The Demolition of the J.L. Hudson building in Detroit

December 6, 2008

Hudson Implosion 2

Hudson Implosion 2, photo by ExcuseMySarcasm.

I had a post mapped out in my head that started out “When I was a little boy, my grandma used to take me down to Hudsons in Detroit on Saturday…”

I realized I couldn’t find the link to the site I found last year with all the photos of Hudson’s in its glory, so that post will have to wait for another day. Besides, this isn’t that kind of a photo…

With the press of a button at 5:47 PM on October 24, 1998, Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer dropped the J.L. Hudson Department Store from his city’s skyline and into the history books and record books.

The above from a detailed page on the demolition of J.L. Hudson Department Store CDI (the company that performed the demolition). It understandably touts their work, explaining that at 439 feet tall and 2.2 million square feet, Hudson was both the tallest and the largest single building ever imploded.

Hudson’s Implosion at the Fabulous Ruins of Detroit tells the tale the best (with photos). I know it’s cheating to skip to the end and post that, but after watching a video of the implosion and hearing the cheers, I was very moved by it, especially given what has happened in Detroit and Michigan in the decade since and appears to be continuing:

The cheering had stopped as the immense reality of the event sobered all who viewed it. An emptiness followed and the guilt of our cheers weighed upon us.

The choking clouds dissipated and a ghastly scene was revealed. An inch of dust covered everything for blocks around and there, in the midst of it all, lay the smoldering and shattered heart of 20th Century downtown Detroit.

For more photos (and to see the above larger) check out ExcuseMySarcasm’s Hudson Explosion slideshow and also the Hudson’s Detroit slideshow on Flickr which also contains some pics of the Hudson car and this photo by Paul Hitz of the space where Hudson’s used to be where he suggests that a park or something would be nice where the Hudsons building used to be.

Here’s a video with a good view of the charges going off (this person has a number more too!), another video from across the river in Windsor and a third titled “Detroit Hope” showing Hudson’s rising like a phoenix.

18 Responses to “The Demolition of the J.L. Hudson building in Detroit”

  1. Ratty Says:

    It was a sad day when this happened. I remember when downtown Detroit was so full of life, but now so many places have been torn down in this same way.

  2. Jody Says:

    I’m curious, what did the space become?

  3. farlane Says:

    The space became this … space:

    Detroit

  4. Jody Says:

    What is that? A parking garage?

  5. farlane Says:

    It’s an empty lot.

  6. Jody Says:

    That’s just sad when a piece of history gets destroyed and nothing good comes of it.

  7. michpics Says:

    Yes, it definitely is a shame.

    I didn’t follow the news at the time, but it’s my impression that the building was in terrible shape when it was demolished.

    • Tyler Says:

      Hudson’s was in terrible shape due to years of neglect, but was structurally sound and in absolutely no danger of collapse. It was one of the most senseless demolitions of a historic structure since Penn Station, Richfield Tower, and Singer Building were obliterated. The current site, a dreary empty space with 955-spots of underground parking, will someday be redeveloped with a new structure. However, the area will never reattain its former class-that is gone forever.

  8. farlane Says:

    Interesting account on the demolition of Hudsons in Disappeared Detroit from Lost magazine.

  9. Peter Says:

    I was one of those whose “Grandma took me to Hudson’s in Detroit at Christmas”.

    It was a part of our family Christmas tradition when growing up. To a young boy, the place was magical.

    Hudson’s represented one of the best cities in the United States at the time. We’re left to wonder now: what the heck happened?

  10. Lee Says:

    I sense that almost as soon as the dust settled from the demolition, they realized the gravity of what they had just done. Such a shame to lose great buildings and places with so many memories. The only way they could put a positive end on it is to now get a world class architect like Norman Foster or someone to deign an amazing new addition to Detroit’s skyline to go on the Hudson’s site.

  11. farlane Says:

    I get that sense too Lee. It’s like someone with a messy house starting to clean it up by throwing away old photo albums that are lying on the floor rather than trying to pick things up and put them away.

  12. Timothy Says:

    While I appreciate the many who have expressed the sentiment of, more or less, “what a shame,” we cannot fight reality. Who would ever have restored this building? Answer: no one. How much would such a restoration have cost? Answer: way too much.

    Better to come down then to sit, decaying and crumbling, reminding of Detroit’s glorious past and depressing current state.

    I’m glad it was torn down.


  13. I feel that was not the right choice
    detroit is worth restoring . Why tear these structures down an not put another building there thats plain stupid . Detroit could have one of the most beautiful skylines in the world if people here stop being scared of change detroit need skyscrapers period this is a city not the country we make chicago look bad…… Start by completing the 81 story book tower. That one building would have an affect on detroit skyline it would draw people to c it feel in these vacant downtown lots an i gaurantee people would come to the city just to c whats going on not to mention the investers that would be interested ! Think about it. Please do somthing for my city before pass ive been in detroit all my life im 44 yrs old an the city still looks the same its very sad!


  14. [...] Wikipedia’s Hudson’s entry relates that was founded in 1881 at 1200 Woodward Avenue by Joseph L. Hudson. The store operated for 102 years at that location and also opened a number of branches across the region. After closing the downtown store on January 17, 1984, the company merged into the Dayton Hudson Corp. On October 24, 1998 to make room for Ford Field, the 439 foot tall, 2.2 million square feet J.L. Hudson Building became the world’s largest building to be imploded. [...]


  15. [...] in Pictures is a surge of visits to the post about Holiday Shopping at J.L. Hudson in Detroit. Hudson’s was demolished in 1998, but the store remains a cherished memory for [...]


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