Lion in wait 

By far the largest structure tackled by ASS during our inaugural year, the Lee Plaza Hotel is a magnificent structure that has fallen on the hardest of times. During its heyday, this residential hotel at the corner of West Grand Boulevard and Lawton offered 220 “luxury class” apartments and rooms. Built in 1928, it is 15 stories of steel and reinforced concrete with an orange glazed brick veneer and green copper roof.

According to the national Register of Historic Places, the hotel’s Mediterranean and Art Deco design included “rich marbles, polychromed plasterwork, and ornamental ceilings …” There was also something known as Peacock Alley, “so called because of the use of blues, golds and greens in decorating the coffered ceiling of the barrel-vaulted walkway.”

The grand old hotel was also decorated on the outside with terra-cotta lion heads that were stolen in 2000. Six of them showed up attached to an upscale condo project in Chicago.

The building was most recently used to provide senior citizen housing. It became vacant during the 1990s. Along with the lion heads, all of the windows were ripped off, leaving Lee Plaza open to the elements.

Now the place is an empty hulk that casts a forbidding shadow on Northwestern High School, which sits on an adjacent block.

“It makes you feel sort of messed up, seeing that place abandoned like that,” says Roshard Shorter, 16, a ninth-grader at the school. “I wish they would just tear it down. Either that or turn it into something useful.”

It looks like Shorter’s wish might be granted. According to a spokeswoman for the Detroit Housing Commission, which owns the building, initial steps are being taken to revitalize the structure. Discussions are under way with the State Historical Preservation Housing Office to determine what is required to bring the building up to code and other actions necessary to get some idea of the building’s value. It remains to be determined whether the commission will retain the building or sell it. The commission’s desire to see the building renovated is good news for those who cherish this gem of Detroit architecture.

“We don’t expect to demolish it,” says commission spokeswoman Randye Bullock. “That’s not our priority. Our priority is to make it usable, to put some kind of housing in there.”

The lion, it appears, may roar once more.

Curt Guyette is the news editor of Metro Times. E-mail him at cguyette@metrotimes.com

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