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, February 27, 2004

The Red Wings just acquired Robert Lang, only the NHL's leading scorer, from Washington for some draft picks and a prospect.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Now Showing

The urban exploration adventures continued this past weekend, as we paid a visit to the United Artists Building on Adams in Grand Circus Park.

The UA, which opened in the late 1920s, was part of a chain of similar theaters across the country. The building is currently famous for having multicolored window paintings that make it probably the prettiest abandoned building in the city.

It was harder than hell getting into that building, perhaps the most difficult building to enter so far. We wound up entering based on a tip from a tagger who explained how people had done it for years. It involved a lot of rather strenuous climbing and dangerous balancing.

Once inside, it was hard to take photos because of the extremely low light levels in the theater itself. I got a few good ones, but some of the best stuff didn’t show up on my digital camera. Once upstairs though, where all the painted windows are, the light was abundant.

The stage had only hints of its former glory, and the main lobby was destroyed. The entrance lobby was still in somewhat nice condition, with large Indian sculptures surrounded by intricate detail, though only one remained intact and on the wall. Beautiful decorative plaster lay strewn about the floor in various sizes and pieces, some several feet long. Ice was everywhere on the lower floors in thick sheets, so water has been flowing through the building for a long time. The roof over the auditorium has gaping holes in the tar, so it’s not surprising that the place has extensive water damage. At one point my friend slipped on a dark sheet of ice and fell hard into a pile of concrete and metal.

We were walking on the 16th floor and my friend tapped me and pointed to a room where shoes were nicely laid out at the door, a bed was visible and it became immediately obvious we were in someone’s home. In almost every building we’ve been in there’s been some evidence of people having lived there at some time or another after the building has closed. But this was the first time we’d seen someone truly make a home of a place, including decorating their room.

I crept up on tiptoe, very slowly, to peek inside, but thankfully found nobody there. The piles of scattered newspapers on the floor were from September-October 1998, so they obviously hadn’t been there in a while.

A closer examination of the scene suggested that it was occupied by two different people at different times. The first seems to have been the person who decorated it nicely, who made a bookshelf for themselves, kept a closet with toiletries such as deodorant, and fashioned a sort of apartment out of it, even setting up a corner with decorative elements near a window with drapes. The second tenant seems to have been a drug addict who lived in filth. Newspapers were strewn about, mixed with bits of food and food wrappers, and jugs of dried something. Other rooms on the same floor were designated trash rooms, with the same mix of food wrappers and newspapers thrown around in giant piles. A pile of receipts showed small quantities of food purchased with food stamps. A note from Detroit Receiving Hospital showed the person was treated for an abscess in the throat. Another letter was from a Wayne County Pre-Trial Diversionary Program.
On the bookshelf was a round cardboard roll, like a cash register receipt roll but larger, with writing all around it. It offers some insight into the person who stayed there. Here is the writing verbatim, strange abbreviations included. It’s a mix of strangely chosen Bible verses and notes to himself:


I beseech you therefore brethren by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service

Resist the enemy Phill 4:13 I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me

(Note: "You'll" was first written, then crossed out as he shifted to first-person)

No weapon formed against you shall prosper Isa 54:17

And be not conformed to this world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.


II Co 10:4

For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;
Cutting down imaginations and every high thing that exalteth itself against God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ

It's fascinating to see what this person sees as his own weaknesses and temptations, based on what the Bible verses refer to. There's clearly some attempt to improve himself, especially with the "NO DOPE" admonitions.

We were able to see the famous window paintings close up. Some of them are marvelously strange. Others are more straightforward, like those put there by those idiots from Wisconsin and California (“Coupe” is the tag one of them plastered all over our town) who got busted last year by a crusading Mike Duggan, then-Wayne County prosecutor. There are few things more irritating than out-of-towners coming to Detroit to shit all over our city. The Metropolitan Building is a prime example of their "work." It irritates me to no end.

As we climbed higher and higher, we kept peeking out the front windows and noticed a number of photographers showing up to take pictures of the building. At one point there were three groups of them arrayed below us in the street. One of them seemed to spot us looking out the window at them and stared back motionless, almost as if not quite believing what he was seeing.

It was when we went to leave that problems arose. It’s often easier to get into someplace than to get out, since it’s often easier to climb up something than it is to climb down. We tried going out the way we came in, but the height suddenly made us nervous, and back in we went. We tried other escape routes, but none worked. So now we were trapped in an abandoned building, after five hours in there with no more drinking water and a considerable thirst.

After some exploration and some calm planning, we found a way out. It was less than ideal, but it beat being trapped in an old building as darkness falls.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

News Roundup:

Yet another 80s-style murder basically right in my stomping grounds:

A 34-year-old man was shot and killed while apparently waiting for a bus on Detroit's east side Monday afternoon.
Police say a car drove by and fired shots at the man in the area of St. Antoine Street near the Brewster housing projects.
The shooting reportedly followed a brief foot chase that happened between two buildings.

Random or not, it’s not helpful, not only to the city’s image but more importantly to the well being of its residents. There's no small amount of mental stress caused by shootings all around you.

But the worst crime event so far this year was the killing of those two very young cops. The funeral was moving, the procession was very solemn and dignified. Two local stations interrupted their afternoon programming to broadcast it live. The killings punctuated an already bad year for shootings.

Not only was the killer cold blooded, in that he shot them, left, then returned to execute them, but he’s Darwinism in action, a person so stupid he’d shoot two police officers after they already had his identification in their hands. And he left it with them after killing them. Unbelieveable.
The city reacted with considerable grief. Everwhere I went people discussed it for days, even out in the northern suburbs. For various reasons — the youth of the officers, the coinciding with the recent spike in shootings, the cold-hearted method in which it was done, the trivial reason for it — these particular shootings struck people harder than other recent police killings.

And obviously, people are freaked out and angry.


It’s hard to know what to say about this:

A Superior Township parks commissioner and his roommate were in Detroit police custody Monday, suspected of vandalizing the Joe Louis fist statue in downtown Detroit and leaving the photos of two slain Detroit police officers on the monument's base.
Police said Monday they were unsure whether the white paint splattered on the sculpture early Monday symbolized racism or some other type of political statement against violence in Detroit.

It’d be a lot funnier if they had painted it blue or pink or something. The race element sort of cancels out the hilarity of standing on Jefferson at 4 a.m. with mops and paint buckets and not being caught except by some cab driver. Not that vandalism is cool or right. The sheer audacity is funny, but the message is incendiary.

Then there’s this progress report on Kwame’s crackdown on liquor stores. An interesting thing buried in the article is that the second-highest number of tickets was issued for expired food. It's not surprising. Go into a liquor store, or even some grocery stores, in the neighborhoods and check out the food on the shelves. More often than not you’ll find a bunch of expired crap that sat through the blackout and its warm temperatures last summer, yet remains on the shelf, often with hilariously bygone expiration dates.

I took several days off work last week, and now there's an enormous amount of catch-up work to be done. Hence the lack of blogging. Also, I do most of my blogging on my work computer, which is infinitely faster than my home PC.

Last Tuesday, to inaugurate my vacation, my friends and I went out for a few beers, and as we drove past the Book Cadillac Hotel we spotted a tall kid hanging out by the fence surrounding the hotel, trying to look casual but looking like he obviously was trying to get into the building. He saw us pass in the car, made a call on his cell phone, and moved about nervously. We drove by once more, which made him flee.

As we pulled up down the block and parked near Lafayette Coney Island, he reappeared and came running over to us and, approaching me, immediately started talking about getting into the Book Cadillac. I must be giving off some vibe nowadays, because why else would he choose me to talk to? He obviously has no way of knowing what I do. Even my friends were baffled by him zeroing in on me. He was young and clearly unprepared – no flashlight, no dust mask, no gloves, nothing safety-oriented. He was nervously excited. I didn’t tell him how to get in but told him if he does make it in he has to reseal the place so it doesn’t get further destroyed. He ambled off. We didn’t see him get in.

I tried to give him the same advice I give anyone who asks about entering these buildings - please don’t smash things inside, and please cover your tracks. Treat the buildings like museums – take pictures, or paper that is left behind, but leave the rest intact and admire it. We got into one building in the fall, and two months later got back in, and a mirror that had covered an entire wall was found smashed on the return visit. That mirror stayed intact for over 20 years after the building closed until some dumbass smashed it for no reason whatsoever. What’s the point? Leave things alone. Intact relics are far more interesting than yet another pile of broken glass on the floor.

Because of this kid, we went back late Wednesday afternoon to try to cover our own tracks, lest some stupid, unprepared kids get an idea to get in the easy way. I don't need some kid getting hurt because I left an easy opening for him that causes him to show up unprepared. In a height of irony, here we were in broad daylight, on a weekday, resealing a building behind us (well, after we had gone back in to look around again.) People drove by and stared. We finished the job and left.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

No reservations

The Statler hotel, which originally opened in 1915, has been closed since 1975. That's now 30 years of being empty, except for the elements intruding slowly, decaying its once grand interior. That three entire decades of uselessness. That means it was last open in Coleman Young's first term. That was six presidents ago, including a couple of two-termers. That's back when Detroit had nearly twice the population it now has. In other words, a lifetime ago.

The Statler's another hotel we've been checking out every week, looking for an opportunity to suddenly appear for us to get in, but nothing ever suggested an easy way inside.

The city was doing work a few months back, reportedly removing hazardous materials, but they resealed the place pretty good, and despite numerous scouting trips in the past during which we thoroughly checked every possible entrance, it was impossible to enter. But, using similar methods to the ones we used to get into the Book Cadillac Hotel, we managed, with a fair amount of physical difficulty, to get ourselves in. Most of the floors had been completely gutted, and each pretty much resembled the one before it. Obviously, this left few artifacts, such as paper evidence that this had once been a hotel.The lowest floors were the only ones with a few distinctive features, such as leftover drapes, or a bunch of metal lockers stashed in rooms with newspapers from 1975 inside them. Apart from that, and a Class of 1975 sticker stuck to a locker door (with the strange admonition to "Do It!"), there were no goodies inside.

One of the lower floors had an eerie red glow to it, the result of light filtering in through the cheap red awnings and window coverings put up by Coleman Young in 1988 to make the Statler look occupied to visitors to the North American International Auto Show. The ballroom was a disaster, with all sorts of pipes and heating equipment dangling from the ceiling.

The one blessing of exploring abandoned buildings in sub-freezing temperatures is that the musty, moldy odors that pervade these places are kept to a minimum in the winter. Go by the Statler or the Madison Lenox in the summertime (well, if the Madison Lenox is still there) and you can smell the place a block away. It's the thick smell of wet, rotten wood and plaster, drifting out into the street, carried by the humid air.

One surprising thing about the Statler is how rarely it seems to have been penetrated by explorers. In nearly every other abandoned building downtown taggers have covered most surfaces with graffiti, but apart from the pervasive TURTL written several times on the roof, the walls inside were clean.

One bonus of the break-in is that it afforded a great view of the beautiful window paintings in the United Artists theater across the street. Inside the abandoned and decaying United Artists building, which is the irresponsible side of the Ilitches' property ownership in downtown Detroit, someone went through and painstakingly painted most of the windows with brightly colored designs and icons. It's truly an astonishing sight. I've been on skyscraper rooftops nearly a mile away and have easily spotted the multicolored windows gleaming in the sun. It's one of the most recongizable abandoned "dinosaur" buildings in the city.

We went to the roof, climbed up a couple of iron ladders to get to the highest point of the building, and looked at the downtown skyline for a while. Found a couple of roof trees that are ubiquitous in downtown Detroit, but without the foliage, their out-of-context impact isn't as great as it is in July, when they tower 20 feet above their rooftops. Once again, it was bitterly cold, and once our fingers started seizing up from numbness we headed back down. A few quick peeks at the street outside, and out we went, undetected again.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Wow, it's starting out as abandoned building theme week. I woke up this morning after a weekend of urban exploration and found that the Freep not only has an article about the numerous abandoned skyscrapers in the city, complete with a handy checklist (PDF), but also a peek inside them with a reporter and an inspector from the City of Detroit. Pretty good job.

Then the News gets in on the theme with an article about the city’s latest crackdown on the owners of abandoned buildings.

Friday, February 13, 2004


Goddamned Dominik Hasek. Well, the saga is finally over. And everyone has, in half a week, turned from liking him to being pissed as all hell at him. It’s not just that he quit all of a sudden, but he did so without the doctors telling him he needed to. It was, for a hockey player, a wimpy copout. There’s some speculation that, rather than compete with Cujo for the number one spot, he basically pouted and left. Others point out that he’s done this walk-away-from-responsibility act before.

So all this turmoil, all this disruption, this madness caused in the locker room, the total humiliation of Cujo, all this was for 14 games way back in the early part of the season that nobody remembers now.

I always felt very bad for Cujo. He was totally screwed over by the Wings, and nevertheless acted more professional and dignified than a normal person could be expected to under the circumstances.

Ken Holland’s reasoning in allowing Hasek back is understandable. Hasek is (was) Hasek. He was the best.

And Cujo? Well, he's pretty good, but not that good, at least not as good as he seemed to be a few years back, like when he single-handedly knocked Colorado out of the playoffs when he was with Edmonton in 1998. The Wings play differently in front of him than they do in front of the other two goalies. When your goalie lets in crazy shots, it totally affects the way the team plays offense. If everyone’s got to scramble back into your own zone all the time because you aren’t confident that the goalie will stop shots, then you really don’t take any offensive chances. And then you lose anyway. But I like Cujo and hope he can pull it off. He deserves a Cup.

But now Cujo’s out too, and Manny’s in. I like Manny. Everyone likes Manny. He’s a good guy, and he’s as good a goalie as Joseph. Maybe now’s his big chance. As long as one of them can win. I don’t think I can bear the stress and heartbreak of another early playoff exit.

This is the Book Cadillac reservation sticker we found in some promo room of the hotel. I have a feeling I'll be leaving these all around town soon enough. Save the Book Cadillac, for cryin' out loud!

Spotted this rather irritating article in the Metro Times.

“I would like to propose an idea that I feel would benefit not only the history of Detroit, but also the future of the city,” writes {New Yorker Jennifer} Snyder, who analyzes buying trends and the effectiveness of promotional programs for Ford Motor Co. “What if we were able to organize a tour of the history of Detroit? This tour would be complete with actually viewing the insides of abandoned buildings and leftover structures while being told the history of what you were seeing. A fee could be charged for this tour, and all the proceeds could go directly to a fund that assists in the restoration of Detroit.”

Aww, how cute. Out-of-town girl wants to show the ignorant locals what they don't understand is right under their noses. Not that a lot of locals were actually in these buildings when they were open and are well aware of what Snyder is trying to enlighten us rubes with. Or that others have spent time studying these buildings after they closed.

But the biggest problem is that they're not empty, cavernous spaces. They're very dangerous places with constantly falling debris, asbestos visibly floating in the air, jagged shards of metal and glass sticking out everywhere, floors collapsing under your feet, bricks and concrete falling from walls, and stairs splitting in two as you walk on them. They're boarded up for a reason. I cannot even begin to imagine the liability issues of taking people on some walking tour of these buildings. What would the waiver form look like? It'd be 10 pages long.

But then she goes on to reveal herself as another self-important out-of-towner:

Jennifer Snyder, a recent transplant to our fair burg, wrote to News Hits with a confession. Drawn to Detroit from New York City to be with her boyfriend, she came thinking deep down that “Detroit is not a city you live in, but a city you run from — after all, people have been doing it for years now. Detroit has nothing to offer as far as culture, diversity, or any other amenities” typically found in most big cities.

Whoa, hold on a minute there. Detroit may not be grand-old-wonderful-super New York City, but just because you are ignorant of the things this town has to offer "as far as culture, diversity or any other amenities," doesn't mean those things are not here, you dizzy simp. And some of us are here for those very reasons, rather than because we follow some boyfriend around.

You’d think the stupidity would end there. It doesn’t. She goes on:

A fee could be charged for this tour, and all the proceeds could go directly to a fund that assists in the restoration of Detroit.

OK, let’s start with the basics. These buildings are, for the most part, privately owned by wealthy people who have plenty of money (the Ilitches, for example) but refuse to fix them up. So rather than force them to be good caretakers, Snyder proposes we give Ilitch even more money to perhaps convince him to do the right thing for the city. Perhaps after that an out-of-towner could organize a Detroit crack house fund, and pay already wealthy drug dealers a little more money in the hopes that they’ll see our point of view and stop selling dope. Brilliant!

And who administers this fund, and oversees the distribution of its assets? The city? Ilitch? Some silly chick from New York?

Please, somebody give this girl something constructive to do here in Detroit before she starts shooting off more of her “ideas” to the local weeklies.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

More Detroit Police response to the recent spike in shootings:

The message from the police chief was simple.
"We know who you are, we know where you are, we are coming to get you."
Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings was talking about those responsible for the alarming string of killings and shootings recently in Detroit.
"We are going to do everything we can to stop the recent spike," Bully-Cummings said Sunday.
Part of the effort is a crackdown Bully-Cummings called Project Crusaders.
The chief announced the plan at a news conference Sunday. She said it's a joint effort to flush criminals from the most maligned neighborhoods in the city.
"We are going to aggressively target areas of the city," she said.
When police have cleaned up one area, they will move to the next.

OK, so the police know who the criminals are, where they are, and are now, suddenly, deciding that they’re going to go after them. Enough is enough! The police will now crack down on criminals. Though, one has to wonder, why not go after them before they shot people, if as the chief says, they knew who they were and where they were staying? Perhaps they were too busy chasing hookers.

Of course, they once again took great pains to stress that these are not random killings.

The police chief couldn't attribute the late January increase to any particular thing but stressed that the crimes have not been random.
"These are people that by and large know each other," she said.

Well, maybe not always.

A day after Detroit officials reassured the public that most of the recent slayings in the city were not random, a 28-year-old woman was fatally shot in an ambush that her family and friends believe was random.

Um, what was that you were saying, chief?

Monday, February 09, 2004

Number One

I’ve always had a list of the top five abandoned Detroit skyscrapers I want to get into, and as we get into more and more of them, the buildings on the list change. But the number one building, the Book Cadillac Hotel, has always remained at the top of the list, not only because it is gorgeous on the outside, but also because it has been so utterly difficult to get into. We’ve cruised by it and done walk-arounds nearly every weekend, hoping to find a loose door or something, but never had luck. This had gone on for more than a year. Then came word of its renovation, and all sorts of construction equipment and workers started going through the building at all hours, which made it even harder to penetrate. Plus, they ringed it with two layers of fencing. It started to look like it wouldn’t happen at all.

This weekend, however, using newer, more advanced methods untried by us in the past, we finally made it in. It was not easy, and I was ecstatic.
The reception area wasn’t that bad, by Detroit abandoned building standards, but the grand ballroom on the third floor (pictured at right, and below) looked like an explosion occured in there. Everything was pulverized into a thick layer of power on the floor, with jagged debris strewn everywhere. It is the perfect summation, an apt symbol, of the total decay of what had been Detroit's 20th century grandeur and elegance.

We did our usual thorough, floor-by-floor exploration. Almost all the furniture had been auctioned off when the hotel closed, so there wasn't much to see. A few rooms had unusual features, including several on a mid-level floor with posters on the wall with a Persian motif. But the higher we climbed, the more the paint had peeled, the ceilings had caved in, the walls had collapsed.

I managed to find a ton of absolutely cool, nearly mint condition memorabilia in the hotel, including plastic bags with “book cadillac hotel” written on them, Detroit travel guides from the early 80s, staff ID cards, and stickers announcing that your reservation will be held until 6 p.m. I got an excessive number of these, which I plan to start sticking in bathrooms and on poles all over town.

The roof was a little scary, because not only does part of it have a mere one-foot ledge, but the roof itself was coated in a thick layer of very slippery ice. The view was incredible, as it always is after spending three hours trudging wearily up 33 flights of stairs. But again, the winds were fierce, the wind chill was searing, and we could stand only a few moments on top of the hotel to soak it all in.
I got as many pictures as I could of the expedition, but the goddamned camera kept freezing in the bitter cold. I’d get one shot off and the camera would stop for a few minutes. I tried storing it under my shirt to warm it up; this worked only so well. Same for storing batteries in my socks.

I’m always more worried about getting out of places than getting in. I can spot who’s around when we’re going in, but when you pop out of an abandoned skyscraper it’s hard to do any pre-scouting. It’s also a very noticeable sight, two guys popping out of a door that’s been closed for decades, or hopping off a roof, or climbing down a wall. I always envision some cop driving by at the very moment of our emergence. There we were, trudging through the snowy streets, with bulging bags in our dirty hands, papers literally flying out into the streets as we scrambled to get back to the car, debating whether to go back and fetch the fallen items or hightail it back to the car to avoid detection. With the sloppy bags and the dusty old work clothes and dirty faces and quick walking we looked like very energetic homeless people. And of course, here comes the dreaded cop driving directly behind us, pretty much in our paper trail. I’m convinced we’re busted. One look at our items would be an obvious giveaway as to where we had just been. Yet, as has happened other times, he turns into an alley, and drives off, leaving us with our bags of goodies and our 200 beat per minute heart rates.

Friday, February 06, 2004

I miss funk nights at detroitcontemporary. I wish they'd bring it back, though it always left me too hungover for Saturday hockey. There was rare funk from Scott's and Brad's record collections, a sheep, art, and girls, as well as beer available at 5:10 a.m. if you needed a refresher. There also were, after a time, a lot of idiots invading, which eventually drew too much attention to it.

It was also interesting in that dc is in the middle of a terrible neighborhood, and at 3 a.m. there'd be all these skinny white kids hanging out on the street, half a block away from locals hanging out on the street, selling drugs. To say the least, the crowds of little hipsters seemed to considerably disturb the residents who were trying to conduct business.

Finally, a mention in a newspaper of all the hookers being killed on the east side.

Seven of the 11 unsolved slayings of prostitutes in Detroit don't appear to be the work of a serial killer, according to DNA test results received by police Wednesday. However, DNA evidence has linked three 2002 slayings on the city's east side to the same killer.

Seven other unsolved prostitute slayings between 1999 and 2003 do not appear to be related, Schwartz said. Most of the killings were in fairly close proximity, within the department's 5th (Jefferson) and 7th (Mack) Precincts on the east side.

This statement brings several thoughts to mind. Are police, in declaring that most of the murders are not the work of a serial killer, trying to say that’s a good thing? If so, that only means that there is one serial killer, plus maybe seven men who, independent of one another, are singling out and killing women on the east side. It seems that's far worse than one single individual who can, theoretically, be caught and stopped. It means the east side is (still) crawling with murderous lunatics. It also means the police are as slow as ever, as this story has been circulating for a few years. It took that long to look into the DNA? Hell, even Fox 2 news did more investigative legwork two years ago on this than the cops. Detroit police – not only corrupt, but also incompetent and lazy, as ever. Wonderful.

Monday, February 02, 2004

No abandoned building breakings and enterings this weekend; too many schedule conflicts. I managed to break my new digital camera yesterday by launching out of my coat and into an empty bathtub as I inadvertently picked up the coat upside-down. Watched the Superbowl at C’s house in Woodbridge with some local musicians who know nothing whatsoever about football but for some reason came to a Superbowl watching party. I have a cold for the third time this winter and didn’t enjoy anything about the night. Various intoxicants made me even foggier and dopey.
More Detroit fun.

Twelve people took bullets from midnight to noon Sunday in Detroit. Three died.
"It's not random," said Detroit Police Cmdr. Craig Schwartz. "These happened by and large between people who knew each other."

In other words, don't worry, nervous suburbanites. These aren't, you know, "Detroiters" shooting at you for no reason when you venture south of Eight Mile. These are awful druggies and criminals shooting each other. So it's not the bad kind of killings. It's actually 12 easily explainable shootings that are perfectly understandable. Everything's just fine; the casino is up on your left.

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