Building and Preserving Detroit History for More Than 50 Years

You can find Detroit’s history in the faces of its people, in their incredible production over a century as the heart of industrial America and in the structures we have created throughout our progress. History is our story – Detroiters’ stories – about where we have been and the next destination in our journey together as a great city.

Historic preservation is, of course, the protection and restoration of buildings. But even more importantly it is the stewardship of a community’s culture, its struggles and triumphs over adversity. It can be found in tangible assets like structures, photos, records and other icons, but also in intangible assets like the memories we pass down through generations. The ties formed through creating and sharing our history bind us together as a community.

“Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch are among the business and community leaders who have contributed generously to our new Gallery of Culture. Further, numerous important historical items from Tiger Stadium, including the stadium signage and letters, seats and other irreplaceable parts of Detroit’s history will be displayed, preserve and protective for the public’s enjoyment thanks to the support of the Ilitch family and Olympia Development. The Detroit Historical Society appreciates and values its relationships with Olympia Development and the Ilitch Family.”
Robert A. Bury, Executive Director and CEO Detroit Historical Society

In its decades of building and preserving Detroit history, the Ilitch organization has valued the events, artifacts and structures where these stories were made and the pride they bring to Detroiters and all Michiganders. This remains our commitment – to build and preserve the places and moments that create unique, fun and memorable experiences for the community.

Brick and Mortar

The Fox Theatre

The Historic Fox Theater on Woodward Avenue is one of Detroit’s most identifiable addresses and holds a storied place in this city’s history. It is also a very visible example of the Ilitches’ commitment to preserving the city’s history and investing in its culture. Opened in 1928, the theater had fallen into disrepair and disuse when Mike and Marian Ilitch bought the Fox and painstakingly restored to its former historical luster in 1987.

The Fox Theater is one of only 39 places in Michigan that has earned distinction in the National Historic Landmark Program. These few places possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.

The Fox Theatre earned this distinction on June 29, 1989 following the detailed restoration by the Ilitch organization. Generations of guests have explored the history of this building, which has played host to talents of the bygone era including Abbott and Costello, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. And it continues to attract record crowds for a mix of concerts, theatre, family shows and restored classic films. The benefits of this special venue are timeless, as just last month the Fox provided a meaningful backdrop for a special and critically acclaimed “pop up” concert by Prince.

Fox Office Center

In the late 1980s, when companies where packing up and moving operations – and jobs – out of Detroit, the Ilitches stopped work on their planned Little Caesars headquarters building in Farmington Hills. Instead, they relocated Little Caesars operations and employees to Detroit.

Restoration of the 10-story Fox Office Building, which had been vacant since the mid-1970s, transformed it into the new world headquarters for the organization’s flagship company, Little Caesars Pizza. And just this year, Little Caesars announced the expansion of its world headquarters campus with the addition of a new 205,000 square-foot Global Resource Center next to the current Fox office structure on Woodward Avenue in Downtown Detroit.

The façade of the new building will pay tribute to the architectural elements found in the original office structure so that the new blends with the old and its history is preserved and recognized in a meaningful way. These investments by the Ilitch organization not only restored pride in these physical structures, but also restored a neighborhood and business center that had slipped into neglect and blight.

Motorcity Casino Hotel

When Marian Ilitch invested in MotorCity Casino in 1996 she saw an opportunity to invest even further into the cultural and entertainment fabric of Detroit. Mrs. Ilitch also saw how that vision could help rebuild and preserve neighborhood along Grand River Avenue, just north of Downtown.

Built in 1915, the Wagner Baking Company building had been vacant for years. Mrs. Ilitch envisioned a new use for the abandoned building and created a contemporary design that incorporated and preserved the original façade.

Hughes & Hatcher Building

Adjacent to the Fox Theatre, the Ilitches also purchased the former headquarters of the Hughes and Hatcher clothing store in 1987. The building, opened in 1910, was fully renovated it into what is now the Hockeytown Café and City Theatre.

Preserving Community Assets

The Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers evoke passion, pride and a shared sense of history and culture for fans of all backgrounds and from all ends of the city. The Detroit Tigers have a long and storied history in Detroit, and the Old English D is one of the most respected logos in Major League Baseball.

The Detroit Tigers are a 114-year-old Major League Baseball franchise and an American League charter member. The club played its first official American League game at Bennett Park on April 25, 1901 in front of 10,000 fans. Just a few years later Tyrus “Ty” Cobb joined the team. When he retired in 1928, he had collected more records than any player in major league history. Charlie Gehringer, Al Kaline and Willie Horton are also among Tiger greats who are now icons of this great city.

No one respects the Tigers’ heritage more than owner Mike Ilitch, who purchased the team in 1992. It was important to Mr. Ilitch that team artifacts be included in his purchase so that its history would remain with the team and return to Detroit. Thousands of Tigers-related items are collected and curated, including original jerseys, and written salary ledgers and autographed baseballs, and authenticated items continue to be added to the collection.

Each year during Tigerfest, the Ilitch Holdings corporate archives display historic artifacts documenting Detroiters’ affection for and connection to this city’s oldest sports franchise. A Charlie Gehringer game worn jersey from 1926 might be juxtaposed with Miguel Cabrera’s batting gloves from the year he won the American League Triple Crown in 2012. Artifacts from the Tigers four World Series also are shared with Tigers fans during this popular event. Generations of Tigers fans share memories of their favorite Tigers’ moments sparked by seeing the displayed memorabilia.

As owner, Mr. Ilitch has fought to preserve the classic and historic look of Tigers uniforms even in an era when other sports franchises are changing their uniforms or adding additional jersey designs.

Detroit Red Wings

The Ilitches became trustees of another important Detroit icon with the purchase of the Detroit Red Wings in 1982. As with the Tigers, the Ilitches have preserved the team’s historic logo that has been in existence since 1932 and the Winged Wheel among the most recognized symbols in professional sports.

The Red Wings are an 89-year-old franchise and an Original Six member of the National Hockey League. The team began playing as the Detroit Cougars in the fall of 1926 and made the playoffs for the first time the 1928–29 season. Retired jerseys hold names of Red Wings greats like Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay and Steve Yzerman.

Hundreds of items including game-worn jerseys, sticks, and magazines are owned, collected stored and cared for by the Ilitch organization in the archive. As with the Tigers, the Ilitch organization has resisted the trend toward new or additional jersey designs, preserving the traditional uniforms that are synonymous with Detroit.

When a program appeared on the memorabilia market from the very first game played on November 18, 1926, the Ilitches were quick to purchase the program in order to keep it with the team. Their devotion to preserving history is not limited to the present or the days of their ownership. The Ilitch organization gladly accepts the responsibility to preserve the team’s history and legacy.

History is more than the things we touch. It can be something we experience. In 2014, the NHL Winter Classic was hosted by the Detroit Red Wings. The culmination of a week-long Hockey Winterfest featured an Alumni Showdown at Comerica Park between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs, two Original Six teams and longtime rivals. And history was reborn between these two fierce competitors as each player wore a vintage jersey to commemorate their rich history.

With both the Red Wings and the Detroit Tigers, the Ilitch family sees its role as caretakers and as such, has worked to preserve and promote the items and experiences that each of these traditions can bring to life for future generations.

Preserving Historical Records

Corporate Archives

The Ilitch organization’s commitment to tradition is also demonstrated in its corporate archive. The Ilitch organization maintains a temperature controlled, 1,800-square-foot facility where two full-time professional archivists tend to the collection of photos, manuscripts, publications, correspondence, articles and other items that have been carefully recorded and preserved according to standard archival practices. Digital documents are stored electronically for perpetuity. The archive features more than 20,000 items of historic significance and tens of thousands of photographs that tell the history of these institutions and Detroit. This area includes Little Caesars Pizza logos and advertisements that are preserved to tell the story of this great American company from its beginnings as Detroit-area family pizza shop to an international leader in restaurant entrepreneurship and food service.

Creating A Future That Honors The Past

The District Detroit Development

As part of the transformational District Detroit and new Red Wings arena, in March of 2015, the Ilitch-owned Olympia Development of Michigan announced its plans to renovate the historic Eddystone Hotel. Built in 1924, it is the first of three Italian Renaissance hotels in Detroit built by Louis Kamper.

The Ilitch organization is proud to find a new use for the abandoned, historically-designated building, which will provide both affordable and market-rate housing for Detroit residents. Retail space also is envisioned for the first floor of the Hotel Eddystone, which will allow the community to see and experience the building. This action will breathe new life into a long vacant and blighted building.

Olympia Development is currently working with international architects to develop a comprehensive strategy for buildings that have been designated as historic or that may hold other historic significance within The District Detroit.

Preserving history brings together people of different experiences and backgrounds through a shared sense of culture and history – it is more than saving neglected architectural structures. It is, above all, a respect for Detroit and our community. The Ilitch organization and Mr. and Mrs. Ilitch share that respect for Detroit. We are committed to preserving the history of all their businesses and the impact that these investments have made and will continue to make on the City of Detroit.

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