Michigan Central Station in Detroit, Michigan, USA was opened in 1913 and was once the tallest railway station in the world. It was the main passenger terminal for Detroit’s rail network however as it was away from Downtown, it always struggled and the last Amtrak train departed in 1988.
In the home of the American automobile industry and with the growing dependence on travel by car, the building was a vision for public transport in Michigan. It was a hub for interurban and streetcar routes. At one stage at the beginning of World War I over 200 trains served the Michigan Central Station each day with 3000 people working onsite. During the second World War, the station saw a lot of military traffic and freight use.
One of the main problems with the station was that it was located outside the main downtown Detroit area near the Ambassador Bridge. While only 1.2km (.75 miles) away, the distance was still seen as a major issue. The initial idea had been that if the station was placed in the area, development would quickly follow. The Great Depression of the 1920s put an end to this and very quickly, getting to and from the station to anywhere in Detroit became a problem.
Eventually, amid declining passenger numbers, the owners tried to sell the station and in 1967, the restaurant, shops and main entrance were closed as they were deemed to be not financially viable. Even when Amtrak took over in 1971 and spent a considerable amount on renovation, things didn’t get a lot better and eventually the station was closed and left abandoned. A new station opened several miles away in 1994.
Michigan Central Station is just one of the many abandoned buildings in Detroit. The city suffered greatly following the economic downturn of the mid 2000s, with buildings such as Cass Technical High School and the Hotel Charlevoix falling into disuse. Abandoned buildings became a massive problem in the city with efforts now being made to re-purpose or demolish many of them.
Many suggested uses for the derelict Michigan Central Station include turning it into a casino and the headquarters of the Detroit Police however nothing has come to fruition as yet. It remains in its abandoned state and has become a favourite among America’s urban explorers. It was bought by the Ford Motor Company in 2018 with plans being drawn up to redevelop the area.
The area around Michigan Central Station has attracted crime and anti-social behaviour. A number of the Detroit’s homeless people sleep in the abandoned train station and despite efforts of the police department to keep people out of the building, mainly due to the fact that internal fittings may be dangerous given its time lying derelict, they continue to return.
The following is a fantastic extract about the station from a 2010 article in the New York Times –
The last train pulled away more than 20 years ago from Michigan Central Station, one of thousands of “see-through” buildings here, empty shells from more auspicious times.
Many of the blighted buildings stay up simply because they are too expensive to tear down. Yet Michigan Central Station is in a class of its own. Some city officials consider it among the ugliest behemoths to pockmark Detroit and have ordered its demolition, but others see it as the industrial age’s most gracious relic, a Beaux Arts gem turned gothic from neglect but steeped in haunting beauty.
Since the City Council voted last year to demolish the depot, the building has been granted a reprieve of sorts thanks to more urgent issues confronting the city, including a $400 million budget deficit and a lawsuit to halt the tear down (citing the station’s historic landmark status). Further, several council members, elected since the vote, do not share the previous Council’s enthusiasm for land clearing.
Now preservationists, business owners, state leaders and community activists are taking what feels like a last stab at saving the 97-year-old building before it goes the way of New York’s Pennsylvania Station or, more locally, Tiger Stadium and countless other pieces of old Detroit that have fallen to the wrecking ball in recent years.
Among the recent proposals have been to turn the cavernous brick, steel and stone facade into an extreme sports castle; a casino; a hotel and office park; a fish hatchery and aquarium; an amphitheater; or a railway station again, with high-speed trains.
Having lost nearly a million people in the last 60 years, Detroit has a backlog of thousands of empty office buildings, theaters, houses and hotels. Downtown alone, more than 200 abandoned buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places. Most are examples of the Art Deco and neo-Classical styles that were popular before World War II, when Detroit was booming.
As it is, Michigan Central Station, with its 18-story office tower, has been picked to the bare bones by scavengers, who over the years have made off with a treasure-trove of chandeliers and mahogany and marble ornaments.