Photographer Falls Through Abandoned Downtown Roof, Second Occurrence In One Year

By Eric Hergenreder - 

A photographer ended up in the hospital Thursday night after falling through a skylight in an abandoned building downtown. It is currently unclear what exact injuries the man suffered, but it appeared he had broken his leg, ankle, and a couple ribs. The man fell through the abandoned Harvard Square building on Broadway Avenue in downtown Detroit. This is the second occurrence that we know of within the past year, including an explorer who fell through a stairwell at the United Artist Theater last August, shattering his heel among other injuries.

Photo of Harvard Square Center by Eric Hergenreder

Photo of Harvard Square Center by Eric Hergenreder

Although the number of abandoned properties downtown has been decreasing over the past few years, there are still a good number of neglected properties within walking distance of the attractions bringing people to the city. Even with more security and police presence downtown, these photographers, explorers, and vandals continue to find their way into these buildings. Most of the neglected buildings that remain downtown have been sitting for decades, which enables the decay of these structures. After such negligence, entering these buildings is an extreme risk. Even with that being said, and all the work that has been done downtown in recent years, urban explorers are still able to find their way into buildings amidst the new hustle and bustle downtown. 

Harvard Square Center was built in the 1925 and originally housed offices and retail space. The building exchanged hands a couple times before becoming abandoned in 1998, although the street-level retail space is still operational.

The United Artists Theater opened in 1928 and was one of the most beautiful movie palaces in the city. The theater and connected office tower closed in 1975, although it was used for various things such as a recording studio for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and storage. Bricks have been falling off of the facade since the 1980’s, and not much has changed since the graffiti was buffed before the 2006 Super Bowl and the marquee was removed after falling apart onto the sidewalk in 2005. It was recently announced that the building was part of a renovation plan by Ilitch’s Olympia Entertainment, but many are weary of the behemoth of a project actually being completed. Renovation plans are set to start in 2018.

Photo of the United Artists Theater by Eric Hergenreder

Photo of the United Artists Theater by Eric Hergenreder

Both of these properties were featured on our list, Buildings in Detroit That Need to Be Saved in 2017.

Even with less and less abandoned properties downtown, it appears until they are all renovated or demolished we will continue to see accidents like this. 

A Conversation About Detroit’s Graffiti

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the buffing that’s going on around the city of Detroit. Mayor Mike Duggan is taking a very hard stance on graffiti in the city, leading to the arrest of a number of artists and the buffing of hundreds of buildings. Whereas I do think that this is a good thing, I can’t help but question Duggan’s strategy to tackle the issue. The city has been putting pressure on building owners to clean up the appearance of hundreds of buildings, which means buffing the exterior of the building. Upon first hearing this would be happening, I was happy. It’s hard to take pride in your city when there are buildings in shambles on every block outside of downtown. 

Fisher Body 21 after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by  Tom Poeschel

Fisher Body 21 after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by Tom Poeschel

After further investigation, I really don’t understand how this is really helping the city. Yes, Duggan’s iron fist is forcing building owners to clean up their buildings and he has ordered the clean-up of numerous city owned properties, but these buildings are still wide open to the elements—and graffiti artists. Fisher Body 21 in Midtown was recently buffed clean, but when you head over there, you can still walk right in. New graffiti has already been sprayed on the decaying walls of the old General Motors facility. Please tell me how that’s a good use of government funds? I understand that city leaders are trying to beautify the city, and many see graffiti to be an eye sore, but how is this any better? By buffing these structures and then leaving them wide open to the elements and vandals, the city is literally just throwing money away. The city needs to either clean these buildings up *and* secure them, or just leave them be until funds are available to do both. I understand the hard-nose attitude the city is trying to take with property owners, but sealing these buildings up is just as important as cleansing them of graffiti.

As someone who often finds himself inside these abandoned buildings, I also have another opinion to offer. Since when is a crumbling shell of a building covered with one (typically ugly) color paint prettier than a structure covered with art by local creatives? I mean, I’m not saying that ELMER and GASM are Michelangelo prodigies, but art is art, right? I understand that Detroit is trying to distance itself from its rugged and grimy past, but I truly believe that this very past is what makes Detroit the creative hub that it currently is. People love the murals in the Eastern Market District and other commissioned works around the city, but what many people don’t realize is that most of these artists started by spraying on abandoned buildings. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I find the tags on abandoned structures like Fisher Body, the Grand Trunk Warehouse, and other buildings around the city to be far prettier than a bare, naked, abandoned structures in shambles.

Photo of the United Artist Theater before cleanup, used with permission from  Nailhed.com

Photo of the United Artist Theater before cleanup, used with permission from Nailhed.com

The city has a history of removing graffiti from abandoned buildings when beatification attempts are being made. Before the Super Bowl came to town a decade ago then mayor Kwame Kilpatrick took a hard stance on abandoned structures, namely in downtown districts. One building that comes to mind is the United Artist Theater, which still sits abandoned today. The windows of the building were covered with pieces inspired by Mayan hieroglyphics in gold, reds, and blues. This really made the building look like quite interesting, and not like the abandoned movie palace that has been sitting empty at the hands of the Ilitch’s since 1995. The graffiti was removed before the 2006 Super Bowl to try and make downtown look nicer, but I can’t help but make the argument that the building was far more interesting, and beautiful, before they removed the artwork and left it bare and decaying. It’s far easier to point out the flaws of a building when there isn’t any paint slapped on it to take your eyes off the bricks falling from above. The Lafayette building had similar art on its windows before it saw the wrecking ball in 2009.

Photo of a recent  REMY  piece

Photo of a recent REMY piece

A friend of mine is the tagger known as ‘REMY.’ He has been exploring, and painting in, abandoned structures for a number of years in the city. He explained some of the things he has seen change since he started painting in pre-bankruptcy Detroit. “Four or five years ago the city of Detroit was a free for all, graffiti wise…lots of the city was abandoned and the police had bigger problems than artists,” REMY explained. He went on to tell me about how he and his friends used to paint street side walls in broad daylight at little to no risk at all, maybe a ticket if it was a slow day for police. He then explained how as the money began flowing into the city, stricter regulations went into effect. These laws were always technically in place, but for a long time city officials were more concerned with the bigger issues facing Detroit. As the beautification of Detroit came onto the radar of Detroit officials, the police came onto the radar of Detroit’s graffiti artists. REMY also believes that these new Detroiters “aren't able to look past the fact that it's a crime and enjoy the graffiti as an element of beautification, like the native Detroiters once did.” REMY describes this change as the end of an era, and that a lot of artists have changed up their style because of this. Having known him for almost a year now, REMY is also a skateboarder, explorer, and pretty talented photographer. As he told me, “It's kinda like either push the envelope, or get left behind.” REMY still paints and just got a new GoPro to highlight his adventures in Detroit. His tagging Instagram is @remy1r, you can see some of his work there.

Grand Trunk Cold Storage / Warehouse after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by   Tom Poeschel

Grand Trunk Cold Storage / Warehouse after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by Tom Poeschel

One thing that is very clear, the state of the Detroit graffiti scene is changing fast. I may not agree with the methods Mayor Duggan is currently utilizing to beautify Detroit, but I do think that some of what he’s doing is good for the city. It will be easier to take pride in a Detroit that lacks blight, but with the sheer amount of blight the city has, dreams of a blight free Motor City are a long way off. I also wish that the city spent money securing the buildings that are still salvageable rather than cleaning up all of them but leaving them open to the elements. I also don’t see the harm of artists putting their mark on buildings that are already dilapidated, especially if the city has neglected them enough to allow them to reach that point. I guess my question is, what roll will graffiti and street artists have in the Detroit of the future? I, for one, hope it’s one of some significance.


You can read more about the stance Mayor Mike Duggan and the City of Detroit have taken on graffiti at the link below.

http://www.detroitmi.gov/graffiti


As always, finishing with a link. Grimy subject above, grimy song down here. Been really into $UICIDEBOY$ lately for their dingy feel and hard hitting delivery. The duo hail from New Orleans and make some pretty dope music, check it out.

Detroit’s Dirty Dozen, Then and Now

Detroit has done a fabulous job of destroying its own history
— Greg Kowalski of the Hamtramck Historical Commission
Photo from  nailhed.com

Photo from nailhed.com

In 2004 the Detroit Free Press published an article about downtown Detroit’s ‘Towers of Neglect.’ These ‘shabby buildings’ downtown became known to many Detroiters as the ‘Dirty Dozen’ and many saw the article as a challenge to see who could get into all 12 first. A number of the buildings we see listed have since been demolished, but we have also seen some of them renovated. Only a few of them still sit in disrepair awaiting an unknown future in the new Detroit, showing just how different the city has become since 2004.

Most of this information can be found on Historic Detroit, and a good amount of the information was just my prior knowledge. If this information interests you, please check out Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City’s Majestic Ruins by Dan Austin.


The Book-Cadillac Hotel

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

The Book brothers broke ground on the Book-Cadillac Hotel (named after their family and the hotel that once stood in the same spot) in 1923, and it opened in 1924. The 33-story building was designed by Louis Kamper, who designed a number of buildings in Detroit, including the Book Tower which is just down the way (and would also eventually be abandoned). The hotel closed its doors for good in 1984 after years of decline. Although the city originally tried to find redevelopment for the property and paid security guards to guard the historic building, eventually the city could no longer afford to protect the building. This lack of protection led to scrapping and rampant vandalism, which left the hotel just a shell of its former self. The building began to shed away its beautiful charm (and walls) and many preservationists believed the behemoth of a hotel to be lost until things began looking up in the late 90s. Although the first plans to redevelop fell through, a Cleveland based group finally purchased the landmark. The building reopened in October of 2008 as the Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel. Today it is an anchor of Washington Boulevard and has helped the area come back in some ways, but the district still has a long way to go before becoming the vibrant area it once was.

http://historicdetroit.org/building/book-cadillac-hotel/

Reminents of the Grand Ballroom / photo from the Westin Book-Cadillac

Reminents of the Grand Ballroom / photo from the Westin Book-Cadillac


The Broderick Tower

Photo from the Detroit News Archives

Photo from the Detroit News Archives

Originally named the Eaton Tower, this staple of the Detroit skyline opened in 1927. The building was named after Theodore H. Eaton, a businessman who invested in Detroit when it was very young. Theodore’s son, Berrien took over the family company in 1920 and in 1926 announced that the Eaton estate would build a 34-story sky scraper that would eventually become the third largest abandoned building in the United States. The building cost an estimated $1.75 million, which is around $21.5 million today. The tower held many businesses and offices, and held the Eaton name until 1944 when the building was sold to Intertown Corp., headed by David F. Broderick. The building changed hands a number of times after Broderick’s death in 1957, finally landing in the state’s lap in 1981 due to unpaid taxes. The tower was again purchased, but in the late 80’s it was abandoned and heavily scrapped and vandalized. Although it was left to the elements, the building overall was in pretty good shape. In 1997 Robert Wyland painted a large mural of humpback whales on the eastern wall of the tower, becoming a staple of downtown. Some good news came in the late 1990s, when Comerica Park was panned to be built next to the building. Many hoped that this would lead to redevelopment, which finally came in 2010 when it was announced that financing had been secured. The Broderick was restored to its former glory and opened in 2012, boasting 100% capacity before the grand-opening even occurred.

http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/broderick-tower/


The David Whitney Building

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

David Whitney Jr. is responsible for a good portion of Detroit’s early success. He was a lumber baron and moved to Michigan in 1857 to build on the state’s already booming lumber industry. He invested in a number of Detroit businesses and was an extremely important figure in the city before the turn of the century. David Whitney Jr. purchased the land in which the David Whitney building stands today, but it was his son David Charles Whitney who would end up building the structure. Whitney employed Daniel H. Burnham, one of the most well-known architects of the day, to complete the project. The building opened in 1915, filled with storefronts and a number of offices on the higher levels. In the 1950’s the building lost many of its tenants just like most office buildings downtown. The Whitney family sold the building in the 60’s and was finally closed in 2000. The building sat vacant until 2011 when the Whitney Partners were able to purchase the property. The re-development finished and the building opened in 2013, and the Aloft hotel opened in 2014. The building was restored to its former luster and now illuminates the grim remnants of Grand Circus Park.

http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/david-whitney-building/

Broderick Tower from the roof of the David Whitney Building / photo by Dan Austin of  Historic Detroit

Broderick Tower from the roof of the David Whitney Building / photo by Dan Austin of Historic Detroit


The Farwell Building

Elizabeth Beale (elizabethbeale.com) of  Historic Detroit

Elizabeth Beale (elizabethbeale.com) of Historic Detroit

The Farwell Building, a staple of Capitol Park, opened in 1915 and was named after Jesse Farwell. The building was mainly mixed office space and featured beautiful ironwork, brass and marble elevators, and a unique dome embedded with tiny Tiffany glass shards. The building had issues throughout the 70’s and was donated to the Detroit Historical Society instead of being demolished in 1975. The building tripped along until 1984 when it closed for good. It was left abandoned until 2009 when the State of Michigan’s Land Bank Fast Track Authority purchased the building to try and redevelop the struggling Capitol Park area. The building is currently undergoing renovations and is set to open in the Fall of 2017 as apartments, office space, and retail space. The building suffered a good amount of damage whilst abandoned, but workers stated that overall the structure was in very good shape. The Farwell can be seen in the film Batman Vs. Superman and the music video for Detroit Vs. Everybody. The building is seen by many as a staple of Capitol Park, a district that is growing fast due to large investments from Dan Gilbert.

http://historicdetroit.org/building/farwell-building/


Fort Shelby Hotel

Photo from the Burton Historical Society

Photo from the Burton Historical Society

The Fort Shelby Hotel opened in 1917, having been built due to demand for hotels in the area. As the city grew, so did the hotel, and the building was enlarged in 1927 with an Albert Kahn designed addition. In 1951 the hotel was purchased by a chain and renamed the Pick Fort Shelby. The hotel changed hands a number of times before closing in 1974 and sitting empty for three decades. The building was heavily scrapped and vandalized just as many other abandoned buildings in Detroit were, and the future of the hotel seemed grim. After more than 30 years it was announced that the building would be renovated into a Doubletree Guest Suites hotel. The original building houses a hotel, and the 1951 addition holds apartments and condos. The building is also home to a large conference room and two ballrooms. The hotel reopened in 2008 and is a staple of Lafayette Boulevard, and also is often used to house visitors for various Cobo events.

http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/fort-shelby-hotel/


The Lafayette Building

Photo by Dan Austin of  Historic Detroit

Photo by Dan Austin of Historic Detroit

The 14-story Lafayette Building was designed by C. Howard Crane, who also designed the Fox and United Artists Theaters. The building was constructed on a triangular piece of land bounded by Lafayette Boulevard, Michigan Ave, and Shelby Street. The building opened in 1925. By 1932 the building had already changed hands, but stayed with it's new owners, the Bohn Corp., until 1961 when it was sold to the Tenney Realty Corp. of New York. The building housed the Michigan Supreme Court, the state Tax Tribunal, and a number of railroad companies. The building changed hands a number of times until it finally lost all of its tenants and closed for good in 1997. The city owned the property and neglected it. The building suffered a good amount of vandalism and most of the building was covered with graffiti, which many felt actually added to the decaying facade of the building. The city scrambled to find developers for the building, offering it to a number of companies, but claimed that none wanted the property. Throughout February and March of 2010 the Lafayette Building was demolished. The building was replaced by a garden.

 http://historicdetroit.org/building/lafayette-building/

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection


Madison-Lenox Hotel

Photo from the Library of Congress

Photo from the Library of Congress

Photo by Emmett Nicholas of  Historic Detroit

Photo by Emmett Nicholas of Historic Detroit

The Madison-Lenox Hotel, built as two separate hotels constructed two years apart, is considered to be one of the most controversial preservation battles in Detroit history. Both towers were built just after the turn of the century. The two towers were built by two different architects, as two different hotels, but later combined into one. The location for the hotel was perfect, sitting right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city. The hotel offered daily, weekly, and monthly rates and was high class. The buildings saw renovations in the 50’s, dramatically changing the interior. Even with the renovations, the hotel’s guest started becoming those of lesser class. In 1987 it was announced that the buildings would undergo a renovation, but it never happened. The buildings were purchased in 1989 and again tried for renovation, but plans never went through and the hotel closed its doors in 1992. The building sat vacant, other than a few residents who refused to leave after the building closed, until the Ilichs purchased the building in 1997. The building had fallen into disrepair following its closure in 1992, and this only continued under Ilich ownership. Many preservationists bashed Ilich for neglecting the building, but he stated that it was in disrepair when he purchased it and plead that it should be demolished to make way for more parking. He submitted to demolish the property a number of times to historical commission, but these were denied. After a number of denied submissions to turn the building into a parking lot, wrecking crews showed up unannounced and started tearing down the building, only to be stopped not too long thereafter. A number of laws were broken in doing this, but due to the amount of damage that the building had taken in Ilich’s attempts to knock it down, the rest of the building had to go too. Ilich and his company Olympia denied all responsibility in the situation, and nobody was every charged for the illegal demolition. There as an obvious shit storm that followed, but in the end, not much happened to any party involved.

http://historicdetroit.org/building/madison-lenox-hotel/


The Metropolitan Building

Photo by Steve Neavling of  Historic Detroit

Photo by Steve Neavling of Historic Detroit

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

Photo from the Burton Historical Collection

The Metropolitan Building came to be because George P. Yost, then vice president of the Central Detroit Realty Company, had the idea to centralize all aspects of trade in one building. This building would become the Metropolitan Building and it opened in 1925. In comparison to most buildings downtown, the Metropolitan was not an office building, but a retail location with space for dress shops, jewelers, and manufactures. The complex was successful for a number of years, but it changed hands a number of times. The rise of the shopping mall and white flight from the city gave no favors to Detroit’s shopping and entertainment districts. The city finally came into possession of the building after the former owner lost it in tax foreclosure in 1978 and it has sat empty ever since. Just like most abandoned buildings in Detroit, the Metro was vandalized, scrapped, and explored. There were a number of plans in the 1980s to try and rehab the project, but this is Detroit, so of course there was some controversy. There were two offers to rehab the building, one coming a year before the other. The first plan was recommended over the second, stating that the offer was far superior to the second, but the first plan was struck down in favor of the second. The second offer was offered up by the Mongos, a long-time friend of then mayor Coleman A. Young. The battle to know why the first plan was turned down was very long and drawn out, and never yielded any positive results other than just showing how corrupt some city officials were at the time. In 1997 the City of Detroit and State of Michigan cleaned up the hazardous material left by the jewelers in an attempt to make the Metro more viable as a rehab project. For the most part the building was in stellar shape structurally, keeping it on the radar of a number of firms and entrepreneurs. Work buffing the graffiti off of the building and cleaning it up began in 2015 and it was announced in 2016 that the Metropolitan Building would be the new home of Element Detroit, a hotel with 110 rooms, retail space, and an outdoor patio on the rooftop. The hotel is slated to open in 2018, and is a big win for preservationists who have been trying to see it repurposed since the 80s. 

http://historicdetroit.org/building/metropolitan-building/


Michigan Central Station