Vacant hotel demolition comes alive with history

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Photo by J. Patrick Pepper

Atop a pile of rubble, an excavator on Wednesday reaches for another piece of the old Quality Inn on Michigan Avenue. Demolition workers began tearing down the vacant hotel last week.

By J. Patrick Pepper
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Demolition crews last week began tearing down the old Quality Inn, 21430 Michigan Ave., to eventually make way for a transformational project at one of the west downtown’s entrances.

The five-building complex was acquired by the city shortly after its 2005 closure. Initially the plan was to lure a private development to the 3-acre site on the northeast corner of Michigan and Brady. But when a request for bids was put out two years ago in the midst of the national financial crisis, not a single response was received, and city officials decided to pursue other options.

A new plan approved by the City Council in March will mean expanded grounds and renovated facilities at the adjacent Dearborn Historical Museum. Among the new features proposed are a bicycle trail connecting to the greenway behind the Andiamo Dearborn restaurant, 21400 Michigan, and the University of Michigan-Dearborn, public access to the Rouge River, more parking, additional storage space for the museum and a new gallery space. The Michigan Avenue frontage still is tabbed for a private development, but city officials said they aren’t actively pursuing bidders at this point.

The museum revitalization also will mean a shift away from the traditionally autocentric use of the corner. Before it was turned into a motel in the 1950s, the spot housed a gas station for decades and is considered by some to be the birthplace of one of history’s most iconic cars.

In his book, “Iacocca: An Autobiography,” former Ford Motor Co. vice president and auto industry legend Lee Iacocca explained how the motel, then known as the Fairlane Inn, became a think tank for his talented design team.

It was 1960, and Iacocca had just taken a controversial stance to convince Henry Ford II that a car design that cost millions in research and design wouldn’t sell. His insistence eventually won over Ford, who killed the project, but it cost the young Iacocca some friends among the executive ranks who wanted to see the car go to production.

With the concept car no longer going to market, Iacocca was free to start on other projects and quickly got to work.

“Right away, I brought together a group of bright and creative young guys from the Ford Division,” Iacocca wrote in the book. “We started getting together once a week at the Fairlane Inn in Dearborn, about a mile from where we worked,” just down the street at Ford World Headquarters.

“We met at the hotel because a lot of people back at the office were just waiting for us to fall on our faces,” Iacocca wrote. “I was a young Turk, a new vice president who hadn’t yet proved himself. My guys were talented, but they weren’t always the most popular people in the company. (But) the Fairlane Committee, as we called ourselves, had a lot on the ball.”

The young group, aided by their nighttime sessions at the Fairlane Inn, eventually went on to create the Ford Mustang, which became the best-selling sports car in history.