Will historic Detroit Police HQ find new life? Building evacuated, deemed unsanitary

When the block-long, eight-story Detroit Police headquarters opened downtown in 1921, it was hailed as one of the finest municipal buildings in the country.

“It will be far in advance of any police headquarters in the United States,” the American City Magazine predicted in 1921.

One of the highlights was the placement of jail cells on the top two floors, “where every prisoner will have perfect sanitation with abundance of light and air and yet be removed from public view,” the magazine wrote.
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Today, the historic building, 1300 Beaubien, was evacuated – maybe for the last time – after water spewed from broken pipes for nearly a week, soaking most of the floors, causing ceilings to crash down and shutting down the elevator and toilets. The problem occurred because the building wasn’t warm enough and pipes froze, said a police source, who complained about the building for a week.

Police were planning to move to the new headquarters in about two months, but city officials concede it’s possible the building will be closed permanently.

The building’s fate no hangs in the balance. Former Mayor Bing called for its demolition before leaving office at the end of the year.
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Designed by famed industrial architect Albert Kahn, 1300 Beaubien was inspired by neoclassicism and majestic Italian palaces. Now it’s about to be abandoned, and there is no historic designation to preserve it.

Under the city’s bankruptcy, Detroit is being advised to sell its unused properties, which means the building may be unloaded during a fire sale of city assets.

The city is largely to blame for the building’s deterioration. Vermin, crumbling plaster, floods and mold are common problems. In 2001, the jail cells that the American City Magazine boasted about were closed in 2001 because of unsanitary conditions.
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The city paid $60 million to renovate the abandoned MGM Grand Detroit as its new quarters on Third and Abbott overlooking the Lodge Freeway.

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.