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Michigan Central Station
Located in Detroit, MI
Photo © 2005 Tom Kirsch, opacity.us
Michigan Central Station History
The original Michigan Central Depot was an arrangement of various buildings along the waterfront that was connected to the railway by a spur, which proved inconvenient for passenger service. To improve the situation, a new station was built in 1913 which allowed the through-passage of trains, and had the benefit of moving away from the seedy wharfs of Detroit. A fire broke out at the old Michigan Central Depot on December 26th 1913, and the new station had to be opened early on that day for service (it was scheduled to open on January 4th).
This new Michigan Central Station on Vernor Hwy was designed by the firms of Warren & Wetmore and Reed & Stem, who were also the architects of the Grand Central Station in New York City. It cost $15 million to construct the grandiose Beaux-Arts Classical building, which is composed of a large vaulted waiting room attached to the station itself. An 18-story office tower rises 230 feet (70 meters) above the station platforms; the top floors of which were never completed due to the lack of demand for space. The waiting room was modeled after ancient Roman bath houses with marble walls, Doric stone columns, and heavy benches carved from dark wood. The station was not placed near downtown due to the Michigan Central Railway Tunnel which had just opened in 1910 - its western portal would run straight into the new station, handling passengers coming to and from Canada with ease. This considerable distance from the city center proved to be a hindrance, and without any kind of parking structure ever built, the station became more and more isolated from the city as time progressed. Streetcar service to the station was discontinued in the 1930s, and although WWII provided great amounts of activity on its rail lines, things began to slow considerably from then on. The owners of the building tried to sell it for only $5 million in 1956, and again in 1963, but there were no buyers. By 1967 maintenance costs were too great and parts of the building were closed to the public.
In 1971, Amtrak took over the passenger rail service and put millions into renovations; the closed off portions were once again opened to the public, but the building was sold to a transportation project that never fruitioned. The last train pulled away on January 6, 1988 as Amtrak moved to its current Detroit train station. After changing hands a few times, its last owner has been Controlled Terminals Inc., a company owned by Matty Moroun who also owns the nearby Ambassador Bridge. Plans for the building have included a Trade Processing Center, Hotel and Casino, and in 2004 the Detroit Police Department had considered moving into the vacant building, however renovation estimates of $80-$300 million have kept these ideas from becoming a reality.
In the spring of 2009, the Detroit City Council voted for an "emergency demolition" of the structure - and federal stimulus funds would pay for it. This happened despite the fact that the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Luckily this demolition plan has been put on hold, and in the meantime there have been efforts to clean up the surrounding area, as well as the building itself (see www.savemichigancentral.com for more details) in hopes of preservation.
A documentary about MCS made by Sunday Times in 1987 has some great footage of the site just before Amtrak vacated the premises; unfortunately the video was removed on YouTube.