Michigan Central Station Depot
Michigan Central Station, located in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, was the city’s primary railway depot from 1913 to 1988. Prior to the new station’s construction, the Michigan Central Railroad operated out of a depot located near the river and Third Street – about where Joe Louis Arena currently stands. Michigan Central Station was built partially to accommodate rail traffic from the Detroit-Windsor rail tunnel, which opened in 1910, and an increase in passenger business. The station was put into use before a formal dedication in December 1913 due to a fire destroying the Third Street station.
The impressive structure was designed by New York hotel architects Whitney Warren and Charles D. Wetmore, along with Charles A. Reed and Allen Stem, designers of New York City’s Grand Central Station. The building consists of a three-story depot with 10 gates for trains, and an 18-story tower with more than 500 offices. The depot’s waiting room was the highlight of the station, with marble floors, high vaulted ceilings, bronze chandeliers, and many other details indicative of Beaux Arts style. It also featured a restaurant, lunch counter, barber shop, florist, bathing facilities, and other amenities.
Rail travel saw a sharp decline beginning in the 1950s due in part to the proliferation of highways and air travel, and ridership from the station sagged. Ownership changed hands several times beginning in 1968, with portions of the station closing and facilities disappearing until the final train departed on January 5, 1988, bound for Chicago. Redevelopment plans for the structure came and went, and much of its lavish features were destroyed by vandalism and neglect. The structure was saved from the threat of demolition several times thanks to pending plans and its listing on the National Register of Historic Places, achieved in 1975.
The station has often been cited as a symbol of Detroit as a whole – a remarkable achievement eclipsed by decades of decline – and was frequently photographed as a prime example of “ruins photography.” In June 2018, Ford Motor Company announced their purchase of the building, and their plans to transform the station and nearby buildings into their mixed-use Corktown campus.