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