Having grown up near Windsor, Ontario, I'm quite familiar with the city of Detroit, located just across the river. I have fond memories of slipping across the border as a teenager to catch the odd baseball game at Tiger Stadium (now demolished), or to shop for school clothes at one of the many malls in Detroit's outlying suburbs.
For as long as I can remember, the downtown has been in a state of continuous decline. This has been sped along in recent years by the economic slowdown, which hastened the long, slow collapse of the auto industry, a mainstay of the local economy.
But Detroit is much more than a manufacturing town. What's often forgotten is that it's a city with a long, rich history. It was originally founded by a French officer named Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, way back in 1701. The site was ideal for settlement. Located on the banks of the Detroit River, it was easily accessible by water. And the surrounding farmland was extremely productive.
When you combine Detroit's long history with its relatively recent economic decline, you get a lot of stunning buildings that are currently sitting empty.
Despite its derelict appearance (or perhaps because of it), I really enjoy visiting Detroit's downtown, and try to get there at least once a year to catch a hockey game. A couple weeks ago, we found ourselves sitting in front of the burned out Michigan Central Station, which gives no clue of the crucial role it once played in the city's development, and puzzled over what the grand old building could be.
The only sign consisted of hand-cut letters placed along one of the upper floors that spelled out "Save the Depot." The building's ornate facade certainly suggested an official role, but that's as far as we could get. It wasn't until I got back home, and ran a quick Google search, that I was able to put it together.
Michigan Central was opened in 1913, and at the time was the tallest train station in the world. It remained the city's main passenger rail station until it was closed in 1988. The tower above, whose offices you can now see directly into thanks to the multitude of smashed windows, was once used by railway company officials.
A number of renovation plans have been put forward over the past couple of years, but none have come to fruition. In April 2009, Detroit City Council authorized the building's demolition, but those plans, too, seem to be on hold.
After spending a few minutes in the quiet shadow of Michigan Central Station, we decided to seek happier surroundings at nearby Nemo's sports bar, which boasts of being voted the number 3 sports bar in America by Sports Illustrated magazine. If you're headed to Detroit to catch a game, I'd wholeheartedly recommend Nemo's. It's a classic blue-collar pub with a great atmosphere. To top it off, they offer a direct bus to the game, for a mere $3 a head.
In the end, the visiting L.A. Kings bested the hometown Red Wings by a score of 3-2. As for Detroit, its future remains uncertain, as its main industry continues to shrink. But I'm optimistic. The silent factories, warehouses, and offices that line her downtown streets, many more than a century old, have too much potential to be ignored forever. They're just waiting to be resurrected as studios, galleries, small businesses and homey urban living spaces.
And I'm sure they will -- when the moment is right.
Forgotten Detroit contains a wealth of information on Detroit's abandoned buildings. Click here to visit the site.)
For a haunting, yet beautiful exhibition of abandoned Detroit homes, called "100 Abandoned Houses," click here.
Click here for more information on Nemo's sports bar.