Lee Plaza Hotel is an abandoned 16-story apartment building located at 2240 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan. Lee Plaza was built by Ralph T. Lee, a real estate developer who had built and sold over $10 million dollars of apartments and homes. Lee Plaza closed permanently in 1997, and the building was abandoned.
Lee Plaza Hotel cuts a lonely figure on the Detroit skyline, being the only high-rise building west of midtown. The 15-story tower, clad in orange brick and decorated with elaborate stone carvings is still quite striking, even after over two decades of vacancy.
History of Lee Plaza Hotel
Lee Plaza was a residential hotel when it opened in 1929 to tremendous acclaim, but Lee quickly sold it to the Detroit Investment Co. Like many companies, the Detroit Investment Co. had financial issues at the beginning of the Great Depression, and the Lee Plaza went through a series of owners, some of whom Ralph T. Lee had an interest in. By 1935 both Ralph Lee and the Lee Plaza were bankrupt.
The ownership of the building was tied up in court until 1943. However, in that time luxury apartment living had fallen out of favor, residents left, and the hotel started renting rooms to transient guests. In 1968, the city of Detroit turned the building into a senior citizens’ complex. However, in the 1980s, the Lee began losing residents, and the building was finally closed in 1997.
Lee Plaza was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 5, 1981. As noted in the building’s 1981 National Register of Historic Places nomination form: “The 1920s witnessed a growing demand for apartment residences. The residential hotel concept was particularly popular with well-to-do single men and women because of the amenities and services provided. Although there were many hotels in the city, and a growing number of apartment houses, the Lee Plaza was one of the few apartment hotels that provided the services of a luxury hotel with the multiroom units and long-term residential features of an apartment building. It was by far the largest and most elaborate facility of its kind in Detroit.”
Much of the interior ornamentation was designed by Corrado Parducci, a decorator known for his work on the Guardian and Penobscot buildings. Particularly striking was the main corridor, known as “peacock alley,” for its vivid colors and brilliant design.
In 2000, more than 50 terracotta lion heads were stolen from Lee Plaza and were missing until six of the heads were spotted in a new residential development project in Chicago, Illinois. When the police were involved, between 20 and 30 of the lions’ heads were returned, but rather than restore them to the Lee Plaza Hotel, they were placed in storage.
In late 2005 the Lee Plaza Hotel copper roof was somehow stripped, despite it being 17 stories up and Northwestern High School being next door. Its window frames are gone. Since that time, the Lee Plaza has been stripped of many of its architectural elements.
The city has looked for a redeveloper, and in 2015, developer Craig Sasser, announced a $200 million redevelopment of Lee Plaza and the surrounding area. However, in October 2016, Harold Ince, interim executive director of the Detroit Housing Commission announced that the planned redevelopment appears dead after Sasser failed to purchase the property. In December 2017, the city issued an RFP (requests for proposal) for the 17-story Lee Plaza Tower on West Grand Boulevard at Lawton Street. The city received three proposals to redevelop the historic tower in March 2018 but ultimately decided in July that none were viable reuses of the 1929 building.
On January 20, 2022, a more formal detailed explanation of the restoration of the building was announced. It will be a multi-year, multi-phase development. Phase 1, at $59 million, will restore the first floor main lobby, and create 117 affordable senior apartments on floors 2 through 10, with completion scheduled for 2024. Phase 2, at $20 million, would create 60 to 70 market-rate apartments on floors 11 through 16 with an anticipated 2025 completion date.