After having been bummed out at the invasion of faith healing and quackery in my hometown newspaper I came to something that bummed me out even more. Most readers here have probably never heard of the Michigan Central Station train depot. Suffice it to say that it is a huge train station that was, in its heyday at least, every bit as impressive as Grand Central Station in New York or Union Station in Chicago. Indeed, it’s not for nothing that the Michigan Central Station was likened to “Michigan’s Ellis Island,” as it was frequently the first thing in Detroit that new arrivals saw, as this article that appeared in the same issue of the Free Press as the faith healing and detox stories describes:
Generations of Detroiters arrived at the Michigan Central Station in southwest Detroit: African Americans from the Deep South; Poles, Romanians and Hungarians from Eastern Europe; Lebanese and Syrians from the Middle East.
The depot’s once-grand lobby, built in 1913, was their first glimpse of Detroit, a sure sign that their lives had changed forever. The empty, elegant ruin once hummed with people who walked on marble floors under gold-plated chandeliers. This is sullied but sacred ground.
“It’s our Ellis Island,” said Shaun Nethercott, who lives a mile from the depot and is the founder and executive director of Matrix Theatre Co. on Bagley.
Now, in its desolation, the depot has become a tourist magnet, attracting thousands of photographers. Is it poverty porn that draws them, or a real thirst to understand?
I’d say it’s probably both. In the more than twenty years since the Michigan Central Station closed, the building has deteriorated to, in essence, urban ruins. Thanks to politics and neglect, the once beautiful building is now a disintegrating shell stripped to the bone by looters and vandals, its wall defaced by decades of graffiti. Both options, renovation and restoration or demolition, have thus far been too expensive and/or too politically difficult, and now it’s a blight that threatens the renaissance of the surrounding neighborhood, as this companion story shows, along with this brief video:
Compare these photos, along with an interactive exterior and interior photoshow, taken recently, to the grandeur revealed in these photos from 1982 and these old postcards. Once, Michigan Central was a bustling train station. Now it’s nothing more than the most impressive and at the same time sad example of what has been termed The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit or Forgotten Detroit. It also serves as a reminder of how fast nature, neglect, and the malign intent of looters can destroy a once awesome structure.
Still, I like to have some hope. After all, look at these pictures of the historic Book-Cadillac Hotel, which show it to have been in almost as bad a shape as Michigan Central Station. The Book Cadillac was underwent a $200 million renovation and reopened last year. It is now a thing of beauty. I only hope it can make enough of a profit not to return to ruin.