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Now and Then in Michigan: McKay Tower’s history could include murder mystery

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Ever wonder what West Michigan was like decades or even a century ago?  Grand Rapids has grown so much over the past 100 years, it's hard to believe that the iconic city skyline didn't exist.

The start of that city skyline was what we now know as McKay Tower. But it's so much more than the city's first skyscraper; it's also the place where a high profile politically-motivated murder plot may have been planned.

Then...

In 1833 a man named Joel Guild built the beginnings of McKay Tower. He bought the property for around $41, built his home, and kept the property throughout his lifetime. Fast forward 80 years, the prime location hosted the Wonderly Building and housed the four-story National Bank of Grand Rapids.

Over the next decade, another 12 stories were added. By 1940, two more floors were added, making it the first skyscraper in Grand Rapids at 18 stories tall. It held that distinction until the 1980's, when the Amway Grand Plaza Tower was constructed at an even greater height.

So how did McKay Tower come out of National Bank and what about the unsolved murder mystery?

Back in 1942 self-made millionaire Frank McKay purchased the building and quickly named it after himself. He was a big time power player in politics and was elected to State Treasurer numerous times. However he preferred to work behind the scenes of the Republican Party.

McKay had an iron grip on politicians that some say allowed him to run the state through the men he got elected. He was hounded by prosecutors on political corruption charges for years, but he always managed to beat them. Corruption and bribery were rampant and federal prosecutors tried multiple times to pin charges onto McKay. But they were unsuccessful each time.

By the late 1940's a reform movement called The Homefront deposed McKay as the Republican Party czar. One notable name included in The Homefront was Gerald R. Ford. However before that happened, there was the murder of Warren G. Hooper.

Hooper had been a State Senator for two weeks before he was murdered gangland style with three shots to the head. The murder happened days before he would be the key witness of a bribery case against McKay and others. Hooper had been given immunity after making a full confession of being bribed $500 for his vote on a horse racing bill.

The case of Hooper's murder has never been solved, and no one has ever been charged because the prosecutor charged to work the case against McKay chose to focus on McKay instead of those who were widely thought to be the actual assassins.

The plan to kill Hooper may have been conceptualized and planned inside McKay Tower, but it seems that the mystery will forever remain unsolved. McKay died in 1965 at the age of 81 in his home in Florida.

Now...

McKay Tower still boasts the original bank lobby on its second floor which is primarily used for ballroom functions. You can see one of the bank vaults in the basement as well. It's also one of the only buildings that still uses the original mail chutes.

Many people call McKay Tower home in one of it's 15 luxury apartments which all come completely furnished. The building also houses retail outlets for those looking to get sushi, coffee, fudge, along with other businesses.

McKay Tower is located at 146 Monroe Center Street Northwest in Grand Rapids. Be sure to stop by and take a look at the century-old architecture, a peek at the ballroom,  and remember... if those walls could talk they could have possibly solved a murder.

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1 Comment

  • Mac Woods

    Late 1980s? Try 1982 for the Amway Grand……..Find someone who has lived here more than two weeks before handing out writing assignments.

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