Our tires crunched the snow of the seldom tread drive in in front of Detroit’s Michigan Central Station. With the polar vortex nipping at our heels, I jumped out just long enough to snap a few photos of the immense relic of comings and goings. We were surprised to see the station, vacant since the late 1980’s, decorated in Christmas lights.
The eighteen story Michigan Central Station was the world’s tallest rail station when it was built in 1913 by the same architecture firm who designed New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Its use declined significantly in the middle of the last century, due in part to its location away from central downtown and lack of significant parking. The station’s decay has become symbolic of Detroit’s deterioration.
A quick photo search will return thousands of arresting images of the graffiti scarred Beaux Arts hallways. Yet there may be life for the station beyond ruin porn. Its status on the National Register of Historic Places has saved the building from demolition. In recent years, there’s been discussion of repurposing the station as a casino, border patrol center, or police headquarters. While a full renovation of the building could cost between $100 million and $300 million, billionaire owner Matty Maroun has begun clearing out asbestos and replacing the blown out windows.¹
We didn’t linger long, or venture toward the station’s crumbling interior, but from the outside the monument to motion looked solid. Gazing at the Michigan Central Station just two weeks after its centennial we wondered whether new windows and twinkle lights are merely a Band-Aid, or the first acts toward making the station shine again.