Fire station in Detroit set to open as hotel

A rendering of the planned exterior of the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which occupies Detroit's former Fire Department headquarters.
A rendering of the planned exterior of the Detroit Foundation Hotel, which occupies Detroit's former Fire Department headquarters.PHOTO: VISTA (BEIJING) DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY

DETROIT • In Singapore, the former Bukit Timah Fire Station has blazed a new path as a lifestyle hub.

Over in Detroit in the United States, the city's former Fire Department headquarters will soon see uniformed "first-responders" making wake-up calls and dousing hunger pangs with room-service breakfasts.

The 1929 neoclassical downtown landmark is set to open on May 15 as the 100-room boutique Detroit Foundation Hotel.

It is part of a global trend towards historic adaptive reuse that has millennial travellers overnighting in former department stores, textile mills, an auto assembly plant and even a 19th-century jail.

San Antonio's Hotel Emma occupies a one-time brewhouse.

In La Crosse, Wisconsin, a candy factory built in 1898 has been converted from offering sweet treats to suite deals.

As industry experts have noted, there is a move away from the more standardised hotel experience, not unlike the rise of boutique hotels nesting in conservation shophouse properties in Singapore's Chinatown and Little India.

Mr Michael Poris, whose firm McIntosh Poris Associates is the project architect for the Foundation project, said the desire for such spaces is a response to an increasingly homogenised world.

"So many places are the same that people crave difference," he noted.

"New York is like a mall now, with the same stores you find in Milan or Hong Kong."

Vintage structures allow hoteliers to offer a more local aesthetic through history and eccentricity, as well as ornamentation that is not easily duplicated today.

The exterior of the Detroit Foundation Hotel is embellished with terra-cotta details, including firefighters' heads, angels and griffins in hats.

Oversized red doors that once swung open at the sound of truck sirens remain operable as the front entrance and as dining-room shutters.

The oldest American cities offer a stockpile of ageing beauties with good bones, enviable construction materials and prime locations.

And historic tax credits requiring the preservation of specific structural elements force designers to take a creative approach to non- standard spaces.

"When you're repurposing a building, you have all these crazy spaces," said Ms Gina Deary, co-owner of Simeone Deary Design Group, the Detroit Foundation Hotel's interior-design team. "It's imperfect; that's what's great."

The resulting character is an antidote to the just-passing-through sense of travel ennui.

It also helps hotels compete with the likes of Airbnb and its "live like a local" campaign.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Fire station in Detroit set to open as hotel'. Print Edition | Subscribe