Yin and Yang

April, 2007.

Most people call it the "Harbor Light Center" since that's what's painted along the top of it, but its not-so original original name was the Hotel Park Avenue (not to be confused with the equally originally-named Park Avenue Hotel down the street).


I might as well write something about this building now, since it (and its neighbor, the Eddystone Hotel) appears doomed in the near future as the Free Press forecasts the next big preservation battle on the horizon. The MetroTimes also notes however that there may be a glimmer of hope, depending on how City Council acts on a rezoning proposal this coming Thursday.

[EDIT: As of June, 2015, in a shady deal that reeked heavily of slimy politics, the Hotel Park Avenue was scheduled for demolition, but the Hotel Eddystone would *allegedly* be scheduled for renovation.]


The Hotel Park Avenue at 2643 Park Avenue was built in 1925 as part of Lew Tuller's hotel empire, and was designed by Detroit's *other* Albert Kahn, Louis Kamper. For many years it was a hive of activity--or so it seemed, due to the stark contrast of the bleak emptiness of the surroundings in which it was couched.

While the Salvation Army ran it as the Harbor Light Center, it seemed to serve as the yang to the Eddystone's yin. By day the flock could go into the Harbor Light for succor and salvation. By night they could wander across the street and go into the dark Eddystone for entropy and evil (and heroin), if they were so tempted. And so, the established balance of the universe flowed for many moons, or so it seemed. I imagine it would have sucked to get a room on the side facing the Eddystone, with a view of your buddies over there shooting up without you. That would kind of make it hard to stay on the path to recovery.


When finally both buildings had fallen dark and empty, I feared this was the death knell for the last grain of order and civilization in that neck of the city, and fully expected the entire area to fold up and be swallowed into the 10th level of Hell with a sudden burst of red flame, but apparently there will be hockey instead. Thanks, Mike Illitch! [/sarcasm]


My first trip into the freshly closed Harbor Light Center was one night in April of 2007 with Sloop, the first of several visits. The walled courtyard behind the building was topped with razorwire, making it a sort of hardened compound against the outside wasteland. Though scrappers had breached the place (allowing our entry), we found it still in basically pristine condition. Scrapping work was still in the primary copper phase, meaning only the juiciest fruit was being picked, so structural damage and water infiltration had not yet begun.


I was unsure as to what level of renovation from the old hotel's original decor had been done since the Salvation Army moved in, but we were pleasantly surprised to see that it was mostly left intact and in very good shape. Luxurious dark wooden paneling still encased much of the lobby spaces on the first floor.


The Hotel Park Ave was built to be Lew Tuller's crown jewel and was outfitted sumptuously, but it was also positioned as a more relaxed, homely alternative to the huge hotels downtown. Its dining room advertised “home cooking,” to help target a customer base of traveling businessmen working downtown who wanted something quieter outside the bustle of the business district, but still within walking distance of the downtown attractions such as the theaters.

When the economy started downhill in the 1950s this challenged the Park Avenue district, and when I-75 slashed through cutting this area off from downtown, its life support had been severed. The Salvation Army bought it in 1960, and it became the "Eventide Residence for the Aging." By the 1980s, it was remade into the Harbor Light Substance Abuse Treatment Center to reflect the changing climate.


The sound of smoke detectors chirping for fresh batteries in every single room kept us on edge, and added to the strange, unresolved feeling that comes with a freshly abandoned building, like the last beeps of a heart monitor before it flatlines and death overtakes the corpse.

There were also dark wooden beams on some ceilings, similar to the decor in the Eddystone next-door. I can't remember what was up with the trophy case, but I do know that as I saw other people's photos begin to appear online, this room got more and more trashed. This was right about the time that "urban exploring" in Detroit began to catch on big-time, and there were so many more people coming through these places once word got out that one was open. Scrapping was also in its crescendo as well.


Illitch has been working on buying up this swath of the city and turning it into a barren wasteland probably since the old Olympia Stadium was still standing, and has left these two lone towers of blight standing naked in the midst of the stripped-out skid row, almost as if to make them look even more offensive to the eye of the casual downtown visitor, and to facilitate further justification of their eventual demolition.

Almost as if to make it look so absurd, that anyone who dared suggest these "eyesores" should be preserved would be instantly viewed as some crazed history-nazi, and a consummate human impediment to progress in general.


Anyway, my point is that these situations come as no accident, and by now if you've been paying any attention at all to Detroit development for even a few years it should come as no surprise either. This comes from the same old developer's playbook as always--most likely in its fifth printing by now. Create or buy into what looks at first glance to be a "bad" situation, cry to local government that you need help, receive taxpayer dollars to clean up a mess you're responsible for, and then continue building your for-profit enterprise in its place.


I'm not arguing that Illitch caused this area to turn into a ghetto--I'm merely arguing that instead of trying to positively improve its ailing situation, he actively perpetuated it so that he could profit by it later. Illitch had no plans to do anything with any of the parcels he bought, other than let them sit until he had all of them.


As more and more properties went vacant and Illitch bought them up, the incentive for the remainder of the residences and businesses to stay decreased. Some property owners refused to sell to him, but their alternative was to be surrounded in a steadily worsening wasteland (that he controlled), so most of them eventually cashed their chips in anyway, rather than fight an impossible war.


There were enough promised collateral "benefits" (in the form of stadiums) for the city that no one questioned any of it. He did it so slowly that no one noticed the master plan, and so that he could look like a christ-like savior by eventually unveiling the "new" development plans.


Most people started getting excited at "leaked rumors" of a new stadium coming to "that blighted area" north of downtown two years ago. The people that have been paying attention however knew that this was coming for over a decade. "Buy cheap when the market's bad, and hold it until the market improves." The real estate speculator's creed.

"Oh wow, look how much empty space there is here...someone should do something with this land!"


Pfft. One thing I do know is that no stadium he puts here will be able to take advantage of this spectacular 13th-floor view of what little density Detroit has left:


Notice the Broderick Tower is still dark and dirty in that photo, pre-renovation.


Other noteworthy abandoned buildings in the vicinity of the new Illitchtown include(d) the Alhambra ApartmentsWilliam Apartments, Hotel Fort WayneFirst Unitarian Church, and the Donovan and Sanders Buildings.


For as viciously as it has been attacked, and for as long as it has been left to the mercy of the elements, the Eddystone is still in excellent shape:


Look at that unmolested original cornice!


These two twin hotels are located perfectly between midtown and downtown. They are prime candidates for restoration, and integration into a new entertainment district (even if it will likely price-out pretty much everyone in the area).


As a matter of fact, the savvy developer might even build a skybridge connecting the two hotels, and operate them as one unit. Either way, it's about time Illitch tossed the preservation nazis another bone, since it's been about a generation since his last touted historic preservation laurel, the Fox Theater.


My second visit to the Hotel Park Avenue came during the day, and I took Detroitblog John along with me.


This attached modern wing of the building was demolished several years ago:


Here is a better look at the walled courtyard.


A beautiful park-like setting...


Ahh, what a peaceful scene. The razor-wire with the shredded ghosts of plastic bags fluttering in the wind really wends a deep, calming effect on the mind:


Whatever windows the Hotel Park Avenue had in 2007 are now long gone. Almost as soon as I took these photos, they were pulled out one by one and went to a scrapyard because their modern frames were aluminum. The Eddystone still retains most of its windows because they are the older wooden style and have no scrap value.


The Park Ave's interior looked just like the interior of the Eddystone nextdoor, but without the usual runny heroin-induced fecal splats on the walls, scorch marks, or other residues of long-term squatting. In fact, unlike my visit to the Eddystone three years prior, there was not a soul to be found in here.


The Harbor Light Substance Abuse Treatment Center was among the more notable such privately-run rehabs within the city of Detroit, and according to the recent book Survival and Regeneration: Detroit's American Indian Community by Edmund Danziger, it heralded itself as a "Place of New Beginnings." 

One might marvel at just why a rehab clinic would need an entire skyscraper for its operation, but the fact is there are a LOT of addicts in Detroit, and the Salvation Army used it as a residential treatment center for those in the "advanced stages" of addiction who needed something a little more serious than the average program. I have written in the past on another long-gone Salvation Army center in Southwest Detroit, the Booth Memorial Home. On the other side of Cass, one block from here is their Mariner's Inn shelter.


Naturally the first step at Harbor Light was always detoxification, which undoubtedly required some sturdy rooms, and there was plenty of space for that in this old hotel. The next step was "soup, soap, and salvation," as Danziger put it. There were group and individual therapy sessions led by professional staff members, daily chapel services, as well as meals and lodging for a few nights per month, all free of charge. Clothing, vocational services, and the occasional bus ticket were also provided as needed.


John posted his writeup a month after our visit, saying that when the Harbor Light closed, "the same hobos and addicts who had been there simply let themselves back in, spending nights in their old rooms, this time unsupervised and free to choose whether or not to be sober, a classic case of the inmates now running the asylum." It was indeed another of the unbelievable ironies played out in this broken city. Today, the interior is quite a bit more wrecked than it was in thee photos.


According to Google Books, there were even a couple published anthologies of poetry that was written during workshops at the Harbor Light Center, printed in the 1990s.

Again, this modern attached structure seen out back no longer exists; it was demolished not long after I took these photos (as was Cass Tech):


Not far away, the Masonic Temple and abandoned Hotel Fort Wayne sit:


More empty space:


Once upon a time, the Camelot Hotel used to stand across the street from the Park Ave:


Hey, remember the Dead House Painters era?


Typical Louis Kamper-style curly-Qs:


An upward look at the top-floor terra cotta details:


"Look at all this empty dead space! Someone should do something with it!" Hahaha...


Suddenly I feel like this photo belongs on a real estate website listing:


The cornice treatment is similar to, and compliments its neighbor across the street, the Hotel Eddystone:


There is an added floor on top of the Hotel Park Ave, which looks to have been built in probably the 1950s. It is a mostly open floor-plan and may have been a banquet room or conference space:


There was a stage, and the way the room was set up currently made me think that perhaps the Salvation Army used it for their religious services?


Around it outside is a promenade, since this added penthouse level did not take up the entire footprint of the building: 


Just saying--you could turn this into a pretty swank hockey player's rooftop club, Mr. Billionaire.


References:
"Everlasting Love," Detroitblog.org (May 2, 2007)
Survival and Regeneration: Detroit's American Indian Community, by Edmund Jefferson Danziger, p.  116
City of Detroit City Council Historic Designation Advisory Board Final Report, Proposed Eddystone Hotel Historic District
Brain Storm: An Anthology of Poetry from the Harbor Light Center, Salvation Army, Detroit, Michigan (1995)
Poetry the Untied Tongue: An Anthology of Poetry From the Harbor Light Center & Mariner's Inn, Salvation Army, Detroit, Michigan (1999)

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