I love Detroit. This scrappy, determined and historic U.S. Rust Belt city has accomplished some amazing feats over the past five years, not limited to emerging from bankruptcy (the largest municipal filing in United States history to date), and restoring and resurrecting several downtown landmarks. Such buildings include the Westin Cadillac Hotel (formerly the Book Cadillac, once abandoned and gutted), which features the Motor Bar pictured above. Much like this city, GM’s premier Cadillac brand has also repositioned itself as a desirable marque since its nadir, which seemed concurrent with that of Detroit.
Both the brand and the city still have a way to go to recapture all the glory of years past, but both are icons that have made great gains – seemingly almost in lockstep. It was the above scene near Grand Circus Park in the Theater District which caused me to pull over – of a 1977 (or ’78) Cadillac Eldorado street-parked a block south of the now-demolished Hotel Charlevoix. The Eldo’s condition was much like that of the Charlevoix – elegant style betrayed by an irredeemable condition. The Charlevoix came down at 7:30 AM on Sunday, June 23, 2013 via implosion, after having sat vacant for three decades. Similarly, there’s no bringing back this particular example of Cadillac’s mammoth FWD, personal luxury flagship, surely an eventual victim of its terminal rust.
You’d never know it from the title picture, but some of the establishments in this area are actually very hip and cool, with restaurants, bars, a view of the Detroit People Mover against the skyline, and perhaps best of all, the famous Cliff Bell’s jazz club, situated directly across the street from the former Hotel Charlevoix.
Cliff Bell’s is another piece of the story of downtown Detroit’s current and ongoing rebirth. This legendary live music venue was originally opened in 1935, closed in 1985, and was basically mothballed for twenty years until being dusted off and renovated in 2006. It was reopened that year, appearing very much the way it did in its heyday. I can imagine John and Horace Dodge getting smashed at the back bar, with the din of hopping jazz music, conversation and the clinking of glasses in the background. The trio pictured above played a great set at the club in June of 2014, during a friend’s Great Gatsby party that I attended.
It seems that another parallel between the Motor City and the one-time “Standard of the World” is that both found a need to downsize in some way in order to survive. Detroit still seems to be in the throes of this process, with some painfully-felt losses to some, but with the intent of the greater good of many. There is current discussion of bringing down the beautiful, Art Deco-styled Park Avenue Building, pictured above left and adjacent to the site of the Charlevoix which, like the old hotel, has been vacant for years. Similarly, CAFE and its potential penalties were no joke, and Cadillac needed to downsize (and re-engineer) its cars in the face of tightening fuel efficiency requirements.
Very admirably, Detroiters seem very protective of the city they love. When I was photographing the Eldo, a patron walking into a nearby sports bar chided me (loudly) for taking what she assumed were unflattering pictures of the Motor City. It is absolutely true that Detroit’s severe economic downturn since its 1950’s prime has been well-documented both in words and pictures. (Causes were myriad, but that may be a discussion for a different forum.)
I explained to the woman, who appeared to be roughly my age, that I meant no harm, that I am from Flint (another economically-challenged Michigan city roughly forty minutes away), and that I was only trying to capture an image of a classic, old Cadillac against the backdrop of this once-grand hotel. She was gone before I finished my sentence, but I’d like to think she understood on some level that I wasn’t dissing Detroit.
Ultimately, the sight (and site) of this Cadillac served as a reminder that there’s some truth to the saying that the only constant is change. Using my previous ’75 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe post as a reference, it can be comforting to see things still in existence as reminders of what worked well in the past. However, this old Eldorado and the demolished Hotel Charlevoix represent in my mind why reinvention is sometimes key to avoiding extinction.
All photos are as taken by the author in downtown Detroit, Michigan, in February 2011 and June 2014.