The other day I noticed a big spike on one of the most popular posts of all time on Michigan in Pictures, slumpy … the William Livingstone Mansion in Detroit’s Brush Park which tells the story of the fall of this iconic ruin in 2007.
The culprit for this increased traffic was Haunting Images Of Detroit’s Decline by Nicole Hardesty on Huffington Post, a photographic tour of Detroit’s ruins produced in response news that:
…census data indicates Detroit’s population dropped by a startling 25 percent in the last decade, from 951,270 in 2000 to 713,777 last year. That’s a 60 percent decline from its 1950 peak population — 1.85 million — and the lowest count since the 1910 Census put the then-promising Motor City’s population at 285,704.
Definitely shocking numbers, and like many media outlets, they chose to drive the numbers home with pictures of some of the many ruins of the Motor City: United Artists Theater, Michigan Central Station (MCS), the Whitney Building and (of course) Slumpy. The images are drawn from the new photographic book Ruins of Detroit from Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre. The photographs are no doubt gorgeous and there’s no denying that ruin photography provides some powerful commentary on what has happened to Detroit in the last 40 years.
In looking at them, however, I was struck by the thought that seems to always come to mind when I research and write about Slumpy, Michigan Central Station and even the ruin in redevelopment where my office is, the former Traverse City State Hospital. That thought is “Am I adding something positive to the discussion and struggle to redefine Michigan or am I just exploiting the pain behind these ruins?”
There’s two really excellent essays that look at roughly two sides of the ruin porn/ruin photography coin. The first is Detroitism by John Patrick Leary in Guernica Magazine. It’s a probing and critical look at ruin porn that is well worth your consideration that asks “What does ‘ruin porn’ tell us about the Motor City, ourselves, other American cities?” The second is a thoughtful response to Leary’s article On ‘Ruin Porn’ by photographer and historian Ian Ference. Ference takes issue with the assertation that ruin photography cannot help but exploit a city’s misery and takes you through the work of some earlier ruin photographers.
I still don’t know where I come down in this whole debate, but I think that I prefer the work along the lines of Johnny Knoxville to the reporting that he mocks in the opening of his great video about the D. How about you? Add a comment below.
August 11, 2009
Let’s go for a ride, shall we?
Chris Sebok sent me a link to this amazing panoramic walkthrough of Detroit’s Michigan Central Station by Montreal photographer Jean-Pierre Lavoie (part of his Detroit set). It’s an extremely cool walkthrough that you have to see to believe!
NOTE: There is sound on this so turn it down if you’re surfing on the sly!
Check out more on MCS from Michigan in Pictures.
April 10, 2009
On Tuesday the Detroit City Council passed a resolution for expedited demolition of Michigan Central Station alias Michigan Central Depot alias MCS alias Detroit’s largest ruin.
David Kohrman’s Forgotten Detroit has tons of historical photos and a detailed history of Michigan Central Depot that begins:
When the old Michigan Central Depot burned on December 26, 1913 the still unfinished structure off of Michigan Ave. was called into service. Designed by noted hotel architects Warren & Wetmore and engineers Reed and Stem, the MCS was an exceptionally beautiful building. The style of choice was beaux-arts neoclassical. Flanking massive arched windows were pairs of Corinthian columns, a hallmark of the style. Inside the rooms were modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse, particularly the massive main waiting room. With an impressive vaulted ceiling this room was the most imposing in the building.
All Aboard: A Retrospective of the M.C.S. is a fantastic look at Michigan Central Station as it was in 1973 and as it is now. Be sure to check this one out.
Michigan Central Station on Wikipedia notes that the building was designed by the Warren & Wetmore and Reed and Stem firms who also designed New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.
Here’s the Michigan Central Station slideshow on Flickr. In Exposure Detroit, many of the photographers whose work is featured in that slideshow are discussing the city council’s vote and how to save MCS and the Save Michigan Central Station Group.
UPDATE (April 14): Heather Pennington has cool post titled Save Michigan Central Station in which she has some photos and eloquently wonders:
There is much debate on what should be done with this amazing structure. What cannot be debated is the fact that there are countless other structures that are “dangerous, open to the elements, and open to trespassers”. There are so many houses, and former businesses that are abandoned and burned that should be torn down for the safey of the city. The Detroit Fire Department lost one of its own last year when Walter Harris died after the roof of a charred vacant house collapsed on him (read article from Fire Rescue 1 here). Why???
Wouldn’t it cost less than $3.6M (that the city does not have) to demolish vacant and burned homes?
Let’s take some time to clean up the rest of the city; make it safe for all that live, work, and play here. And in the meantime, let’s try to find a reasonable fate for Michigan Central Station.
July 2, 2007
The introduction to Detroit’s Michigan Central Station says the Michigan Central Station was designed by Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem, the firms who were the architects of New York’s Grand Central Station. It opened in 1913, and by the time this 1921 photograph (above) was taken, the Beaux Art ideal had been reached. The unique road configuration leading up to the Michigan Central, as well as the fine ambiance Roosevelt Park contributed to the scene, reveals itself to be absolutely necessary to complete the designers’ vision. (Courtesy of Manning Brothers Historical Photographic Collection)
By 1967 the main waiting room (right, click for larger view) was closed to travelers and used merely for storage; it is difficult to conceive of these splendid benches being relegated to use as a mere shelving system. Hanging on by a thread, the Michigan Central continued to operate without its restaurant or even the main park entrance. (Dave Jordano, Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection)
The photos and captions are reprinted with permission from Detroit’s Michigan Central Station by Kelli B Kavanaugh. In addition to some history on Michigan Central Station and great old photos of the station and activity, the book includes some floorplans of MCS. It’s available from the publisher online at www.arcadiapublishing.com or by calling 888-313-2665.
View other excerpts from Arcadia Publishing’s Michigan books at Michigan in Pictures and also be sure to check out MCS 7.2.7: Transformers co-star Michigan Central Station on Absolute Michigan for more photos and some great videos too!!
October 31, 2006
Chelsea, Michigan holds its 175th Anniversary Celebration June 25-28 with 4 days of events including a parade, youth activities, contests, music and folks in period costumes – family oriented fun.
This is the space where I would normally tell you something about the history of the town, but even the Wikipedia entry for Chelsea, Michigan has almost nothing. The city of Chelsea has little to say. The did have a link to the Washtenaw County guide entry for Chelsea where I learned:
Chelsea was first settled in 1820 by Cyrus Beckwith, along with Elisha and James Congdon.
Elisha Congdon named the community after his hometown of Chelsea, Massachusetts.
The town was literally “put on the map” when the Michigan Central Railroad built a station here in 1850. UPDATE: Searched for the railroad and found a great Chelsea history page.
Today Chelsea is best known as the home of the DaimlerChrysler Proving Ground and of Chelsea Milling Company’s “Jiffy Mix” brand.
Any other facts or links about Chelsea? Share them in the comments!
Jeff says that left to right you’re seeing the Chelsea Train depot (for rent), Jiffy, the Chelsea Clocktower and the Glazier Stove Co. It’s part of his Chelsea & Dexter set (slideshow). Speaking of slideshows, here’s the Chelsea slideshow from the Absolute Michigan pool.
You can check out some photos of the Glazier Stove Company from the Library of Congress.
March 26, 2007
An added plus are his informative captions such as the one for the above: Old Central Station Kalamazoo Michigan. Truck is a 1936 Seagrave City Service Ladder. “Pride of the Department”.
Indeed. View the photo large and you can see that’s true.
August 22, 2006
Today’s photo fits with Absolute Michigan’s latest Michigan Site of the Week: Michigan Historical Markers, a tremendous resource for Michigan history.
The marker reads:
The Union Depot began passenger service for the Michigan Central and Pere Marquette Railroads in 1902. The Detroit architectural firm of Spier and Rohns, which planned many Michigan Central stations, designed the building with Chateauesque conical towers and cut stone arches. The depot closed in 1972. Restauranteur Peter Jubeck bought the building in 1978 and transformed it into an eatery, retaining the quarter-sawn oak interior and installing locally crafted stained glass windows.
You may also want to check out Clara’s Restaurants web site (lots of history on the Lansing and Battle Creek train stations) and Flickr’s Historic Michigan group for lots more rail stations and other history.
December 2, 2013
If there’s a King of Flickr, it’s probably Thomas Hawk. One of his projects is to document the 100 Largest American Cities, and back in June of 2010 he visited Detroit. His massive #11 Detroit, MI slideshow is heavy on the ruin of the Motor City but I think you’ll really appreciate it!
January 2, 2010
Seeing this and other photos prompted me to look back in on TIME Magazine’s Assignment Detroit (?) to see what one of the nation’s largest media outlets was thinking about the future of Michigan’s largest city.
They have been exploring how people in the city are grappling with the profound challenges in Detroit including rising budget deficits in the face of soaring costs, reduced public services, unemployment and also (according to Detroit Mayor Dave Bing) a failure by many to recognize just how serious the situation is. In many ways, these are the same issues that folks in other places in Michigan are dealing with.
One feature that caught my eye and that I really feel offers the kind of thinking that it will take to raise Michigan from its current depths is Can farming save Detroit?. They talk with Detroit businessman and millionaire John Hantz, who envisions:
A large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He’ll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit’s east side. “Out of the gates,” he says, “it’ll be the largest urban farm in the world.”
…But still there’s the problem of what to do with the city’s enormous amount of abandoned land, conservatively estimated at 40 square miles in a sprawling metropolis whose 139-square-mile footprint is easily bigger than San Francisco, Boston, and Manhattan combined. If you let it revert to nature, you abandon all hope of productive use. If you turn it over to parks and recreation, you add costs to an overburdened city government that can’t afford to teach its children, police its streets, or maintain the infrastructure it already has.
Faced with those facts, a growing number of policymakers and urban planners have begun to endorse farming as a solution. Former HUD secretary Henry Cisneros, now chairman of CityView, a private equity firm that invests in urban development, is familiar with Detroit’s land problem. He says he’s in favor of “other uses that engage human beings in their maintenance, such as urban agriculture.” After studying the city’s options at the request of civic leaders, the American Institute of Architects came to this conclusion in a recent report: “Detroit is particularly well suited to become a pioneer in urban agriculture at a commercial scale.”
Can you see the halls of massive ruins like Michigan Central Station, the Packard Plant or any of the countless other abandoned buildings across the state filled with green growth and warm light? Michigan is already a leader in agricultural diversity, producing an amazing array of crops. Rampant unemployment is a huge drain on our public services. Why not try and recover some of what we’re spending everywhere in Michigan by putting folks to work growing food and paying them in part in food?
Definitely check it out and offer your thoughts in the comments.