The Michigan Central Station is a recent topic of conversation, especially with the news of Ford Motor Company purchasing the building and releasing plans to breathe new life into the property. This news follows 30 years of vacancy in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, where the isolated building sits ominously looking over the city through its dark windows.
Rewind back over 100 years, Michigan Central Station was just starting out as a bustling landmark within Detroit, known for its grandiose design and welcoming vista. Originally scheduled to formally open in January 1914, the station saw its first train roll out of the station on Dec. 26, 1913 following a major fire that put the old Michigan Central Station suddenly out of commission. In fact, it was reported that trains were being redirected to the new station within a half hour after officials were certain the old station could not withstand the blaze.
The station and its railroad were a subsidiary of the New York Central Railroad, which was owned by rail tycoon William Vanderbilt. Architects from Grand Central Station and hotel developers from around the country were brought in to design the station and office building. Though it faced some criticism, the development was a source of great civic pride – especially during the City Beautiful movement – which was reflected through the grandeur of the design inclusive of marble, brick, and bronze along with a perfectly groomed vista named after President Theodore Roosevelt (Roosevelt Park) to guide travelers into the building.
The three-story train depot and eighteen-story office tower property is made up of more than 8 million bricks, 125,000 cubic feet of stone, and 7,000 tons of structural steel. It was the tallest railroad station in the world when it opened. In total, including the station, office building, yards and even an underwater rail tunnel, the railroad invested $16 million into the development – nearly $332 million today.
Despite its longstanding popularity and ability to “wow” visitors from near and far, the days of passenger trains soon came to an end due to the rise of the automotive industry, highway developments, and airlines. Michigan Central Station fought to stay alive through various redesigns and the introduction of Amtrak, but eventually was put up for sale and sold to New York-based Kaybee Corp. on the station’s 72nd anniversary. The last train left the station on Jan. 5, 1988 bound for Chicago.
Over the years, the station changed owners and saw its assortment of unwanted guests parade through the once bright and shiny corridors. However, now we can look forward to the building’s restoration and the symbolism this imparts on Detroit’s continued resurgence.
Check out what the station used to look like in the past with these photos.