In 1900, the eight-story Madison Hotel was built at the intersection of Madison and Randolph near Harmonie Park. It was designed as a residential hotel so its 300 rooms were divided into 64 suites for long-term rental by the prosperous. Residents, of course, could easily walk to work in the emerging array of skyscrapers on the west side of Woodward. Adjoining the Madison Hotel was a two-story restaurant-cafe. Apparently the financial success of the Madison led to the building of the Lenox Hotel just a few steps west along Madison toward Grand Circus and joined to the Madison by the dining facility.
The demand for downtown living in an aging building declined after World War II. Occupancy dropped and, I believe, by the early 1990s only a few of the suites were generating rent, many of those occupied by low-income elderly persons.
David Schevich is the architect who devoted himself to refurbishing Harmonie Park into the historical and entertainment site that it is now becoming. He obtained control of the Madison-Lenox in 1993 with hopes of converting it into a European style boutique hotel to serve the needs of rich travelers who came to downtown Detroit. At this time, neither of the two new stadia was finished and the headquarters of General Motors was located at West Grand and Woodward, not in the Renaissance Center. The finances did not work out and, in 1997, the Madison-Lenox was taken over by Mr. Illich’s real estate company: Olympic Development. At this time, Olympic Development was not only rebuilding the Fox Theater, but also assembling property for nearby Comerica Park. Gradually, Olympic Development purchased or obtained options or control of very much property in downtown Detroit near their key holdings—the Fox Theater and Comerica.
In 2002, Olympic Development announced plans to raze the Madison-Lenox and use the space for an open-air parking lot for about 83 vehicles. They later obtain $700,000 from the Downtown Development Authority to remove the Madison-Lenox. They contended that the building was so structurally compromised that there was no feasible way to restore it. It was a terrible eyesore tarnishing a reviving area anchored by Grand Circus Park, Greektown and the Woodward area between Adams and I-75.
Preservationists argued that it is important to preserve historic buildings in downtown Detroit, including the Madison-Lenox. They contended that the structure was sound and that so many tax credits were available that an enterprising entrepreneur could turn it into a busy and prosperous hotel. There is agreement that downtown Detroit needs many new hotel rooms. But it is also the case that, at that time, four large hotels stood empty in downtown Detroit: the Madison-Lenox, the Book-Cadillac, The Statler Hilton and the Fort Shelby-Pick. By the early years of the Twenty-first century, the Madison-Lenox became a litmus test for the strength of the historic preservation movement in Detroit.
In January, 2004, the Historic Commission of the city of Detroit turned down the request to raze and replace the Madison-Lenox with parking. Quite likely this decision will be challenged in court. It will be interesting to see which of the old and empty hotels are refurbished by February, 2006 when the Superbowl is played in Detroit.
On May 20, 2005, this article appeared
in Detroit-area newspapers:
Date of completion: Madison Hotel – 1900
Lenox Hotel - 1903
Architect for the Madison Hotel: F. C. Pollmar
Architect for the Lennox Hotel: A. C. Varney
Architectural Style: Late French Gothic
Use or the space in 2012: Parking lot
City of Detroit Register of Historic Sites: The Madison-Lenox Hotel is included within the Madison-Harmonie Local Historic District designated April 17, 1988.
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
Website for information: http://www.book-cadillac.org/ml-proposal.pdf
Photo: Ren Farley, July, 2003
Description updated: March, 2012