Lafayette Building

144 West Lafayette in downtown Detroit

We usually think of Detroit’s C. Howard Crane as the nation’s most accomplished and productive theater architect because of 250 or so magnificent structures he designed in the final decade of silent black and white films.  Without doubt, the Fox Theater is the best example of his ken in Motown.  This building offers testimony to his skills in designing a massive modern office structure.  The federal government began building the sedate Theodore Levin Federal Courthouse in the 1920s.  Developers George G. Epstean and Julius Herman knew that Detroit businesses would need much new office space and that hundreds of lawyers would wish to locate their occupy offices close toa the new federal judiciary center.  They decided to erect a neo-classical 14-story building with elegant details such as marble drinking fountains and walnut trim in the interior.  This V-shaped building is located on a gore parcel with fronts on West Lafayette, Michigan and Shelby. Epstean and Herman named this building to honor Marie-Joseph du Motier, better known as Marquis de la Fayette, who came to the colonies during the Revolution and not only served with distinction as a general in George Washington's Army, but also played a key role in eliciting support from the French Government for the emerging United States.

When the Renaissance Center opened in the 1970s, some of the older and less well maintained office buildings in downtown Detroit began losing their tenants.  The Lafayette Building gradually declined in prestige and importance. Its owners failed to reverse the fortunes of this grade edifice.  The final renters moved out in 1997 and the building was vacant since that year.  Title came to the city of Detroit.

In the first decade of this millinium, downtown developers began to restore the city’s west necklace to its former glory.  Major accomplishments include removing the hideous tinker-toy metal structure that once hovered over Washington Boulevard, the reopening of the Book-Cadillac and Fort Shelby hotels and the refurbishing of the Gabriel Richard Building.

Turning the Lafayette Building into an upscale residence would improve the fortunes of this key component of downtown Detroit.  In December, 2005, the Peebles Atlantic Development Corporation announced that they would obtain title to the Lafayette Building and spend $40 million converting it into 125 luxury condominiums.  This developer failed to raise the requisite capital.  In 2007, the Quicken Loan firm announced that they would move their headquarters to downtown Detroit.  The city offered them the Lafayette Building for $1, but this was an offer that Quicken Loan was able to refuse.  In March, 2009, the Downtown Development Authority requested bids for razing the Lafayette Building.  Many, including the Detroit chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, condemned this strategy and, in April, 2009, acting mayor Kenneth Cockrel, delayed the destruction of this building. These efforts to save the grand structure failed since no investor came forward with a financially sound plan for restoration. This building was razed in the early months of 2010.

Architects:  C. Howard Crane and Elmer George Kiehler
Architectural Style:  Neo-classical
Date of construction: 1927
Date of demolishment: 2010
City of Detroit Designated Historic District:  Not listed
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Not listed
National Register of Historic Places: Not listed
Photograph:  Ren Farley; May 2, 2009
Description updated: April, 2010

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