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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Happy hour

There are two ways to drink with friends on a spring weeknight - grab some beers and sit on a couch, or grab some beers and climb 33 flights to the roof of the Book Cadillac and enjoy a few sips while enjoying a breathtaking view of downtown.

This was the first time we mixed our two favorite hobbies - skyscraper exploration and boozing. And we inaugurated this new mix with a two-fer, hitting the Lafayette Building first, then over to the grand prize after a little warm-up on Lafayette's lovely roof, with frequent rest stops at Bar Bar.

We didn't get loaded, we just took a couple of token beers up there for the sake of sipping, not to get hammered. I know a lot of our fellow urban explorers fiind beers as much a necessity as flashlights, but generally we do our explorations alcohol-free. Not this time.

There's a new smell in there since the last time we were there, and it's not from the fire a few weeks back. I could smell it throughout the hotel. It was a strong chemical odor, sort of like aromatic cancer, which went well with the dozens of "Danger: Asbestos" signs posted all over the place now that the contractors had kicked up a bunch of asbesos fibers throughout the hotel.

They also very helpfully lit the entire stairway from bottom to top, sparing us the climb in darkness, though that didn't help with the sheer enormity of climbing 33 flights of stairs all at once after a couple of beers. It took a few rests on the way up before we made it, though having to breathe deeply while standing next to an asbestos warning sign doesn't produce a sense of well-being.

Yes, alcohol + immense heights don't always go together well, especially because you've got bottles of liquid courage influencing your thinking. But we're rather smart boys, and all went well.

Even with the tripod, the wind made most of the photos blurry, because the cheap construction of my tripod is slowly failing, and the legs keep collapsing inadvertantly. Damn! Still got a lot of pretty shots, though we were slightly disoriented in the dark and couldn't get to the part of the roof we really wanted to be on. Got down, and after a quick look-out ran out of the hotel as several potential witnesses in a future courtroom scene drove by.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004


Sunday, exploration day, started out weird enough. As we were about to leave the house in Woodbridge, a car pulled up next door and an apparently intoxicated woman got out of a car and urinated on the sidewalk in front of the neighbor's house in broad daylight.

The neighbor came storming out, screaming at her. "Goddammit you animal!" he yelled. She slurred back and wouldn't leave, he then ran back into his house and grabbed a rifle, came back outside and started waving it around as he marched up and down in a frenzy, screaming threats at her.The neighbors who had come out to see what the commotion was all ducked for cover. So we couldn't leave until he decided whether to shoot her or go back in the house. Luckily, he opted for the latter, she took off, and I ran to the car slouched over like I was in Fallujah. We headed downtown.

The David Broderick Tower is by far the coolest abandoned skyscraper in Detroit, for so many reasons. It’s in the best shape of any of the large abandoned buildings, with damage confined to peeling paint, fallen ceiling tiles and broken windows, all easily fixable. It would take minimal effort to rehab it.

It features an amazing variety of rooms and offices, with all sorts of random artifacts inside. It also sets the record for most colors in a single building. There are whole rooms painted in shocking pink, sky blue, fire engine red, lemon yellow, day-glo orange and all sorts of combinations thereof.

And it has the best skyline view in the city, at least from an abandoned building vantage point. Almost the entirety of downtown stretches to the south, with the river visible for miles as it stretches east. Down below, the geometry of Grand Circus Park becomes apparent, not only in the layout of the concrete and bricks but the arrangement of the trees and shrubs, which you can only faintly discern when you're on the ground.

The Broderick is so massive, so varied, that it’s impossible to thoroughly describe it. On our first trip there last year it took six hours of exploring just to reach the top. All anyone can do is provide quick summaries and snapshots. It's one of those places that has to be seen to be understood.

We had been there before, in the fall, but we felt like having a repeat visit. The Broderick, designed by Louis Kamper and built in 1927, is a neo-classical monolith that stands at the gateway to downtown at the edge of Grand Circus Park. It's been empty since the mid-80s. Most people recognize it as the building with the thoroughly annoying Wyland painting of whales on one side.

The lobby is absolutely gorgeous. It's very narrow, and pretty much inaccessible now that the former Flame Grill has reopened as the Peacock North, or whatever it is they're trying to do besides selling 11-ounce bottles of Guinness for $4.50.

The Broderick is a time capsule. Some rooms are perfectly preserved examples of late 70s and early- to mid-80s décor. A lot of offices still have calendars and schedules tacked to the walls, usually of an early-80s year on them. A whole room midway up is devoted to Mayor Coleman Young’s 1981 reelection campaign, full of leftover Carter/Mondale political pamphlets and stickers.

There are endless surprises in the Broderick. One of the dozens of dentist’s office has hundreds of plaster impressions of patients’ teeth in little boxes, complete with small photos of each patient with their mouth open. There's also assorted pulled teeth in boxes, complete with visible cavities. Since the room's been ransacked, there are teeth sticking out all over the place at all angles.

On the 34th floor is a very small bar, painted in black and white, with a photo of the city’s skyline plastered on an entire wall, and a photo of the Broderick on another, and enough room for no more than five people to stand. Right next to it is a small balcony from which to take in a spectacular view of the city with your cocktail. There’s an attached kitchen done in bright yellow ceramic tile with soft ceiling tiles in the exact same shade of yellow. In the room next door is a pink marble fireplace. Pink.

Above that is a penthouse that, despite thorough tagging, still retains a sense of its former grace. Arched windows frame a distant view of the river and the Ren Cen, and 30-foot high ceilings create a slight echo.

It was clear that many urban explorers had been in there, and some of them had decided to help themselves to things. On one floor had been dozens of abstract, sort of impressionist paintings by some artist; on this visit all of them were gone. A wall photo of the city had been torn off in several places since we visited a mere eight months ago. A full-size wall mirror that was there in September was smashed a mere two months later. The same graffiti you see all over town is all over this building as well.

We got to the roof and watched the last two innings of the Tigers/Rangers game while taking in the sunlight, then headed back for the long, long climb downward.

Visited a great building Sunday, but I still have to sort through and process the 160 photos I took. Details to come…

First, though, I’d like to thank the Pistons for ruining Friday night. We had plans to meet some girls who were at the game; also, we couldn’t begin the night with Game Five hanging in the balance, so we stopped at the first bar we passed that had a TV – the former Park Henry Bar. The bartender handed out Jell-O shots when the Pistons scored to force overtime; she’d thought they won. She only half-kiddingly tried to take them back when she realized the mistake. But the Pabst was making me sick, so we headed over to Harry’s to watch the second overtime. The Murphy’s they served (they were out of Guinness) was most certainly not Murphy’s, but rather some sickening amber ale. More stomach ache. Then off to the Well, where we watched ‘em screw it up in the third OT. By then, though, we were somewhat drunk and the girls who we were waiting for had been at the game and were now too wiped out to come out. Now we were aimless in Detroit, in the middle of the freakin’ Hoedown.

Now I know the Hoedown attracts all sorts of nice, job-holding people who do not at all conform to the stereotype of toothless, drunken hicks. Having said that, there sure were a lot of toothless, drunken hicks roaming the streets of Detroit Friday night, trying to start fights, pulling their pants down at passing cars, verbally abusing hobos and acting like a perfect caricature of a Hoedown attendee. It was like Invasion of the Assholes everywhere we went.

Saturday, playoff game one, my hockey team fell behind 3-0, but rallied and scored four goals to win it 4-3, including a supercool goal by modest me. The looks of disbelief on the previously cocky faces of the other team are seared in my brain forever, to be referenced every time I want to be happy at someone else’s expense. They resorted to trying to start fights. We resorted to drinking ourselves silly and celebrating afterwards.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Well, hell, it looks as though the Statler Hotel is doomed.

The city’s drive to improve downtown in time for the 2006 Super Bowl coupled with the Statler Hilton’s imposing size and irregular floor layout were compelling factors in approving the demolition, commission members said.

The Superbowl is causing the city to do all sorts of crazy things to try convincing visitors that we're really Chicago to the east, despite the fact that we will be considered a joke no matter how many buildings they tear down. The Statler is by no means in bad shape, structurally speaking. Apparently the problem is finding someone willing to invest the money needed to refurbish such a large structure.

This kind of reminds me of a decade ago, when the city tore down the very odd-looking Tuller Hotel, just across the street from the Statler, and 10 years later, we have a gravel lot on that spot that remains empty except when the Tigers or Lions play. Why do I have the feeling that, in another 10 years, the spot where the Statler now stands will be empty as well?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Don't be alarmed

Sunday's explorations sort of sputtered. I had about four hours of drunken sleep the night before, after my hockey team won the President's Trophy for best regular season with 30 seconds to go in the deciding game. The other team's goalie got too cute, came out of his net too far and had the puck stripped from him by our top scorer, who promptly buried it in their net, breaking a 3-3 tie and sending us off on an all-night giddy celebration of heavy drinking and trophy raising. The clock read 5:00 a.m. when I finally nodded off, and mercilessly read 8:50 a.m. when I suddenly woke up with a searing headache.

Sunday was also Mother's Day, and you don't want to spend too many holidays inside abandoned buildings, otherwise what distinguishes you from the hobos who do the same thing? But it was very sunny and warm, and my friend and I had time to kill before going off for family events. Also, I figured the walking and climbing would burn away the residual beer in my system.

The Kales Building in Grand Circus Park, an Albert Kahn-designed building finished in 1914, is currently undergoing renovation that will result in future lofts. The lobby ceiling is deteriorated, yet still nice, as the photo attests to. Unfortunately, that's all I got to see of the Kales, because as soon as we hit the second floor a piercing alarm rang out, scaring the hell out of us and driving us out of the building in a mad scramble. Apparently they installed motion sensors in the building. Out in the street the alarm echoed off the surrounding skyscrapers, yet luckily, we fled the area without trouble.

OK, we were zero for one on the day. This time we went somewhere we knew wouldn't be alarmed - The Hotel Eddystone in the midst of the Cass Corridor.

An unintentionally amusing sign around the corner from the hotel spells out what’s forbidden by law, but really it's a chronicle of all the things people in the area routinely do, otherwise there wouldn't have been any need for the sign in the first place.

The explorations of hotels and apartments are starting to blend together in a negative way. This hit home at the Eddystone. Every time we turned a corner it was depressingly familiar. Yet another hallway with peeling paint and debris strewn all over, yet another room full of soiled underwear and liquor bottles and cigarette butts. Basically the anthropology of the lives of the most unfortunate, the dregs, the absolute dropouts from society. And they all live exactly the same. The same stinky dirty mattresses, the same needles everywhere, the same junk food, the same nasty personal effects, the same stench of piss.

So many people were going in and out of the place, you’d think the place was a freakin’ community center. Three guys stood leaning on the old reception desk. It was so casual, so commonplace, except for the fact that we were all inside a rotting, abandoned building in the Cass Corridor. Another guy with a shopping cart was engaged in freelance metal stripping. Others could be heard shuffling about inside.

We stood motionless in the lobby, looking around, and just then a prostitute came leaping feet-first through an open window, landing a few feet away from me. “Whoa!” she said in surprise at the sight of me, but then carried on with her business, as her john soon followed her in. They slipped behind a counter just a few feet from us. Ohh..kay. What now? We stood still for a second, debating what to do, but we shrugged and just walked past the people in there and headed up.

I got no pictures inside, because it was indistinguishable from the inside of most abandoned apartment buildings we’d been in. Also, we didn't wander too much, because we could hear voices on several floors. On one we could hear someone having an tender, heart-to-heart conversation with someone, which would've been romantic except for the fact that it was happening in a decrepit building full of junkies, prostitutes and derelicts.

Went up to the roof, where we got a clear view of several drug deals taking place, prostitutes trying to stand up straight and hobos lined up waiting for food.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Some random news bits:

Stealing from the dead and dying seems to be popular around these parts lately:

He was just like any other patient in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.
The only difference was, James Lant is a public safety officer for the City of Highland Park. And what he spotted early Tuesday -- while being treated for an on-the-job knee injury -- appalled him.
Lant, 59, said he watched as another patient stole from an unconscious man.
He said Tyrone Allen, 41, of Detroit, reached over and shook the man lying next to him on a gurney.
"Hey, hey. You awake?" Lant said Allen asked.
When the other patient didn't respond, Lant said Allen pulled back the sheet covering the man -- "then, with one hand, peeled off the watch."
Allen allegedly stuffed the watch into the front of his pants and rolled back over, pretending to be asleep.
"It was almost like for a second, I questioned my senses. It was so smooth," Lant said. "I could see the whole thing happening right before my eyes."
After a minute, Lant said Allen again reached over to the other gurney. This time, he slipped his hand into the man's pocket.


Then there’s this:

As he lay dying on a Detroit street, someone robbed him.
Police found Donald Dillon, 44, of Hamtramck on Tuesday morning in an auto wreck at the intersection of Victoria and Goddard.
He was dead. His pockets were ransacked. His wallet was rummaged.

The other night I noticed a bunch of cracked windows on the old Free Press building, and knew they weren't cracked a few weeks back. Sure enough, this comes out:

Two men were charged Wednesday with using homemade slingshots loaded with marbles to shoot out windows at Cobo Center in downtown Detroit.
Joshua Crowder, 28, and Michael Zapinski, 28, both of Detroit, are also suspected of busting about $300,000 worth of windows at offices and businesses in downtown Detroit.
Windows on businesses on East Jefferson, Gratiot, Lafayette and Woodward have been broken since January.

It seems there's just about nowhere you can break into without getting shot anymore.

A man was found shot to death in the doorway of a storefront church after police received a call Monday morning reporting that he had tried to break into the building.
Detroit police were called to Bible Believing Baptist Church shortly after 4 a.m. EDT by the anonymous caller, who told them: "You don't have to worry anymore about the person who is breaking into the church," Officer Derek Jones said.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Double Feature

Friday night out with a bunch of friends didn’t get too far, because I had to get up for a very early wedding the next day, and didn't want to attend it totally blown out with a hangover. Many drinks in a short amount of time at Bar Bar (yes, I know it's Arcade Bar, but we find Bar Bar to be far catchier. Anyway, just look at the sign), staggered outside to rescout the Book Cadillac right up the street, then sadly back home while everyone else continued on with the night.

Satuday I attended the wedding at the very strange Holy Family church that sits basically on the I-75 service drive right off Lafayette. The church is small, old, and like most Detroit churches has a beautiful interior, though with odd touches here and there, like obscure saints doing strange things such as staring at you threateningly or holding bones and things. The short priest with the thick Old World accent delivered a verbal sedative of a sermon that threatened to break the 20-minute mark as some of us, already suffering from hangovers and tiredness, began dozing off. But it mercifully ended, our friends were wedded, and the whole crew then went off to a reception at the always impressive Century Club, adjacent to the Gem Theater.

A video in the lobby shows its recent history, from the Wolverine Hotel being imploded a few feet away, to its slow move a few blocks away to make way for a wonderful parking lot for Comerica Park. Still, despite being in a suit and at a formal affair, I couldn’t stop my instincts, and I cased the building, trying to get on the roof. Wandered in a bunch of forbidden areas, discovered lots of unusual things, but no luck with the roof. Got out early enough and watched the debacle known as Game Five of the Wings second round.

On Sunday, as thousands of suburbanites roamed the streets before the Tigers game, we got into the Fine Arts Building on Adams.

Ah, the Fine Arts Building. Just the name evoked images of prettiness inside. Why, it's not the Crude Amusements building, it's the Fine Arts Building. So refined, such culture embedded in its name. We couldn't wait to get in. Well, we were in for a letdown.

It’s hard to find much info on the Fine Arts, other than it was built in 1905 and is yet another decrepit Ilitch-owned building, a seven-story Chicago School style building surrounded by skyscrapers two and three times its size. I Googled the hell out of it, using all sorts of word combinations and permutations, yet found virtually nothing.

The upper floors had contained offices, the typical accountants and salons and such that we find elsewhere. The only variations on the "empty room with peeling paint and great views" theme occurred on the ground floor, which had been the On Stage restaurant, which had as its gimmick a series of stage backdrops that served as themed areas. One had a Parisian flair, with a silhouetted Eiffel Tower painting in the background and a few French words painted here and there. Another had a train theme, with fake routes and tickets on the wall, and seats inside mock traincars. I also noticed that some dope had very recently tried to get into the building by smashing a hole in the front door glass, but apparently wasn't bright enough to notice the thick cage on the inside that blocks entry anyway.

The inside gave very few indications of its use, as it had been essentially stripped clean years ago. A few rooms retained indications that they had been used to develop film, but most rooms were completely empty, some with auction tags still in place.

A giant hole in the hallway floor ran from the top floor to the bottom, the result of a leaky roof causing the floors to collapse onto one another. On the bottom floors it was as big as 20-feet by 15-feet, and the only way around it was to cling to the walls and walk on the small parts of the floor that remained attached to the walls. It was raining outside, and you could hear the steady trickle of water through dozens of holes in the building, slowly adding to its decay.

The view outside the windows was great though, from the flowering spring trees surrounding the Grand Circus Park fountain, to the United Artists' building and the Statler Hotel, to the David Whitney Building and the Broderick Tower, the entire spectacle of the GCP skyscraper graveyard swung in a panorama around the Fine Arts like a necklace.

Got to the roof, and for about the 13th weekend in a row it was cloudy. Hung around up there for a while, watching a deranged man staging a dialogue with a flock of pigeons in Grand Circus Park. I took some photos of the deteriorating balustrades on the perimeter of the roof, then we made our way to the attached Adams Theater through a series of rickety fire escapes.

The Adams Theater was built partly inside the Fine Arts Building, with the front lobby on the Grand Circus Park Adams Street side and the main part of the theater situated behind the building, in an alley. The two were connected by a walkway over the alley that still remains in place. There was also a tunnel underneath the alley that served the same purpose. Designed by C. Howard Crane, the Adams began as a vaudeville house but was showing silent films by the 1920s, and sound movies a few years later.

The theater changed hands several times over the years, but as with many Detroit theaters, by the 1970s it had begun showing blaxploitation films and porn. As Hudson's closed and Grand Circus Park became abandoned, the theater deteriorated.

In 1988, in an attempt to revive the theater it was remade into a three-screen theater that showed mainstream movies, but two incidents in particular — the murder of a man in the auditorium and a shooting among teenagers in front of the theater — pretty much scared off any patrons, and it closed for good. A few years ago the marquee that had remained was torn down, taking with it pretty much all evidence of the theater's existence.

We got into the theater and were immediately on the stage, which had the consistency of oatmeal. The wood had almost totally rotted. Like the Fine Arts Building, years of neglecting to do simple upkeep resulted in ever-growing holes in the roof through which water dripped steadily in drippy trickles.

Got off the questionable stage, then over collapsed concrete and bricks out to the auditorium, which apparently had been stripped of its previous décor years ago and was painted a garish blue from top to bottom. My flashlight was now failing, so I very tentatively made my way up to the upper-level balconies and later-addition movie screens, where we found a concessions sign that had been altered to reflect the porn atmosphere that prevailed in the theater’s later existence.

Getting out wasn't easy, particulary with a dead flashlight and hordes of baseball fans roaming all sides of the theater and Fine Arts Building. But eventually you just have to go, and go we did, popping out in front of alarmed families who, after a moment of fearful astonishment, quickly looked away from us as they walked to their cars.
I had a link here to some jerk who secured the highly original domain name "detroitblog" recently, but I removed it because the more it gets linked the higher his version will rise in the Google rankings, and why reward copycats? The irony is, this person lives in Chicago. Is it so hard to come up with something of his own? How creative. What's next? forgottendetroit.org, brought to you live from St. Louis?
I knew the Red Wings' season was over after the first period last night, when they showed the stats and Calgary had 4 scoring chances to Detroit's 2. It should have been Detroit 12, Calgary 1. The Wings' hockey lives were on the line, and they came out limping. Two games without a single goal? This isn't Patrick Roy shutting them out, this is some Finn nobody heard of six months ago.

Now to cast blame and hurl assessments:

Hatcher is a lumbering oaf. Hatcher on paper is better than Hatcher in reality. Twice in these playoffs he made a lazy pass on his backhand to his defense partner that got picked off by a Calgary player. One of those times it turned into a goal. Even in my lowly hockey league you can't get away with that; why, then, is it acceptable to do this in an NHL playoff game? Other times he skated as if he had 100-pound weights on his back, so slow was he getting to loose pucks. Perhaps that's just because he was injured all year, and didn't really get a chance to get back in shape. Who knows? But putting a slow, ineffective player on the ice for nearly half the game, every game, doesn't make any sense.

Dave Lewis is a nice guy, by all accounts. So nice that he lets his All-Stars do what they want, when they want. Not skating hard? OK, let's put you on the top line for 25 minutes per game. Scotty Bowman didn't give a shit who you were - if you underperformed, he'd bench you in a second. Hell, Sergei Fedorov didn't score for a few games and Scotty threw him back on defense, of all things. Scotty whipped you into shape; Dave Lewis was your friend. Well, we see where that got us. Went from being Stanley Cup champions to being swept the very next year in the first round, with essentially the same cast of characters.

I never understood why Shanahan was always in Scotty's doghouse. Now I know - as soon as he was removed from Scotty's leash and allowed to do as he wanted, he did absolutely nothing. Floated all year, drifted lazily around, made stupid passes. He just earned himself a one-way ticket out of town.

Datsyuk and Zetterberg - dazzling in the regular season, invisible in the postseason. Why?

Whitney is a waste of space. Did he do anything of value at all this year? He looked lost most of the time, and indifferent the rest of the time. A terrible pickup.

Fischer should have been scratched many games ago, sometime between mistake number 40 and mistake number 65. Every time he touched the puck something bad happened. Yet Lewis kept him in until the last game of the playoffs, when everything was at stake. Too little, too late Dave.

Now for what little praise there is to hand out: Draper played very well. Maltby played very well. Lang played very well, even with a broken hand. Lidstrom played decently. Schneider didn't do too bad. And Cujo finally, finally played well.

And now what? Root for the Pistons? I guess. I mean, I always root for my hometown teams, but I'm not really into basketball. Hockey is my one sport, and now it's over for me, at least fan-wise, team-wise. I'd say this totally sucks, but I'm used to it now. They flaked out five of the last six years. It's not as surprising anymore.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Well, crap. This certainly sucks. Watching the puck hit Yzerman's face was greusome. As an ice hockey player, I can tell you that even if you get nicked with a puck it hurts like hell. I cannot imagine a full-on face shot.

It also seems the final blow to a Red Wings team that doesn’t seem too enthused to be in the playoffs right now. So tonight's yet another night of staying up until 1 a.m or later waiting to watch them probably lose. How fun.

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