Forgotten Detroit
Book-Cadillac Hotel


When E.M. Statler opened his new hotel at the foot of Washington Boulevard in 1915 the Book brothers J.B., Herbert, and Frank were no doubt both pleased and jealous. They had a vision for Washington Blvd. that it would become the "5th Avenue of the West." The Books planned to accomplish this feat with the construction of a series of new buildings along the thoroughfare filled with fine offices and shops. The crown jewel would be a grand hotel to compete with the Statler.

The Cadillac Hotel

In 1917 the Book's purchased the old Cadillac Hotel at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Washington Blvd. However, the First World War made materials for new construction hard to obtain. Thus the Books had their architect, Alvin E. Harley, renovate the old Cadillac for $60,000. It was a temporary fix. By 1923 the old hotel was gone and work had begun on the Book-Cadillac.

For the new project the Books hired their favorite architect Louis Kamper. Though an established architect, Kamper had little experience designing hotels. To gain a knowledge of hotel layout he studied the Statler Hotels in Detroit and New York among others. He had plenty of knowledge for decoration and choose an elaborate Venetian style of the Italian Renaissance.

A postcard view of the Book-Cadillac

He gave the lower five floors of the exterior a facing of stone. The ground floor which was given over entirely to shops had ornate metal storefronts. Above these were tall arched windows set between massive pilasters. The upper floors created a 'shaft' of simple brick occasionally relieved by a band of stone. Above a ornate cornice rose three copper terraces. These terraces gave the hotel a unique profile. This was a common practice for the time as architects sought ways to make their buildings stand out. Not matter which angle you saw it from, the Book-Cadillac was a dramatic addition to the city's skyline.

The interiors were equally impressive. The Book-Cadillac featured five floors of grand public rooms and shops. Among the amenities were large lounges, three dining rooms, a coffee shop, three unique and functional ballrooms, and a tea room. They were the most richly decorated interiors found in any Detroit hotel.

Venetian Dining Room
Grand Ballroom
Main Lobby

All told, the Book-Cadillac was a massive construction project which required 2 years of planning. At 33 floors it was both the tallest building in Detroit and the tallest hotel in the world. This no doubt being the reason that the top floor had a radio station, WCX. The hotel had a total of 1136 guest rooms There were 1035 bedrooms, 54 sitting rooms, 8 alcove rooms, and 38 sample rooms. The silver service contained 50,000 pieces. Three basement levels contained the most modern boilers and laundry facilities of the time. The total cost of construction exceeded $14,000,000.

Advertisement for the new hotel

The Book-Cadillac enjoyed success for 6 years. However, with the onset of the Great Depression the situation began to sour for the hotel. The great ambitions of the Book brothers were cut short, a massive 81 story Book Tower would never be built. By 1931 the hotel was forced into receivership and ultimately changed hands twice in only twenty years. For a time it was controlled by Ralph Hitz's hotel organization. A chain renowned for the attentiveness of its service.

To remain competitive in these lean times much of the public room decor was redone in the late 1930's. The dining rooms were redecorated in the 'Art Moderne' style and given new names. The old Venetian Dining room had outlived its utility and replaced by the Book-Casino. This new nightclub would become a legendary nightspot in the Detroit area. Here patrons could enjoy fine dining, big bands, and dancing.

Esquire Room
Cafe Cadillac

Another money making scheme tried by the hotel at this time was less successful. The Cadillac Apartments were portions of the hotel rooms that had been redecorated for apartment living. Hoping to cash in on the glamor of the exclusive apartment hotels as well as downtown convenience, the Cadillac Apartments offered rooms starting at $60.00 a month.

Cocktail Lounge
Motor Bar
Coffee Shop

The post World War Two hotel industry was ruled by the big chains. In 1951 the hotel was purchased by the Sheraton Corporation for $6 million. Sheraton went about modernizing their newly acquired hotel. The grand staircase on Washington Blvd. was replaced by a duel escalator setup and the lobby was converted to a "ketchup and mustard horror." Only the ballrooms and Italian Garden were left untouched. The renovations did the trick and during the 50's and 60's the hotel was a top money maker for the company. However, the hotel industry was steadily losing more and more guest to newfangled motels.

The Arcade, 1950's
The Book-Casino, 1950's
The new Cafe Cadillac, 1950's

By the 1970's things once again began to sour for the hotel. By 1974 its one time rival, the Pick-Fort Shelby, closed, reopened as the Shelby Hotel, and quickly closed again . Just down the street the mighty Statler had been sold by the Hilton chain to a group of local investors. Quickly the Detroit Heritage Hotel, as it was then on known, flopped resulting in a devastating loss of up-to-date convention space and facilities. By 1975 it had closed. Now misfortune came knocking on the Cadillac's door.

The lobby, 1950's

In the late 60's and early 70's the hotel underwent some more renovations that included a 1974 attempt at more convention space. The grand Italian Garden was thus divided. The Book-Casino was renovated into a one-story room and new lounges added to the mezzanine. The other public rooms redecorated in pastels. Still, Sheraton realized the hotel needed major structural renovations and reconfigurations at a price they were not willing to pay. In 1975 the hotel was sold to experienced hotel operator Herbert Weissberg.

The Crystal Ballroom, 1950's
The Presidential Suite, 1950's
Guestroom, 1950's

Weissberg announced major renovations that would attempt to bring back some historic character to the building, which he renamed the Detroit-Cadillac. Despite economic successes Weissberg lost control of the hotel when the banks foreclosed. The Radisson Corporation was called in to supervise another $6 million worth or renovations and then operate the hotel afterwards. It was now the Radisson-Cadillac.

The renovations were extensive. The hotel's lobby and executive offices were moved to the site of the Book Casino. The old lobby was redone with new marble, wood, and maroon wallpaper. Hanging from its ceiling were chandeliers from the Cadillac's old rival, the Detroit Heritage(Statler). It now served as a restaurant connected to the cafe which became the Palm Room. The new lobby also received maroon wallpaper and wood paneling. While the overall appearance was an improvement, it failed to fully capture the atmosphere of the hotel's glory days. The hotel's fortunes did not improve and it changed hands several times in 5 years. However, part of its old self did reemerge in this time, it was once again the Book-Cadillac Hotel.

Mirrored Stairway
Washington Blvd.

Operating losses skyrocketed in the late 70's and by 1979 it was announced that the hotel would close. Not wanting to see another hotel close, have the city lose needed hotel rooms, and lose face in the coming Republican National Convention, the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation rescued the hotel. Now operated by a partnership called Book-Cadillac Properties the hotel was on a limited reprieve. In 1983 it was decided a way had to be found to make the building self-supporting and, gasp, profitable. Thus was born the Book-Cadillac Plaza.

Several renovation schemes were studied. It was decided that the hotel's best chance was to become a mixed use property. It was felt that the building could not survive as a hotel alone. The Book was simply far to large, even with nearly 500 unused rooms. A study found that some 92 percent of the hotel's room revenue was generated by only 528 rooms(53 percent of the hotels rooms). That added to the figure of 25% percent occupancy for non convention room nights that Detroit's hotels then suffered meant the Book-Cadillac could no longer survive with any number remotely close to its full 1200 rooms or continue to survive with 47% of its rooms generating no revenue. It was thus decided to upgrade the upper 12 floors into 550 quality hotel rooms and the lower 11 floors into top notch office space for nonprofit groups. The 5 public floors would again be upgraded with an emphasis on the 'historic'. In 1983 some work on this idea was begun. A portion of the lower floors were converted into offices. The 9th floor was turned into a fitness center intended to cater to the office tenants. However, the main renovation would require the hotel to close for over a year.

Palm Room
Check-in Desk

That it did in late 1984. The shops on the arcade remained open as did a few offices but the bulk of the building was now unused. Soon developers dropped out. One after another they signed on then abandoned the project citing economic conditions. Adding to the trouble were skyrocketing cost of renovation. 15 months passed and still the hotel sat empty. Finally in 1986 the building was liquidated. Furniture, fixtures, china, silver service, it was all sold off. With the hotel portion now truly empty the Book-Cadillac Plaza scheme was scuttled. The last businesses left their arcade home. Boards went up. The Book-Cadillac joined the list of abandoned buildings.

Fitness Room
Elevator Lobby

Well, not abandoned yet. During this time the city posted a guard inside the building. His job was to keep the vultures who had already gutted so many of Detroit's abandoned gems of decorative plaster and brass away. He performed that job well, until 1997. He was then pulled out and the building was quickly striped of its decorative pieces. In 1993 Coleman Young attempted to get money to demolish the building(as a follow up of the 1992 Tuller Hotel demolition?) Clearly this never materialized.

In early 1999 the hotel once again became the subject of the city's attention. This time in an effort by the city to gain control of the building and see some action on the site. After years of court proceedings and feasibility studies a renovation deal was announced in the summer of 2003. Intended to reopen the hotel as a Marriott the deal fell apart soon after construction had started. At the time of this writing the city is currently seeking another developer to complete the project.

For more photos and information read the book!

The Book-Cadillac: Detroit, Michigan. Chicago: The Hotel Bulletin, 1925.
The Collections of the Burton Historical Collection
The Collections of David Kohrman
The Detroit News and Free Press.

Copyright 1999 - 2004, David Kohrman
Last updated on April 28, 2004