The Gotham Hotel was purchased by John White and Irvine Roan in November 1943 for a quarter of a million dollars ($4,281,445 today). The nine-story, twin towered Gotham Hotel was located outside of Paradise Valley at 111 Orchestra Place, and at the time of its purchase was owned by businessman, Albert Hartz. When Hartz sold the hotel to Roane and White, blacks were not allowed nor welcomed as guests.
The 200 room hotel was elegant and soon after the sale, white guests voluntarily vacated the hotel, opening it for black for occupancy.
Local gossip contended that Hartz sold the hotel to John White not knowing White was a black man. White was fair skinned and able to "pass". It is purported that because of this trait, Irving Roane (who had the money) used White as a front man for the purchase of the hotel.
When Roane and White purchased the hotel, they did so planning to turn the hotel into a "social and business center" for blacks that were not allowed accommodations in white establishments. Many viewed the purchase of the Gotham Hotel as a much-needed institution, and another example of blacks breaking the color barrier. The Gotham Hotel was advertised as being "A Monument to Our Race".
The hotel was in an excellent location located approximately one mile outside of Paradise Valley in what many considered a "refined neighborhood." At a time when most black hotels were subpar and did not offer the comforts of their white counterparts, the Gotham boasted that it offered private bathrooms, telephones, televisions, radios, and air conditioning in every suite. The Gotham had its own laundry services, a barbershop, valet shop, flower shop, drug store, haberdashery, and women’s gift shop.
The hotel featured the Ebony Room, a restaurant that was decorated at a cost of $60,000 ($1,027,546 today). It was known for its African woodcarvings, which was the pride of the black community, and featured a famous chef. Music was played via an auditory system in the hotel lobby, which was adorned with fresh flowers and hand painted oil portraits of famous black Detroiters. The portraits were of Congressman Charles Diggs Jr., Judge Wade McCree, middleweight boxing champion Sugar Ray Robinson, and drug store owner Sidney Barthwell to name a few.
Langston Hughes wrote an article about the Gotham Hotel in Ebony magazine 1945. In the article he told of "a kind of minor miracle" occurring in Detroit whereby the elegant and well ran Gotham was owned, managed, and staffed by blacks.