There are thousands of abandoned houses and condos. Some of them destroyed by the fires that the homeless start to fight the inclement cold nights. Detroit is partially the setting of an end-of-the-world documentary. Poverty-stricken people wander like robots, with their joints stiffened by the cold wind.
Another symbol of the decadence is the Packard plant. Its ruins spread for 3,500,00 square-feet, of which the city is not able to get rid of. Abandoned for decades, it does not have even a owner. Urban legend has it that its owner is incarcerated in California for drugs. The place turned into a morbid tourist attraction and meeting point of graffiti artists.
In 60 years, Detroit population diminished from 1.8 million to 750,000. In 1967, a historic race riot rattled the city. Due to inability in the post-riot negotiations, the white population left the city for the suburbs or other parts of the country. Add to the racial tension the galloping unemployment in the car industry – GM, Ford and Chrysler. Jobs were eliminated in great volumes. Firstly because of automation, and later by the invasion of the Japanese cars. And, more recently, by a stunning sequence of fatal events: 9/11 and the bubbles of Wall Street. The blow of mercy was the burst of the real estate bubble in 2007, which became the biggest recession of the last 60 years. In the peak point of the crisis, almost 3 million vehicles stopped being manufactured in the United States. Production shrank to its lowest point in 20 years. GM and Chrysler survived due to billionaire loans by the Treasury, which became partner of those companies. Dozens of plants and hundreds of car dealers closed their doors. Thousands of jobs were lost. Detroit collapsed with its industry. The city is considered the worst place to live in the United States. The crime rate is one of the worst of the country – six times more homicides than New York; twice the robberies per thousand habitants. Last month, a serial rapist scared the city.
About 50,000 families houses were foreclosed.
Nevertheless, what seemed to be the end of the automotive industry in the United States, turned out to be a milestone in the history of human mobility. With a surprising velocity, the auto manufacturers made a U-turn in its production lines. They are abandoning the gas-gushers SUVs, and manufacturing compact cars and clean energy vehicles. The sales have soared and there is hope again.
Downtown Detroit is coming back. There is already much to see in that area. Could be better, but the process suffered a setback with the imprisonment of the Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick for obstruction of justice.
A luxurious hotel opened in 1924, which was abandoned for many years, was recuperated and reopened in 2005. It is the Book Cadillac, with condominiums and rooms. Book Cadillac are two traditional families of Detroit(the city was founded by a Cadillac 300 years ago), and the hotel is now the Westin Book Cadillac. – “We cater for the corporative clientele on weekdays, and on the weekends we have parties and receptions”, declares the Concierge-Chief Bradley McCallum, an amateur architectural photographer himself.
Institutions and altruistic persons apply themselves to mitigate the suffering of the ones with hunger and cold. One of those persons is Jeff DeBruyn, a 41 year-old lawyer, who manages a soup kitchen in a Pentecostal church, with a Catholic priest. DeBruyn created also Face the Station, a charity in the Corktown area, close to downtown. With donations, he bought two derelict houses to build a community center. “We will give housing and provide information for those people. Those people do not have money to buy newspapers or computers. There is no democracy without information”, said DeBruyn.
Detroit auto show attracted more visitors in 2011. On Sunday, Jan. 16, 99 visitors saw the new models and learned that GM´s Volt, is the car of the year. Here is one of the leverages to the recuperation of the city – the electric car. “We will produce the dream models of the consumers of the future: those which are environment-friendly and high tech”, said Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry Ford, and current President of the Board of Directors of Ford Motors.
The future of Detroit depends upon the fulfillment of that promise , shared with GM and Chrysler.
Photo # 1 – The Train Depot or Michigan Central Station, was the tallest train station in the world on its inauguration in 1913. It was abandoned in 1988. The City Council voted its demolition in 2009, but it was impounded in a court because it is a historical building. To the left of the photo, the depot of school books and school materials of the city, which was abandoned in 1987 with leakage in the roof. All the material there.
Foto # 2 – The Metropolitan Building, which in its hay days was totally occupied by jewelry stores, is abandoned, but there are signs that it will be recouped. To the right, the Wurlitzer Building, whose recuperation has already begun. It will become an office building.
Photo # 3 – Rubble and garbare are being removed from this building, a sign that a process of recuperation is on its way.
Photo # 4 – Abandoned buildings in downtown Detroit.
Photo # 5 – Mansions of the end of the XIX century, in Corktown. The first one, from right to left, was recouped and it inhabited, as well as the third one. The others are abandoned, and the last two show signs of fires.
Foto # 6 – The GM Tower seen between an abandoned house and an inhabited house.
Photo # 7 – Almost new houses and apartment buildings abandoned near downtown.
Photo # 8 – Inside one of those houses.
Photo # 9 – To the left, the dilapidated old building of Cass Technical High School. To the right, the new building, smaller due to the decrease of the population in school age.
Photo # 10 – One of the three casinos in the city. They generate needed tax money to Detroit.
Photo # 11 – To the right, the hotel Westin Book Cadillac. In the background, an empty building. The building to the left is occupied.
Photo # 12 – One of the guest parlors at the Westin Book Cadillac, with Carrara marble on the walls and floor, and Murano crystal chandeliers.
Photo # 13 – The world headquarters of General Motors – GM Renaissance Center – seen through the Hart Plaza.
Photo # 14 – Inside The Guardian.
Photo # 15 – In the middle, abandoned building on Griswold Street, surrounded by modern buildings.
Photo # 16 – The Guardian and other buildings on the corner of Griswold and Larned, in downtown Detroit. A new overpass links The Guardian to the building across the street. Below, the People Mover rails, a transportation system that loops downtown.
Photo # 17 – A modern architectonic group of buildings in downtown Detroit.
Photo # 18 – World headquarters of Compuware. This area, where many traditional department stores were in the past, was swept away in 1966, until the software manufacturer built there its world headquarters.
Photo # 19 – The two houses in ruins bought by Jeff DeBryun to house Face the Station, in Corktown. The abandoned hotel may become part of the project in the future.
Photos # 20 – In the back of one of the houses acquired for Face the Station, visual artist Catie Newell made an installation with burnt wood. Catie and painter Marianne Burroughs support Jeff DeBryun in the community services in Corktown.
Photo # 21 – The Casa de España(House of Spain) is for sale.
Photo # 22 – Abandoned semi-burnt house in Corktown, with a little soccer field on the side.
Photo # 23 – Abandoned house in Corktown. The backyard is a community garden.
Photo # 24 – Part of the ruins of the Packard Plant.
Photo # 25 – Abandoned meat wholesale plant, near the Packard Plant.
Photo # 26 – Collapsing houses on the way to the Packard Plant.
Photo # 27 – The coffee house in the Weston Book Cadillac, empty, in a Tuesday morning. While in other big American cities there is an Starbucks on every corner, downtown Detroit has only one Starbucks in its downtown area.
Photo # 28 – A Presbyterian church, with a Methodist pastor, and a Catholic soup kitchen, in Corktown. Congregation: 36. Decadence favored ecumenicism.
Photo # 29 – One more abandoned house, near the GM Detroit-Hamtramck plant, where the Volt is manufactured.
Photo # 30 – The placard in front to the Volt manufacturing plant. The electric car may mean better days for Detroit.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED @ ÉPOCA NEGÓCIOS, 2011. With the authorization of Época Negócios, the Brazilian magazine to which I sold the rights of the article and of the photos.
Many thanks to the journalists who helped me around Detroit: Jillian Bogater and Steven Neavling, and to Jeff DeBryun. Thanks also to Bryan Bogater, a native from Detroit and lover of his hometown, who resides in Fort Lauderdale. This photo-journalistic work began with my talks with Bryan.