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The abandoned Michigan Central Station in Detroit is one of America’s most haunting architectural ruins. It shouldn’t be surprising that in the Motor City a train station would eventually fall into disuse. But the building that was left behind by the automotive boom is enormous, reflecting Detroit’s great wealth when it was built. It was designed by the same firm who built New York’s Grand Central Station and the attention to detail shows.
The Maroun family, the current owners of the Michigan Central Station, have explored many options. Among them are turning it into a casino, police headquarters or convention center but none has panned out. Meanwhile, the building broods over its Corktown neighborhood, one of the first sights visible to motorists after exiting off the Ambassador Bridge (also owned by the Marouns) from Canada.
Walking up to the railroad station on a brooding gray day with heavy clouds overhead, the hulk of the station, with its gap-toothed expression devoid of windows, appeared as a massive haunted structure from a Gothic novel.
However, there is a ray of hope. Work is being done on the building to stabilize it. While the windows have all been removed, exposing the interior to the elements, there are plans to replace them with architecturally sympathetic new windows.
Lately the cavernous interior of the station has been used to full effect by Hollywood director Michael Bay to film parts of both Transformers movies and The Island. It’s also appeared in many music videos.
When we visited the site, the Michigan Central Station Preservation Society had set up a folding table outside the barbed wire topped fence as they updated the steady stream of visitors about the building’s history and plans for its renovation.
The station celebrates its 100th anniversary on December 27, 2013 in ignominious fashion, with Detroit’s recent bankruptcy dominating the news. At some point a restored Michigan Central railroad station could do much to bring back the city’s pride.
Visiting the Michigan Central Station in Detroit
Address: 2405 West Vernor Highway, Detroit, Michigan
Website: The interior of the building is not open for regular tours. For further information go to Save Michigan Central.
Time to allow: About an hour for chatting with volunteers out front, taking photos and walking around the perimeter of the site.
Who should go? Lovers of architecture, railroads, preservation and urban planning.
Is it worth it? Detroit has become a destination for what some have termed “ruins porn.” While that sounds derogatory, most people who visit are architecture and historic preservation buffs who want to see the building saved. It’s definitely worth visiting an iconic building that may not always be there.
Larissa and Michael are your typical middle-aged couple from Philadelphia who’ve been traveling the world full-time since 2011, seeking off-beat, historic and tasty sights. To receive our free quarterly newsletter with updates and valuable travel tips subscribe here.