Leland Hotel fire nearly turned catastrophic because of faulty standpipes

The historic Leland Hotel in Detroit. Photo by Steve Neavling

The historic Leland Hotel has earned a reputation as one of downtown Detroit’s dingiest apartment buildings.

Early Tuesday morning, the former four-star hotel with monthly rental rates as low as $400 proved it may be one of downtown’s most dangerous occupied buildings.

A fire broke out in a room on the 14th floor at 2:18 a.m. and burned for 23 minutes before firefighters were able to pump water to the spreading flames. At least two people were injured. The apartment’s standpipe system, which tall buildings are required to have so firefighters can deliver water from the fire engines to the uppers floors, failed to work.

Firefighters sprinted up 14 flights of steps with small fire extinguishers – their only weapon.

“We need more water,” one of the firefighters radioed in at 2:34 a.m., about 17 minutes after the fire was reported to 911.

Firefighters scrambled to get additional fire extinguishers before the fire spread to another room.

“The water is in the system, but I don’t know how long it will take to get there,” the chief called up to firefighters at 2:38 p.m., referring to the faulty standpipe.

Fearing the fire was about to spread, the chief called for extra manpower.

At 2:41 a.m., the standpipe finally began to send water to the 14th floor, but only momentarily.

“We’re losing a lot of pressure down here,” a firefighter said.

Luckily, firefighters were able to put out the fire, primarily with extinguishers, at 2:49 a.m.

Several people were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation.

“This was a standpipe issue, which is the hotel’s problem,”  said Kieyona Jackson, manager of maintenance and repair at Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Standpipe failures are very serious because it’s time-consuming and laborious to carry fire hoses to the upper floors. In just five minutes, a room can get so hot that everything in it ignites at once.

A faulty standpipe at the former Deutsche Bank Building in New York in 2007 was to blame for the deaths of two firefighters and the injuries of 115 civilians after a small garbage fire grew into a 7-alarm blaze. A firefighter was killed in North Carolina in 2011 because of a malfunctioning standpipe.

It’s unclear when the city of Detroit last inspected standpipe system at the Leland Hotel. Officials didn’t immediately respond to our request for  information. This morning we filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all inspections of the building.

LELAND HOTEL DETROITThe Leland has fallen into disrepair, which is why it’s able to offer some of the cheapest rental rates in downtown Detroit. Current and former residents told me that the elevators often don’t work, management is lousy, the pipes burst and some of the walls are even collapsing.

One tenant told me safety is “a trade off” for affordable rent.

“An apartment a block away the same size of mine would be three times the price,” he said.

The Italian Renaissance-style building sits between the Michigan and United Artists theaters, which don’t operate anymore. At one time, Jimmy Hoff and the Purple Gang frequented the hotel’s bar. During the baseball season, legendary Tiger Hank Greenberg lived at the hotel.

The building is owned by local real estate developer Mike Higgins, who renovated the Broderick Tower. He couldn’t be reached for comment.

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.

  • PrincessShiya

    Seeking Answers!) Me and my mother stayed at the Leland Hotel(Ramadan) back in 2001(15yrs old at that time) and as we were departing the elevator(Right Side) malfunctioned!! Raising us UP FLOORS only to DROP US DOWN FLOORS at a speed that had us stuck and could not move our BODIES!!! The elevator “let us off” on a floor were it looked like someone was repairing the elevator. Then a very sickly man came to me whispered something, got on the elevator and said “GOING DOWN?” THEN F**KING DISAPPEARED. Seeking answers because things have been happening to me since that day and I have finally decided after all these years to stop denying things now! PrincessShiya@gmail.com

  • Black Junior

    I useta live @ 400 Bagley Apt 1147 & that was the worst building I ever lived in.


    This is Detroit’s version of New York’s Chelsea Hotel…filled with artists, musicians, prostitutes, drug addicts and other low income folks, this complex (really an apartment complex, not a hotel any longer), has some severe issues going on. Having lived there from 2010 to 2012, the two out of eight working elevators (the other six were butchered for parts) is a disaster waiting to happen, especially for handicapped individuals unable to use the stairs) are constantly breaking down. The EMS is there on a daily basis taking away drug overdoses cases or elderly people (they should probably set-up a station there). A basement filled with raw sewage sends the putrid smell up the “smellavator” shaft all summer long, filling the place with a horrible stench. The place should be condemned for asbestos, which is all over the complex. Burned out apartments are never repaired (like the one next to 1107 in which I lived) and many are left in terrible condition for renters. Water lines regularly burst, sending water gushing along lower floors, destroying peoples few possessions. The maintenance department leaves holes in walls with their quick fix tactics on broken water lines (usually a cheap fix piece of rubber with a clamp over the hole) and never a proper repair. Roaches rule the place with dead giant ones littering the halls and stairways. Some floors look like a scene from “Escape from New York” with spray painting all over the hallways, no carpeting and ceiling lights dangling with open wires. The mezzanine floor should be reason enough to have this building condemned, as their is asbestos laying all over the floors, with winds from broken windows spraying those deadly particles all over the unsuspecting people drinking beer at the check-in counter below, that has ridiculously and pathetically been turned into a half-ass bar (throwing the historical aspects of this place into the trash), I won’t even get into City Club and the other ballrooms, where chunks of plaster rain down on people, creating a very dangerous situation. It is really sad to see a building with such amazing potential be the victim of con man Michael Higgins, a slum lord, with a long history of running high rise Detroit buildings into the ground that, who is regularly seen filling the snack machines at The Leland, with chips and candy (most owners of high rise buildings should be operating tight running businesses, not filling snack machines). This man must have somebody at the city on the payroll, because this place should be CLOSED. I recommend a full investigation be focused on Mr. Higgins and his misuse of grants and other federally appropriated funds that never see the light of day (instead the darkness of Mr. Higgins globe trotting wallet) at this hotel.

  • Guest

    My girlfriend and I have been a resident of theirs for almost a year and have had plenty of bad experiences. From water damaged walls with mold growing on them in one of the 3 rooms from January 13′. To most recentl a full window being blown out since sept of this year. Which they have yet to replace but instead bolted a board up in its place ( which has blown out of the window). We are living with mold infested walls and a room without a window in December! This needs and should be under investigation for city code violations. PLEASE VEIW THE PICS BELOW!

  • Christopher Bonham

    I’m embarrassed I even went there for all of those years. I used to go to City Club all the time before I moved out of state. Sad to see the building like this, but then again given the stories I have heard about Higgins over the years I’m not surprised.

  • Mary Morbid

    Leland City Club on the lower level was my goto club and i’ll miss it when the place finally closes…i wish there was a way to save the Leland!

  • KB

    Higgins is too busy talking-up young guys in his penthouse to worry about building upkeep…just remember the golden rule: if he asks if you want to see his train, RUN. lol!

    • bdcanuck

      Hahaha it’s funny cuz he’s gayyyy! 😐

  • Standpipe

    The Deutsche Bank Building fire occurred in 2007. Tragically, two firefighters were killed. 115 people were injured, not killed.

    • muckraker_steve

      You’re absolutely right. Meant to wrote injured. Will correct both. Thank you.

  • CJ

    The Leland stands on a neighboring block to the Michigan and UA theatres. Nothing stands between the theatres.

  • Anthony Rubens

    Your investigative reporting re. the arson, fires, and fire department are so well done. Keep up the excellent work. Hopefully, the most vulnerable Detroiters will benefit.