Royal Palm Hotel - Park Avenue House, Detroit Michigan

Date added: August 9, 2022 Categories: Michigan Hotel

The Royal Palm Hotel (now the Park Avenue House) is the oldest hotel in the downtown Detroit area which has continually operated in its original use as a residential hotel since its construction. It is also the only hotel in Detroit of its era that is still in operation. The Book-Cadillac, the Pick-Fort Shelby, the Statler, and the Madison-Lenox Hotels all stand vacant. The Tuller and The Detroitor Hotels have been demolished. The Park Avenue and The Eddystone Hotels have been converted to homeless shelters.

The Royal Palm Hotel was built in 1924 for Lew Tuller, a noted builder of hotels and apartment houses in Detroit. Mr. Tuller came to Detroit at age seventeen from Jonesville, Michigan and began work with a construction firm. Five years later, with capital furnished by Senator Thomas W. Palmer, he became a building contractor. He was one of the first to build apartment buildings on Woodward Avenue, north of Grand Boulevard. He constructed the Saragossa Apartments at the corner of Lothrop and Woodward and the Valencia Apartments next door.

The tremendous growth in the population of Detroit in the early 1900's due to its rapid expansion as an industrial city caused a considerable demand for temporary living space, particularly residential hotels and apartment buildings. In 1907, after acquiring land west of Grand Circus Park, Lew Tuller erected the Tuller Hotel, despite skepticism that the hotel was "too far uptown" from the central business district. The Tuller proved to be such a success that he eventually added five stories to the original building and a few years later built an annex to add an additional 350 rooms. The overwhelming success of the Tuller Hotel inspired Tuller to create a hotel empire. He had visions of a Park Avenue in Detroit similar to New York's. In the mid-1920's Tuller built three more hotels, the Park Avenue, the Royal Palm and the Eddystone, all along Park Avenue just north of Grand Circus Park. The hotels offered accommodations for both transient guests and permanent residents in the "hotel district" of downtown Detroit. The hotels advertised easy accessibility to transportation with locations just one block from two important traffic avenues, Woodward and Cass.

The Royal Palm Hotel was designed by Louis Kamper, one of Detroit's most prominent architects who was at the height of his career in the 1920's. Kamper had come to Detroit from the offices of McKim, Mead and White in New York and established his own office here in 1888. He was a devotee of the Italian Renaissance style which he introduced to Detroit buildings in an attempt to combine monumental beauty with the commercial style. He is known for the many Detroit landmark buildings that he designed such as the Book Building, the Book-Cadillac Hotel, and the Col. Frank J. Hecker House. He was also involved in the development of Washington Boulevard with the Book brothers and designed other buildings along the boulevard such as the Washington Boulevard Building and the Industrial Building. Kamper designed all three of Lew Tuller's hotels along Park Avenue. The Royal Palm offered 180 rooms with bath, a restaurant and five shops on the first floor.

Tuller apparently overbuilt in Detroit's hotel market. In 1928 he lost the three Park Avenue hotels in foreclosure and was forced into receivership by the Security Trust Co. in that same year Security Trust sold the Royal Palm and the Eddystone to David P. Katz.

David P. Katz was a Detroit financier who made his wealth through hotels and extensive real estate transactions. He owned five Detroit hotels and one in Miami Beach. He owned the Royal Palm until 1966 when the discovery of a $2 million fraud against him caused the collapse of his business and his health. He died two years later. In 1967 Wilbur Harrington purchased the hotel and renamed it Park Avenue House. In 1990 he transferred ownership to Harrington Properties, Inc. and continues to operate the building today with his son, Sean Harrington.

Building Description

The Royal Palm Hotel (now The Park Avenue House) is a thirteen story brick and masonry building with Italian Renaissance details located on the corner of Park Avenue and Montcalm just north of Grand Circus Park in an area once considered the heart of downtown Detroit's hotel district. The hotel entrance faces Park Avenue which is a narrow street densely filled with early skyscrapers and commercial buildings built in the early part of this century. It is one of the few buildings that has survived the decline of the neighborhood. The majority of the buildings on the street now sit vacant. It stands one block west of the Fox Theatre, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and just east of the site of the new Tiger Stadium development. Since its construction in 1924, it has been in continuous use as a residential hotel. Although the building has undergone some alterations over the years, it is in excellent condition and still retains its original character as "a downtown hotel with a home atmosphere."

The overall footprint of the building is rectangular, measuring ninety-two feet wide and eighty feet deep. It is thirteen stories tail (lobby and twelve floors) and is one hundred, thirty-five feet in height above finish grade. The building sits over a full basement with a ceiling height of nine feet six inches. The lobby floor is fourteen feet in height, the first through twelve floors are approximately nine and one-half feet in height. The exterior facade material is orange brick on the east (front) and south elevations and yellow brick on the west (rear) and north elevations. On the front and south facades limestone is used at the base on the lower two floors and stone detailing appears on the upper two floors.

The Royal Palm Hotel exhibits the vast expanse of the plain wall surface of the skyscraper relieved with decorative italian Renaissance detailing. The front (east) elevation has a symmetrical facade composed of seven bays with double hung wood sash windows. Different window treatments emphasize the first, second, fourth, eleventh and twelfth floors. The second, fourth and sixth bays on the second floor have windows with rusticated stone surrounds with flat keystone arches that support a frieze with decorative festoons. The center window on the fourth floor has a console supported stone balconet with an iron railing. The second, fourth and sixth bays on the eleventh floor have windows with iron railing balconets and rusticated stone surrounds with broken pediments that support windows with flat keystone surrounds on the twelfth floor. The building is crowned with a denticulated terra cotta cornice that has a line of stone lion heads in the cymatium. The lobby floor has a series of commercial metal recessed bay windows with large wood window boxes at sidewalk level and decorative street lamps between the bays. (These bays are a later alteration and replaced the original storefronts).

The main lobby entrance is through an elaborate Renaissance arch doorway in the center of the front facade. The arch has rusticated pilasters which support a Doric frieze. The frieze consists of triglyphs and metopes, and bears the name Royal Palm carved in stone in the center. The frieze supports a denticulated cornice. Double wood doors with a large single pane of glass sit under a semicircular fanlight in a decorative arch with festoons and keystone. On the second floor directly above the doorway the central windows are flanked by two feminine termini supported by an exaggerated reversed scrolled ancon. This assembly in turn supports the balustraded window balconet of the third floor center window. Two flag poles extending from shield patterned supports flank the second floor central window.

The south elevation continues the pattern of the front (east) elevation. The limestone and orange brick finish of the front facade turns the comer and continues for approximately ten feet on the north elevation. The remainder of the north elevation is plain yellow brick with six bays of single and paired double hung windows. The rear (west) elevation is a plain yellow brick wall with one vertical row of narrow window slots.

Entrance to the hotel is through a small vestibule with marble walls and shell patterned iron grates. A small hallway leads to the main lobby and to the entrances to the two side commercial spaces. The hallway has a groin vaulted ceiling with painted plaster arches spanning the breadth of the hallway. Two decorative wood framed windows and two large wall-mounted medieval iron lighting fixtures are placed on both side walls. An elaborate iron gate (a later addition) at the end of the hallway allows entrance to the lobby. The small intimate lobby has oak wainscoting around the four walls and a matching oak reception counter in the northwest corner. Above the wainscoting are blind arches with decorative gold framing. The vaulted ceiling with a leafy bead and reel cornice is missing its original chandelier. On the west wall are two elevators with decorative carved brass doors and floor indicators with a brass sunburst design. A stairway in the southwest comer leads to the door to the main stairway.

The original lobby floor plan has been altered over the years. Although the hotel entrance and lobby remain the same, the original plan had five stores in the front and a restaurant in the back with separate entrances from the street. That space was later altered to two larger commercial spaces on either side of the building's main entrance and the separate street entrances were replaced with bay windows. The two existing commercial spaces contain a modern restaurant deli and a large unoccupied space that is currently being converted to a bar. Both commercial spaces now only have access from the lobby hallway. The commercial spaces have been completely remodeled with no original architectural details remaining.

The original floor plan of the hotel contained fifteen one-room residential units per floor. Since that time a few of the units have been connected to create larger spaces decreasing the number of units per floor to thirteen. The interiors of the units have been renovated over the years and modern conveniences have been added. The hallways and rooms of the upper floors are plain with no architectural detailing.