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Old 07-12-2011, 10:30 AM   #1
seraph_rapture OP
Joined: Jan 2011
Oddometer: 4
A ride through Detroit

While Iíve never claimed to be a photographer, I have always wanted to have the skill and knowledge to capture things on film. A link to all my pictures is found at the bottom.
During my recent trip to Duluth I was disappointed in myself for not bringing the right equipment and the skill necessary to use it, as its impossible to know when and if Iíll ever make it back there to have another opportunity. So in the spirit of learning a bit more and exploring, I decided to pack up the bike and camera and head off to Detroit to photograph some abandoned buildings.
I did a little research beforehand in order to avoid riding around the city aimlessly looking for things, and came up with a list of 6 places that were mentioned online for being especially photogenic and decrepit. To be honest you could throw a stone in any direction and ride off in that direction to find razed neighborhoods and poverty, but these are some of the most famous vacant buildings I found in my research.
  • Michigan Central Station Ė 2405 W Vernor Highway
  • St Margaret Mary School Ė 5075 Lemay
  • David Broderick Tower Ė 10 Witherell St
  • United Artists Theatre Ė 150 Bagley St
  • Packard Plant Ė 1580 E Grand Boulevard
  • Lee Plaza Hotel -2240 W Grand Boulevard
To prune the list a bit for you, let me say that David Broderick Tower and United Artists Theatre are inaccessible. They still stand, but are in the middle of downtown and have little more to show than boarded windows. I rode by them, but there wasnít anything to photograph, so I moved on. The last Ė Lee Plaza Hotel Ė is supposed to be especially nice to see. The ballroom photos in particular are very famous, but this last stop is one I didnít make. Let me concentrate then on the places I did visit.

Michigan Central Station Ė Built in 1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad, it operated until Amtrak discontinued services there in 1988. Perhaps the most famous of Detroitís abandoned buildings, the station was built in a slum area with plans for business to spring up alongside it. Unfortunately the Great Depression and the popularization of automobile travel killed these plans slowly. When Amtrak started services in 1971 new hope was given to the building for prosperity and renovations were undertaken, but a decline in passenger traffic caused Amtrak to cease operations. The building closed in 1988 and since has laid in decay.
Barbed wire fence and No Trespassing signs border the building in entirety. While the resourceful may be able to enter, I chose not to risk the misdemeanor or injury. I did take a number of pictures of the building from the outside, which really donít do it justice. The building sits on an entire block and appears to be more than twenty stories high. Iíve been to Grand Central Station in NYC and I imagine that in itís height a traveler using the MCD would have been treated to much the same sights. Trains would have been coal fired then, and passengers would likely have been boy soldiers off to fight in WWI. As I stood in front of the building, trying to capture the moment on film, I thought of those young men and their families; their girlfriends, children and wives, saying their tearful goodbyes and praying for safe return. I wonder just how many of them made it back, and find their way back to the Depot from time to time, remembering just that moment.

St Margaret Mary School Ė Built in 1923, this Catholic school closed its doors in 1970. I couldnít find much in the way of history on this building, so much of this will be my own observation. The building was a bit difficult to find Ė I expected to find it on its own block, but it is settled into a neighborhood surrounded by houses. The windows on the face of the building are all boarded, and a fence surrounds the empty lot (playground?) that is adjacent. I opted not to explore this building not because of barbed wire, but because there were neighbors out on their porches and I didnít know if they would be upset that I was traipsing around their neighborhood. I certainly didnít want them calling the cops. It would seem that if you were willing to risk it entry would be simple enough Ė there is a part in the fence that is bent down so it is obvious that people have traversed that path before. Windows facing the empty lot are low enough that entry would be possible, and are not barricaded.
I canít imagine how it must be, to live in a neighborhood where you are constantly reminded of the dismal state of the city in which you live. For a number of houses on Lemay St the view directly across the street is of the abandoned school. Perhaps this is the nature of those who have made it in Detroit, either by choice or by lack thereof. Put your head down, do what you need to do, and get on with life. Worry about what you can control, and not about what you canít.

Packard Plant Ė Built in 1907, this building was the first reinforced concrete building in the US. The Packard brand was an automobile built for the wealthy, and as such contained many modern (for the time) innovations. The plant continued to turn out new models until the demise of the brand in 1956. Since then the building has fallen into ruin, the victim of numerous fires. Despite having been vacant for more than 50 years, the building still seems reasonably sound, probably a result of its reinforced construction.
The Packard Plant was my first, and only, real opportunity to explore both inside and out. As I arrived I spotted a small group of young adults entering through a doorway, and I knew that at the very least I would be able to get in a bit and explore. No areas of the complex are fenced off, and there seem to be no barriers of any kind. A quick glance as I walked through the hallways, as they were, showed that all the materials that could be stripped and sold for scrap had been taken long ago, circuit breakers contained no wires or fuses, and all the conduit hanging from the ceilings like skeletal fingers was hollow.
What would the world be like, if there were another major automobile manufacturer based in Detroit, a big 4 instead of the big 3? Would things be any different? Perhaps not, given the number of manufacturing facilities closed by GM, Ford, and Chrysler since the economic downturn, but it is a curious thing to ponder. Michigan, but most certainly Detroit, relied so heavily on industry and the automotive process. When these industries moved jobs to other countries and the quality of our cars and trucks was so poor as to make them undesirable, the result was blight. I donít pretend to be an economist, but you would have to be blind not to recognize the effects of overspecialization with a casual drive through Corktown. So many of the homes for sale are boarded up, burned up, or simply waiting in line for their turn.

The contrast between the grand nature of the casinos, Tigers Stadium, Ford Field and the like downtown and the surrounding areas of blight were staggering. The areas of squalor circling downtown seem to be edging in, as if to swallow it all up. The streets were empty this Sunday, I saw no more people outside and no more traffic than I would have in Ypsilanti. The city really did look apocalyptic and post bombing. I never felt particularly unsafe while there, but I always did feel like there was something lurking around the corner, especially when exploring the Packard Plant. I canít explain what it was really, but I felt like an interloper, and like the city didnít want me there. A wounded bear backed into its cave, waiting. All the pictures from todayís trip can be found here -
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Old 07-14-2011, 02:26 PM   #2
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Well that was just downright cool. Thanks for sharing
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Old 07-14-2011, 03:45 PM   #3
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I have been by the Packard plant many times from visiting United Paint which is literally across the street. Its a shame something is not being done with that building.
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Old 07-14-2011, 06:05 PM   #4
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thanks for the my masters at WSU in early 70s. was still a living organism at that time....
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Old 07-16-2011, 06:48 AM   #5
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Thanks all. Happy to share one of the things that is in my backyard that I was long in exploring.
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Old 07-16-2011, 04:49 PM   #6
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Very cool. It makes me wonder what kind of shape those buildings might still be in without the rampant vandalism.
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Old 07-17-2011, 03:04 AM   #7
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Great pics Seraph,
you captured the 'feeling' pretty well, especially the black n whites
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Old 07-17-2011, 08:36 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by MemphisR32 View Post
Its a shame something is not being done with that building.
The amount of lead paint and asbestos will make it cost prohibitive to ever use again. Probably why it is still standing, they will have to abate that crap before they can tear it down.

just sayin

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Old 07-18-2011, 08:19 AM   #9
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its just sad how people think that it's ok to go into someone elses' property and steal and trash it, just because it's not occupied. it still belongs to somebody. oh well, just part of its history, i suppose.
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