If You’re Strange Like Me, This Could Interest You…


5th May, 2011

There are a few things about me that could be perceived by some as a little off. For example, I highly enjoy doing a little dance in front my bathroom mirror occasionally, watching zombie films or snacking on salted crisps dipped in cold milk (trust me, try it).

I also enjoy looking at derelict buildings. In fact, I find them fascinating; imagining the history before abandonment, both the attraction and intimidation of the ghostly presence left behind, the textures made by the decay– it’s extremely alluring.

Have I lost you? Perhaps this might help.

I attended a photography exhibition that opened this month here in Paris called “The Ruins of Detroit”.

I may have been the first in line and I attended alone (as with dipping crisps in milk or dancing in front of the mirror, there are some things you just want to do alone).

Two self-taught French photographers, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, collaborated for over five years in Detroit, possibly the hardest hit city by the economic downturn, photographing deserted landmarks, destroyed schools, concert halls, theatres and hotels literally falling apart. For a city that once stood as the cradle of modern mass-production, the photographs are a baffling documentation of a major American city “in a state of mummification”, as Marchand and Meffre call it. “Its splendid decaying monuments are, no less than the Pyramids of Egypt, the Coliseum of Rome, or the Acropolis in Athens, remnants of the passing of a great Empire”.

Check it out…

(click on the photos if you want to get a closer look)

Michigan Central Station

It was once filled with the sounds of hellos and goodbyes, panting locomotives and screeching wheeled steel. It was Detroit’s Ellis Island, where many generations of Detroiters first stepped foot into the city for factory jobs. But for nearly twenty-five years now, it has been a place for vandals, thrill-seekers, junkies and the homeless. The only sounds to be heard are the hissing of cans of spray paint, the clicks and whirs of camera shutters and the slow drips of water through holes in the roof. Wind whistling through broken windows has replaced the deep-throated whistles of trains.


Atrium, Farwell Building (office building)

Built in 1915, its lobby was once lavishly decorated with Tiffany glass and its offices filled with natural light. In 1974 the Farwell was listed on the State Register of Historic Places and in 1974 on the National Register. Despite these efforts the building has stood vacant for nearly twenty years. There have been proposals for loft developments but as of today none have materialized.


18th floor dentist cabinet, David Broderick Tower

Vacant since 1985, the Broderick Tower went from being “a beauty by day—a jewel by night” to the third-tallest abandoned building in the United States. There is a happy ending for this building however. In 1995, the Detroit Tigers announced they would build a new baseball stadium near the Broderick northeast of Grand Circus Park. Real estate deals started happening left and right and in May 2010, an announcement was made to start work on a $55 million redevelopment project that would feature nearly 130 residential units and a restaurant lounge. Works are expected to be finished in 2012.


The Donovan Building

Occupied by Motown Records from 1968 to 1972, demolished in 2006 because the Mayor said it was an eyesore for the visitors of the upcoming Super Bowl. The demolition of the building was completed in two weeks. Because of this time constraint, little was removed from the buildings before demolition. Items such as marble, documents, and architectural detailing were simply smashed to bits.


Bagley-Clifford Office of the National Bank of Detroit

A haunting image shows a once-secure and proud bank – its vault decrepit and strong boxes strewn.


The United Artists Theater

Opened in 1928. Detroit’s newest film palace became an instant hit and was one of two Detroit theaters to show Gone With the Wind when the film debuted in 1939. Today the building continues to stand empty and faces probable destruction, having been already stripped of much of its remaining plasterwork and scrap metal.


Ballroom of the American Hotel

Now a shell of a building, sadly. Originally built in 1926 at a cost of 1.8 million dollars, it closed for good in 1990.


The William Livingston House

Completed in 1893, this was one of the earliest known efforts of Albert Kahn, who designed the renaissance facade when he was just 23. The irony is that this house was moved one block east in the late 1990’s to save it from demolition. At that point the building was abandoned, and perched on its substandard foundations, it gradually began to slump and become derelict. After the collapse of its façade in the summer 2007, the building was sadly demolished on September 15th, 2007. I found a photograph of what it once look like below…


Melted clock, Cass Technical High School

Built in 1922, this school’s alumni included Diana Ross and Jack White of the White Stripes. Having been plagued by fires and vandalism for years, demolition took place last month.


Piano, Saint Albertus School

Closed since 1990. Left decaying for over 20 years now.


East Methodist Church

Post-apocalypse or downtown Detroit?


A classroom at St. Margaret Mary’s School. Perhaps the teacher’s last chalk writings still on the board on the far left.


Vanity ballrom

The Vanity Ballroom was built in 1929 after the stock market crashed. Despite the Depression, the Vanity was one of the most popular dance venues in town.

The Vanity could not survive the decline of garage rock and the decline of Detroit post-1967 riot. Over the decades following, attempts were made to revive the ballroom to its former glory, but were shortlived. The ballroom was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. It is not considered such by the state of Michigan. It closed for the last time in 1987.

It remains the last intact ballroom of Detroit’s great dance halls of the big band era of the early 1930s and late 1940s. It has largely been spared the ravages of scrappers and vandals, most of its ornate Aztec features remain, however some of its architectural details were chiseled off and stolen.


Jane Cooper Elementary School, Spring 2008


Jane Cooper Elementary School, Spring 2009

At the end of the 2007 school year, Jane Cooper Elementary (built in 1920) was left unsecured in the middle of the wasteland where a middle-class neighbourhood once stood. It took “scrappers” only a few months to strip the building of every last ounce of metal and leave it looking as though it hadn’t been occupied for decades.


Fisher Body 21 Plant

Fisher Body 21 was the birthplace for the bodies of countless Cadillacs.


Room 1504, Lee Plaza Hotel

By the early 20th century it was actually fashionable to reside permanently in hotels. This explains why you can see a connecting kitchenette in the photograph. Hotels would be built specially for residents, used as upscale apartment with hotel services. Constructed in 1929, the Lee Plaza rises to 15 floors and is an excellent example of Art Deco architecture of the 1920s. After economic decline, the apartment’s ownership changed several times, being used as a senior citizen’s complex (making it even creepier) before finally closing as a residence in the early 1990s.


The Ballroom of the Lee Plaza Hotel

The Lee Plaza has been badly ravaged by vandals after its solid fortifications broke down by 2000.

It is a registered historic site by the state of Michigan and was added to the United States National Register of Historic Places.


See the full body of work on the photographer’s website here

If you’re in Paris, I recommend you go to see the exhibition at Galerie Wanted in the Marais, 23, rue du roi de Sicile / 75004


Am I alone in my fascination for derelict and forgotten buildings?



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