Detroit’s City Council has voted to raze the old Michigan Central Station, Tuesday’s Detroit Free Press reported. (If you click on the link to read the Free Press story, be sure to look at the series of historical photos that accompany it.)
The last train pulled out of the station in 1988.
“I want it down now,” Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins, who introduced the resolution to raze the structure, told the Free Press. “It’s obviously a public hazard.”
I’ve never been inside the station, but I have driven by it a number of times. It’s pretty unbelievable – it looks almost apocalyptic. It is strange to see something so massive that is completely vacant and ruined, yet has a kind of haunting, sad beauty to it. It’s hard to explain. But I know I’m not the only person who feels this way. The site has been photographed by countless people looking to capture a symbol of the city’s decline. (Rust Wire had a post on some of these photos not too long ago.) It has also been used in several movies.
It’s hard to imagine the ruin we see now as anything else, but the waiting room had a spectacular 76 foot-high ceiling, massive arches, and marble columns, according to the Free Press. When it first opened, passengers could go to the barber shop, or cigar stand, a restaurant, a bath or go to dressing room or to the men’s reading room in the station.
There have been a number of schemes and ideas to reuse and reopen the station (including a suggestion by former Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick to relocate police headquarters there) but none have come to fruition. But it is hard for me to imagine it actually being torn down. After all, it has been sitting there empty 20 years.
The city of Buffalo has a similar large and vacant old train station, the Buffalo Central Terminal. I actually have been inside this one, actually only a few weeks ago:
The last train left this station in 1979. There is actually talk of having the station be part of a state-wide high speed rail system.
Unfortunately, the station is isolated, as this recent Buffalo News editorial points out. It doesn’t make make much sense to pour money into the station, without someway of connecting it with the rest of the city.
“Yes, the Central Terminal is a legacy of the glory days, not only of Buffalo, but of rail travel in general,” the editorial states.
“Yes, it is a horrible shame to see it stand there, at the end of Paderewski Drive, with so little to do, despite the best efforts of Terminal lovers who have attracted successful community events and continually sing its praises.
But the point is to make Buffalo a more successful community by improving its connections to Albany and, via Albany, New York City. We would surely be derailing that effort if we deposited these hasty visitors in a building, historic though it may be, that sits in the middle of a snarl of railroad tracks, in a lonely neighborhood that misses passenger rail even more than the Terminal does, without a quick way to move them, just as quickly, into downtown Buffalo or the other places they might be bound for.”
It will be interesting to see what both of these cities decide to do with their respective stations.