Why the Book-Cadillac Matters
The financial and legal headaches associated with bringing the historic
Book-Cadillac Hotel back may not be over. If everything goes as hoped
and the deal closes this spring, construction should resume at the
corner of Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue later this year. If
the hotel reopens its doors in 2008, it will be 24 years after it
initially closed and just in time for its 85th anniversary. When
completed, Cleveland-based Ferchill Group’s $176 million effort will
transform the tower into a 455-room Westin hotel, with 67 for-sale
The local news media have written dozens of
articles about every twist and turn in the efforts to bring the
Book-Cadillac Hotel back. From the search for a developer to the
innovative financing that the Detroit Economic Development Growth Corp.
developed for this project — Detroit’s news media has digested,
commented and speculated on every detail of this story.
The saga, however, hasn’t just been covered in the local media.
than 200 other newspapers – from New York to Los Angeles and from
Seattle to Tallahassee — also have written about the redevelopment of
this hotel. This makes the Book-Cadillac Hotel one of the most widely
covered development projects in recent history — not just here in
Detroit, but anywhere.
Why has this one vacant hotel received so
much attention when Detroit has so many other buildings? What is so
special about this vacant building that it would make so many
journalists from so many news outlets from so far away from Detroit
cover this story?Star-studded past
isn’t special about the Book-Cadillac?” says Francis Grunow, executive
director of Preservation Wayne. “When the Book-Cadillac Hotel first
opened its doors in the 1920s, it was tallest building in all of
Michigan and the tallest hotel in the entire world.”
Book-Cadillac Hotel was so large and so prominent in its heyday that it
had its own telegraph address and even its own radio station – WCX,
which broadcasted from the top floor of the hotel.
movies were filmed in part inside of the Book-Cadillac’s walls. Academy
Award winning director Frank Capra filmed his 1947 classic “State of
the Union” there — bringing such stars as Spencer Tracy, Katharine
Hepburn and Angela Lansbury to Detroit’s landmark hotel. Twenty six
years later, the cult hit “Detroit 9000” also saw some of its key
scenes filmed inside of the Book-Cadillac Hotel.
was made at the Book-Cadillac Hotel during the summer of 1939 when Lou
Gehrig of the New York Yankees collapsed on the hotel’s Grand
Staircase. He later confirmed to the world that he had been diagnosed
with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (now known as “Lou Gehrig’s
disease”) at a press conference in the hotel. Days later, he officially
retired from baseball and gave his now famous “Pride of the Yankees”
speech – completing a saga that, in many ways, began at the
The list of people who were impressed by
the Book-Cadillac Hotel is almost as impressive as the hotel itself.
The late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. stayed at the hotel when he
visited Detroit to give a speech shortly before his assassination in
the turbulent 1960s. He referred to the Book-Cadillac Hotel as, “A
pearl in a sea of turmoil.”
The Book-Cadillac Hotel also served its own special role in bringing
together artists and touching American culture in a way that no other
place could. According to former employees of the hotel, legendary
performers Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. met each other for the
first time at the Book-Cadillac Hotel.
Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy were just some of
the dignitaries who stayed at the Book-Cadillac Hotel while they were
in Detroit. Ronald Reagan, when he has still Governor of California,
also stayed at the hotel during the 1980 Republican National Convention.
Weissmuller stayed at the Book-Cadillac Hotel while in Detroit on a
promotional tour in 1920s. Weissmuller had won an unprecedented five
Olympic gold medals for swimming in the 1924 and 1928 Olympic Games. He
went on to play Tarzan in the original movies. His arrival in Detroit
received, to put it mildly, a considerable amount of fanfare.
The Beatles stayed at the Book-Cadillac Hotel when they were in Detroit and so did Elvis.The future
looking at all that the Book-Cadillac Hotel has meant in the past is
important, it’s even more important to look at what the hotel will mean
in the future.
“Redeveloping the Book-Cadillac Hotel shows a
tremendous amount of confidence on the part of the business community
in Detroit’s rebirth,” explains Marco Frattarelli, chair of the
Downtown Detroit Citizen’s District Council. “This is the same type of
confidence in Detroit that was needed to build the Book-Cadillac in the
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his new development
chief, George Jackson of the Detroit Economic Growth Corp., spearheaded
financing for the project. The $176 million financing package pulls in
revenue from more than a dozen different sources. The project has had
its setbacks, but the city says it’s not giving up. And it shouldn’t.
developers also believe that a redeveloped Book-Cadillac Hotel will
provide a tremendous catalyst to the surrounding area. This comes not
only from the shear size of the project, but also because of its mix of
condominiums that will bring new residents to downtown, retail shops
and, of course, the hotel itself.
The fact that many are predicting such an effect shouldn’t come as a
surprise to anyone – after all that is exactly what it was designed to
do in 1920s. The Book Brothers (J.B., Herbert and Frank Book)
envisioned Washington Boulevard as “The Fifth Avenue of the West” – a
boulevard that was to be filled with the most glamorous of shops and
restaurants. The Book-Cadillac Hotel at the southern end of Washington
Boulevard, along with the former Statler Hotel at the northern end,
cemented this vision.
Their vision worked for the first few
years of the Book-Cadillac Hotel’s existence. As Detroit itself began
to fall on hard times, however, so did the hotel. Now that downtown
Detroit is well on its way to a full-fledged recovery, the timing is
right for the hotel to wake up from its 20-year-long slumber.
J.B., Herbert and Frank Book first opened their hotel in 1923, there
was simply no way that they could have conceived the full magnitude of
what their hotel would accomplish in the coming years but they knew it
would be special. Likewise, there is no way that we can predict exactly
what — or who — will come through its door in this century.
Looking at history as our guide, though, assures us that the Book-Cadillac Hotel more than deserves all of its attention.Frank
Nemecek is a novelist, independent filmmaker and native Detroiter. His
documentary, “Checking In: The Story of the Book-Cadillac Hotel,” was
nominated for two different awards. Additional information about the
film is available at BookCadillacMovie.com or on Yahoo.
Book Cadillac Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger