Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Savarine Hotel

Towering above everything near the border of Grosse Pointe stands the Hotel Savarine, a graffiti-plastered empty hulk that once was home to sports stars and beat author Jack Kerouac.

The nine-story hotel opened on East Jefferson and Lenox, around Christmas 1926 as a "stag hotel," or "bachelor hotel," featuring 525 rooms, 300 of which had showers. These were establishments that catered to single men, and the Savarine's relative proximity to the auto factories on the east side made it a perfect match. An ad at the time of its opening said the Savarine was "a new hotel embodying those features which instill in the tenant a true feeling of 'home' and contentment." Rents started at $6 for a single.

The hotel was designed by Russian-born architect Louis J. Chesnow.

Among the Savarine's most famous residents was Kerouac, for a time, in 1949.

"They liked to stay at the Savarine Hotel on Jefferson Avenue downtown, about a mile and a half away. One reason they really loved it was because a lot of the Detroit Tiger baseball players lived there, and Jack loved baseball," author Edie Kerouac-Parker wrote in "You'll Be Okay, My Life with Jack Kerouac. "Jefferson Avenue was also lined with all-night movie theaters and bars filled with three shifts of autoworkers per day. When he didn't have the money for a room, Jack spent some long nights in those theaters."

The building was renamed the Newport in 1968, and offered 450 rooms ranging from $12.50 a week for just rent and $24.50 a week with room and board. There were amenities such as maid service, telephones and color TVs and planned activities. There also was a bowling alley in the basement. The building also was home to the Poison Apple club, which offered nightly entertainment.

Two years later, in November 1970, the Detroit Free Press reported that the 400-room hotel was being turned into the 183-unit Apple Tree Apartments co-op. There were 48 studios and 94 one- and 41 two-bedroom units. The Apple Tree conversion was developed under FHA Section 236, which allowed for lower-income people to be eligible for financial assistance on their rent. After paying a $180 co-op membership fee, residents would then pay $89.37 to $159.60 for a studio. Rents were based on the tenant's income. The one-bedrooms cost $121.87 to $217.64 a month; the two-bedrooms went for $141.34 to $252.42.

Later on, the hotel was turned into the Winston Place Apartments and later used for low-income housing into the early 2000s.

In March 2006, work began to reopen the empty structure as a 118-unit apartment building again, but work was never completed.

Today, it still sits empty, with broken windows and marred by vandals' graffiti. There is hope that with renewed investment in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood, such as the Duggan administration's Strategic Neighborhood Fund initiative, that the Savarine will see new life.