive games played. Later of course, he was diagnosed with ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which also became known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
The historically restored Italian Garden
The script to Frank Capra’s 1947 movie “State of the Union” , starring Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, made several references to the Book Cadillac. Although filmed on a movie set, a shot of the actual front entrance marquee of the hotel appeared in the movie. Over the years, many other celebrities stayed at the hotel, including Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Harry S. Truman, Ronald Reagan and Herbert Hoover all spent nights in this landmark property. Dr. Martin Luther King spent a night here in 1968, shortly before he was assassinated.
The Motor Bar
From the 1950s onwards the Book Cadillac was owned by the Sheraton chain which finally sold the hotel in 1975. This era was particularly unkind to this historic property as furniture and paint schemes were changed and the grand marble staircase was ripped out and replaced by an escalator. The hotel’s name changed to the Sheraton Cadillac as the Book Brothers’ name disappeared altogether.
Following the 1967 Detroit riot, tourism declined in the city and many businesses closed. Many of Detroit’s grand historic hotels could not survive and were shuttered. This sad fate befell the Fort Shelby Hotel, the Hotel Statler and the Hotel Tuller. The Cadillac did briefly benefit because it ended up with some chandeliers and other pieces from the Statler Hotel. The cult film “Detroit 9000”, made in 1974, highlights this era of the hotel.
Sheraton finally sold the hotel to Herbert Weissberg, a prominent New York Hotel owner, who renamed it the Detroit Cadillac. After his foreclosure the property changed hands to the Radisson chain which also implemented a number of unsuccessful renovations. After several additional sales, the hotel was turned into a mixed-used property during the 1980s that included office space. In 1984 it finally closed its doors for renovations but did not reopen as planned due to economic problems. Almost all the hotel’s contents were sold at fire-sale prices, including original Book Cadillac china, beds, linens and other items.
My spacious bedroom
As a matter of fact, the Book Cadillac became an abandoned property and over time became a victim of vandalism and urban scavengers. Initially, a security guard protected the property from 1986 to 1997, but once the guard was removed, the formerly splendid hotel was ravaged, and many of the architectural details were stolen or destroyed. Graffiti was sprayed all over the property, the historic plasterwork destroyed and the entire interior was in shambles.
The Westin Book Cadillac, beautifully illuminated at night