Michigan Central Station, located in the Corktown district of Detroit, Michigan, was constructed in mid-1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad at a cost of $15 million.1 7 It replaced an earlier passenger rail depot that had burned on December 26, 1913.7 9

At the time of its construction, it was the tallest railroad structure in the world at eighteen floors, and was began earlier as part of a much larger project that involved the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel under the Detroit River.8 Designed in the Beaux-Arts Classical style, the station was designed by the Warren & Wetmore and Reed and Stem architecture firm who also designed New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.1 4 5 8 9 The depot occupied 500,000 square-foot,1 and was still uncompleted when it began operations after the older Michigan Central Station burned. It was slated for a formal dedication on January 4, 1914.7

The station was divided into two components: the tower and the station. The tower has a height of 230 feet, and was rumored that it was designed to be a hotel and office complex, however, it was only used for offices for the Michigan Central Railroad. The top-most floor was never fitted up for use.8

The main waiting room was modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse, and contained walls of marble that was adorned with Guastavino archies and Corinthian columns.4 6 7 9 The concourse featured brick walls and a large copper skylight. From the concourse, passengers would walk down a ramp to the departing train platforms, which contained eleven tracks.

It’s location, approximately two miles southwest of downtown Detroit, lent itself to relative isolation from major population centers. It’s placement was justified that the station would serve as a catalyst for an edge city; had it been successful, it would have been ahead of New Center by a decade.4 9 The expanse boulevard that extended from the main entrance of the station would have linked to a cultural center across town.4 The majority of the passengers would leave or arrive from the station via interurban or streetcar service, and not as pedestrians, when the station was in its early years.7 9

In 1938, interurban and streetcar service was discontinued in Detroit.7 9 As a result, the depot was effectively isolated from a growing segment of the population that used automobiles, although there was a small underground parking structure on-site.

During World War II, the station saw heavy military usage. Like most railroad depots, however, passenger declined post-war as automobile ownership increased. Lines to Chicago were reduced, and other routes were eliminated as cars were more frequently used for shorter trips to outlying cities and communities.7

In 1956, the owners of the station attempted to sell out for $5 million, a third of the original building cost.7 9 The first attempt for sale failed, and it was placed for sale again in 1963.

In 1967, the restaurant, arcade shops and the main entrance were closed due to declining passenger counts.7 8 9 Much of the central waiting room was also shuttered, and passengers were rerouted to a rear entrance. Only two ticket windows were maintained, and passengers shared the same parking lot as railroad employees.

Four years later, Amtrak took over the United State’s passenger rail service. The main waiting room and entrance were reopened in 1975, which was followed by inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.8 9 The depot was given a $1.25 million renovation three years later that added a bus terminal.7

In 1984, Michigan Central Station was sold for a transportation center project that never materialized.7 9 Finally, on January 6, 1988, the last train departed from the station.7 8 9 In 2000, the passenger platforms were demolished for an intermodal freight yard.8

Since the station’s closure in 1988, it has been host to extensive vandalism and deterioration. Various proposals for the restoration of the station have included a Trade Processing Center, that would convert the property into a customers and international trade processing center. It was considered advantageous due to its proximity to the Ambassador Bridge. The owner, Matty Maroun, who also owned the Ambassador Bridge, stated that until there is a tenant and a deal lined up, that he would not spend any money on preserving or cleaning the station.2 7

Later, casino owner Manuel Moroun proposed a convention center and casino at a cost of $1.2 billion. $300 million of the cost would be tied into the restoration of the station.3

In 2004, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick announced that the city was pursuing options to restore the depot into its police department headquarters, and possibly consolidate other law enforcement offices into the tower. By mid-2005, however, the city canceled the proposal.3 7

Current restoration costs of Michigan Central Station were estimated between $80 to $300 million.1

On April 7, 2009, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution calling for the emergency demolition of the station, and then charging the owner, Manuel “Matty” Moroun demolition costs.10 Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. had already requested the demolition be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and vowed to go after the building’s owner to be reimbursed. The city council, however, wanted to expedite the process.

Cockrel had asked for $3.6 million for the demolition.10 The city’s law department will report on how the resolution could be enforced when the City Council returns from a spring recess on April 28.

On May 18, the City Council voted to delay a decision on the proposed demolition of the Mightan Central Station and Roosevelt Warehouse.11 In late April, Dan Stamper, Detroit Bridge Company owner and president, who also owns both buildings, stated that more time was needed to negotiate with potential developers for the depot. He stated that the federal government was interested in developing the property as a base for its Homeland Security operations in Detroit.

Trivia

Since Michigan Central Station’s closure in 1988, the property has been the set for several films.1 The station was used for scenes in the movie Naqoyqatsi in September 2002, Four Brothers in 2004, The Island in January 2005, and Transformers in October 2006.7

Digest

  • Name: Michigan Central Station
  • Location: Detroit, Michigan
  • Years of Significance: 1913
  • Status: Abandoned

Further Reading

  1. Michigan Central Station at See Detroit.
  2. Michigan Central Station as seen in 1987.

Sources

  1. Aguilar, Louis. “Michigan Central Depot owners say ‘Roll ‘em!’.” Detroit News 8 April 2008. 14 Jan. 2009 Article.
  2. Mullen, Ann. “On Track.” Metro Times 6 August 2008. 14 Jan. 2009 Article.
  3. Fitch, Stephanie and Joann Muller. “The Troll Under the Bridge.” Forbes 15 Nov. 2004. 14 Jan. 2009 Article.
  4. Hill, Eric J., and John Gallagher. “Michigan Central Railroad Station.” AIA Detroit: The American Institute of Architects Guide to Detroit Architecture. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2002. 220.
  5. Sharoff, Robert, and William Zbaren. “Michigan Central Railroad Station.” American City: Detroit Architecture, 1845-2005. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005. 28.
  6. Sobocinski, Melanie Grunow, et al. “Michigan Central Railroad Station.” Detroit and Rome: Building on the Past. Ann Arbor: The Regents of the Univ of Michigan, 2005. 110.
  7. “Michigan Central Station.” Buildings of Detroit. 15 Jan. 2009 Article.
  8. Winkle, Louis Van. “Detroit MC Depot.” Michigan Passenger Stations Home Page. Apr. 2003. 14 Jan. 2009 Article.
  9. Kohrman, David. “Michigan Central Depot: History.” Forgotten Detroit. 28 Mar. 2005. 14 Jan. 2009 Article.
  10. Josar, David. “Detroit council votes to demolish Michigan Central Depot, charge owner.” Detroit News 8 April 2009. 7 April 2009 Article.
  11. Patton, Naomi R. “Detroit landmarks are spared the wrecking ball – for now.” Detroit Free Press 19 May 2009. 19 May 2009.