Like savvy players of the board game Monopoly, Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert is playing for real and amassing downtown Detroit properties at lightning speed. Seems like a new one every week.
Multiple news sources have reported the purchase of the historic Detroit News Building located at 615 W. Lafayette by Gilbert’s Bedrock Real Estate Ventures. Acquisition of this 404,000 square-foot, Albert Kahn designed building puts Gilbert’s holdings at over 60 buildings and more than nine million square-feet.
Built in 1917, these hallowed halls were once filled with venerated scribes uncovering the latest big story. With the advent of the digital age and rise of online publications and its suddenly-anyone-can-report-news mentality, many newspapers have gone the way of dinosaurs. Some barely hold on, a mere shadow of their former sphere of influence during their glory days.
In fact, decline in readership and a court-ordered joint operating agreement, forced Detroit’s two once powerful newspapers, the Detroit News and Detroit Free Press, each of whom had their own grand buildings, into shared quarters in recent years.
Enough about Dan and the decline of newspapers though!
The big news on June 6, 1928 across Detroit and the nation, was the great payroll robbery at 615 W. Lafayette. Shortly after 11 AM, five men carrying paper bags entered the Detroit News building and walked to second floor business offices – straight into the payroll office. On signal, the bags were ripped open, shotguns bared, and a robbery ensued.
The robbers were part of the Flathead Gang (the Purples weren’t the only gang in town) led by Polish immigrant Paul Jaworski. Known for major heists in New York City, Cleveland, Detroit and Pittsburgh, these violent criminals committed the first armored car robbery in US history on March 11, 1927. An armored car (truck) en route to Pittsburgh Terminal Coal Mine Company was ambushed when the crooks placed explosives under the road bed. The armored car driver and two guards were seriously injured and the gang absconded with over $100,000.
With the getaway driver waiting in the car, the crooks stole nearly $15,000 from the Detroit News payroll office. They expected to nab $65,000. As the robbers ran down the stairs, they encountered traffic cop Sergeant George Barstad who was first on the scene as they exited. Sgt. Barstad was shot to death on the front steps of the building. An advertising salesman was sprayed with bullets as he approached the building, unaware a robbery had taken place, and another patrolman sustained minor wounds as he shot at the fleeing car.
While Detroit News staffers watched in disbelief as the robbery took place, reporters from the Detroit Times, a rival publication, sent their reporters over to cover the story and scooped the Detroit News of its own robbery. The Detroit Times even included a detailed map of the payroll department illustrating how events of the day went down. With being beaten to the press by its competition, you could say the Detroit News got robbed twice.
Paul Jaworski ended up getting caught. He was executed via electric chair on January 2, 1929 in Pennsylvania.
This is one of the many interesting true stories we tell on our Notorious 313 – Foreboding Fort Street Walking Tours.
Notorious 313 Detroit’s Original True Crime & Ghost Walking Tours.