From Duke Ellington to high ed: Long-abandoned lot on Woodward gets new life

The site of the new LTU design center.
The site of the new LTU design center.

Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday were among the jazz greats who played at the opulent Graystone Ballroom at the corner of Woodward and W. Canfield in Detroit.

The elegance and luxury of that famed block have long been replaced with a McDonald’s and a vacant lot with broken liquor bottles and empty bags of snacks.

Lawrence tech building renderingNow the lot, which became vacant when the Graystone was demolished in 1980, is being transformed into a three-story design center for Lawrence Tech University with ground-level retail space.

Work began on the site this weekend.

“This new prominent location on Woodward Avenue will lead to more opportunities to engage organizations and groups that are working to rebuild and rejuvenate the city,” said Amy Green Deines, associate dean of LTU’s College of Architecture and Design.

Graystone ballroomThe Graystone opened in 1922 and was a wildly popular destination for live jazz and dancing. Although many of the musicians were black, nonwhites were limited to “colored nights” on Monday.

That was until Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown Records, bought the Graystone for $123,000 in 1963 to host some of his budding stars, according to www.historicdetroit.com.

The endeavor lasted for about a decade until Gordy moved Motown to Los Angeles in 1972.

The ballroom never rebounded.

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.