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