June 25, 2009, - 12:06 pm

Reagan Revolution Hotel Declines Into Symbol of Detroit’s Demise

By Debbie Schlussel
When Ronald Wilson Reagan accepted the Republican nomination for President in 1980 in Detroit, he stayed at the beautiful Ponchartrain Hotel, a tall glass and onyx black jewel prominent on the city’s skyline. It’s my favorite building within the city limits, and in my opinion, one of the most visually stunning.
At that time, it was a symbol of Detroit’s contemporary elegance and business deals in a down but then-not out auto industry. The Ponchartrain was Reagan campaign headquarters, and it was the seat of the Reagan Revolution for that momentous summer in U.S. history that set Reagan and his movement on its way and sent a hint to Jimmy Carter to start packin’.
But, now, that same skyscraper hotel–no longer a Ponchartrain, and now a struggling independent called the Detroit Riverside Hotel–is a symbol of how far Detroit has declined since the Reagan Presidency.

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Reagan Revolution Hotel Now Decrepit Symbol of Decline
In town this week for a National Baptist Convention, hundreds of convention goers had the misfortune of staying at this hotel that has fallen far from grace–a hotel that probably had no business being open but desperately needed to stay open to get the business.


The hotel–in sweltering 90 degree heat and humidity–had no air conditioning, no changed bed sheets and linens, and limited staff . . . all because it can’t pay its bills. And lots of guests are angry, many having moved out before their reserved stay was over. It’s very sad.
The former Ponchartrain is one of the most beautiful, but mostly empty, buildings on Detroit’s skyline. It was built when the auto industry was privately owned and flourishing. It is across the street from the famed Renaissance Center building where the bankrupt GM is currently headquartered. And like GM, the former Ponchartrain is also in bankruptcy. In 1980, America’s auto industry–including GM–was just starting to recover from the Japanese auto invasion. And it was still a non-government entity. Now, the government owns the neighbor across the street. And things are bad.
The hotel’s decline is not entirely its owners’ fault. It’s mostly Detroit’s fault. Forever declining because of bad city “leadership,” decreasing population (a huge Black flight has followed the ancient White flight), and declining business in the city, it’s like many Detroit businesses–it can’t stay afloat. There are no customers.
I don’t celebrate this, because even in the few times I visit the abandoned downtown Detroit ghost town, the outside vision of the contemporary mod architecture of the former Ponchartrain sparkles and delights with it’s cool corners, lines, and edges.
Sadly the outside is deceiving. Inside, the hotel declines like every other famous site and building in the city limits.
And it rots irretrievably along with the rest of the city. The city never recovered from the late ’60s riots which promised that Black power replacing White politicians would move the city forward. As I’ve noted on this site, it led Detroit back to the Dark Ages.
The 1980 Republican National Convention was really on of a series of last hurrahs here. The Detroit Tigers World Series wins were among the others. But the former Tigers Stadium where those wins happened was allowed to rot for decades, before finally being demolished this month. The Detroit Pistons, who also won in the late ’80s and early ’90s, had long ago moved way out to the far suburbs. A Superbowl, Major League Baseball All Star Game, and Final Four NCAA Basketball Tournament events were carefully, artificially staged incidents. The Superbowl was replete with 7-day leases for new bars and restaurants that came and went in a week, while the real decay continued behind the extremely “managed” scenes.
Sadly, America said good-bye to the Reagan Revolution and hello to Obama socialism. And the decline of the Reagan Revolution hotel is concomitant with the decline of the formerly Reagan Revolution America.
It’s a spectacular building. But only on the outside. Inside, it rots from the core. Just like our once proud nation.

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5 Responses

Debbie, I’ve been to Detroit and the best view of the city skyline is to be found over on Riverfront Drive in Windsor, Canada just across the river from Detroit. Its a way to look at a city that has seen its glory days long gone by. The look of the tall buildings from there are stunning but what people can’t see is the rot that has affected them, the city and America.

NormanF on June 25, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Not digressing too far from topic, but California is in pretty bad economic shape. It looks like they are going to default on their bond obligations. Crunch time is approaching for them to come up with a balanced budget. The budget so far is $24 billion in the red. California is going to need Obama to be their savior.
Did you also see that Barney Frank is at it again? Remember the politicians pressuring lenders to lower lending standards? And that this was one of the major reason for the severe economic conditions that we are now in? Well, Mister or Representative Frank recently sent a letter to both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac asking the CEO’s to make appropriate adjustments to their lending standards for condos. In other words, he wants them to lower standards. Can you believe this?

norman on June 25, 2009 at 1:36 pm

The Ponchartrain had some great jazz concerts out on the patio back in the 80s on some of those hot summer evenings.

sonofsheldon on June 25, 2009 at 3:19 pm

No, it’s mostly the management. The Book Cadillac and Fort Shelby, to name but two hotels, don’t seem to be having those problems. Yes, it remains true that not enough people live dowtown to make it appear vibrant, but your admittedly rare trips there don’t seem to give you enough insight to comment on this intelligently.
[S: NICE TRY BUT NO CIGAR. THE FACT IS THAT MOST HOTELS IN DETROIT–INCLUDING THE CHAIN HOTELS–ARE STRUGGLING FOR GUESTS. NO ONE COMES TO DETROIT. I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. THERE’S A REASON THE SHERATON PONCHARTRAIN ABANDONED THE LOCATION AND A REASON THE LATEST OWNERS FILED FOR BANKRUPTCY. IT’S NOT MANAGEMENT. IT’S LACK OF GUESTS FOR WHICH TO PROVIDE MANAGEMENT. DS]

stormhit on June 25, 2009 at 7:21 pm

I recall that in the late 1960s that I tried to make a reservation at the Ponchartrain in Detroit for my boss, who was Jewish and had a very recognizable Jewish name. The reservationist informed that she could not accept the reservation because the hotel was “restricted.” I did not know what that meant and she declined to elaborate. But, when I told my boss, he just held up his hand and said, “Never mind,” and said he would take care of the arrangements. Later, it was explained to me that “restricted” meant the hotel would not take reservations from Jewish people. Can you confirm that the Ponchartain was once restricted, and when it became unrestricted, as I assume it now accepts reservations from those of all ethnic backgrounds?

Jeanne Nelson on June 20, 2010 at 10:52 pm

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