The Detroit News
May 5, 2004


Preservationists honor Detroiter's Web efforts

Architectural images on site spark drives to salvage history

     By Maureen McDonald / Special to The Detroit News / photo Ricardo Thomas

What: highlights Detroit's buildings and neighborhoods. Coordinated by artist Lowell Boileau.

Event: Boileau receives the Lucy Hamilton Education Award from Preservation Wayne, a group dedicated to the restoration of Detroit buildings, at its annual meeting tonight at the Dime Building downtown.

If you think the lions roar only during football or during a safari in Kenya, Lowell Boileau begs to differ.

On his Web site,, he has posted pictures of purloined lions cut from the side of the Lee Plaza Hotel, an abandoned structure on West Grand Boulevard, and found an entire community of preservationists, police and citizens ready to march to their rescue.

The city of Detroit recovered 30 decorative masonry lions and one griffin from intended use in a new condominium complex on Chicago's north side. The outcry earned Boileau one of the top awards from Preservation Wayne, a Detroit group dedicated to restoring Detroit's real estate jewels.

"Lowell's Web site has a real impact on real estate values," said Katherine Clarkson, president of Preservation Wayne, who will present his award tonight at the organization's annual fund-raising meeting.

"One of the things that makes our historic buildings attractive to investors is architectural details on the buildings. Stripped of their jewels, the building has little chance of rebounding."

Clarkson said his graphic photos of the shuttered Book Cadillac prompted a group of preservationists to start a club dedicated to restoring the downtown Detroit hotel, dead since the mid-1980s. She said the attention paid to amateur and professional scavengers have prompted police to pay more attention to guarding and securing unoccupied real estate.

Boileau started the Web site in 1996. Yahoo named it one of its national picks in 1998 and both Wired magazine and the New York Times have done spreads on its attention to Detroit's abandoned buildings. He calls them "fabulous ruins, tributes to a bygone era." He hopes to spark increased tourism to see such buildings as the Packard Motors, Michigan Central Depot or Lee Plaza.

Boileau holds periodic slide parties accompanied by techno music to help forum participants learn about each other and to drum up interest in financing his site. With a new credit card billing system he said he just about breaks even.

The site is a showcase for his interactive abilities, leading to a thriving business for the Farmington-based artist. He designs sites for local and international clients.

"I'm a fine art painter by trade. The Web site was a new medium, it enhances the relationship of the artist to the patrons," Boileau said.

Honorees: "Dine at the Dime -- The Spirit of Place" honors Boileau, Peter Stroh, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, the Greater Downtown Partnership, the Sterling Group, Burton Farbman, the BOSC Group that rehabbed the Dime Building, and the Inn on Ferry Street.