The Book-Cadillac
Detroit, Michigan

As my interest in buildings grew, I caught a view of the Book-Cadillac one afternoon.

After looking inside of the Michigan Central Railroad Station and several storefronts and apartment buildings in the Cass Corridor, I knew that there was much history inside of these buildings no matter how long they had been closed. The "danger" that most people would imagine in such closed/abandoned spaces did not exist. The homeless, rats/cockroaches, police, and the dark has never been a problem. I was so intrigued by the empty spaces and that a building with such volume that held so many people at one time could be completely empty. And I do mean completely empty!

In the case of the Train Station, vandals threw anything that could be found out of the windows such as desks and chairs. And then there is a whole profession of "street miners". Copper wiring and plumbing, galvanized pipe, 200 pound radiators, and nearly everything else is worth money for its weight as melted down scrap metal. There are people who need money so badly that they will drag a 200 pound radiator to a scrap yard to make $2. Whole buildings have been gutted of their radiators. And once the radiators have been systematically pulled out, miners will dig into the walls to pull out the galvanized sewage pipe. Copper wiring is also yanked out and small campfires are made in hallways to burn the insulation off so that once the wire is sold to the scrap yard it can be melted down immediately.

And then there are the professional miners who steal architectural items like elevator call buttons, decorative brick, wood doors, and detailed plaster pieces. These miners are well connected to a local and national market which will pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for pieces that have been pulled out of buildings. In fact, many "brokers" are not hands-on which means they pay street people to do the dirty work. If the street people are hurt or caught, the broker remains safe and will go and hire a new workforce.

A building that has been boarded up with plywood stops no one!

The Book-Cadillac is so impressively massive at 32 floors. It is the anchor of Washington Boulevard. I had to see what was inside and I did one spring afternoon. I believe it was three years ago, the spring of 1996, when I walked up the carpet covered steps leading to the reservation desk from the Washington Boulevard entrance. Only a small amount of light seeped between the cracks of the boards over the windows. The drop-ceiling added to modernize the building had fallen to the floor and turned to a mush like oatmeal that stuck to my shoes. The original plaster ceiling that was covered over by the tiles could now be seen in good shape, the colors vivid.

As I walked around the second floor, I was surprised to see all of the most valuable pieces still there. The brass elevator indicators and call buttons hadn't been removed. The ballroom still had its three gorgeous crystal chandeliers hanging, frozen in time. Other than Hudson's, I think no other building has had so many different staircases. I imagined walking up the grand mirrored staircase to the ballroom while people greeted each other, talking and laughing. Reality was the absolute silence other then my footsteps all alone in a hotel of 1,200 rooms. I had to backtrack when I followed one staircase three floors into a corridor with a low ceiling, no windows, I was somewhere but it didn't lead me to the staircase to the top floors.

I eventually found one of the right staircases and on the door to nearly all of the floors was a 8 x 11 inch sign. It read that any employee found in this staircase or floor would be fired and any hotel guests would be arrested for tresspassing. These floors had been closed off to everyone as the use of the building declined.

I stopped every couple of floors to take a look around. The carpet and furniture had been sold in a liquidation sale in 1986, so every floor and room basically looked alike. I noticed, however, that the hallway for each floor was painted a different color and had a different theme, for example, faux wood ceiling beams.

My favorite rooms were the ones in the Shelby/Michigan corner. They were larger then the others and had more windows.

Along a window sill in a hallway my eye caught a cherry red book of matches with the Book-Cadillac crest on it. I picked it up and opened it, "Hello from 1983. 6/9 RR".

Thirty minutes later that day I reached the roof for an amazing skyline view of Detroit.

From the street, I thought that this area would be the penthouse, the best room in the house. It was the tallest part of the building and there was a walkway around the huge floor to ceiling windows. I was excited to get up to that area and find the luxuries. I walked up a steel staircase and turned a corner entering the room. The ceiling must have been 15 feet or more. The penthouse was furnished with six elevator motors, air conditioning equipment, and a water tank the size of a Ford Explorer. The best city view in the building was from a mechanical room.

I carefully walked around on the "balcony" that was around the mechanical penthouse ducking air conditioning pipes that crisscrossed here and there. I stood for a few minutes looking at Hudson's. I put my hands on the railing as I looked straight down to a parking lot with cars the size of insects. I soon realized that holding onto the railing was not a good idea because it was not anchored to the wall anymore and was waving over the side from my weight on it. I backed away from it and took the picture above.

I walked down 32 floors to street level. I heard that after the hotel closed, some businesses were still operating, stuck behind. And as I walked down the corridor from Washington Boulevard to Shelby I noticed a copy machine in a storefront. I guess the few businesses finally died out like the building's human population.

A year later, 1997, the City of Detroit removed the guard who was on duty inside the building, 24-hours a day, seven days a week. He would sit in a plywood shack built right off the Washington Boulvevard entrance. He had a phone, small television, space heater, desk lamp, chair, and hunting knife. His presence had kept the miners away for 10 years.

I watched from the outside. I knew the Book-Cadillac was being stripped. I would go by and see fresh plywood over doors and windows. I wanted to go back in. I knew the brass from two years before would be gone. I knew the walls would be ripped open.

I never have ripped plywood off to get into a building and I wasn't going to start. I would wait. And then one summer day I was driving down Michigan Avenue. I noticed that the plywood over one door was irregular. The wood had been splintered in a few areas and wasn't fastened securely to the door frame. This was my chance, two years later, 1998. I immediately went and got a friend and two flashlights. I knew people would be in this building and I didn't want to go in alone.

What a scam that worked! If the owners or some type of security drove by this door, they wouldn't give it a second look. A little piece of telephone wire was tied to the door frame and then tied to a screw hole in the plywood. This kept the plywood board in place so that it wouldn't blow off in the wind and be obviously open. The wire also acted like a hinge, pull the board out the right way, slip inside, and close it behind you.

We were inside a storefront. I led the way back to the staircase up to the reservation desk. Along the way we passed a shopping cart full of a homeless man's possessions. This was a sure sign we were not alone. The cart was parked by a steel door that opened to the back of the building, a parking lot. The man could easily move his cart in and out of this grand structure without being noticed or bothered. He probably moved into the guard's shack.

Past the reservation desk I looked for the brass elevator pieces and, surely, they were long gone. The elevator doors had been pried open and the cabs were stripped.

We walked up the grand mirrored staircase to the ballroom. One chandelier was gone, another one had been lowered from the ceiling. Most of the crystals had been ripped off of it. Give it time and the miners will sadly come like vultures to their prey!

We started up the stairway to the roof. I had already seen many of the floors, but we stopped occasionally. Outside of this particular staircase, on every floor, was a one foot wide floor to ceiling hole in the wall. And missing were the galvanized pipes. And every so often we found a room where people had recently slept. These "apartments" could be found on several floors. Most likely the miners would sleep on a floor as they systematically stripped it and once the floor was depleted of anything valuable they would move up to another floor.

We reached the roof and I wanted to show my friend all of the views from each of the building's corners. I walked across the roof and what a mess. In two years the roofing material had turned to chewing gum. The tar had broken down so badly it was liquified. The lack of roof maintenance caused water to seep through and reach down as far as the street level. Also the copper flashing had been stripped off. About six strips, 5 feet long by a foot wide of copper flashing and ornamentation had just been removed (a crowbar was nearby) and was laying on the roof, ready to be carried downstairs.

I took one last view inside the penthouse. The massive elevator motors had been ripped open by pulling off a large piece of metallic housing (I'd say they weighed about 75 pounds). The windings of copper wiring inside had been cut out. And missing in the electrical control panels which once served the elevator motors, copper.

The descent started and we went down a different staircase than the one we came up on. A miner had removed all of the iron railing in this staircase from the ground floor to the roof. I didn't understand why the other staircases were untouched. Why would someone carry down the railing from the top floor when they could go over to another staircase at a lower level and get the railing there?

We reached street level after carefully manuvering down the stairs, some steps were dented and uneven from the miners dragging and dropping the railing. I led the way back to the storefront. On the way I noticed that something was different. The shopping cart we walked by three hours earlier was gone. Though we didn't see the homeless man, he probably saw us, and decided to leave, not knowing who we were.

My friend exited the building first and I followed. My eyes slowly adjusted to the daylight. It was nice to get some fresh air instead of the moldy, dank smell of a boarded up building.

I pushed the plywood board back over the door and we walked down Michigan Avenue to Washington Boulevard. I found it hard to understand why this multi-million dollar real estate investment sat open to the elements, miners, and myself.

I'm a staunch preservationist. I only take paper objects like stationary and I feel very strongly against salvagers who mine buildings to "preserve the building by selling the pieces to buyers who will keep the pieces in their private collections." It's true the pieces are loved by the buyers. But when a building is looked at to be reopened and pieces have been hacked out leaving gaping holes, the structure remains sound, but another nail has been added to the coffin of a closed building being restored.

I knew the remaining pieces in the building would soon walk so I started to call people involved with Detroit buildings. I first called a person at the Greater Downtown Partnership. I let the person know where the plywood board on the building was off and that miners had certainly been inside recently. The person said they sent a letter to their superior and that he was aware of what was happening. He was going to contact the building owners and have it boarded back up. A few weeks passed and the building remained open. I called them back and they saidthat they had done all they could by advising the owners.

I guess I should say a little about the owners of the Book-Cadillac to make things clear. I don't really know who the owners are. After I was first in the building in 1996 I called the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. I asked if anyone there handled Book-Cadillac related questions and I was directed to a man who told me the building was privately owned. He also told me that a group of investors has owned it and that they wish to remain confidential. Even if he wanted to contact the building owners he would have to go through the group's lawyer. And when I called him in 1998 to tell him the building was open, he was gone. He had left for another job. So I was forwarded to someone who knew about the building and I told this person that it was open. (Since then I have heard the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation owns it secretly and is studying the demolition of it.)

The building was finally boarded back up. I was very surprised one August 1998, afternoon when I went down Washington Boulevard. A set of boarded over doors had finally been secured properly by using cinder blocks and a flimsy plywood door was replaced with a steel door. But I didn't understand why only this doorway was blocked in. Slowly some of the plywood boarded doors and windows around the building were strengthened. (Several strips of wood were attached across the boards by construction adhesive and this made the boards much harder to pry off.) This fortification is working, but there are still many areas where the boards are unstrengthened and break-ins have occured. Luckily they have been reboarded quickly.

A month later, September, I was going down Washington Boulevard and I saw an old gray Dodge van parked next to the Book-Cadillac's steel door. I remembered this van, it belonged to a man named Terri who had done the primary stripping/salvaging of the buildings where the new Tiger Stadium is being built. (He had bought the "rights" to strip/salvage the buildings from the company demolishing the buildings.) I walked up to the van and Terri walked out from the building with a crowbar and flashlight. I asked him what was happening with the building. He told me that in return for securing the building he could strip/salvage whatever he wanted from inside including the ballroom's chandeliers. I called the person I had spoken to before at the Greater Downtown Partnership and they wrote a memo to the owners about their concern for the possible stripping allowed by the owners. The owners did not respond.

A week later I spoke to some friends who said that they heard there was a problem with someone cutting the locks off the steel door and putting their own on and that the owners were not happy. I thought this could have been Terri because everything is shady in the world of stripping/salvaging and Terri was certainly no exception!

It is now May, 1999, and I haven't seen any activity at the Book-Cadillac. I was prompted to create this webpage after reading "Landmark's rescue urged" and "City trying to save hotel" when C. Beth DunCombe of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation said, "...there have been reports that vandals have stripped it inside." And that legal action to get ownership "gives us a chance to move forward to take care of the building." DunCombe knew the building was being destroyed over the past three years because I personally called and the Greater Downtown Partnership called and wrote memos. She doesn't care. She had the same "concern" for Hudson's which led it to demolition.

I hope you enjoyed this page and share some concern for the Book-Cadillac and other historic Detroit structures. If you would like to join the fight to save the Book-Cadillac, visit

Please send any questions or comments to
(Photographs may not be reproduced without my permission.)

Recommended Link:
Save Hudson's!---A site documenting the fight to save the second largest department store (next to Macy's) of 26 floors.