|By John Gallagher, Detroit Free Press|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 25, 2004 - The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named Detroit's derelict Madison-Lenox Hotel to its annual list of the 11 most endangered historic places in America.
The annual list is designed to focus attention on places that are architecturally significant or historically noteworthy but that are in danger of being destroyed or altered beyond recognition.
The Ilitch family of sports and pizza fame owns the Madison-Lenox and hopes to tear it down for a surface parking lot. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and his development aides support the Ilitches.
The city's Historic District Commission has blocked that idea, though, citing the importance of the Madison-Lenox, at Madison and Randolph, to downtown's Harmonie Park district. Kilpatrick has said he plans to find some legal means to demolish the building before baseball's All Star Game is played in nearby Comerica Park in 2005.
"What the Motor City needs is more preservation, not another parking lot," said Richard Moe, president of the Washington-based National Trust.
Built initially as two towers, the seven-story Madison was erected in 1900 and the eight-story Lenox three years later. The two hotels were connected by a dining area later. The structure served as a residential hotel for many years and as a rooming house. The structure has been closed and vacant since the early 1990s.
Inclusion on the list does not bring any immediate legal or financial benefit to an endangered place, but the list does focus attention and stir debate. Since the National Trust began issuing its annual lists in 1988, only one of the more than 160 threatened sites has been demolished. That was a hotel in Reno, Nev.
The Madison-Lenox is the first Detroit site to make the National Trust's list since Tiger Stadium at Michigan and Trumbull made it in 1991 and 1992. Other Michigan places to appear on the list were the city of Petoskey in 1996 and Michigan's historic lighthouses in 1998.
Where the Ilitches and city officials see an eyesore, preservationists seen an opportunity to boost downtown revitalization. In fact, the debate over the Madison-Lenox and similar structures has turned on which strategy the city should pursue toward a common goal of renewal.
One path, favored by Kilpatrick and his aides, is to preserve what buildings it can and demolish the rest as soon as possible as part of a Clean, Safe, Beautiful campaign. The other path, favored by preservationists, would mothball the eyesores until property values downtown rise to a point that makes redevelopment practical.
"Historic preservation is a powerful tool for accomplishing downtown revitalization," Moe said. "A re-use strategy for the Madison-Lenox could help bring livability and economic vitality back to the inner-city area."
Spokesmen for the Ilitches and the mayor did not respond with comments to Monday's announcement.
Local preservationists had lobbied the National Trust for several months to get the Madison-Lenox included on this year's list. Francis Grunow, vice chairman of the preservation group Friends of the Book-Cadillac, said the Madison-Lenox could serve as a small boutique hotel and an example of how endangered buildings can be saved.
"We need more creative thinking about some of these tougher buildings, and we believe there are solutions to be found," Grunow said.
The selection no doubt will highlight the controversy surrounding the dilapidated structure. Some buildings, such as the Old Wayne County Building and the Book-Cadillac Hotel, are deemed worth preserving because of their outstanding architecture or historical connections.
The case for saving a more modest building like the Madison-Lenox is different. The city's Historic District Commission lists the Madison-Lenox as a contributing structure in the Harmonie Park district, an area composed of several buildings of similar age, height and appearance. To remove any one of them would leave a gaping hole in the overall streetscape, preservationists say.
Over the years, the National Trust has put on its endangered list such notable sites as the French Quarter in New Orleans or the Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania. But the Trust sometimes opts to highlight a smaller project in hopes of showing the importance of salvaging smaller structures in an overall environment.
ON THE ENDANGERED LIST: Besides the Madison-Lenox Hotel, here are the other sites on the 2004 list of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The National Trust for Historic Preservation does not rank these in order of importance.
--2 Columbus Circle in New York City, a 1964 modernist landmark office tower that city officials hope to reface with a new design.
--Ridgewood Ranch, Willits, Calif., home of the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit, lacks the resources to maintain the site.
--Bethlehem Steel Plant, Bethlehem, Pa., lies empty and is threatened with demolition.
Elkmont Historic District in Tennessee, an endangered collection of park buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
--Gullah/Geechee Coast in South Carolina and Georgia, historic home of slaves and early African-American culture, is now in danger of overdevelopment.
--Tobacco Barns of southern Maryland, many of which have been abandoned or are being demolished.
--Historic Cook County Hospital, Chicago, site of many television and movie dramas, but now slated for demolition.
--George Kraigher House, Brownsville, Texas, a 1937 structure by architect Richard Neutra, vacant and deteriorating.
--Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, site of thousands of Indian petroglyphs and pictographs, threatened by oil and gas exploration plans recently approved by the federal Bureau of Land Management.
--The State of Vermont, where the rural landscape is targeted for several new Wal-Mart stores and other big-box retailers that would promote sprawl and the abandonment of historic downtowns.
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