Michigan Central Station, mentioned previously in the last article about Corktown, has its own article because of how big it is the history the surrounds it and the news that constantly flow from the owner. It is one of the most iconic structures in the city of Detroit, and with the work surrounding it; the building may be on the rise in the near future.
MCS, as it’s known to many, was built in 1913 and was Detroit’s second railroad depot but the most famous. The first one was on Third and Jefferson streets since 1884. It burned down in late December and the brand new MCS was ready to go. Within a half an hour of the former train station burning down, the trains were already rolling into the new station, cancelling its dedication that was supposed to happen on January 4.
The old depot is located along Michigan Avenue, in the Corktown district, outside of Downtown. The cost of building the Michigan Central Station was $2.5 million ($55 million today). It was the tallest train station in the world and the fourth tallest building in Detroit when it was completed. The building consisted of a three story train depot, and an 18 story office tower.
The train station was in use the most during World War I and World War II. More than two hundred trains left each day during World War I as many saw their loved ones go off to war, some coming back, many not. A few of the famous people that walked through the halls of MCS include: Presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry S. Truman, and Franklin D. Roosevelt, actor Charlie Chaplin and inventor Thomas Edison. Henry Ford began buying up property in the 1920s only to have the Great Depression bring things to a halt.
With no large parking structure, the only problem of the area, ridership began to decline between both World Wars and after World War II. Once urban highways became more prevalent and driving cars and air travel took over, riding the train became third string. In 1956, the owners began looking to sell the building, and did, for $5 million (1/3 of its original cost). The new owners tried to sell in 1963, found no buyers and again tried to sell in 1967. As ridership began decreasing, the maintenance on the building decreased.
The restaurant, arcade shops, and main entrance all closed, along with much of the main waiting room. Only two ticket windows remained for service to passengers. Amtrak bought the station in 1971 and things seemed to turn around for a short time with the main entrance and waiting room re-opening in 1975 followed by a $1.25 million restoration in 1978. Six years later, the station was sold yet again and the final train left the station on January 6, 1988.
Current owner, Manuel “Matty” Mouron bought the station in 1996, because of its proximity to the Ambassador Bridge. Since 1996, Mouron has done nothing with the station, letting it slowly rot and die.
There have been many ideas presented to restore the old station into something new. A couple of the ideas that have been presented include: A trade processing center, convention center and casino, Detroit Police Headquarters, and Michigan State Police Headquarters. Most recently, the station has gone under renovations thanks to the Mouron who finally invested in something. This past summer, renovations started in removal of asbestos, old windows, and the old roof. In place will be a new roof and new windows.
This doesn’t mean that there are companies ready to move in as there is much more work to do on the inside. Mouron brought Quinn Evans Architects in to oversee the restoration and give some quotes on what it would take to renovate the interior. With Corktown seeing massive renovations, the depot may not be far behind.
There are other ideas citizens have put forth thanks to a new website set up by Mouron. Talktothestation.com is open to anyone that has an idea for the station. Although some ideas may not be taken too seriously, the ideas put forth may spur development. Michigan Central Station is one of the most iconic structures of Detroit, especially since 1988 as it has been in ruins. As workers continue to clean up parts of the building, more needs to be done. With the help of those who want to see it rise again, ideas can fuel companies and businesses to put forth money and grants, creating new life for the once largest train depot in the world.
We will pick back up with Detroit and its rise in January. Have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a safe and Happy New Year!
Feel free to check out my other articles at http://michiganjournal.org/ and http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-zadorozny
When you think of areas in Detroit, the two that automatically come to mind are Downtown and Midtown. Corktown is one that is not brought up as much anymore. It is on the edge of Downtown and Mexican town. Its borders are: Interstate 75 to the north, the Lodge freeway to the east (M-10), Bagley and Porter Streets to the south and Rosa Parks Boulevard (12th Street) to the west. Although Rosa Parks Blvd. may have the western border, some still include the Michigan Central Station and other sections still a part of Corktown.
Corktown was first settled in the mid 1800s by Irish farmers who were at the time going through the Potato famine. They moved here and most were from the County Cork, hence the name, “Corktown.” Over half of the residents by 1850 were of Irish descent. Many would serve in the Civil War and as the 20th Century approached, Germans began to move into the area. The district used to be larger, but with the completion of the Lodge freeway and I-75, the district became smaller. Most of Corktown is residential, but the area along Michigan Avenue is mostly commercial.
The area that is on the rise is the commercial area along Michigan Avenue. There are already many businesses along the strip that have been there for awhile and are thriving such as: PJ’s Lager House, Nemo’s Bar, Hoots on the Avenue, the Corktown Tavern, and the Detroit Athletic Company.
There are buildings in the Corktown that have been sitting for a long time, but now are finding new life. Slows BBQ has revitalized an area at one point was super busy, thanks to the Michigan Central Station. Slows BBQ opened in 2005 and has since won many awards, ranking as one of the top BBQ joints in Michigan. It sits right across the street from the MCS and the block that it sits on has helped the buildings take new life.
The building that currently houses Slows BBQ was too small as so much business was coming through, that it moved next door, taking over a former Real Estate Agency Building. O’Conner Real Estate moved two doors down next to Astro Coffee and LJ’s Lounge. O’Connor has been around for more than 40 years and decided to invest in Detroit recently and Astro Coffee just opened up this past summer and LJ’s Lounge in the past year.
One building on the same block is a former Pawn Shop, next to The Sugar House has been empty awhile, but is looking at redevelopment and a new use. As first reported by Curbed Detroit, the former pawn shop was bought by several businessmen, Phil Cooley (owner of Slows BBQ), Toby Barlow (author and local celebrity), Ryan Cooley (Phil’s brother), Meghan Cooley (Ryan’s husband), and Brian Boyle (co-founder of Model D Media).
The plan is to turn the former pawn shop into a restaurant. It has not been said yet what type of restaurant it will be. Above the brand new addition to Slows BBQ, a brand new Bed and Breakfast is almost ready to go and it will be called Honor + Folly. It was so popular, it’s already booked.
Directly across the street from the Slows BBQ block is a former coffee shop, called Mercury Coffee Shop. The former sign still hangs there, and up until recently had paper covering the inside of the windows, which allowed no viewing into the building. That’s pretty normal to not see in abandoned buildings in Detroit but this was different. It looked as if something was going on, and it’s true, the building was being renovated. It may not be like the Broderick Tower, but it’s being turned into another restaurant. It will be called the Mercury Burger Bar and will open in less than two weeks. David Steinke and Dennis Fulton are the owners, which will also serve breakfast.
Another building, a bit farther down, towards the Downtown area, another former pawn shop was just recently bought by Joe Misfud and his partner Bryan Brincat. It is directly next to Nemo’s Bar. The plan is to turn it into an Italian restaurant and be ready by sometime in the next year.
These are just a few of the renovations currently going on in the Corktown area. Michigan Central Station is a whole different beast which we will feature in next week’s article. The revitalization of the Corktown area is giving Detroit something else to be proud of. Although it still has a long way to go, Corktown can be something it never was, a neighborhood with a vital restaurant scene, businesses galore and safe neighborhoods. To check out more information on the Corktown neighborhood, go to Detroit.curbed.com
Feel free to check out my other articles at http://michiganjournal.org/
By Chris Zadorozny