They are the most visible signs of blight between downtown and flourishing Midtown– a pair of towering, windowless hotels from the booming 1920s.
But the Park Avenue Hotel and Hotel Eddystone also are historic gems that offer a rare opportunity to preserve two ornate buildings in a largely desolate area that is about to be transformed into a $650 million Red Wings arena and entertainment district.
The 13-story buildings are at the foot of the planned arena, which is scheduled to open for the 2017 Red Wings season.
While the buildings’ fate remains entangled in a potential legal battle with preservationists and Detroit City Council, workers this week began rolling over years of graffiti with yellow paint. The buildings were a popular target for graffiti writers, and several years ago they covered every exterior wall with paint as high as the hand could reach. Then came along vandals with paint-propelled fire extinguishers to scrawl even higher on the buildings.
Both hotels, which are on the national historic register, were designed by famed architect Louis Kamper, who also was the mastermind behind the Book-Cadillac Hotel, the Broderick Tower and other hotels and downtown landmarks.
In the 1920s, the area surrounding the hotels was teeming with fancy shops and hotels, drawing its inspiration from New York City’s Fifth Avenue, according to a historic account by the Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board. But the area declined sharply after World War II when middle-class residents began moving to safer neighborhoods and the suburbs.
Before long, the area was overtaken by drugs, crime and poverty. The few upscale apartments and hotels that weren’t demolished hung on by providing services to lower-income people.
The Park Avenue Hotel, for example, became a senior complex and then a rehab center for drug addicts and homeless people. Now the words ,”Zombieland,” are painted in black letters on top of the hotel.
Both hotels have been abandoned for more than a decade.
Preservationists and architectural enthusiasts are urging Olympia Development of Michigan to restore the buildings.
“These two structures that have been towering icons of despair and failure in recent history can now be icons of rebirth and a visionary integration of history and progress,” Free Press columnist Dan Austin wrote in support of preservation.
But when City Council last month amended a zoning request to preserve the Park Avenue Hotel, the developer asked for a delay and said the company has not decided yet whether to demolish.
The hotels are on the National Register of Historic Places, which makes them eligible for millions of dollars in tax credits for rehab.
The City Council is expected to discuss the issue again at 9 a.m., and Preservation Detroit, a nonprofit aimed at protecting historically significant buildings, is urging supporters of the hotels to attend the meeting on the 13th floor of the Coleman A. Municipal Center.
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.