The Pontch Bar

October 12, 2015

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By: Matt Wolfe

The Hotel Pontchartrain’s name was legendary in Detroit. It’s been called “the mother of motors” and the forefather of luxury hotels in Detroit. “The Pontch”, as it was known, was built in 1907 on the southeast corner of Campus Martius, where the First National Building stands today. It was most important for its role as the cradle of the auto industry. It was the hotel that literally changed the world.

It was the Hotel’s bar that secured the Pontch’s legacy in the annals of Detroit history. This is where the town’s auto barons conducted business over a few rounds of libation. Whiskey was 15 cents a glass. Beer would set you back a dime.

The Pontch was the meeting place for the men who made motors hum, such as Horace and John Dodge, GM’s Billy Durant, the Leland’s from Cadillac, and Hugh Chalmers. His 1910 Calmers Model 30 (above, second from left) is parked at the front door.

Often a crowds would gather at the front entrance to see the latest Detroit made machinery. A group can be seen above gathered around a 1913 Keeton. The hotel was seen as a laboratory for the city’s automotive power-brokers. Industry leaders needed a place to go exchange ideas, brainstorm, and make business contacts. Unfortunately, such hobnobbing didn’t help Mr. Forest Keeton, whose company went out of business a year later.

According to longtime GM executive Alfred P. Sloan (above, center), the Pontchartrain was where motor gossip was heard first. Sloan is in good company with Lawrence P Fischer of Fischer Body (left) and Ford’s William Knudsen (right).

The Glidden tours were promotional events held from 1902 to 1913 by the American Automobile Association. In 1909, the Glidden Tour was headquartered at the Pontchartrain Hotel. The number 76 Press car for the Thomas-Detroit Car Company can be seen above passing by the front door of the hotel during the tour.

The Excitement around the hotel was electric. Literally. Electric cars would also line the street next to the hotel.

In 1907, Henry B Joy was General Manager of the Packard Motor Car Company (above seated on the left in his Packard Model 30). By 1913, he began to complain that the only place these auto men had to meet was the Pontchartrain Hotel bar. Let us organize, he said, a club to get them out of the saloons of Woodward Avenue.

Two Years later, the Detroit Athletic Club opened on Grand Circus Park, and the automotive movers and shakers moved out of the Pontch.

This article contains text and photography contributions from Burton historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, and historicdetroit.org

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