The Lafayette

Lafayette Building

The Lafayette

Many moons ago, I had the opportunity to explore the Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit, Michigan with two friends. It was a blustery, cold Sunday morning and there was not a soul out. No pedestrians and very few cars.

The Lafayette Building was located at 144 West Lafayette Boulevard and was built in 1923-1924 as a speculative, high-end office building. The 13-story tower was both broad and tall, commanding views of Lafayette Boulevard, Michigan Avenue and Shelby Street, and was “V-shaped” that allowed natural light to filter into the building from several different angles. The interior was lavish, fitted with bronze fixtures and black-walnut wall panels. There were two marble drinking fountains on each floor and seven elevators that moved at 800 feet per minute.

The Lafayette also boasted an arcade with 31 retail storefronts and offices that held tenants such as the Michigan state Tax Tribunal, the Michigan Supreme Court and several railroad companies.

Only minor exterior changes were applied to the Lafayette’s exterior. A slate facade on the first level was added in the 1960’s.

The Lafayette Building was closed in 1997 after years of decline. By then, the Lafayette had become deteriorated and an eyesore. Little maintenance work had been conducted since the tenants were given eviction notices in 1991, but a few managed to stay on. There were plans to redevelop the Lafayette into a residential condominium complex, and later as a Class-A office building, but the work was found to be cost prohibitive.

Demolition work began in the fall of 2009 and was completed in the following year. In retrospect, I wish I had spent more time at the Lafayette. I only saw the interior once and that was brief – it was more photogenic than I imagined despite years of abuse and alterations.

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