Photo Gallery: Detroit’s Michigan Central Station Through the Years
From its inauguration in 1913 to becoming Ford’s new acquisition, see the station’s rich history.
The 18-story Michigan Central Station building located at 2001 15th Street in Detroit's famous Corktown neighborhood may be just that to most of the general public—a building. Heck, given its current state, and even after recent upgrades, the Beaux-Arts-style grandiose piece of architecture looks like it should've been demolished decades ago. But it wasn't, so here's a bit of history on this icon of the Motor City.
The new proprietor, Ford Motor Company, may have blasted the Michigan Central Station into the spotlight in recent weeks, but the truth is that the dilapidated building had remained vacant since its closure in 1988. Sure, many projects were discussed, including its own demolition, and it may have been featured in countless movies like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Transformers, but the structure's future always remained uncertain.
This is no longer the case, as Ford recently revealed its plans to make the station the pièce de résistance of its 1.2-million-square-foot Corktown technology campus that will develop urban mobility services and tech solutions that include smart connected vehicles, roads, parking and public transit.
With the station's renaissance secured, let's take a look back at the decades that led up to Tuesday's historic press conference, where Bill Ford, Henry Ford's great-grandson and the company’s executive chairman, shared his vision for the Michigan Central Station and the Corktown project.
“Michigan Central Station is a place that in many ways tells the story of Detroit over the past century. We at Ford want to help write the next chapter, working together in Corktown with the best startups, the smartest talent, and the thinkers, engineers, and problem-solvers who see things differently—all to shape the future of mobility and transportation.”
1913 - 1920
The Michigan Central Railroad company had bought 50 acres of land in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, but could no longer accommodate railroad’s growing business so it set out to build a grand station. After a lengthy building process, the first train left the station for Saginaw and Bay City on Dec. 26, 1913; that same day, the first incoming train arrived from Chicago.
Activity during these years was in full swing. It's reported that more than 200 trains left the station each day and passenger lines would stretch from the boarding gates to the main entrance. Many celebrities like Thomas Edison, Charlie Chaplin, and even U.S. Presidents visited the magnificent building.
This decade was especially important, as a large percentage of its passengers were drafted young men who had to say goodbye to their families to fight in World War II. By this time, over 4,000 passengers visited the station every day and more than 3,000 employees worked on the floors above.
The beginning of the end began for Detroit's beloved depot in the '60s, as its once popular restaurant, arcade, and other businesses closed for good. A long-standing sale price of $5 million had been ignored by possible buyers since 1963, and efforts to sell the building failed by the end of the decade. However, there was a glimmer of hope in the future thanks to the federal government's newly formed National Railroad Passenger Corporation aka Amtrak.
The '70s brought many changes to the station on its last full decade of operation, which was spearheaded by Amtrak. With automobiles and planes already the standard for domestic transportation, the station grew irrelevant and at times even useless, even following a $1-million lobby renovation. The station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
In 1985, it was announced that the station had to be sold or abandoned. New York-based Kaybee Corporation eventually purchased the station on the 72nd anniversary of its opening, but it didn't stop the inevitable from happening. On Jan. 5, 1988, train No. 353, bound for Chicago, was the last train out of the depot.
Manuel "Matty" Moroun and his web of enterprises purchased the station in 1995 and demolished the train depot behind the main structure. The area was turned into a freight facility and plans were made to demolish the entire 18-story building. Luckily, a concerned citizen cited the building's historic provenance and halted said plans.
Perhaps the worst decade for the station, as it was largely ignored and the harsh Michigan weather took its toll on the structure. The station became a symbol of an abandoned, poor, and largely forgotten Detroit.
After years of abandonment, the Morouns performed minor improvements to the depot, and as a Corktown native Tom Burns shared with The Drive: "After decades of doing nothing with the station. It's like praising a homeowner for finally mowing their lawn after getting 600 tickets and citations from the city."
Finally, in March of 2018, there were rumors that Ford and the Morouns were negotiating the sale of the station. The rest marks the start of a new beginning for Detroit's most iconic building.
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Ford Reveals Plans for Detroit’s Corktown Campus and Michigan Central Station
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The handbuilt metal clock was removed from the station by a vandal over 20 years ago.