The former Whittier Hotel on the riverfront is a microcosm of Detroit's renaissance: a beautiful old building being brought back to life, but with a few complications.
Designed by Charles Agree in the Italian Renaissance Revival-style, the Whittier consists of three buildings built in two phases: The first phase includes two eight-story buildings, and was finished in February of 1923. The second phase, a 15-story tower and a promenade connecting it to the existing buildings was finished in 1926.
The Whittier was an apartment hotel, mixing guests and permanent residents. For over 40 years it was one of the swankiest hotels outside of downtown, drawing people to the riverfront for events like the Gold Cup boat races. Notable guests included actress Mae West, The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, and The Rolling Stones.
By the 1960's, the hotel was starting to show some wear. In 1963, Ivar "Ted" Quarnstrom, a Swedish industrialist who had made millions in the plastic industry bought the hotel for $2.7 million dollars and began a sweeping renovation. New elevators, air conditioning, a pool, and a rooftop restaurant were underway when he died in a plane crash in 1966. The hotel was then sold in 1969 to the Michigan Baptist Convention, which converted it into senior citizen housing.
Despite the best efforts of the Convention, maintaining the Whittier was expensive, and the building slowly declined through the 1980's and 90's. Financial problems forced the closure of the Whittier Towers Retirement Center in 2001, forcing many longtime residents out with just 30 days notice.
In 2003, developer Melvin Washington bought the vacant Whittier and announced plans to convert it into condos. New construction would include a retail shopping center and townhome condominiums. The first phase of the project, renovation of the two eight story buildings was finished in 2009. Plans for the renovation of the 15 story tower have been on hold since the economic recession, with occasional signs of work.
A room on the upper floors of the tower are home to a pair of peregrine falcons, who can often be seen circling the building. The property owner allows the Michigan Department of Natural Resources to visit the nest several times a year to band newborns and otherwise check on the falcons.
After The Beatles stay at the Whittier in 1964, the sheets that they had slept on were sold to two television station employees for $500. Richy Victor and Larry Einhorn cut the sheets up into one-inch squares, gluing them onto affidavits signed by the hotel manager that one of the members had slept on them. Though the plan initially generated considerable interest, relatively few were sold as Beatlemania passed.