The Whittier Album

Photos date from 2009 to 2011.

After all of the famous abandoned downtown skyscrapers of Detroit had been seen and done, another one popped up on the edge of my radar screen, way off on the lower east side, across from Belle Isle. The Whittier Hotel would no doubt occupy a more prominent place in the minds of Detroiters if it had been located downtown amongst more familiar surroundings, and peers like the Statler, Fort Shelby, and Book-Cadillac Hotels

Indeed it was held in its day as one of the most prestigious houses of lodging in the region, having famously accommodated the Beatles overnight in 1964, which is what most people remember it for, if at all. But many more famous and historic people stayed within its walls than just the Beatles, as you will soon read.

The Whittier started off as a residential hotel like the Lee Plaza, meaning that it was more of an apartment building than a hotel. It consists of two 8-story towers, and a 15-story tower, the smaller of which had already been renovated and occupied as senior-citizen housing while the taller tower remained vacant.

Some of the lettering on the eastern side of the roof sign broke off long ago (or was cut off deliberately), leaving behind the ironic spelling, "WHITIE," which as I understand became something of a joke amongst locals driving into the city along Jefferson Avenue from the affluent Grosse Pointe suburbs:

Seen from Belle Isle, across the part of the river known as Scott Middle Ground (an extremely shallow bar only a couple feet below the surface):

I don't remember how I first learned of the 15-story tower being accessible to snooping, but it was a fairly shady endeavor that involved locating a certain alley door whose handle could be jiggled in a certain way, then tip-toeing through an in-use part of the building to another door that could be tricked with a credit card, passing motion-detectors in a certain way so as to avoid tripping the alarm, and finding a certain staircase to explore the abandoned floors of the tower above. In other words, it wasn't for amateurs.

The Whittier was built in phases, with the twin 8-story towers being finished in 1922 and the tall 15-story tower finished in 1926. Standing at 415 Burns Drive overlooking the Detroit River, the Whittier was constructed as an apartment hotel, according to, meaning that visitors "could enjoy all of the luxuries of a hotel while renting an apartment."

Again, this was the same concept as the Lee Plaza over on the northwest side. Amenities included restaurants, dry cleaning, maid service, and a 250-car garage. There was also a pool, but according to an interesting article in the Detroit Free Press, it was later filled in with concrete and tiled over.

Though you might not think by looking at it, the whole deal was designed by noted Detroit architect Charles N. Agree. Even more interesting is that the Whittier was in fact his first major commission as an architect, and it is one of the three buildings he designed that has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places (the others being the Belcrest Apartments, and the Vanity Ballroom).

What makes the Whittier especially noteworthy from an engineering perspective is that all three towers were built on a massive concrete slab foundation because of their location on the marshy soil so close to the Detroit River. According to, Agree turned to Japan for enlightenment on how to erect large buildings on unstable ground. He claimed that his inspiration for the slab foundation idea for the Whittier came from the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo.

All was not perfect for the Whittier's developer however, as the existing residents of the affluent neighborhood were not too thrilled with the idea of a new skyscraper blocking out their view of the river and casting a huge shadow over their homes, so they sued the developer to block the project, citing that the area was zoned only for single-family dwellings.

According to a webpage by Greg Kacir, which quotes an editorial from the Detroit News written by Greg Piazza, the ensuing court proceedings resulted in the judge allowing the development if Burns was extended further south toward the waterfront from Jefferson Avenue, making it a new street in a new zone. Piazza states that this was "before the city had good zoning laws" (which, he says, Mr. Agree later helped write). The rest of the land surrounding the Whittier was donated by the developer to the city as a new park. 

When Agree added the new taller tower to the Whittier in 1926, the Detroit River still came all the way up to Jefferson Avenue, so the shore had to be built-out with landfill to create new space for the hotel's tall addition. Mr. Agree stabilized its foundation by driving large concrete pilings into the riverbank.

Though skeptics at the time claimed it would never work, time has shown that they were wrong, since the engineering was solid enough to last this long and remain in good shape. As a result other similar residential tower developments sprung up along the east riverfront across from Belle Isle, making this one of the ritziest quarters of the city. 

Following the success of the Whittier, the building-up of this area of the riverfront between Gabriel Richard Park and the Berry Subdivision soon earned the neighborhood the name "Gold Coast," though I'm not sure exactly when that moniker was first applied to it. One notable resident of the area that I have talked about in an older post was Charles Sorenson, one of Henry Ford's lieutenants, who lived in the Detroit Towers.

Charles Agree went on to design untold numbers of other gorgeous apartment buildings large and small in the Detroit area, as well as theaters and commercial blocks.

The lobbies of the Whittier were done in Italian Renaissance decor. This is known as the Pompeiian Room.

On September 6th, 1964 the Beatles stayed here while performing two shows at the old Olympia Stadium, according to the book On This Day in Detroit History, by Bill Loomis. A local radio station purchased the sheets upon which the Beatles had slept, cutting them into small squares to be sold to fans. I hear that this rather bizarre souvenir idea did not become the hot commodity that was hoped for. 

I had heard a rumor that the unsold bags of cut up sheets were tossed down in the basement of the hotel and forgotten, and seem to remember some acquaintances of mine going looking for them, and came across a few moldy old bags containing little cut up squares of linen that plausibly were the Beatle sheets in question. I never actually found them myself, but that's mostly because I was too interested in the architecture and fine views to be had from the top of the hotel, rather than some gross old dirty sheets that might be hanging out in its basement.

Regarding the famous personages that have stayed at the prestigious Whittier in its glory days, the Beatles were not the only notable names. According to and author Patricia Ibbotson, some other famous people who have stayed here included Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Rolling Stones, movie stars Mae WestCornelia Otis Skinner, and Damon Runyon, as well as Detroit "playboy" Horace Dodge Jr. and his actress wife Gregg Sherwood.

Not only were famous movie stars frequently in the Whittier, but the Whittier itself was mentioned in a 1959 film, Alfred Hitchcock's North By Northwest.

The Detroit Historical Society also claims that the Whittier was a hotspot for the infamous Purple Gang during the days of Prohibition, since it had boat slips on the Detroit River, allowing easy access to Canadian bootlegging routes. This same access also served to make it an ideal headquarters for international powerboat races, which were often conducted from the Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, across from the hotel.

A historic aerial photo from Wayne State University's Virtual Motor City Collection shows crowds of people swarming the area on September 7th, 1931 for the Harmsworth Race, with the Whittier at the epicenter of what was the most dramatic Harmsworth ever, and attracted "probably the largest crowd in the history of any sporting event." Attendance was estimated between 600,000 and a million people lining the shores of Belle Isle and the mainland to watch the race whose course was designed to simulate the activities of rum-runners, whose souped-up powerboats were historically famed to be the fastest on the Great Lakes. 

The Harmsworth Race was a British international contest, but the trophy had been held since 1920 by a Detroiter, the famous boat designer Gar Wood who lived nearby on Grayhaven Island. His boat was the legendary Miss America IX, powered by not one, but two Packard V12 motors, each producing 1,410 horsepower. Gar Wood had just set the world's water speed record a few months prior in this boat, by being the first to break the 100mph barrier.

The Brits were determined to bring the Harmsworth Trophy back to England that year, sending their champion Kaye Don to Detroit in the Miss England II, which was powered by twin Rolls Royce V12s producing 2,000 horsepower each, and was known as the fastest boat in the world. Some of the pageantry and intense air of this historic contest is captured and told in better detail on

The first heat of the race saw Don Kaye edge out ahead of Gar Wood, who couldn't cross the Miss England II's wake safely at speed because of hull-flex problems. Both men set personal time records, but this was the first time Wood had ever been beaten on this course.

In the second heat the next day Gar Wood noticed he had a cracked gas tank, but patched it and fired out into the lead nonetheless, blowing the monocles right off the faces of those in the stands. Two miles into the race the Miss England II ended up capsizing and sinking after taking a hairpin turn through Wood's wake. Kaye Don and his crewmates were safe, but both he and Gar Wood ended up being disqualified for jumping the starting gun by several seconds. An article in the Chicago Tribune says that another mishap occurred when a dock collapsed under the weight of too many spectators, causing all of them to fall into the river. Again, no one was seriously hurt, but several monocles were reported lost.

Gar Wood rematched Kaye Don at the 1932 Harmsworth, and had no trouble defeating him with his new Miss America X, which was powered by four supercharged Packard V12s, and produced a combined 7,200 horsepower, capable of 125mph. This incredible boat is on display at the Packard Proving Grounds in Shelby Twp., Michigan. Gar Wood successfully defended the Harmsworth Trophy once more in 1933 before retiring from the sport.

An issue of Motor Boating says that during the 1933 Detroit Regatta, the Whittier held an exposition of boating-related paraphernalia, including a display by the Electri-Craft Corporation of Syracuse, New York. Their exhibit featured the debut of the first ever all-electric watercraft, which was powered by battery. The Electri-Craft company had their national sales and distribution office here in Detroit, at 500 East Jefferson Avenue.

I guess the Whittier also had a bit of a hangout spot for hydroplane racers and their ilk back in the 1950s and '60s, according to one message board post. There was a lounge somewhere in here called the "Gold Cup Room" that was apparently pretty popular with that set.

As you can see all the plaster detail and wood paneling of the Whittier's main lobby is just about fully intact. It would not take much to bring this baby back to original shine. The Whittier is an example of what you can do when you jump on an architectural gem before it starts falling apart.

Gorgeous carved oak(?) trim and French doors:

Okay, heading upstairs. There was of course a much fancier staircase than this one, but it was rigged with a motion detector near the bottom, so we used this one.

Another strange story about the Whittier from the 1930s comes from a family history published in 1994 by Gerard Lacey. In 1939 he says, a female book-keeper lived here. After being spurned by her boyfriend (a Detroit Police inspector), she was driven into a fit of rage and killed her child, before leaping out of a 4th floor window of the Whittier to her death.

Before her suicide she sent several letters out to the Detroit Police, FBI, and governor's office accusing various parties of corruption that she apparently must have known about from her detective boyfriend. I did not turn up any articles corroborating this tragic event from my (admittedly limited) searches on ProQuest, but I'm sure that the local ghost-hunting set will be more than happy to fill in the blanks for us with anecdotal explanations.

The Whittier remained a hot spot through the 1950s, and by Google Books hits in several issues of Billboard, they had lounge circuit musicians playing live here regularly.

The main hallway of the building was shaped like a letter "T," and one entered the elevator lobby on each guest floor through an archway:

Notice the "W" logo in tile on the floor:

At the time this apartment complex across the alley was still occupied, but subsequently became vacant by about 2012:

Most of the rooms on the lower floors were fairly standard, but very spacious.

The windows had clearly all been swapped out with modern hotel crap windows, most of which didn't want to open.

As we ascended we found some nicer rooms, appointed more lavishly with ornamental woodwork, usually in the corner suites:

There was also a bit of fancy terra cotta to be seen up on these higher levels:

A look east toward the frozen marina:

The smokestacks of Chrysler's Jefferson East and Mack Stamping plants in the distance, with the old Waterworks also visible to the right beyond homes of the affluent Joseph Berry neighborhood, which is where the Manoogian Mansion (Detroit's mayoral residence) is located:

Once we got onto the floors in the teens, I started to see some architecturally unique guest rooms, which were apparently at a step or two above the standard accommodations:

In his book Romney’s Way: A Man and an Idea, author T. George Harris describes an unlikely meeting between two extremely historic figures in Michigan history that took place in Room 1070 of the Whittier Hotel on July 17, 1959. One of them was George W. Romney, president of American Motors Corp. and future governor of Michigan, and the other was Walter P. Reuther, president of the United Auto Workers—two dogged adversaries who had been at odds for some 20 years. There was also Jack Conway of the AFL-CIO, and Ed Cushman, Romney's VP. I wrote much about Walter Reuther and the UAW in an older post.

But this meeting between the great union man and the great company man was not a bargaining negotiation however, Romney had sought this sit-down with Reuther to ask him about his convictions, and to pick his brain about social justice and future economic practices that would be more mutually beneficial to both the auto manufacturers and to organized labor, as well as the consumer.

It was Romney's view that the nature of the current battlefront between the UAW and the Big Three was such that it threatened the business climate for the smaller manufacturers such as American Motors, who would be forced to comply with the contract agreement demands the union tailored to GM, Chrysler and Ford. This strategy, Romney believed, would eventually push smaller competitors out of the marketplace and drive product costs up, according to rising wages and costs of manufacturing.

Romney was not like other capitalists, Harris wrote, in that he chose to keep company with men and advisors who actually challenged his views, instead of surrounding himself with yes-men. Since 1946 he had been sounding the alarm that "a union that negotiated for all the workers in a basic industry would kill weaker corporations and push the strong into oligopoly," Harris explained. The problem was that when it came time for contract negotiation, the UAW typically drew up a few options tailored to the Big Three, who would then pick which demands package they saw as the easiest path to avoid a strike. 

The UAW did this because they knew that a strike against GM would have more leverage with the prospective consumer than a strike against, say Graham-Paige. In that sense, GM was much more vulnerable to the court of public opinion than a small company, so it made sense for the UAW to concentrate their efforts on the Big Three.

It's interesting to think about how unlikely and ironic of a conversation this was, being between these two particular men, in the year 1959. Especially since, despite their effort, what America ended up with was exactly what Romney and Reuther were seeking to avoid—an oligopoly of sleazy automobile corporations and a sleazy UAW that was a little too cozy with management, finally culminating in a massive bankruptcy—with the customers picking up the tab for the greed of both.

Nonetheless it was a very timely conversation; American Motors itself was basically the last vestige of independent auto manufacturing in the U.S., since it had been conglomerated from the charred remnants of so many former once-great marques that had lately died out, such as Nash Motors, Hudson Motors, Studebaker, and Packard—the latter of which had only just halted its Detroit assembly line a few years prior.

According to Harris the talks between Reuther and Romney went along well, as the two saw eye-to-eye on many things. The final result was that Reuther's UAW went to the table alone with AMC and (after much gnashing of teeth) landed what he called "the most significant and historic bargaining agreement ever signed in the United States." Harris said it demonstrated that unions and companies could work together and improvise better solutions than prefab contracts.

Here was another strange room of a totally different architectural style. Art Deco?

Another significant milestone in the Whittier's history came in 1959 according to an issue of LIFE Magazine. A change in ownership of the hotel that year brought on mass firings, but the Whittier's loyal patrons—including some of Detroit's "first families"—strongly voiced their wishes that bellhop Jimmy Hawkins remain employed at the hotel.

Apparently the owners were impressed by this outcry, and not only kept Mr. Hawkins but made him sales manager, and later resident manager. Jimmy began bellhopping when he was 17, and had been carrying luggage for residents of the Whittier for six years by the time of his meteoric promotion.

The book Working Detroit: The Making of a Union Town, by Steve Babson explains that on January 7, 1967, the Moors, a black social group, held their annual banquet here. Babson observes that many people at the time thought that there was enough of a black middle class in the city to where there should be no worry of a "negro uprising" in Detroit as there had lately been in other cities. Of course Detroit would prove otherwise that summer, with the most grievous outbreak of civil unrest the nation had ever seen.

Two years after the riot, the Whittier closed as a hotel and became a senior-citizen apartment tower, owned by the Michigan Baptist Homes and Development Co., according to Patricia Ibbotson. The transformation of Detroit was beginning, but the Whittier would prove stable enough to last through the worst of it.

It looks like this floor of the building had been under renovation at some point before it closed.

And here is the million-dollar view that will eventually sell a 6,000 square-foot condo to someone with way more money than me:

This, as far as I know, is Room 1566, the suite that the Beatles stayed in while they were in town for their legendary performance at the old Olympia Stadium in 1964...

...As well as probably most of the other famous people I mentioned earlier, such as Frank Sinatra, Eleanor Roosevelt, the Rolling Stones. Nobody cut up and saved their bedsheets as far as I know. I don't think I'd want to get near Mick Jagger's used bedsheets anyway.

Fancy woodwork around all the doorways, a carved marble fireplace, checkerboard tile floors, and its sheer size all evoked the impression that this was probably the "best room in the house"...

This mantelpiece was really something though.

I don't recall the Book-Cadillac—billed as Detroit's premier hotel—having anything this snazzy in its rooms. Usually this kind of thing is seen in the old mansions of Detroit's wealthier neighborhoods.

Interesting...a vault hidden behind a closet door:

I wonder if that's where the Beatles kept their guitars while they were down at the hotel lounge sipping Faygos?

This tiled room was actually a dining room, with a small kitchen through the doorway off to the right:

I imagine a fine mahogany table here, where the Fab Four might have had their morning tea, or Eleanor Roosevelt may have read the paper, or Keith Richards and Mick Jagger cooked a bunch of heroin?

The Rolling Stones played their first-ever Detroit concert several months before the Beatles, on June 14th, 1964 (also at the Olympia). They played Cobo in '65, '66, and '69 as well.

Honestly, I'm sure that many more famous performers and other dignitaries have stayed in the Whittier than the few that I have mentioned, but unfortunately that kind of thing is not always well documented.

There is a post on by user "jimh" who claims to have lived in the Whittier while his father was general manager of the hotel—the aforementioned Jimmy Hawkins from the LIFE Magazine article, who started out as a bellhop. He says that the next morning after the Beatles had stayed there, he woke up to find that hundreds of people were milling around in the park outside his window, waiting for a glimpse of their idols...
The hotel agreed with the promoters not to tell the public that [The Beatles] were staying there, and if anyone asked, employees were instructed say they were staying at the Book-Cadillac downtown. The Whittier had a radio station located on the second floor, and at 3 a.m. this independent station let Detroit know that the Beatles were staying at the Whittier. So the gig was up.
Jimh also said that he wasn't allowed up to Room 1566 where the Beatles were staying, but his parents spent a lot of time there, apparently making sure that everything ran smoothly.

Photo bomb, or ghostly Abbey Road apparition?

Through the doors to the left here was the bathroom, and another bedroom if I recall:

Jimh recited another story his dad told him, where Ringo was supposedly shaving in that bathroom and got bumped when someone barged into the room, causing Ringo to cut himself, which was why he wore a bandage on his neck during the performance at the Olympia.

Regarding the story about the cut-up sheets, he said that it did happen, and the squares were sold on official Whittier Hotel stationery, on the TV show "What's My Line?" as part of the promotion.

Apparently there were girls coming up to Room 1566 for a long time afterward to kiss the same door handle that the Beatles presumably had touched...even after the original handle had been taken out and auctioned off to some rabid fan, only to be replaced by a generic one.

Looking toward Indian Village, across the wide-open park space that surrounds the Whittier:

Two other abandoned landmarks in this immediate area that I've discussed before include the Hannan Memorial YMCA, and the Brodhead Naval Armory.

A close-up of the Kean Apartments, which bears a strong resemblance to the Lee Plaza, because it was designed by the same architect:

The taller modern building is the Jeffersonian Apartments, which is notable only because it is the residence of some old lady in a Honda that T-boned my truck a couple years ago while she was pulling out of the local party store. Luckily for her it was just one more insignificant scar in a galaxy of dents already adorning my rusty battle-wagon.

This next zoom-in view out to the east along the riverfront toward Grosse Pointe shows the Berry Subdivision a little closer, with the Manoogian Mansion hidden behind the trees...The Roostertail is also visible:

According to their website the Roostertail is Detroit's premier waterfront party spot, which has been around since 1958, and it has also hosted its fair share of famous musicians, including Tony Bennett, Eric Clapton—the Rolling Stones again—and our own Aretha Franklin. Which makes me wonder if Tony Bennett and Eric Clapton were not among the Whittier's past guests during their stay in the Motor City as well. The aforementioned jimh said, "It seemed that most of the acts that were performing at the Roostertail did stay at our hotel."

The rooftops of the West Village and Islandview neighborhoods, with St. Charles Borromeo Church and the skyline of New Center in the distance:

Another view over Islandview, with the Midtown skyline on the horizon:

The 10-story Parkstone Apartments rising up in the center of West Village:

One would think that a luxury hotel like the Whittier would have more of a marina than just this couple of boat slips...

...Apparently there is also a significant drain outfall or other warm-water discharge located under the Whittier's lawn as well, as you can see by the very large plume of non-frozen river water.

The very top floor of the Whittier is actually not a regular floor, it is a service level where building ventilation fan units and things like that are housed. There was also a falcon's nest somewhere on the building, and if you stood in this window he would swoop at you from out of nowhere at high speed:

One of my exploring partners was trying to take a photo out this window one day and released her shutter just as the falcon was in mid-swoop, capturing an incredible up-close image of the bird in flight, who also happened to be staring directly into the camera at the time.

More zoom action. The Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, and the skyline of Walkerville, Canada, with Peche Island visible to the left...

...This is the exact stretch of water where the aforementioned 1931 Harmsworth Race was waged, with the judges' booth being located at the DYC itself.

This tiny round thing in the middle of the river is the water intake for the pumping station on Belle Isle...beyond it you can see the blue, partially frozen expanse of Lake St. Clair opening up to the horizon:

The headline "Financial Woes Close Legendary Whittier Towers" ran in the February 13, 2001 Detroit Free Press, announcing the end of the Whittier's run, just as the city was preparing to celebrate its 300th birthday. It was called the "Whittier Towers Retirement Center" at the time, and had been run by United Vanguard Homes, based in Glen Cove, N.Y., who had run the Whittier for the last 14 years.

The article said that 135 elderly and disabled people lived here at the time, who were served notice that they must relocate in 30 days (by March 14). There were 75 employees and eight businesses that would also be affected by the closure.

The privately-run apartment home was not of the type that received any government funding, so when the number of residents began to dwindle the management company's revenue stream became too small to keep the big place open anymore. A mere 135 residents in this massive complex certainly seems like a ghost town.

The famously affluent and architecturally stunning Detroit neighborhood of Indian Village extends to the north of here, with the Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church seen in the foreground:

Not too much different from the big red letters on the roof of the David Whitney Building, actually, except these don't light up:

Another Free Press article a month later explained that most of the oldsters who were living here planned to die here, never to move again. So planning to pick up suddenly and relocate again was a burden that neither they—nor their family who put them here to make caring for an elderly relative less labor-intensive—can really deal with.

That's what many people don't realize when talking about the new development that is taking place downtown today, which (especially in the case of "The Albert") displaces many older people from valuable real estate areas in favor of younger people with higher rent.

However, it would be quite awhile yet before the Whittier would see any such real estate interest.

The article stated that some of the Whittier's residents were moving to the well-known Arnold Home on Seven Mile Road, which itself would not be long before closing its doors. The story of one resident, Lucille Henry, was particularly troublesome:
Lucille Henry sits straight and sad. "This is the third time!" she says with an edge of anger. First, she had to move from her home. It wasn't safe anymore. She picked a retirement home that folded a few years after she entered. She moved to the Whittier and now it, too, is failing her.
I wonder if she had to move for a fourth time when the Arnold Home too closed?

Free Press article exactly eight years later announced the reopening of the Whittier as a senior center again, in 2009. It lauded a $40-million renovation of the two 8-story towers conducted by Phoenix Communities Inc., with a second phase for the 15-story tower to come later, which would include higher-end condos facing the river. An April 2014 article projected completion in early 2016.

The current phase comprised 120 apartments that ranged from 700 to 1,238 square feet, and rented for $865 to $1,039 per month. A 45,000-square-foot neighborhood center was also planned for the future.

It was during this renovation of the smaller buildings that we made our first inroads on the tall tower, so unfortunately I wasn't able to check out the other buildings that were being renovated.

The deep blue darkness in this part of the sky to the northeast is due to the fact that no light pollution is coming from the vast area where Lake St. Clair is:

Come to think of it, I'm not exactly sure why this hotel was named the "Whittier"...since it does not sit on or anywhere near Whittier Avenue, and there does not seem to be any historic Detroit Whittier family, or landowner from the area in whose honor it might've been named.

A rather poetic answer to this question of the Whittier's namesake comes from a reader, Dan Neman:
The Whittier was built by my grandfather, Louis Smilansky (the company that built it was called the Elless Company, for his initials). He was fond of 19th century American poets and poetry, particularly the work of the popular John Greenleaf Whittier, who is today best remembered for his line, "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been." The hotel was named for the poet.
Historian Clarence M. Burton's The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922 confirms this, though for whatever reason that didn't come up in my original research. Burton says that Mr. Smilansky was a lawyer and businessman, having immigrated to Detroit from Russia in 1889.

Here's hoping the Whittier can be brought back to full use again soon.

Detroit's Historic Hotels and Restaurants, by Patricia Ibbotson, p. 65
Working Detroit: The Making of a Union Town, by Steve Babson, p. 168
Romney’s Way: A Man and an Idea, by T. George Harris
"Bellman Hop to the Top," LIFE Magazine, December 7, 1959, p. 164
On This Day in Detroit History, by Bill Loomis, p. 143-144
Motor Boating (December 1933), p. 107
Billboard, March 27, 1954, p. 16
The Legacy of the de Lacy, Lacey, Lacy Family, 1066-1994, by Gerard Lacey, p. 203
Detroit Across Three Centuries, by Richard Bak, p. 74
"Financial Woes Close Legendary Whittier Towers," Detroit Free Press, February 13, 2001, p. B4
"Close-Knit Flock Flutters from a Fading Whittier," Detroit Free Press, March 11, 2001, p. K1
"New in Your Neighborhood: Affordable Homes for Adults on the River," Detroit Free Press, March 8, 2009, p. G1
"Burning up the water," Popular Mechanics, September 1931
The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Vol. 5, by Clarence Monroe Burton, William Stocking, Gordon K. Miller, p. 1014


  1. I can answer the question about the name. The Whittier was built by my grandfather, Louis Smilansky (the company that built it was called the Elless Company, for his initials). He was fond of 19th century American poets and poetry, particularly the work of the popular John Greenleaf Whittier, who is today best remembered for his line, "For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these: It might have been." The hotel was named for the poet.

    1. Awesome, thanks for the input! I'll modify the post to include that.

  2. My great grandfather Daniel Gonzalez worked as the Maitre D at the Whittier and Head Waiter of the Gold Cup room. I have an old ad of the Gold Cup Room with Eddy DeSantis and his band with Songstress Donna Watkins and Danny Gonzalez serving the famouse flaming dishes and caesar salad. Super interesting that so little exists about the history of the Whittier.

  3. According to the old roster of Paw Paw High School, Michigan graduates, Mrs. Dolly Roach- Fisher, Wife of Lawrence Fisher, one of the "Fisher Body" founding Fisher brothers lived at the Whittier, probably before Lawrence's Fisher Mansion was built.


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