Detroit Buildings. What comes to mind? Eminem’s childhood home, the GM Renaissance Center, The Detroit Tigers Stadium? Perhaps it’s all and more. For me, it is the historic and abandoned buildings. The architectural marvels that now lay in ruin, covered in graffiti, a shamble of their original glory.
We spent a long weekend in Detroit to tour the abandoned buildings. As much as we like to explore on our own, I wanted to take a local tour because some of the buildings we wanted to view are in less than desirable locations; secondly, because we are not experienced urban explorers.
Researching our options, I came across hundreds of photos by Jesse Welter, a local photographer who has a fascination with urbexing and Detroit’s architecture. I found Jesse’s website Motor City Photo Workshops, and realized that he offered tours. I don’t think you can do any better than take a trip like this with a local photographer that shares your passion. Four of us did this tour, it cost $75 a person, and it was one of the best seventy-five dollars ever spent.
Sadly, Jesse no longer offers the tour however, I will share alternative options below.
We did this tour before I had a blog. Sharing this experience has been on my to-do list for a while. I was recently re-motivated to write this after reading one of my favorite bloggers post: A Work of Street Art: The Best Murals in Nashville. The murals reminded me of Detroit’s graffiti, which, while not the same, both urban art forms.
Tour Companies Offering Tours of Detroit Buildings
Detroit Buildings We Toured
We were able to visit many historical sites from theaters, schools, and famous automobile plants.
Crockett Technical High School
This one is exciting and sad. I say it’s sad because it’s humongous, and yet there is no sign of life insight. A couple of occasional homes appear to be occupied, but otherwise, this area is like a no man’s land – totally deserted. At least it was when we toured it. This school is massive! During the heyday, 2,300 students were above the intended capacity.
If you get the chance to tour this school, a couple of things will resonate. The sheer size and desertion give your insight into what was. Imagine how many had to have lived in this area for a school of this size. Imagine if you can why they left. If you are not familiar with the city of Detroit’s struggle, now would be a good time to read up on the History:
Essentially, in 2013 Detroit became the city ever to file for bankruptcy. It did not happen overnight nor in the 21st century. The demise started around 1950 with the auto industry’s decentralization and moving away from the city to the suburbs. From there, a trickle-down financial effect followed. Consider that this is a tremendously simplified summary. Many other factors contributed to a broader decline, including government fraud, racism, and poor city management.
St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church
This church is an Urban explorers dream! It’s got all the cliché elements. An old decrepit grand piano staged on its side to create drama. Random plastic flowers laid throughout, shoes, and flowers aesthetically placed on a pew for that perfect shot. Bibles galore and plenty of paperwork (including checks) that give you a glimpse into its past. This church has been photographed many times, the main focal piece being the grand piano. Worth checking out, but it was not my favorite of the tour.
Packard Automotive Plant
The graffiti lover’s paradise, this place is packed head to toe with graffiti, and some of it is very entertaining. All though, forewarning this place is also full of vagrants, glass, human feces, and urine, so watch your step!
Packard Automotive Plant occupies a whopping 3,500,000-square-foot on 40 acres. It was the heart of the automobile industry boom. It formally opened in 1903 and closed in 1958. During its abandonment, it has been used for paintball, raves, scrapping, and shelter. In 2017, Arte Express began renovations.
I’ve got the poo on me – classic!
Michigan Central Station
An iconic train station was known as Michigan Central Depot, or MCS, was the tallest of all rail stations when constructed in 1913. This station was once a showpiece. Over the top marble floors, bronze chandeliers, and Corinthian columns galore. A masterpiece worth comparison to Central Station in New York because of the size and theatrical style.
You may recognize this station. This Detroit building might be one of the most well known. It was featured in many films, and Eminem has shot Eminem shot music videos here as well. As rail travel begin to decline, this station ultimately closed in 1998.
Over the years, there has been lots of speculation about what would happen to Michigan Central Station. There were rumors of an event venue, a shopping mall, and office buildings. On June 19th, 2018, Ford Motor Company announced its long-rumored plan to buy the abandoned Michigan Central Station.
We could not enter the station, but you can still marvel at the beauty from the outside.
East Town Theater
A favorite of mine, sadly, it’s one that can only be enjoyed through memories and photos. It was Demolished in Nov 2015.
Upon arrival, the local prostitute and resident crack head greeted us. The crack head was riding a toddler’s bike. Yes, a toddler’s bike! Both out and about enjoying the morning at 8 am. Visualize the scene on Friday, where the oversized De Bo is riding Red’s bike. Now you have an idea of what this was like!
The prostitute followed us all over, harmlessly sharing her version of the theater’s History while asking to be tipped. This quickly turned into full-on begging, which became annoying. She was shooed away and eventually left us to our exploration.
The Eastown Theatre opened in 1931, initially as a movie theater. It was converted to a rock venue in 1967, hosting some big names like Fleetwood Mac. In the ’90s, like many other Detroit Buildings, this one hosted some raves. In 2010, most of the building was destroyed by a fire. The once ornate gold dome ceiling gone forever, traces remaining in crumbles below.
Fisher Body Plant 21
Visiting this plant was a bonus! It was not on our original tour, nor had any of us heard of this particular plant. Much like the Packard Automotive Plant, this is a big plant, but it is a fraction of the size. If you attempt this one, know there is a ton of staircase climbing. I can’t recall exactly how many flights, but after around about 16, everyone in our group except Brian quit. Much as we would have enjoyed the views from the roof, we were knackered!
The Fisher Body Plant was built in 1919 and has 3,700,000 square feet of floor space. This plant has got tons of original track in it. Well, it did when we toured it, and it’s still got equipment in it, such as a floor cleaner!
Here is Brian riding a floor cleaner:
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality did a study on the Fisher Body Plant in 2004. The study found the plant to be full of hazards such as asbestos, lead waste, and other contaminants. So, if you do this one – I did tell you!
Where To Stay In Detroit
Chances are you will want to spend more than a day in Detroit. Here are places to stay:
I loved our time in Detroit and want to explore it again. There is an endless amount of abandoned buildings to explore. Several neighborhoods are making a comeback. For example, visit the mansions at Brush Park or Indian Village. You could spend a day admiring the revival of the mansions alone.
If Detroit’s buildings are not your thing, watch a basketball game. Go to the Ford Automobile Factory, which was terrific; I was shocked at how fascinating this tour is. Or go to Greenfield Village.
Most importantly, if you are into history or architecture, be sure to explore Detroit’s abandoned buildings. Lastly, don’t do this tour solo – hire a local to ensure you are safe.
For a complete list of all Detroit’s abandoned buildings, see Detroit Urbex.
Looking for more posts on American History? Start here:
Nikki Webster is a travel writer who covers how to travel while grinding a day job, how to travel without breaking the bank, hotels, cruising, and off-the-beaten-track experiences. She is particularly fond of Florida and writes extensively about the state. She flies around 60,000 miles per year and has visited 54 countries, 50 states, and six continents. You can read all about her travels at www.britonthemove.com.