With demolition of the Madison-Lenox building begun last week, it seems worthwhile to report what that building’s owners had planned for another Detroit landmark — the United Artists building at 150 Bagley.
It is a storied structure. Scouring the Web and old newspaper articles, this is what we found about the history of what has become one of Detroit’s most visually stunning vacant buildings: Designed by architect C. Howard Crane, the 18-story structure is done in the Spanish-Gothic style. The theater opened its doors in 1928 and showed its last flick in 1975. Because of its excellent acoustics, it was occasionally used by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to make recordings between 1978 and 1984. In the early ’90s, the structure housed an ill-fated nightclub called the Currency Exchange. In 1998 the Ilitch family — owners of Little Caesar’s Pizza, the Red Wings, the Tigers, the Fox Theatre, etc., etc. — bought the joint, and it’s been vacant ever since.
When asked about plans for the building, spokesman John Hahn told the Abandoned Structure Squad: “We are actively exploring alternatives for all of our downtown properties, including discussions with respected developers and engineering experts. We continue to assess all options, but at this time no final decisions have been made.”
What sets the United Artists building apart from other large abandoned structures is the unique graffiti that covers nearly every window. In the late 1990s the building became a magnet for local taggers, who scaled it and began covering the windows with brightly colored shapes, faces and characters. Starting with the lower floors, unnamed artists moved slowly up the building, painting these striking images on each window. Some of the images include snakes, letters, hands and mostly unusual faces seen either from the front or side profiles. The building can be noticed from many locations as one travels through downtown, and offers an amazing view as sunlight hits the building directly in the late afternoon — brightening the entire building with a variety of colors.
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