McDonald’s to replace historic University Club in Detroit

University Club_7770College graduates used to meet up at the glamorous University Club on East Jefferson and smoke cigars in the medieval-inspired dining hall. They relaxed on plush armchairs in the pristine library, played squash and took a dip in the indoor swimming pool.

It was, no doubt, one of the most elegant clubs in Detroit.

Now the site near downtown is blanketed with busted red bricks, concrete and twisted metal after demolition ended this weekend. In its place will be Detroit’s 29th McDonald’s restaurant, we learned this weekend.

Building owner Jeffriv LLC, operated by Albert Ammori, plans to soon build the fast food restaurant across the street from a liquor store he owns. Since buying the property for $600,000 in April 2010, Ammori neglected the building, leaving it open to scrappers, vandals and extreme weather. He may also build a Family Dollar or another retailer in the parking lot adjacent to the club.

“This place used to be so beautiful; there was no place like it,” Kenneth Cargill, who used to do maintenance work at the club, told me Saturday at the site. “It was fancy. I’ll never forget it.”

University Club Burton Historical CollectionIn June, an intentionally set fire gutted the building, paving the way for Ammori to demolish the building, which was designed by famed architect William Kapp, who also did the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts.

During demolition, two men in a pickup truck stole stained-glass windows and historic markers from the site, the demo team said.

Preservationists tried in vain to save the building with a historic designation, but Councilman Kwame Keynatta boastfully nixed the plan more than a year ago after saying “blacks probably couldn’t” be members, which was false. Even former Mayor Coleman A. Young was a member.

“I don’t have the same nostalgia that most folks have about some of these buildings; most of them were built many years ago when certain folks couldn’t be let in,” Kenyatta said at the time. “You’ve got slave institutions that were designed by great architects and some of them still stand.”

The University Club went bankrupt in 1992, and the YWCA took over the building until 2008, when maintenance costs became unsustainable.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.

  • Eric Douglas

    Blame the Planning dept, things like this are highly preventable.

  • Michele

    The city cannot prevent a business from locating in a given plot if they purchase the land. That’s the free market. What we can do is create legislation to protect historic buildings and preferentially support Michigan-based businesses. I would welcome a McDonalds, or any business, that uses existing buildings rather than slashing and rebuilding with some modern pre-fab shack. Unfortunately we have more buildings that need protecting than people who are willing to protect them.

    • Natalie Loren

      The hell they cannot. Boston certainly stopped Chik-fil-A from building within it’s city limits.

  • wendy

    For all the people decrying the exclusivity of the University Club…it was a goddamned building not a club!

  • wendy

    Are you fucking kidding me? This city needs another MDs like a hole in the head. This is shades of Little Harry’s.

  • Lulu’s Mom

    So sorry to see the lush University Club gone, but it was trashed long ago,
    like so much of Detroit treasures that has just faded away into nothingness. Once the heroic firebrand of the nation, waaay too long now, Detroit’s been at the mercy of users, of stupidity, conspiracy and corruption. Now, we just look away, as we did while driving past the once fab University Club.

    Kenyatta’s a lot like the sports guy, Incognito, who might just be a great guy, a good friend, a good man, a team player, one of the boys — just
    insensitive as hell — the Paula Deen of football — a closet racist, blindly
    unaware that certain behaviors and attitudes are hurtful and unacceptable — like too many of the comments readers submit. How sad for us all to watch
    sturdy well-meant people turn sour and this once great city be reduced to fast food joints and junk stores.

    Don’t look away — DO something . . . SAVE Detroit ! ! !

  • Lulu’s Mom

    So sorry to see the lush University Club gone, but it was trashed long ago. So many treasured Detroit places have just faded away into nothingness — the spirit of McDonald’s. “Once the hero of the nation, waaay too long, now, Detroit’s been at the mercy of users, of ignorance, corruption and conspiracy.

    Kenyatta’s a lot like the sports guy, Incognito, who might just be a great
    guy, a good friend, a good man, a team player, one of the boys —
    just insensitive as hell — the Paula Deen of football — a closet racist, blindly unaware that certain behaviors and attitudes are hurtful and
    unacceptable — like too many of the comments readers submit. How sad for us
    all to watch this ince great city be reduced to fast foos and junk stores.

  • Steve D Mihaljevic

    What a bunch of ignorant fools.. so we have a ignorant council member deciding based on his clearly ignorant and bitter pov that this should be torn down.. because blacks “probably were not allowed”.. SOB

    • It wasn’t just Kenyatta’s fault, although he was clearly a fool. If the city enforced code and seriously investigated the fire, the owner would probably be in jail and the city or county would own the building.

  • Dave Armstrong

    “It was, no doubt, one of the most elegant clubs in Detroit.”
    Indeed it was. But if you were Black or female………lotsa luck!

    • Henry Holland

      You need to reread the article. It said that Coleman Young had been a member. Last I heard he was black.

      • Quin1515

        Yeah, it also didn’t allow women at a time, but that changed. The thing about lamenting over the loss of a place due to its historical significance is this: you’re asking people to measure it’s value based on its history. That also means before 1978. Otherwise, we’d say “This place was only 30 years relevant, so what’s the big deal.” Sheesh. People go to great lengths to subvert logic in their defense of past wrongdoing.

  • Kevin Scott

    You know what cracks me up is why is it that some white people make racist statements relating to chicken and ribs in reference to black people? last I checked white people eat chicken and ribs too! Take note the idiot that posted that and you know who you are!

    • Ward Case

      Chinese people eat rice. But you’re right. We all eat the same foods. Racist statements belonged to earlier generations long ago. Not today.

  • Tommy Udo

    Glad Keynatta is gone, what a race baiting POS.

  • DIRK DIGGLER

    I am surprised that its not Chicken Shack or Flavor Flav’s Chicken and Ribs hahahah.

  • African Ass Monkey

    During demolition, two men in a pickup truck stole stained-glass windows and historic markers from the site, the demo team said.

    How is it stealing when the current owner was all about destroying it and set fire to it?

  • Detroit Rant

    Just want the city needs, ANOTHER McDonald’s !! SMH