You have found the detroitblog. This is about my wanderings and debaucheries in Detroit, as well as observations, news, commentary and ramblings about the city itself. I love Detroit, even the old Detroit of blight, waste and emptiness. Hockeytown. Motown. I grew up here, had my best times here. It's my town.

Friday, January 30, 2004

News roundup:

The Freep has an article/column on the Madison Lenox Hotel. The building, which the writer refers to as "a vacant, dilapidated former fleabag hotel," is indeed a mess. But the point of restoring and preserving it is that they simply do not design buildings like that anymore. Rarely are buildings designed to be beautiful just for the sake of being beautiful, and most modern architecture simply sucks. Compare the exterior of the Madison and Lenox buildings to the new (and comparably sized) Hilton Garden Inn on Gratiot, and the point becomes clear. The Madison-Lenox is lovely, the Hilton Garden Inn is a nondescript piece of crap.

Then there’s the not-so-surprising news that the city’s grandiose plans for a vast transformation prior to the 2006 Superbowl aren’t going quite according to deadline. Some projects are on time, some are not. Most notable are the delays in the much-hyped restoration of the Book Cadillac.

Certainly not helpful to a Superbowl image is this piece, which notes that there have been 18 murders in Detroit in the past six days. What, is it 1987 again? Kind of reminds me of the old days.

Also along the lines of recreating the past is news of something leaving Detroit for the suburbs: Second City is leaving downtown and moving to freakin' Novi, of all places. Second City was never really all that funny anyway, but having anything - businesses, people, comedy groups, whatever - leave the city to go north of Eight Mile isn't exactly a sign of resurgence in the city.

Monday, January 26, 2004

seven below

Friday night was an evening of errors. Went to see several bands at the Lager House and the Magic Stick, but we kept leaving one bar to go to the other whenever a band came on that I didn’t want to see. Trouble is, I kept mis-timing it when I’d meet people and talk to them, and so I really didn’t see any bands I had set out to see. Went back and forth a couple of times, drinking at each place of course, but each time I arrived at a bar it was just after a band I intended to hear. Soon the night was over, and I had seen nobody. Took a couple of suburban friends who seemed very out of place down there. It made for many awkward moments.

Played hockey on Saturday. The good news is our team played very tight defense, allowing only about nine shots on goal the entire game. The bad news is our goalie let in five of them. Jeez. I think two of them were from the blue line, for cryin' out loud. Despite that we scored five too, and squeaked a point out of the night.

As part of our now-habitual weekend urban exploration, this time we turned to the famous Michigan Central Station, known around here simply as the Train Station. I had peeked in it before, in the late 1980s, when there was no barbed-wire fence around it and anyone could pull a car up to the front door and walk in. Back then, every time I did that the place was crawling with bums and derelicts. It was almost like an occupied flophouse every time I went by, so I never explored it too thoroughly, which is ironic, since it is probably the most explored ruin in Detroit, even by those who never really explore abandoned structures in the city. Also, back then, unlike now, it seemed those structures would remain open, in place, forever, so there was never any hurry. Who knew that Detroit would start supposedly coming back to life (well, sort of), and the city would start rehabbing or tearing down (well, sort of ) a lot of the old magnificent structures in the city? They'd always been there, all my life, empty and forgotten.

Early Sunday morning the temperature in Detroit was –7 degrees, with a wind chill even colder. Not the best conditions for exploring open-air structures. Nevertheless, we plowed on. We parked a fair distance from the structure, near a church that was in the midst of a raucous Sunday service audible from outside, and began examining the outside of the Train Station on foot, trying to find a way in. Several years back they put a fence up (they being either the owner or the city), strung barbed wire atop it and for good measure laced a coil of razor wire all around it. I figured out several ways around the razor wire, but each one would’ve presented problems in getting out. We finally found an indirect route in, one that led us through the very dark and nerve-wracking basement.

First thing I encountered was a frozen dead cat, eyes open, looking vaguely in my direction. The next thing was a flooded basement, with 5-foot thick ice. Finally we found our way up, and behold! We were in the splendor of the waiting room. There's vandalism everywhere - graffiti, bullet holes, paint ball splotches, shattered marble walls, giant walk-through holes in the plaster walls and not a single window left intact, inside or out. All this in addition to the effects of open windows and indoor weather year-round, which causes peeling paint, rippling floors, rotting wood and rusting iron stairs.

We did the usual floor-by-floor exploration, but this time the cold temperature and bitter wind chill were working against us. Despite each of us having two pairs of socks and gloves on, hats, and four layers of sweaters and shirts, we started showing weird symptoms of near-hypothermia, such as involuntary shaking. Got to the snowy roof, carefully made our way around the slippery ledges, took photos, looked at the skyline, then went back down. We somehow forgot how to get out the way we came in, so after being lost for a while we finally had to run out the front door in broad daylight (a problem because the city now threatens to prosecute trespassers), trudge our way around the building in the deep snow, and slip through a gap in the fence. On the way back to the car a man sitting in his car began taking our picture as we walked. We didn’t much care for that, and left quickly. It's now 24 hours later, and I still can't warm up.

Monday, January 19, 2004

A whole lotta nothin'

Went barhopping downtown Friday after practicing with my band, but my heart wasn't in it. The weather in Detroit has alternated between absolutely freezing to relatively mild but with heavy snow showers. Either way it makes going out quite a chore, and Friday night was no exception. Stopped a few places, ate, hung out, etc., but nothing really got going. After a few consecutive weeks of bitter cold weather, staying inside starts outweighing the desire to go out. I'm in one of those phases right now. It's more interesting to have people come over than to go out nowadays.

Saturday I got hit in the wrist with a puck during our hockey game, thought it was broken. It managed to strike me in the small area between the protection of the elbow pad and the glove. Luckily it's merely bruised and stiff. We won the game.

On Sunday we returned to the scene of last week's injury, a building on Woodward, part of Merchant's Row that's being gutted and refurbished to make way for something or other. This time we were acutely aware of the jagged shard of glass that scalped my friend last week, and we very carefully maneuvered our way into a 2-foot by 2-foot hole in the display window glass that's hidden from public view by window-covers, concrete barricades, fencing and construction equipment. But the small store we got into, which in its last incarnation was a beauty shop, didn't provide access to the rest of the building. For all the crawling, glass breaking, squatting and fence climbing, not to mention hospital-going, we were stuck in a nondescript salon. The only thing of note was a leftover, old-time-looking shoes sign way back in what had become the storage area.

After all that effort was capped off by disappointment, we had little time to go scouting for a new building to get into. Instead, I had heard that the once luxurious and now decimated Lee Plaza was wide open, thanks to the cinder blocks on one of the windows collapsing to the street, leaving a gaping hole. When we had gotten into it a few months back, we had to climb through a 20-inch diameter hole in those bricks, working our way past thick screen and pointy metal edges, literally burrowing our way in horizontally. Now all we had to do was step up and climb in. So we went back for a revisit, this time with a better quality digital camera.

Inside it was pretty much the same as before, except that snow had entered every room of the windowless building. We made our way to the roof, climbed a metal ladder and took in a view of snowy West Side houses.

The winds were howling through the building at 40 miles per hour, creating these vortexes of -10 windchill in the hallways and in the rooms. Our skin was cracking, and my hands were so stiff I couldn't take pictures properly; a lot of them came out blurred from the shivering. In addition, I had torn my pants climbing a fence earlier in the day, and so I had a gaping hole in my pantleg in which wind and snow kept blowing. We didn't stay long.

On our way down, near the 10th floor, we heard a door slam, and a series of shuffling noises that suggested we weren't alone. We turned off our flashlights and stood motionless in the darkness of the stairwell. More noises. We couldn't tell if it was a person, or just various wind-caused noises. It sounded too much like walking, and deliberate door opening and closing, to be wind. Finally we just charged ahead, hoping they'd be more scared of us than we were of them. Regardless, we didn't encounter anyone.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

It's been a bad week for building preservation and rehabilitation in Detroit. The Book Cadillac Hotel renovation project is again stalled, and the Ilitches are in the final stages of trying to get the Maidson Lenox Hotel torn down to create a shimmering new parking lot.
Update: The Detroit Historic District Commission voted against the demolition. It may mean nothing in the end, but at least they didn't rubber stamp the Ilitches attempt to do away with the building.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

I'm surprised we don't see more stories like this (From Click on Detroit.com):

A local student is recovering from injuries after he was apparently attacked by a pack of wild dogs on Monday morning, Local 4 reported.
Brian Nelson, 15, encountered the strays while walking in the area of Schaefer and Keal streets on Detroit's west side.
The dogs attacked Nelson, leaving his legs bloodied with bite marks, his pants ripped and his jacket shredded, Local 4 reported.
"They clamped on to my left leg and it was a real excruciating pain that I never felt before in my life," said Nelson. "It felt like gunshots actually hitting my legs, like knives were just getting put in my legs and twisted all around."
Nelson told Local 4 that he hit the strays with his book bag to try to fight them off, but when that didn't work, he clenched onto a fence, desperately trying to stay on his feet.
"I figured if I fell to the ground, then the dogs would have a way to get to my face and that's what I didn't want to happen," said Nelson.
The dogs eventually scattered when a car pulled up to help the teen, Local 4 reported.
Authorities believe the dogs later regrouped to attack two other people, including a woman who was taking her trash outside.

In the past few months I've run into no less than a dozen different packs of wild dogs in various parts of the city, some more menacing than others. In fact, a pack hangs out near the old Train Station, making it difficult for us to get in there and explore. But it's not only in the more rundown areas; I saw a pack of them in early fall calmly lounging on the front lawn of a mansion near the Boston-Edison District.
After posting this, I found this photo I took last summer of stray dogs having a nonchalant morning on someone's lawn off Third Street somewhere near Highland Park. They sort of charged me after I snapped this photo. One of them seems like he might have a collar, but the rest are clearly not anybody's pets.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Well, we finally ran into trouble in our urban explorations. I won't yet be specific about where it happened, but by B&E partner got himself wedged in a small space in order to access a building, but apparently turned his head awkwardly and drove it into a giant shard of broken glass hanging from its frame, cutting a 3/4 inch wide gash in his head, pretty much down to the skull. He calmly emerged and told me he may have cut himself, I looked and saw a flap of skin dangling down from his forehead down to his face. No exaggeration. Blood stream beginning. Calmly I drove him to Henry Ford Hospital, and we waited and waited and waited for him to get treatment. He eventually got 20 sutures, and got out eight hours after arriving. Not the way we planned to spend the day. Despite the pain, he was ready to get back on the horse. "If I'm gonna have a scar for the rest of my life, I'm gonna get in that building," he said shortly after discharge.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

No posts lately. I've got a bad cold, again, and it's been freezing in D-town lately, so I haven't left the apartment much. More to come soon, especially this weekend.

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