Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Really Long (but worth it, I think) Post About Our Recent Trip to Detroit

Over Memorial Day weekend James and I went to Detroit. The electronic music fest. was going on..we didn't go to the festival, but instead explored around a bit and headed to an after party later in the evening. The festival was on the riverfront by the GM building. It was funny because you could walk along the river walk and be right beside the fenced in festival goers. Who knew that so many people still dress like ravers. Especially noting that a lot of these raver-dressed people were young. And it wasn't ironic. We kept thinking of this recent post on Sorry I Missed Your Party. I guess there are always strange factors to festivals though.

Detroit - Everything WILL be alright P5240036

Detroit - Everything WILL be alright P5240039
"Detroit, Everything will be alright"
in the window of an empty building downtown.

Detroit was and wasn't what we expected, I think. For most of my childhood my family lived about 20 minutes outside of Detroit, in Redford, but I didn't have much experience downtown. James had never been. It was late afternoon Sunday when we got there, and the next day was a holiday, so it may not be a completely fair assessment, but the downtown was pretty quiet. It's like the equivalent to Chicago's loop, a business area with a few restaurants and not many shops, so it's very quiet on the weekends.. but Detroit still had much less activity- and there was a festival happening right in front of it. You could walk across city streets with out looking for cars.

james snuck a photo P5240043
At the river front.

At the river front P5240041
Just realized I'm not sure how this was taken without any kids in it!
There were so many little ones galloping about!

At the river front  P5240040
Bridge from Detroit to Windsor.

James was pretty beat from driving and we ended up walking around downtown and the riverfront for the rest of that day. Had dinner at Niki's pizza, which was decent. Sat near some young seemingly wealthy college students with endless annoyingly loud and conceited stories. Maybe I was just hyper-aware and thinking everyone would be sort of humble, given the financial state of well, the entire state of Michigan. Although, these kids would have been annoying in any setting.

After dinner we drove around a bit.. saw the famously abandoned Michigan Central Station. It is so large and so apocalyptic. We went at dusk and that was probably a perfect time to visit. I can't even describe the feeling.. it's something else.

Michigan Central Station, abandoned P5240048

Michigan Central Station, abandoned P5240047

We also went by the old Tiger Stadium, which I found out today could be completely torn down in the next two weeks. This is very sad and if you are interested you can read more about that here. I was thinking out loud earlier and wondering why Major League Baseball can't get involved in old ballparks. Wouldn't it be neat if they could help resurrect them into something for the community (especially in cities that could use a hand). There were talks of turning the old park into a youth baseball field and a sort of museum. I don't know what happened to that idea and why it's a better thought to turn it into one more massive empty lot for Detroit.

We stopped by the Magic Stick for a drink, just because we stumbled upon it. It was what you'd expect. They were playing the Dead Kennedys and at the same time a teenager walked in with a Dead Kennedys hoodie. ...Headed back to the hotel and then out to an after party.

The next day we drove over to Belle Isle which was fun. It is larger than either of us expected. It is an island and has ponds, a water park, endless picnic spots, a nature museum, conservatory, boat club, golf course, maritime museum, and other things I'm probably forgetting. It use to have an aquarium and zoo (follow that link for abandoned photos), but they have closed.

Ariel view from

Swan family on Belle Isle P5240080


Cruising around on belle isle P5240083

After that we headed to the Heidelberg Project. Tyree Guyton began this project in 1986. Taken from the site:

The Heidelberg Project is an outdoor community art environment. The elements of the canvas contain recycled materials and found objects, most of which were salvaged from the streets of Detroit. Each work of art is carefully devised to tell a story about current issues plaguing society. As a whole, the HP is symbolic of how many communities in Detroit have become discarded. It asks questions and causes the viewer to think. When you observe the HP, what do you really see? Is it art? Is it junk? Is it telling a story? That’s for you to decide.

Read all about it here.

The Heidelberg Project P5240054
Tyree inherited this house from his Grandfather and his Mother lives there today.

The Heidelberg Project P5240059

The Heidelberg Project P5240062

The Heidelberg Project P5240051

Abandoned, near the Heidelberg Project P5240071

Abandoned, near the Heidelberg Project P5240075
This home was near the Heidelberg Project.
With it's windows and doors missing, this home was very dollhouse-like, lovely wallpaper and all.

Holcomb St. near the Urban Prairies  P5240086

We drove around a bit more after this..found Holcomb street (my last name) which lead to massive urban prairies, or leveled lots. We found out about this area from a recent bit on Detroit that the Chicago Reader did:

Holcomb between Mack and Charlevoix Just a place to start: Drive around the east side and you’ll encounter whole city blocks of green interrupted by the occasional house—not to mention many a house interrupted by green. For as rural as it feels, it can be a bit menacing. Packs of wild dogs have been reported; staying in or near your car is probably best, but if you decide to explore, pepper spray or a baseball bat are recommended.

We didn't bother with pepper spray or baseball bats. The Reader didn't make such a suggestion at the end of every Detroit location, yet it was still hard to know if this was a serious comment or not. It was early afternoon on a beautiful Memorial Day...maybe they would have been required at night? I do not know. This Google Map view between Mack and Charlevoix really shows all the empty lots well..go about south and east and west.

one of many P5240084
One of many.

A seemingly well-off street in the middle of not so well-off homes  P5240089

Then randomly stumbled upon this street (shown above). I think there are a couple blocks like this. We went North on this one..these are really nice houses, many of them gated, however even a lot of these homes weren't completely upkept and showed signs of owner neglect (for whatever reason, and there are probably many). There was just one home on this block that was smaller and very much in shambles. It was a sight to see, let me tell you. I would have taken a photo (it was just that out of the ordinary compared to the other homes) but the owners were outside sitting on their decaying porch smiling and enjoying the holiday.

Headed out of town, and accidentally found the old Packard car plant. It is massive. Just massive. Taken from the same Reader segment:

The Packard Motor Car Co. ended production in 1956, leaving behind a 3.5-million-square-foot behemoth of a factory complex that’s been falling apart ever since. Designed by Albert Kahn, sometimes called the architect of Detroit, it’s now home to squatters, feral dogs and cats, and rats. It sheltered rave parties in the 80s and a paintball course called Splatball City in the 90s; and remains a popular (though also illegal to enter) location for photographers and other explorers. Be amazed at the ephemera that has found its way in—boats, toys, and increasing amounts of illegally dumped garbage from surprising places.

Packard Plant, Detroit, MichiganP5240094

Packard Plant, Detroit Michigan   P5240093

Packard Plant, Detroit Michigan   P5240092

Next we headed to Redford, so I could show James where I grew up! I am a very nostalgic person, and I had such great times growing up in Michigan. I lived in Plymouth until I was 3, and then once my younger brother was born we moved to Redford. When I was 10 we moved to a Chicagoland suburb here in Illinois.

We took a main road out of Detroit into Redford just to experience how things change. Pretty interesting, and just a 20 minute drive. Our old house isn't as cute as it was when we were inside, haha. They put blinds up and don't have as many flowers. It looks like they put a taller fence up in the back (we just grew ivy and hollyhocks up our metal fence which was good for us kids so we could still climb over it!). My room was in the front on the right. We had a cherry tree in the backyard with a wooden swing that my dad put up. The house was built in 1952.

Our old house on Rockland   P5240097

This photos is at an awful angle because the owner was out and about and I got nervous haha. Also! One of my old neighbors was out washing his car. This was a very surreal experience haha. I was very close to saying hello but backed out in fear of awkwardness and what do you say? Do you go into your life story after the age of 10? I grew up with all boys around. It was a drag at times, but way more often did I have a ton of fun climbing fences and playing capture the flag-like games...I was bummed out when my new Illinois girlfriends weren't as into doing that as I was, ha.

I showed James a bit more of my old town and I think he enjoyed it. Long ago he took me for a drive through his childhood haunts as well. We made a quick stop in Plymouth where I showed him the old house we rented in, the dollhouse shop that was on the same street 2 minutes away walking, and a couple favorite ice cream places.

Our old home on Penniman   P5250101

Carousel Ice Cream shop  P5250104

It was a nice trip. Everyone knows I have a huge soft spot for Michigan, I think it's safe to say James' (a life long Illinois resident) grew a bit that weekend as well. We both want to head back to Detroit, definitely. Have you been recently? Or do you have Detroit memories? I am constantly hoping the best for that city and everyone in it.

There are more photos on my Flickr.

Meagan just commented on my Detroit post leading me to this blog called Sweet Juniper which I am really looking forward to reading. I have seen the photos of James Griffioen, but didn't realize he had a blog about living in Detroit (and raising a young family with his wife). Looks like it may help me put my visit into perspective (it's resulted in many conversations and ponderings). Thanks!


  1. I've never been to Detroit (or Michigan for that matter, despite growing up in MN and IL), but the sweetjuniper blog verifies that there are definitely packs of wild dogs. You'll probably enjoy reading his take on living in Detroit and the photos that he takes, too.

  2. hey! how have you been?
    yeah i suppose it's a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time..i heard they are on belle isle as well, which is really crazy to think about when we saw how populated it can get on a nice weekend holiday.
    thanks a lot for this blog! hadn't heard about it and have just subscribed!

  3. Oh man. I had some friends who lived in Windsor for a while -- they would travel to Detroit pretty often and they told some absolutely chilling stories. It sounds like a completely surreal, unreal place. I'm going to have to come back and read your post over -- I'm fascinated.

    And um your purse is fantastic. I didn't realize how big it was!

  4. Wow, I am *so* glad you posted this! What a fascinating trip. I really love the array of pictures you took - they definitely illustrate the peaks and valleys of the situation. (I'm kind of speechless just thinking about it!) On a lighter note, that is an awesome purse, ha!

  5. anabela- it really is like another world. i'm pretty obsessed with it right now.
    haha and is a big bag. sigh it has seen better days is my absolute favorite.

    casey- i'm not very good with words, it took so long to even think about posting all this stuff haha. and really i only touched on's a pretty crazy place. i think you like road trips just as much as i do..maybe you should head out there!

    katie- i know..of course i thought of you. it's a bummer..

  6. Thanks for posting about the D. I'm in Royal Oak (about 15 min. north), and I love visiting downtown. There are tons of hidden gems in the city-- great restaurants, venues, shops, etc. They're just a bit hidden... :)

    I actually wouldn't live anywhere else but here. ♥

  7. hello! yeah i have relatives in royal oak actually :)
    we didn't have time to explore enough of those hidden gems! and also it was a sunday evening and holiday on that monday..we really do want to go back. i'll for sure send you an email so we can get your tips!

  8. Ohhh! I'm totally fascinated by Detroit! I can spend hours on this website:
    just going through all of the photos of these once majestic buildings that have been left to rot. There are SO many! It's so sad, yet totally intriguing all at once. I have to say though, that the Michigan Central Station is one of those places that I really want to see... before they tear it down. sigh.

  9. hello april! yeah i have also gotten lost roaming around that site! SO many things to see...and yes..intriguing and very sad. i still am having difficulties wrapping my brain around the fact that such a place exists..that we let it happen. it's scary.

  10. Wow, that google map view is pretty astonishing. Living in a city where I can see four cranes alone from my office's just crazy to think of the opposite being the norm.

    & some of those house shots remind me of logging towns out on the Washington coast, especially the falling down structures. Only those are little towns, *not* cities.

  11. yeah it's pretty intense! ...there is a really determined urban farming movement in's just so, so interesting...who knows what will happen. i feel like good things are sprouting.
    no pun intended?

  12. I live in Redford now!! I know where that house is! ahh that's exciting..I thought no one knew it exsited...=\

    :D yayy!!


  13. hello sera :) it exists haha. where did you live before? how did you end up there?


Thanks for your comments! I try to always respond.

Related Posts with Thumbnails