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Report - - Michigan Central Depot, Detroit MI, May 2008 | European and International Sites |

Report - Michigan Central Depot, Detroit MI, May 2008

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...continued from part 1...

The next stop for the Massholes after conquering the former Jukebox company was the massive Michigan Central Depot, also known as Michigan Central Station (MCS). With construction finishing in 1913, this imposing train terminal was designed by one of the early 20th century's most significant architecture firms, Warren and Whitmore, in partnership with another prominent firm of the time, Reed and Stem.

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This partnership is also responsible for the design of one of the most significant train terminals in the world, New York's Grand Central Station. The similarities between the two buildings, both having been designed in the Academic Classicism (Beaux Arts) style, are apparent though it is easier to spot the influence of the two separate firms in the design of MCS.

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We entered the station and proceeded up a ramp to the main concourse, the first area that passengers disembarking from their trains would see. The massive space demanded photographs, and I immediately set my bag down and began to set up my tripod. Just when I had gotten the camera mounted to the worthless Bogen, the tripod tipped and my camera crashed to the floor for the second time, on the first day, of my trip. Some may be quick to blame intoxication, but the rush of air and the sound of wings flapping let me know that I had been the victim of an attack by the rare camera-loving Detroit bald eagle. Unfortunate, yes, but clearly unavoidable...under the circumstances. Dismayed by the clunk of camera equipment hitting the stone floor of the concourse I turned to survey the damage. The camera appeared reasonably in tact, except that it had vomited my $7.50/roll Fuji Pro 160S...the only color film I had from the jukebox company...all over the floor. Ordinarily, I would have cursed the photography gods and possibly smashed the wretched tripod to bits. However, something in my head (maybe the booze) told me that this was par for the course for this trip. I resolutely tossed away my now worthless color film, loaded up some Fuji Neopan 1600, and began photographing again.

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Unfortunately, the fully manual Canon A1 had developed a serious aversion to changing the ISO of the film, making the switch to Neopan difficult and time consuming. I also quickly discovered that cocking the shutter tended to shut the camera off, or worse yet switch it to a 2 second timer. Many frames of film were burned in error as I moved the camera from my eye to see why the shutter didn't release, only to snap a picture of nothing as it did finally release seconds later. This concerned me greatly, as I had no real way of knowing whether the camera was actually working or not. Would all of my pictures from the trip be blank? There was no way to tell.

Through a short passage framed by columns was the waiting area, where passengers would wait for their train to arrive.

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The waiting area once featured places to eat, smoke, shop, and even bathe, but the station had been hit hard by vandals and scrappers. Still, the incredible stonework, columns, and vaulted ceilings recall the elegance with which characterized the station's construction.

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We continued our way up to the 4th floor where an excellent spot to rest overlooks the main waiting area.

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While I was taking pictures, though, there were whispers that one of our intrepid Massholes was being overcome with a rare and serious Bourbon allergy. Bad vibes washed over the group as we watched our companion lapse into fitful alcoholic sleep.

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We spent some time hemming and hawing about how best to help our stricken friend. The possibility of lugging his limp frame down four flights of unsafe stairs did not seem realistic without at least SOME help from him and so we nervously waited. Our host suggested that we use the time to visit the roof of the massive terminal, volunteering to babysit our disabled companion while we went. This seemed to be a harsh and uncaring move on our part, but before long snoring began to emanate from the dust pile upon which our friend lay. This seemed strangely reassuring, so we agreed to make a quick visit to the roof.

The upper floors of MCS are mostly set up as office space. Good sized rooms adjoin a central hallway which runs the width of the building.

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It is apparently unclear why the decision was made to build 18 floors on top of the main train station, since only 13 of them were ever finished. The top 5 floors remain empty.

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Dedication is the name of the game in urbex photography! No matter how many floors seem to be the same empty shells, one must stop to look for interesting things to photograph. Some may say it was the hellfire burning in my leg muscles which necessitated stops every couple of levels, but in fact it was only my dedication to you, my viewers, which drove me to halt my otherwise relentless progress!

Nearing the top, one of my fellow explorers suggested that I take a look at a particular floor, promising an awesome view of the top of the station. Once again I gladly stopped purely for the photo opportunity, with the thought of my cardiac muscle tearing like a used tissue never even entering my mind.

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The view from the top was stunning.

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We were able to see from downtown Detroit...

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...all the way to the nearby Ambassador Bridge and Canada.

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We rested on the roof for a bit before making the trek down the stairs to retrieve our allergy-stricken friend. With some effort, we managed to roust him and cajole him into assisting us in carrying him down the stairs. Apart from almost being pushed into a railingless 4 story drop, the task was not as difficult as it seemed, and after reaching the ground floor and dodging some paintballers, he was once again moving under his own power and without assistance.

MCS was an incredible place to explore, and was really my introduction to the paradox of Detroit. The grandeur and even opulence which defines many of the structures built there stands in stark contrast to the current condition of the same structures and the city in general. The rise and fall of the American auto industry, which built and defined 20th Century America, is on display nowhere more prominently than in Detroit's abandonments. This is representative of a larger shift in the American economy away from industry and towards the information age. While this shift has brought record profits to many places, it has also caused devastation on a level which is not widely realized outside of places like Detroit. It begs the question of what is next for those places reliant on the information economy, and what is in store if those jobs are also outsourced and sent overseas...

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