A country’s urban growth is based upon multiple factors such as infrastructure, commercialization, development, and the local economy. When Detroit was considered to be the powerhouse of the country in the 1950s, Michigan was one of the glitzy states. However, as time passed, it has become clear that Detroit was a prime example of Urban Decay. The recent surface of these images has somehow still captured the emotions and nostalgia of the events in these abandoned places. The former city of Detroit in the 1950s was the birthplace of modern automobiles, music, and several other cultural and economic activities. Today stands a striking showcase of current or post-apocalyptic ruin spanning several blocks, making it hard to miss. The abandoned structures have seen much better days; over a century, their time may have come to restore from the surface. Let’s take a peek before it’s all lost. 

Michigan central station

In 1914, Warren, Wetmore, Reed, and Stem created a major project for Detroit in the beaux-art classical style. The 18-story floor was the tallest train station in the world. Dividing into two parts, the tower function as an office tower and the railroads. The waiting area inspired by the Roman bathhouse had Gustavino arches and corinthian columns. The station was built 1.2 kilometers outside the city in 1920, with the intention of growth following up around it.

But the Great Depression in 1920 had different plans that put a permanent halt to urban development around. Eventually, the retail store had to shut down in 1967 followed by the shutting down of the tall station in 1971 to restore it to its old glory. The last train to depart from the station was in 1988 i.e. 74 years and two days after the station opened. The station is said to be redeveloped by Ford Motor Company in 2018 with plans to redevelop the area. 

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Abandoned front facade of the Michigan Central Station _©https://www.abandonedspaces.com.
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Lobby to the Station inspired by Roman Bath houses_©https://abandonedonline.net
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interior view of a long passageway abandoned with no glass_©https://abandonedonline.net

Packard Automotive Park  

It all began within the city limits, an Automation park that spread across 40 acres along the grand boulevard at the Motor City. Planned in 1903 by architect Albert Kahn building no. 10 of the automobile factory. The use of reinforced concrete with brick cladding and windows for ventilation was the first to be used in any industrial site. An ‘L’ shaped plan was designed to let in natural light. The plant idealized and adopted this building technology. The entire plant functionally was seamless due to its narrow feature throughout the building avoiding too many columns. Over time, it could not last long as the car company Pacard closed down in 1956 after years of production of quality cars and engines for World war II. The Park was developed into a partial Motor City Industrial Park but had to shut down in 1999 after which it has nothing but broken remains of the Packard legacy.

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The automobile of Detroit lays today within its remains and so becomes one of the most tired images of Detroit’S decline._©https://abandonedonline.net
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Broken, Vandalized, and harmed face of the present Packard Automotive Park_©https://abandonedonline.net
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Broken, Vandalized, and harmed face of the present Packard Automotive Park_©https://abandonedonline.net

St. Agnus church, Detroit / Martyrs of Uganda Parish Church

Founded in 1914 and completed in 1924, 12th Street Church is known for sharing its tragic events during the riots in 1967. The St. Agnus church, designed by Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough, and Reynolds at the center of a church for the growing population pouring in with a capacity of 1500 people. The neo-gothic style of the church was the most ornamental feature. The church was temporarily closed in 1990 due to a lack of financial assistance, paid by 162 families, and reopened as Martyrs of Uganda Parish. 

As the church was unable to meet the demands of its operations, the church was forced to close in June 2006.

The church heavily focused on young girls, chastity, rape survivor, and school as a patron spirit which is quite saddening as quite the church later was stripped apart for its bits, scrapes, and pieces. The place was torn down for its valuable metals, tiles, stained glass windows, and pipe organs.

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An image of the church before being stripped down and after image_©http://www.detroiturbex.com/
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An image of the church before being stripped down and after image_©http://www.detroiturbex.com/

Michigan Theatre, Detroit

The Michigan theatre was constructed in 1925 by the firm Rapp & Rapp with seating for 4050 people and was one of the largest theatres in Michigan. 

The timeline of the theatre was used not only for the sole purpose of theatre artists but was utilized to host a closed circuit television, a nightclub, and a concert venue for rock bands. The famously known as “parking” came to place as people working in the office demanded a space for their cars. 

The ornate plaster ceiling of the auditorium and grand lobby, at the ninth-floor level, are still intact, as are parts of the mezzanine, the 2nd and 3rd balcony foyers, and their staircases. The theatre shut down in 1976. 

The ornate decor in the Renaissance revival style is partially seen showing the repurposed use of space and structurally is pretty much intact.

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Michigan theater’s; sitting area in its former glory_©www.historicdetroit.org
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The grand renaissance hall leading to the staircase entrance to the mezzanine floor to the theatre_©www.historicdetroit.org
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A view of the balcony of the theatre with part of the hall destroyed due to fire. _©www.historicdetroit.org

Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church / Abyssinia Church of God in Christ

The church was built in 1911 by architect Sidney Rose Badgley. Designed in a neo-gothic style served a congregational area. Made from limestone have intricate openings by traceried stained glass window sets. Along the side, gabled transepts contain full-height traceried windows. A two-story educational wing, built during the same time as the main church, abuts the rear. In the late 1950s, huge masses left Detroit for the north of Michigan for a better life, and the church started descending. Close to early 2005, the church fell out into disrepair and lack of funds, despite merging with various convents in the past with not more than 200 people. Efforts were made in early 2019 but had to stop due to the shortcomings of Covid-19

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Exterior view of the Church_©http://www.detroiturbex.com
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Interiors of the balcony of the church with a shelled-shaped roof_©http://www.detroiturbex.com
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The massive pipe organs vandalized by theft still stand with the broken piano showing the sad state of abandonment of the church_©http://www.detroiturbex.com

Vanity Ballroom 

Charles N. Agree developed and built a community place for aspiring musicians and bands in 1929. One of six elaborate ballrooms in Detroit with an Aztec-themed Art Deco brick with stone and tile ornamented building. A 2-story building with 5 retail stores and the complete second floor as the ballroom by a grand staircase. With Aztec symbols around the ballroom was filled with stepped aches in green glazed tiles. The Dance floor made of wood had a spring-like design to make one feel like one was floating as they moved as this was majorly done to fluctuate the weight of people on the dance floor. This gave 1000 couples the to occupy the dancefloor at any instance. The ballroom boasts a 5,600 square-foot maple dance floor, a stage, and a promenade on three sides. 

The ballroom had ultimately closed down in 1958, with the original signage gone and the architectural details missing owing to decay and vandalism, and it is now waiting to be redesigned.

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Exterior view of the Ballroom_©http://www.detroiturbex.com/
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Formar glory of the ballroom with stepped arches decorated with Aztec patterns_©https://detroithistorical.org/
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Current state of the destroyed and decayed beloved Ballroom_©http://www.detroiturbex.com/

Detroit Public school book depository

Another 3 storeyed structure was designed by industrial architect Albert Kahn and opened in November of 1936 as a post office. The building owns a strong facade of repetitive windows for light and ventilation, which was a typical style followed then. At the annex, letters were sorted and packed, and transported by rail via unground tunnels to the adjacent Michigan Central Station. First, a letter sorting office that over decades transformed into a warehouse for Detroit’s public school. Given the fact, the warehouse catered as a book storage unit, it fell prey to a large fire in 1987. Apart from the books that were reduced to ash, the building also was treated the same and was abandoned. 

Nature in its best form never seems to disappoint and has started to take over seeping through the ashes and moisture. The building had resurfaced in the headlines in 2009 over a corpse found on the premises. But till today the structure stands deserted and abandoned immersed in graffiti. 

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Exterior view of the book depository_©https://www.abandonedspaces.com
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Burnt remains of the book warehouse after being abandoned_©https://www.abandonedspaces.com
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Surprising pockets of Nature taking over the whole warehouse over time_©https://www.abandonedspaces.com
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the premises of the whole warehouse and the Michigan central station abandoned standing together to be redone_©https://www.abandonedspaces.com

United artists theater

Built-in 1928 an 18-story tall building was constructed through renaissance revival architectural style by C. Howard crane. It was placed around shining city areas, such as Circus Park.

An interesting concept of the building was to have an office building above a theatre. The interiors of the theatre lobby were detailed and inspired by inbetween wall length mirrors, and marble staircases Art deco-inspired Indian princesses were a part of the wall feature. The theatre was sound controlled with acoustics that provided seating for more than 2500 seats. The building was shut down repeatedly due to its financial degradation which made it go under controlled redevelopment and finally shut down in 1984. Since then the building has been undergoing countless dismembers though letting it decay in the city.

 Recent light has been shown to redevelop the United artists theatre into 148 new residential flats with first-floor retail development around the hockey arena.

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Exterior view of the then abandoned United artists theatre_©http://cinematreasures.org
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Damaged theatre with the intricate roof rotting away, currently has been torn down_©http://cinematreasures.org
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intricated indian Princess inspired decor_©http://cinematreasures.org

Belle Isle Children’s zoo

Detroit’s abandoned zoo, once a vast and well-kept place of 982 acres designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, today ideally has been completely reclaimed by nature. Located on an island Belle Isle acts as a very peculiar landmark between the 2 countries US and Canada.

Opened in 1895 later named Children’s Zoo in 1947, and then Safariland in the 1980s  were the changes that came along with infrastructural additions. African-themed architectural details such as wooden roofs and boardwalks. Lack of visitors and political turns, the zoo had to be closed in the name of restoration was infinitely delayed to finally being closed down in 2002 visiting the zoo only by imagination in its time.

Today these iconic structures are only being eaten away by vegetation and need urban and landscaping attention. Though proposals for restoring it have been a subject in recent discussions nothing has been sanctioned yet.

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Bird’s eye view of the zoo_©http://www.detroiturbex.com/
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An image of the entrance to the children’s zoo in 1947_©http://www.detroiturbex.com
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ABandoned African-themed boardwalks along the zoo in the state of breaking down and returning in nature_©http://www.detroiturbex.com
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broken down ceiling in the children’s room at the zoo_©http://www.detroiturbex.com

Eastown theatre

Abandoned and destroyed (2015), built by V.J. Waiver and company in a baroque style architecture. having the capacity to occupy 2500 people. For motion pictures. The building catered to 35 apartments, a  ballroom furnished with an oakwood dance floor and baroque arched windows. A marble entrance lobby with a grand staircase awaits leading up to the mezzanine. 

Over the years of closing down, renovating, and meeting the standards of requisition to run the place, an arson fire broke out to destroy half the whole theatre. The theatre was already in a bad condition and had seen better days as moisture seeped in damaging most of the proscenium arches and ceilings. An example of a poor demolition process while cutting steel beams resulted in collapsing the whole balcony.

One can only visit the theatre through the visual glory the theatre had. 

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Abandoned theatre lobby that has broken down over time_©https://historicdetroit.org
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the proscenium arches falling away exposing the structural system inside_©https://historicdetroit.org
graffitied benched nd tattered wals with peeled away wall tiles and decor leaving almost nothing by vanderlisers_©https://historicdetroit.org

References 

World Abandoned (2021) [online].Available at: <https://www.worldabandoned.com/michigan-central-station> [Accessed 24 September 2022].

Detroiturbex (2018) [online] St. Agnes / Martyrs of Uganda Parish Church | Available at: <http://www.detroiturbex.com/content/churches/stagnes/index.html> [Accessed 24 September}

Petrovski N (2017) [online] | Abandoned Spaces | Available at: <https://www.abandonedspaces.com/public/detroit-public-schools-book-depository-and-its-anatomy-of-loneliness.html?chrome=1&Exc_TM_LessThanPoint001_p1=1> [Accessed 22 September 2022]

Austin D (2022) [online] | Historic Detroit | Available at: <https://historicdetroit.org/buildings/eastown-theatre> [Accessed 24 September 2022]

Jarmain P (2020) [online] | Thegardian | Available at: <https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2020/jun/30/detroit-opulent-ruins-20th-century-architecture-in-pictures> [Accessed 18 September 2022]

Murphy T (2022) [online] | Autoweek | Available at <https://www.autoweek.com/news/industry-news/a39717981/finally-detroits-packard-plant-has-a-date-with-the-wrecking-ball/> [Accessed 19th September]

Reindl JC (2022) [online] | Detroit Free Press | Available at <https://www.freep.com/story/money/business/2022/03/07/detroits-abandoned-fisher-body-plant-no-21-become-housing/9409769002/> [Accessed 24 September]

Hickman M (2022) [online] | The Architect’s Newspaper | Available at <https://www.archpaper.com/2022/06/michigan-seeks-public-input-revitalization-detroit-abandoned-belle-isle-zoo/> [Accessed 24 September]

Krefft B (2018) [online] |Cinema Tresures | Available at <http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/1934> [Accessed 20 September]

Austin D (2022) [online] | History Detroit | Available at <https://www.historicdetroit.org/buildings/vanity-ballroom> [Accessed 23 September] 

Author

Tanvi is just like a book, never to be judged by her cover. She’s a passionate architect, who wants to explore the limits of architecture and capture those subtle nuances through writing. Looking for the creative juice she often finds herself deep into the intriguing realm of thoughts. Hence, she's a firm believer in designing experiences through her words and maybe even literally.

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