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Articles, thoughts, and op-eds written by Eric Hergenreder on historic buildings, all things photography, the art scene, and stories you won't find on the larger news outlets.

After Weeks of Work, Lee Plaza Still Open to the Elements

EHERGLEEPLAZA
EHERGLEEPLAZA
EHERGLEEPLAZA
 
Photos by Eric Hergenreder for eherg.com/

On July 25th of 2018 workers began securing Lee Plaza, an abandoned apartment building at the corner of Grand Boulevard and Lawton that is owned by the City of Detroit. The small crew began using thick plexiglass to cover every hole imaginable, including windows, doors, and other ‘man-made’ holes.

I rode my bike by while this was happening, so I stopped to chat with the workers. They claimed that work was set to begin clearing the debris from the building within the next few weeks, and rehab work would follow shortly after that. I was skeptical, as I had heard absolutely nothing since plans fell through to redevelop the property in 2017. Early in 2018 the city was scrambling to find a developer for the property, but seemed to have no luck even after bids had been placed in March.

Workers beginning to seal up the property on July 25, 2018. Photo by Eric Hergenreder.

Workers beginning to seal up the property on July 25, 2018. Photo by Eric Hergenreder.

When I saw that the building was being sealed from the elements I was very excited. At the time I thought it either meant they had a developer in their sights, and hopefully work would actually begin soon, or that they were trying to lure more interest by sealing up the property, protecting it from the elements. At this point, it appears that I was wrong on both counts.

About a month or so after they began working on the building, every single window, door, and opening on the vertical sides of the building was covered with plexiglass. It appears that about halfway up the plexiglass begins to have actual metal frames, looking almost like real windows.

As soon as they finished securing the windows, the crews left, and no more work was done. The roof, which was stolen years ago as it was made of copper, is still wide open. Huge holes everywhere, falling apart more and more every day. Not only can water, wind, and animals still easily flow into the building, but when the snow and ice thaw in the spring months and it drains down to the main floors of the building it will sit stagnant and cause more damage, as the windows are sealed, making evaporation harder.

This seems like no way to treat a building that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Lee Plaza Hotel was completed in 1927 by architect Charles Noble for real estate baron Ralph T. Lee. It was an apartment building with all the luxuries of a hotel, which was quite popular in the day. It eventually would become regular apartments, and finally senior housing before closing in 1997. The seniors fought hard to keep their building up to snuff, having it added to the NRHP in 1981.

Lee Plaza has suffered terribly from neglect since closing in 1997, becoming one of Detroit’s many towers of neglect, and one of the few that is still standing or undeveloped.

I suppose the main point of this piece is to show my discontent and utter disbelief that the city could spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to secure just the windows of this building, then leave the main source of rainwater and snow un-covered. I understand the roof is probably one of the hardest things to cover, but if you did 80% of the job, why not complete the other 20%? Especially when you already spent so much on the rest?

Lee Plaza deserves a better future than this, and we deserve better use of the funds allocated to save properties like Lee Plaza.

 
 
 
Architectural rendering of Lee Plaza via  HistoricDetroit.org

Architectural rendering of Lee Plaza via HistoricDetroit.org

 
 
Eric Hergenreder