Constructed in 1923-24, the Lafayette Building was built within a triangular lot bordered by West Lafayette Boulevard, Michigan Avenue and Shelby Street in downtown Detroit, Michigan.1 2 3 After years of decline, the Lafayette was closed in 1997 and razed a decade later.

The Lafayette had 178 feet of frontage along Michigan Avenue, 168 feet along Shelby Street and 135 feet along Lafayette Boulevard,8 and was 13-stories tall with a full basement. The 182-foot high tower was built by the partnership of George G. Epstean and Julius Herman to serve as a speculative high-end office tower. It was designed by C. Howard Crane in the neo-classical architecture with a facade of cream-colored brick, limestone and terra cotta. Crane had earlier designed the Fox Theatre, the Opera House and Orchestra Hall.

Prior to its completion, the lot was home to the Bressler Block that was owned by Charles Bressler and composed of smaller commercial structures, including the Detroit Book Exchange.6 The properties were purchased by the Edsel Ford family in 1910 and leased until 1917.

The layout of the structure, in a V-shape, allowed natural light to filter into the building from several angles.1 2 3 The interior was just as lavish, with a marble, Italian Renaissance interior accented with bronze fixtures and black-walnut walls.1 3 Two marble drinking fountains were located on each floor. There were seven elevators, arranged in circular tiers, that opened up into a large lobby, running at 800 feet per minute.

The Lafayette featured 31 retail storefronts on its first three floors in a large arcade, with interior and exterior entrances with large outdoor display windows.1 3 The upper floors held tenants that included the Michigan state Tax Tribunal, offices for the Michigan Supreme Court and several railroad companies.1 2 3

Only minor exterior changes were applied to the Lafayette’s exterior. A slate facade on the first level was added in the 1960s.2

Decline

The Lafayette was closed in 1997 after years of decline.1 2 3 7 By then, the tower had deteriorated and became an eyesore. Little maintenance work had been conducted since the tenants were given eviction notices in 1991, but despite this a few tenants remained.4

The Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation of Florida announced on December 15, 2005 that it was planning to convert the Lafayette into a residential condominium tower in a $40 million redevelopment project.8 The development would include 125 units, a fitness center and first floor commercial space. Work was slated to begin in 2006 after funding was secured with an estimated completion date of 2007. The proposal ultimately fell through due to disputes between the developer and the city.

Another proposal for redevelopment came on November 13, 2007 when the city of Detroit offered the Lafayette for $1 to Quicken Loans. Quicken had a year to choose the site of their headquarters and to study the redevelopment of two surface parking lots on Library and Broadway and the Lafayette. If redeveloped, the two parking lots and the Lafayette would become part of a mixed-use development with first-floor retail, offices and residential condominium units. Unfortunately, Quicken opted to relocate only a part of its staff downtown into the Compuware Building.

The Ferchill Group, who was responsible for the renovation of the Book Cadillac, speculated about purchasing the building and restoring it, but found that it was not economically viable.1 7

Demolition

On December 9, 2008, the city issued a request for environmental consulting services to prepare the Lafayette for demolition. On March 26, 2009, Detroit’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) solicited bids to demolish the Lafayette.7 But after the deadline for the bids passed in April, Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockrel, Jr. cancelled demolition plans due to public outcry.2

The city council refused to designate the Lafayette a historic landmark on June 23.4 5 Two days later, the DDA voted unanimously to proceed with prior plans to demolish the Lafayette. The DDA voted to give the demolition contract to Detroit-based Adamo Demolition Company for $1,445,888.2

In a last minute proposal to save the Lafayette, Dionysia Properties LLC asked Detroit city officials to give it two weeks to conduct a structural inspection on the Lafayette to see if it could be saved in July. Dionysia had developed six loft projects around the city previously. But on August 15, the DDA announced that demolition would move forward.

Demolition on the Lafayette Building began in October 2009 and was completed on February 24, 2010 at 4:30 AM, when the last of the tower was cleared.1

Digest

  • Name: Lafayette Building
  • Location: West Lafayette Boulevard, Michigan Avenue and Shelby Street, Detroit, Michigan
  • Years of Significance: 1923
  • Status: Demolished

Further Reading

  1. Lafayette Building at Historic Detroit

Sources

  1. “Another one bites the dust .” Metro Times [Detroit] 30 Sept. 2009: n. pag. Metro Times. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. Article.
  2. Nanco, Ashley. “Detroit Votes to Demolish 1923 Lafayette Building.” Preservation Nation 25 June 2009: n. pag. National Trust for Historic Preservation. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. Article.
  3. Foley, Aaron. “Demolition begins on Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit.” Michigan Live [Detroit] 2 Oct. 2009: n. pag. mlive. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. Article.
  4. Foley, Aaron. “Detroit City Council denies historic designation for Lafayette Building downtown.” Michigan Live [Detroit] 23 June 2009: n. pag. mlive. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. Article.
  5. Kaffr, Nancy. “Detroit City Council rejects historic designtion for Lafayette Building.” Crain’s Detroit Business 23 June 2009: n. pag. Web. 30 Mar. 2012. Article.
  6. “Lafayette Building.” Historic Detroit 2012: n. pag. HistoricDetroit.org. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. Article.
  7. Kaffr, Nancy. “Detroit’s Lafayette Building targeted for razing.” Crain’s Detroit Business 26 Mar. 2009: n. pag. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. Article.
  8. “Lafayette Building.” Emporis 2012: n. pag. Web. 10 Apr. 2012. Article.