Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Whittier Tower

Whittier Tower refers to the renovated high rise residential complex and former hotel, also known as “Whittier Apartments,” or simply, “The Whittier.” It is located at 415 Burns Drive in Detroit, on the Detroit River. At the time, the area between E. Jefferson Avenue and the Detroit River was the site of mostly large expensive homes. When the developer proposed the plan for high-rise buildings, the residents of the area went to court citing zoning regulations to attempt to stop construction. Instead, the developer extended Burns Drive to the river and located The Whittier there. The court agreed that the ordinances did not apply to that location and so construction proceeded. 

The Whittier was originally constructed as an apartment hotel, meaning that visitors could enjoy all the luxuries of a hotel while renting an apartment. It was built in the early 1920s when, fueled by the success of the automobile industry, a population boom in Detroit increased the demand for housing in the city. Charles N. Agree, the architect, designed The Whittier to include two separate structures: an eight-story red brick building to the north, completed in 1922, and a larger fifteen-story Italian Renaissance style hotel to the south, built in 1926. Both buildings are notable for the high quality of their interior and exterior finishes, and for being built on a slab foundation because of their positions on the unstable, marshy soil along the Detroit River.

Throughout its history, The Whittier hosted many famous people including Horace Dodge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mae West, Frank Sinatra, and The Beatles. Due to its convenient access to the Detroit River and thus, to Canada, the hotel also played a significant role with underground figures, including the Purple Gang, during Prohibition when so called rum-runners would smuggle alcohol across the river from Canada to Detroit. On October 9, 1985, The Whittier was added to the National Register of Historic Places. 

The last residents of The Whittier moved out in the early 2000s, and in June 2003, the building was purchased by Phoenix Communities, who refurbished the eight-story northern building into a senior citizen’s living center, known as Whittier Manor.



Postcard showing The Whittier from Henderson Park, 1950s - 2012.044.921

Postcard showing The Whittier on the left, 1930 - 2012.020.535

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