Have you wanted to spend the night at the old Eloise asylum property? Plans are in motion to allow guests to do just that, albeit it in a more modern setting.
The Westland planning commission unanimously approved a plan by John Hambrick to split the sprawling 16-acre historic property, which has attracted curiosity for years, into five separate parcels to each house a different use.
Hambrick, who bought the sprawling complex at 30712 Michigan Ave., back in 2018 for $1, went before the city’s planning commission Wednesday to split the sprawling 16-acre property into five separate parcels to each house a different use.
The power plant and bakery buildings on the property are slated for demolition, Hambrick said, and there are plans for the firehouse to become a public space serving light fare like coffee and ice cream.
“We were able to get inside and started really looking at the building. It has really, really good bones,” Hambrick said. “It’s a really cool building.
“I’ve talked to a chef and a coffee roaster and we are meeting next week because they are very excited to get involved in the project.”
He said he’d hope to make the firehouse a sort of museum for the space, since there’s always so much interest in the Eloise property and it attracts people wanting to take a look inside.
While the retained buildings would be kept intact to preserve them, Hambrick said there’s no plans to pursue listing the property on the National Register of Historic Places. To utilize a tax credit for a historic structure, Hambrick said, they would need to keep the power plant and bakery, something they’re not planning to do because of their poor condition.
“The (power plant) is pretty dirty as far as asbestos goes in there,” he said. “We couldn’t see a feasible use for the power plant or the bakery for that matter because it’s pretty much a pile of rubble.
“We are not going to change the original look of either the Kay Beard Building or the fire house.”
Plenty of history
The Eloise property dates back to 1839, where it operated as a poor house before transitioning to medical care. It housed patients with mental illness as well as patients with tuberculosis. It once occupied more than 900 acres in the area with dozens of buildings and thousands of patients. The facility, which last operated at Wayne County General Hospital, halted operations in 1984. Since then, it’s been used for a variety of purposes, including housing some Wayne County employees up until 2016. Just a handful of structures currently occupy the space today.
The property has also attracted plenty of paranormal seekers for its legends of hauntings and ghosts. Groups have investigated the site for ghostly activity, and even had opened up tours to the public. Its ghostly past has even inspired a horror film, “Eloise,” which premiered in 2017.
Currently operating on part of the site is the Samaritas Family Center, which houses families without homes. Hambrick said while there’s some discussions of possibly seeing the center move from the site, if a location cannot be found, they’ll continue to operate next door to the development.
“They would like a new facility that they can design and build to do exactly what they do,” he said. “Until there’s a concrete plan and the funding in place to build a new facility, the family center stays.”
He said an entrance for the space is planned off Henry Ruff Road.
He said there’s plans to build a landscape barrier to separate the two parcels and to provide additional privacy for the Samaritas Family Center if it stays. He also said if they do stay, it could provide for a partnership that could employ those living next door.
Commissioner David Rappaport said he wanted it known that it was important to keep the mission of the Samaritas center and the food bank that operates on the site in mind, especially as federal unemployment funding due to the pandemic has run out.
“In the wake of the COVID-19 funding running out and the moratoriums on rent payments, I worry that the call for these particular services are going to increase exponentially very, very shortly,” he said. “And I have concerns that what we’re doing may impact their ability to effectively exercise their mission.”
Hambrick said the plan is to keep the food bank on the site in the old commissary building. Having a tenant in the space, he said, is helpful in keeping trespassers away from the site. The food bank fits perfectly in the space, and Hambrick said he does not envision another use for the area.
“I’ve worked out a deal with the county that the food bank never leaves,” he said. “They never have to leave that building. And it’s rent-free for them.”
Mohamed Ayoub, the city of Westland’s director of planning, said the project is expected to come back to the planning commission next month for a rezoning request for the five new parcels. The issue will now be sent to city council for its review.
Commissioner Lori Wilson, who said her mother formerly worked at the site decades ago, said she’s pleased to see progress at the site.
“I spent many a night picking up my mother from ‘D’ Building, she worked there. I had my set in ‘C’ Building where the shelter is currently right now. I am looking forward to this rehabilitation and bringing this up to 2020 with the 1930s vibe,” she said. “That’s great.”
Contact reporter David Veselenak at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-678-6728. Follow him on Twitter @davidveselenak.