Michigan Avenue, Detroit

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I admit, half the fun of selecting Detroit for the start and end point of this long-weekend vacation was telling people where I was going. Every time, it was immediately met with the same response: “Why?”

Detroit definitely has its problems, but I tend to like places that don’t have that “made-to-be-perfect” feel.  Motown may have been that way a few decades ago, but these days much of the city has fallen into disrepair.  Such neighborhoods are not good to live in, but they are fun to photograph.

I arrived in the Detroit area late on a Wednesday evening.  All I could do was rent my car, check into my hotel, and rest up for the day ahead.  Once Day 1 officially began, I headed into town.  Instead of sticking to freeways the entire way, I hopped off of I-94 and onto US 12, Michigan Avenue.  It’s a thoroughfare which, I’m sure at one time, provided a grand entrance to the Motor City.  You’ll need to watch the Drivelapse video at the bottom of the page to get an appreciation for the entire drive.

I made just one stop along the road, to check out Roosevelt Park…

… along with the abandoned buildings (or at best, sketchy businesses) that line the avenue…

… and a whole lot of rust.  But the most impressive sight along this stretch of road stands behind Roosevelt Park, on the south side of the road.

This is the Michigan Central Depot.  It went into service in 1913, and throughout the next 75 years, went through boom times and years of struggle to stay afloat.  The tough years finally won the battle, with the final train departing in 1988.  After that train left, it was locked up for good, but vandals had no trouble finding their way inside.  Its marble, brass, and plaster were vandalized and stolen.  Water poured in.  Windows were shattered.  Hope was slowly fading for any chance at a renaissance.

The Depot was purchased in 1996 by businessman Matty Moroun, owner of CenTra, Inc., the company which controls the Ambassador Bridge (which connects Detroit with Windsor, Canada).  As of 2011, He’s in a battle to build a second span on the bridge, and that’s why some believe he’s shown a sudden interest in cleaning up the old depot — to give himself some good PR.  No matter what the motive, it’s good that work has now begun to restore, or at least clean up, the old building.  Work began in the spring of 2011, and the Moroun family thinks it will take 18 months, or even 2 years, before the initial cleanup is done, and plans for its future use can be developed.

It’s a good thing that there were workers at the site, and plenty of tall fencing in place, or else I would have been tempted to sneak in and see the inside of this grand old building for myself.  Check out some of the photos taken by others who made it inside, before the renovation work began, at seedetroit.com.

I don’t want to give the impression that Michigan Avenue, or Detroit in general, is a hopeless wasteland.  There are patches of promise, where businesses are still open.  This is the Corktown neighborhood, only about a mile away from the city center.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s the time-lapse, dash-cam video of the drive from the airport area into town via I-94, then Michigan Avenue (US-12):

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