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, December 29, 2004

More old stuff in the city is being cleaned up and preserved:

For years, pigeons and geese have been the most obvious visitors to the 60-foot-tall {Nancy Brown Peace Carillon}, located on a grassy expanse not far from the U.S.-Canadian border. But the carillon is again attracting human attention on both sides of the Detroit River. A digital carillon has replaced the old 8-track system and it recently began chiming for the first time in years.
In addition to the restored carillon, one exterior clock has been fixed, the black iron fence painted and the surrounding algae- and trash-choked moat cleaned. Charlie Beckham, Detroit's recreation director, says the city plans to landscape the site. According to Minter, the moat, which has been troublesome to maintain, will probably be drained and planted.
The city plans a ceremony to celebrate the carillon's restoration this spring and wants to include at least some of the 50,000 people who attended its dedication on June 16, 1940. A newspaper account called the carillon "a voice for peace in a war-weary world."

Last time I was there (uninvited, of course) the steps were rickety and pigeons ruled the roost, and I had to find a way in by going over the soupy yellow moat surrounding it. And holy crap, whaddya know, as I'm sitting here reading the article about it I find detroitblog mentioned in it. Yikes!


A new law addresses the epidemic of disposable automobiles:

Michigan will streamline its laws permitting removal and disposal of abandoned vehicles -- a major problem amounting to more than 60,000 cars per year in Detroit alone -- under legislation that awaits Gov. Jennifer Granholm's signature.
Local police can be freed from most of the burden of getting rid of such vehicles under the two bills, sponsored by Reps. James Koetje, R-Walker, and Ken Daniels, D-Detroit. The two measures also allow the state to charge owners a $40 fee, on top of towing and storage costs, as well as $50 in civil fines if they fail to claim the vehicles they abandoned.


Finally, I've heard of people in the Cass Corridor falling through the cracks and hitting rock bottom, but c'mon, lady:

A woman who was walking early Tuesday morning on Park Street near Sibley in Detroit's Cass corridor fell into a 5-foot-deep sinkhole.
According to police, she was walking backward as she talked to a man and didn't see the hole in the middle of the street. Police said the man tried to warn her, but his words of caution came too late.
She was treated at Detroit Receiving Hospital for minor scrapes and bruises, police said.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I notice that the Metro Times has a brief piece about exploring the Roosevelt Warehouse on Detroit's southwest side. Gee, what an original idea: exploring an abandoned building in Detroit and posting a handful of photos of the interior along with a brief account of the exploration written by the explorer. I wonder where they could've come up with an idea like that? Shockingly unique. Keep up the groundbreaking work!

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas from all of us at detroitblog, which amounts to me, really. This Santa photo was one of the rotating headers for a while, but I couldn't allow him or Mrs. Claus to vanish forever since he is an excellent Detroit Santa Claus, even fortuitously sitting with the official City of Detroit flag as a backdrop, so here they are, enshrined permanently in another substance-free post.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Demolition of the Statler Hotel looks to be obstacle-free now that the city has decided no more fussing around with potential redevelopment and whatnot. It must come down now, lest it scar up the Grand Circus Park landscape of well-maintained, flourishing buildings surrounding it. And remember, above all, we must impress the outsiders on that fateful Superbowl Sunday one year away. Otherwise, they might go back home and say something to the effect that Detroit has - gasp! - problems. Removing the Statler will prevent all of that. Bring on that wrecking ball! I suggest starting with the finely detailed crests on the perimeter of the upper floors; those should crumble easily.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Jesus Christ is it snowy outside in Detroit. Woodward was a disaster this morning. To top it off I have a terrible cold, the third cold I’ve had since November. Apparently I have the immune system of a Nigerian prostitute. And as soon as all the snow settles, along will come an arctic blast that will seal the top of the foot or so of snow we’ve gotten into a sort of permafrost that will last until mid-February, growing sootier by the day.

On the plus side, the handful of abandoned buildings downtown that I still want to get into and photograph will miraculously open soon, as substance-fueled hobos with far more time on their hands than I have will stop at nothing to gain access and seek private shelter from the weather, leaving wide-open doors and beckoning windows. Thanks fellas. Now get to work!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

It’s been too freakin’ cold to go out taking pictures of buildings, occupied or otherwise, so it’s back to the headlines for today’s post. So what follows is a quick roundup of what’s worth mentioning this month. Actually, what follows is what I can still find links for from this month's newspaper articles. Less than comprehensive, in other words.

But first, today's Random Photo of the Week, a strange array of multicultural ceramic gnomes that someone thoughtfully lined up in the courtyard of an abandoned building on Livernois. Now to the meat, as they say:

The Freep's architecture writer has a very brief rundown of The Year in Architecture around the city. He strikes the right notes about rehabbing old buildings, but then laments that "it's also sad the Detroit architectural scene still isn't seeing any major new signature buildings, nothing by the likes of world-class stars of the Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Santiago Calatrava and Norman Foster caliber. The outlook for Detroit getting one of these scene-stealing designs anytime soon isn't good."

The city currently has very high vacancy rates for its office space; there's thousands of offices waiting to be filled in already standing structures. There won't be any "major new signature buildings" because there's absolutely no practical need for one at this time. Silly writer!


Political season for 2005 is already kicking into gear. Both failed gubernatorial candidate Geoffrey Fieger and conspiracy-minded City Council member Sharon McPhail have announced plans to run for mayor next year, as has former deputy mayor Freman Hendrix, sort of.

With this group of oddballs running together it should make for an interesting primary, followed by a dramatic general election campaign season, followed by … Kwame winning anyway. Incumbency confers an almost magical power to politicians in Detroit, and Kwame, strippers, bodyguards, payroll relatives and all, will have the same traditional boost working for him. Don't hold your breath.

"It's true, no white guy could get elected mayor in Detroit - except me," said Fieger who was born in Detroit and grew up in Oak Park. "I may look white but the citizens of Detroit don't see me that way. I'm black."

Fieger’s not kidding – he could easily win in this city, white or not. Black trumps white in city politics, but loud and obnoxious wins out in Detroit every time, regardless of race. Luckily, incumbency still trumps the loudmouth clown factor.


Another multiple killing:

A Detroit man was charged Monday in the brutal slayings of two women and two children after a domestic argument with his ex-girlfriend.
Luther Thomas Jenkins, 25, was arraigned in 36th District Court on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of using a gun in a felony in the deaths of Alicia Jackson, 24; Gloria Pitts, 17; and Jackson's two children, Jamon Wilmer, 7, and A'Jannie Jackson, 4. Jenkins is Pitts' former boyfriend.
Jenkins, who has no criminal record, apparently put his 1-year-old daughter in a closet and then he killed the four people in the home, police said. Police believe he put the bodies in Jackson's Jeep and abandoned it about two miles away. Police found the Jeep on Sunday morning in an abandoned, debris-strewn lot. The women had been shot, and the children's throats cut, said 2nd Deputy Chief James Tate. No weapon was found.

Hard to figure what the thinking is here. I guess sometimes your girl acts up and you just have to slaughter her, another adult and two children. That'll teach 'em!


Finally, just when you think the Lions couldn't possibly find another stupid way to throw away a game, along comes Don Muhlbach. Joey finally gets his shit together, has a pretty good game and some dink comes along and ruins it in the final seconds. Thanks, buddy!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


For a change of pace, instead of breaking into abandoned skyscrapers to look at faded splendor, I went on a small tour of a building that’s open and occupied, to look at renovated splendor. To put it another way, I'm running out of abandoned buildings to explore, so this just might be the start of the Actually Legitimate Building Tour, at least for the time being.

The recently refurbished Guardian Building, taking up an entire downtown block, is probably Detroit’s most beautiful building, both inside and out. To stand in its lobby is to be surrounded by lush beauty of such depth that no adjectives fully describe its gorgeousness.

During the economic boom of the 1920s, a financial district arose in the middle of downtown. In 1929, the most stunning of the financial district’s buildings opened, then called the Union Trust Building, named after the Union Trust Company.

Union Trust was one of the first major banks to offer the average worker the opportunity to buy their own home, and its mortgage policies helped make Detroit a main center of home ownership in the United States. In 1928, the Union Trust Company merged with National Bank of Commerce. The size of the newly created company precipitated the need for a larger building. The bank purchased the entire block surrounded by Griswold, Larned, Congress and Woodward, and hired the prominent Detroit architectural firm of Smith Hinchman and Grylls to develop a new headquarters.

Wirt Rowland, the firm's noted young designer, was only in his early 30s when he helped create Detroit's modern skyline with his designs for the Buhl, Penobscot and Guardian buildings, as well as Music Hall. But his design of the future Guardian Building became the most magnificent building in the city's booming financial district.

Built around a steel frame, it was sheathed in Guardian brick developed specially for this project and accented with Pewabic title from Detroit and Atlantic terra cotta from New York State. Rising 486 feet, consisting of 40 floors, and containing 750,000 square feet, it became Detroit's second-tallest building when it opened in 1929, and the world’s tallest masonry structure. The architecture is a bizarre mix of influences, including Aztec, American Indian, Art Deco, then-modern European, and jazz-age elegance. The architects chose bright orange brick accented with terra cotta bands and tiled window trimmings for the exterior because it was the color that would visually stand out the greatest at a distance.

If the outside seemed extravagant, it was nothing compared to the interior, which was plush opulence itself. The interior was so stunning it was called the Cathedral of Finance at the time. The cathedral theme is emphasized on the exterior by the two towers at each end of the building connected by a somewhat lower nave-like block. The theme continues in the interior with the tall banking lobby designed as a nave with side aisles, and a three-story vaulted ceiling that's blanketed in vivid Rookwood tile laid in diamond patterns.

Mary Chase Stratton, the founder of the Pewabic Pottery Studio, coordinated the glazes and tile varieties with Rowland. Rare Numidian marble, a variegated blood-red marble, accents the walls of Mankato stone. The Numidian marble came from a quarry in Tunisia that had been closed for 30 years, but was re-opened for the sole purpose of extracting the rare stone for the Guardian project.

A divided staircase leads from the lobby to the massive entrance arch of the main banking hall, which is reached after passing through an open screen of Monel metal, whose elaborate grille covers the grand archway and contains a Tiffany clock. Monel metal is a unique composite mix of copper, nickel, and aluminum with a taupe-colored finish.

The lobby, resplendent with Rookwood pottery, glazed tiles of Pewabic pottery and stained glass windows with opaque glass inserts, was modeled after the cathedral nave located in Beauvais, France.

Other noteworthy elements of the building include a three-level basement that once contained a gun range for building security guards, a public cinema on the 32nd floor, a conference room floor comprised of five different woods, a metal tablet in the lobby engraved with the names of 40 tradesmen to commemorate the craftsmanship of these workmen, relief sculptures of Aztec warriors flanking the building entrance on Griswold, and a large mural of the state of Michigan in the banking lobby featuring symbols of commerce and government.

While construction on the Guardian went on, Union Trust continued to acquire and merge with other banking systems. By the time the building was completed, the Guardian Detroit Union Group emerged as Detroit's largest financial establishment with assets of $400 million, 40 percent of Detroit's total banking resources. One of every four Detroit residents had dealings with Guardian Detroit Union.

But just as the building was completed, the stock market crashed, taking the Union Trust Company with it. The company went into receivership under the name New Union Building Company. Several area banks assumed fiduciary rights for what was left of the Guardian banking empire. In 1942 the Guardian Building was taken over by the Army's Command Center for coordinating ordinance production. After the war, the Guardian returned to the New Union Building Company. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1949 and in 1952 the building went in a public auction to the Guardian Building Company of Michigan Bank Corporation.

MichCon became the largest Guardian Building tenant until the late 1950s when the company decided to construct its own building. In 1975, The Guardian Building was sold to MichCon, which later sold it to General Electric Pension Trust under a leaseback contract. Michcon later relocated to the building and purchased it. In 1998 it was designated a National Historic Landmark.

In 1998, SmithGroup announced plans to move 270 of its employees back into the building the company designed. In 2001, MichCon merged with DTE Energy Co., and moved to DTE’s headquarters at Michigan and Third. DTE then sold the Guardian Building last fall to the Detroit-based Sterling group, which partnered with New York investors to buy the building, which at the time had an anemic 6-percent occupation rate. Sterling decided to convert the mezzanine hall for public access and retail use. SmithGroup agreed to move upstairs and now occupies floors 17-20 of the building. The building is now up near 40 percent occupancy.

In the mezzanine hall, renovation crews polished the elaborate grille of Monel metal over the grand archway that contains a Tiffany clock. It looks almost brand new. New lighting also showcases the huge state of Michigan mural depicting Michigan's great industries, created by artist Ezra Winter. A well-dressed doorman now greets visitors at the once-darkened building. And for once, instead of me burrowing into a window or climbing a wall under threat of arrest, someone was gladly opening a door to allow me into one of the city's beautiful skyscrapers.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Ah, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, when, like today, daylight is at a premium and you come to work when it’s dark and leave work when it’s dark, when cold rain falls all day long from perpetual, undifferentiated grey skies. Fun!

I like this sign. It says so much. Signs like this arouse the perfect combination of cringe and fascination. It’s bad enough that the creator of this banner thinks revival is spelled like this, but someone else in the church must’ve seen this on paper and approved this, then sent it to the printing shop, where at least one other person, if not more, gave it the OK, and then someone had to string it along the wall and not notice that it's, well, flawed. Nowhere along the line, apparently, was one person who didn’t attend Detroit Public Schools and who learned how to spell the damn thing. And in churchpeople’s line of work, the word “revival” comes up quite often, so you’d think somewhere along the way someone would have passed along the correct spelling. On top of all this, a small number of people who pass this banner who weren't positive about the word's correct spelling before seeing this will now walk away thinking this is the correct spelling. Everybody now: Can the church say "Amen!" Can the church spell "Amen?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

In lieu of real posts about exploring, that is, in place of something interesting, you get today’s filler! This past weekend was Noel Night in Midtown, an annual tradition where museums, stores and school buildings open their doors and let people in for the hell of it. Free admission, access without questions, no need to commit to something for more than five minutes, you can’t beat that.

Everyone running the various events was very nice and helpful, likely realizing that the large throngs of people flowing in were the kind who normally don’t come visit, say, the Wayne State Department of Anthropology on a Saturday night. Trying to pique some lasting interest, I guess.

At one point we visited the Park Shelton, the apartments now being converted to condos, and figured, what the hell, bypass the eighth-floor condo models and go straight to the roof, unauthorized! Anytime I can get bonus exploring and roof photos in, it's good. Unfortunately, easier said than done. Got up to some strange upper utility room, but that was about it. I think we took the wrong stairwell. And since I was with a girl who didn’t really feel like burrowing her way to a roof she had no interest in, I had to bail on the project.

Bounced on the beds at the Inn on Ferry Street, dug jazz at the Scarab Club, squeezed through the huge crowds at the African American Museum and watched the Euro tourists marvel inside the DIA. And walked about four miles right before a hockey game, never a solid idea.

I’ve got some exploring stuff to post, but I need to flesh out the research, which I haven’t had the time for lately. Should have something later this week, maybe tomorrow.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Dock of the Bay

The old Boblo Island Detroit boat dock, known originally as the Detroit Railway and Harbor Terminals Building, later shortened to the Detroit Harbor Terminals Building, was built in 1925. The building is only peripherally connected to the history of Boblo Island and the Boblo boats, since it was simply the place you left to get somewhere else that was much more interesting. A giant, concrete waiting room, in essence. The basic Boblo Island history can be found here.

Some of the more colorfully named tenants of the 10-story building, back in the 20s and 30s and long before it was used as a Boblo dock, included the Alberta Pringle Cigars store on the first floor, where the Golf Ball Corporation of America also was located. The Frozen Lolly Coating Co. operated on the second floor, while shipping-related businesses filled most of the rest of the space. The building also housed the Titman Egg Corp. and Herman Haefke, Butter, Eggs and Cheese, both on the ninth floor. During the mid 1970s a first-floor tenant was the Harborteria, a coin-operated restaurant.

Three of us got in on a gloomy, gray weekend with only a little ducking, a bit of climbing, and some burrowing, otherwise known in recent articles by the godawful term "spelunking." Razor wire is strung along various entrance points, but previous explorers merrily shoved that stuff aside to make nice, happy, gaping holes.

The building is almost entirely empty now, except for some thin, delicate stalactites descending from the ceiling in dark, remote rooms on one of the floors, unseen unless you shine a bright light at them. Some rooms on a couple floors still had miscellaneous tools remaining in them, such as an old saw, with the day’s sawdust still in a small pile, and eyeglasses placed atop the saw at the end of the day, as if the worker expected to return tomorrow. On a thick, wood worktable sat someone’s old workboots, set neatly side-by-side, covered with a thin layer of dust that had accumulated painstakingly slowly over time. Other than that, the building had been pretty well cleared of anything that wasn't part of the floors or walls.

The Detroit Harbor Terminals Building is in a bleak part of town, on the riverbanks in the southwest part of the city. The remnants of dead industry surround the building. The bright blue Ambassador Bridge stretches over the river closeby, bisecting the view of downtown's skyscrapers. When you stand on the pebble-covered roof you see a vast expanse of Detroit that stretches away from you, with pretty much nobody around for miles, apart from slow-drifting boats moving quietly down the river, their horns occasionally cutting the serene silence of the area. The rusted water tower, holes growing larger with each rain, is covered in graffiti.

We got a bit paranoid towards the end because the Coast Guard's speedboat, which we had watched breezing up and down the river throughout the afternoon, did a looparound and came speeding past the open door along the river, right where we were standing, causing us to scramble to get out before they saw us. This may or may not have something to do with my total and reckless disregard of hiding procedures when I stood out in the open, taking pictures of the exterior of the buildings almost immediately before they spun around and headed back our way. Regardless, they didn't catch us.

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