The Way It Was

The Leland Hotel, 1940


photograph courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State Unversity (The Detroit News)


Detroit’s grandest hotels have all experienced rough patches. The Tuller and Statler never pulled through and were razed, while the Book-Cadillac and Fort Shelby were abandoned for decades before being refurbished. But the Leland Hotel, which opened as the Detroit-Leland in 1927, survived all these years without shuttering. It’s named after auto industrialist Henry Martyn Leland, who founded both Cadillac and Lincoln. Rising 22 stories at the corner of Bagley and Cass, the Italian Renaissance hotel certainly has had a checkered past, hobbling through the Great Depression and the general abandonment of downtown, beginning in the 1960s. Given its history of endurance, it comes as little surprise that the Leland is now ready for its next chapter. The hotel is scheduled to be transformed into a 339-unit apartment complex, with renovations slated to begin this month and a completion date set for 2020. A parking garage is also planned. There’s much lore associated with the hotel. The notorious Purple Gang met there often, and labor honcho Jimmy Hoffa was a habitué. There are also reports that the place is haunted. The hotel is home to the retro Luci & Ethel’s Diner and the industrial music space called the City Club (the hotel’s original grand ballroom), which planted stakes there in 1983. The 2012 book Belle Isle to Eight Mile: An Insider’s Guide to Detroit, described the club thus: “This edgy little dungeon club is a good destination if you’re dressed to the nines in fishnets and have a slight fetish for electrical tape.” As home to such colorful places, no wonder the Leland never went belly-up. Both businesses are expected to remain open through the refurbishment.


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