Historic Structures

Tuller Hotel, Detroit Michigan

Date added: August 18, 2015 Categories: Michigan Hotel
Lew Whiting Tuller, builder of the Tuller Hotel, was born in Jonesville, Michigan, in Hillsdale County on January 4, 1869, the son of Hiram Whiting Tuller, an architect and builder. Lew W. Tuller appeared in the Detroit City Directory in 1889 and through 1895, was listed as a "carpenter." In the 1896 and 1897 City Directory, Tuller was listed as a "building contractor," in partnership with Harry C. Van Husan, and then appeared as a contractor operating on his own account in the 1898-1905 Directories. Senator Thomas W. Palmer allegedly loaned Tuller the capital to enter the contracting business. Prior to building the Tuller, he constructed the substantial Wetherall, Valencia, and Saragossa apartment houses in Detroit. From 1906 on, he appears as the operator of the Tuller Hotel.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Grand Circus Park was at the northern fringe of Detroit's small central business district and was occupied by several churches and large private residences. Tuller chose this site because the trustees of the McKinstry estate offered him the land if he would build there. The original eight-story Tuller Hotel, also known as the Hotel Tuller, opened in 1906 and was so successful that it was enlarged to thirteen stories in 1910. With the completion of the 1910 addition, Lew Tuller promoted the penthouse-level ballroom and dining room as an attractive gathering place for Detroit's elite.

A 1913 advertisement for the Tuller's restaurant described the Tuller Hotel Roof Garden as: "The Coolest and Most Delightful Place to Dine in the City." The ad continued, "It's always refreshing and enjoyable at the Tuller Roof Garden. The best of entertainment - Pestle's String Quartette (sic) and our last season's success, the College City Trio. Special Roadhouse Dinner with wines, $1.50. Special 'After the Auto Ride Lunch,' 60 cents."

Easily the tallest hotel as well as the largest in Detroit, having a capacity of 225 in 1910, it became so popular that Tuller built a thirteen-story addition in 1914, resulting in a total of 550 rooms. The success of the Tuller helped touch off a building boom which turned the Grand Circus Park area into a major hotel, office, and theater center of Detroit by the early 1920s. Much of this boom reflected the city's explosive population growth in the early twentieth century, from 285,000 in 1900 to 994,000 in 1920. By 1913, the Grand Circus Park district had already become such a boom area that Tuller was willing to pay $225,000 for the Church of Our Father Universalist Church (1880) on Park Avenue and Bagley as the site for his first major hotel addition. Other major high-rise buildings erected on Grand Circus Park included the Statler Hotel (1914), the David Whitney Building (1915), the R.H. Fyfe Building (1919), and five large movie theaters.

Lew Tuller completed the expansion of the Tuller Hotel with an addition in 1923, which included a large dining room and 250 guest rooms, so that Tuller could boast that he had 800 rooms, each with a private bath. Lew W. Tuller's career as a builder and hotel operator peaked following his success with the Tuller Hotel. By 1925, he had opened three other large hotels in Detroit, the Eddystone, the Royal Palm, and the Park Avenue. He was a significant figure in the Detroit Hotel Association and the Detroit Board of Commerce by the mid-1920s.

However, by the late 1920s, Lew W. Tuller had lost heavily in Detroit real estate deals and in 1927, he lost control of the Tuller Hotel, when the courts turned it over to a receiver. There were even serious rumors in 1927 that the Tuller would be razed to permit the building of a new 35-story, 1,500 room Biltmore Hotel on the site. The Tuller lost money during the 1930s and was constantly delinquent in paying property taxes to the City of Detroit. With major renovations completed in 1949, the Tuller prospered in the 1950s. But a major fire on January 17, 1959 engulfed the lobby and first floor, killing four and injuring scores of guests.

The decline of Detroit's central business district, particularly after the 1967 civil disturbances, further damaged the Tuller's viability. In 1972, a series of assaults on guests, including several murders, speeded the hotel's decline. By October 5, 1976, when the Tuller closed permanently, it had become a residential hotel serving about 300 elderly people.

The Tuller was demolished in 1992.

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