Friday, May 20, 2005

Here Comes the Rain Again

Destruction of Detroit's Madison-Lenox hotel has begun. This is tragic in so many ways, but is also appropriate for Detroit. For years -- decades even -- municipal and regional mismanagement (among other things) has been destroying the city that Detroit once was; now they are destroying the evidence that Detroit ever was an important and vibrant city. The building will be demolished for a parking lot.

The 1998 implosion of the downtown Hudson building was a similarly foolish demolition (causing millions of dollars of damage to the People Mover) and the Book-Cadillac is another goner. These were certainly the best buildings in the state, and some of the best buildings in the country when built. Hell, even now. Take a look at the fortunately extant, contemporaneous Union Guardian Building and disagree. [BTW, the Guardian Building figures into the annexation story below, which I will share some time]. As Murph has mused, perhaps it's time we scaled back our ambitions for a full-fledged Detroit renaissance. Perhaps Detroit would be more likely to make a comeback as a city of 500,000 and 80 square miles, rather than its 950,000 and 138 miles of area. Perhaps the demolition of these historic -- not merely historic, but uplifting, LANDMARK -- structures is just the first phase of jettisoning the ballast of Old Detroit.


Anonymous Brandon said...

that really pissed me off, too.

It's like City of Detroit government doesn't WANT the place to succeed... I guess they are too busy putting the Mayor's name on EVERYTHING (it's f-ing ridiculous... everything, every document, flier, brochure, building, billboard... says "Kwame M. Kilpatrick, Mayor" on it prominently. What the hell? I've been working in the city a WEEK and am already dumbfounded about the things I'm learning about the municipal govt. How did this happen? Well, it seems Kilpatrick certainly can't be re-elected after this scandal-ridden term, can he? Freman Hendrix actually lives in the neighborhood I'm working in, and seems like a damned cool guy from what I can tell..

7:41 PM  
Anonymous Heidi said...

I don't find it so surprising that a city seemingly unable to accomplish anything close to its former glory would want to destroy the evidence that, at one time, it was something other than it is now. In a city as decaying as Detroit, beauty becomes the eyesore; more than that, a shining past is nothing more than a slap in the face to the ineptitude of the current administration (and those leading up to it) and crushing public indifference. Rather than rising to its former heights, Detroit is denying that the possibility of its past ever existed.

8:21 AM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

Heidi -- did you read about Kilpatrick's credit card shenanigans? Check out (and the Free Press archives). Unbelievable.

I'm trying to reconcile the destruction of the Hudson's Building with the Campus Martius. A priori, I think it wasn't worth it, because I KNOW how great an adaptive reuse project can be for a neighborhood. But that may be because I haven't been to the Campus Martius for any event or anything -- my view is from afar. Anyone's thoughts on this are welcome.

6:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's an opinion from someone who has spent a lot of time in downtown Detroit while the old Hudson building was still up and now work only few blocks from the Campus Martius.

The old Hudson building was grand in that it was one of the largest buildings in the area. By the time it was torn down, other than "what it could it be" nostalgia, it was an eye sore and one of the many reminders of "what it really is." It's sad to see a "landmark" being torn down. I've walked many times around the monuments of Detroit including the Hudson, Edison-Lenox, Book Cadillac, Whitney, etc. thinking "only if" more than I care to count.

But, it is clear to me now that it'll never be. What's also clear to me is that it never really was. Other than a few square miles that is the downtown and the midtown, Detroit is a shell left over from rings of suburban sprawl.

As sad as I feel about these historic buildings being taken away, I'd rather take some development than hope in vain for someone to "be nice" and adopt one of these buildings only to have it sit empty.

I think Detroit needs to imagine itself radically for the future rather than re-imagine itself as an early 20th century city that hardly was much of a city even then.

Re: the mayor's name on all things detroit - that's not an unusual thing in large cities. Killpatrick's days are up, though.

10:07 AM  
Blogger Brandon said...

"As sad as I feel about these historic buildings being taken away, I'd rather take some development..."

Does the surface parking lot they're replacing the Madison-Lenox with count as "development"?

11:01 PM  
Anonymous Jin Kim said...

It may not be the most desirable development in you or my eyes. But I think it is better than abandoned shell of a building that looked like it'll remain so for the foreseeable future. When there's a need or real motivation for some thing else, then there will be something else.

BTW, I don't know why it had me as anonymous. I thought I choose Other and put my name.

12:26 AM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

These buildings don't HAVE to remain abandoned for the foreseeable future. The city WILL NOT put together a request for proposals or put together an attractive package to bring in a developer (and Ilitch doesn't count). Several areas of the city are vibrant, growing, and increasing in value and developers ARE moving in. I talked to Gil Silverman (Holtzmand & Silverman from Southfield) a couple months ago, who was restoring and redeveloping a gorgeous Palladian building right downtown -- it was a slam dunk for him.

Detroit does have significant problems of size and sprawl, but it is not exploiting the assests it DOES have. And I guarantee nothing that will ever be built on the sites of these old buildings will match what they are tearing down.

12:22 PM  
Anonymous Jin Kim said...

You're right about the city not having the foresight. I can go on and on about that one.

You're probably also right that chances of something that'll match these old buildings being built in place of those torn down are none. Though, with enough time that'll change, I hope.

I felt exactly like you for years, and I'll still say similar things from time to time.

But, frankly many of these buildings are too far gone. It was so sad when I walked by the Book-Cadillac at lunch one day and saw how much of its interior was gutted out through a window opening. It was supposed to be one of the better in shape buildings left in town! Surely it deserves Guardian building style revival, I thought. But I now think even if it doesn't get replaced by a grand hotel, a fresh start might be better.

I hate the new CompuWare building. It's one of the ugliest buildings I've ever seen (the lobby is nice, though). It sure doesn't match the old Hudson building and I didn't even like that one. But guess what? The Campus Martius is now a place for people to hang out during lunch. One of my coworker commented one day, "This feels like a real city." This from someone who had nothing positive to say about the city ever before. With additional developments that it encouraged, living in downtown now makes sense to more normal people. None of that would have happened if the Hudson didn't go away.

Is it the exact kind of city I'd want? Heck no! Not even close! It's better than what we had, though. These are first steps. First steps that doesn't take us back to the old city that never was, but to a city that will be better than what it is today. That means a lot.

Not to mention, there are bigger fish to fry for the city.

How about the fact that the downtown is basically a tiny island that's so isolated from the rest of the city, it'd might as well be a whole different city? I mean, come on, could they have put the freeways at worst places?

What about the rest of the city? You know, the other 95% of the land?

Or more on topic to your point, how about the fact that the city is so broken that having yet another surface parking makes more sense to a developer than having a building.

Ilitch doesn't count? Let me know when all the land south of I75 between Woodward and Grand River that's now being used as SEASONAL surface parking has been developed into something "more useful."

Just because he hasn't done things to our liking doesn't mean he doesn't matter. The fact that's he's not interested doing anything more than to have some parking available for baseball games with all that land should be a wake up call.

P.S. I work in one of Gil Silverman's restored buildings. One small bright spot among the abandoned giants, literally. I appreciate what developers like him is able to do.

P.P.S Which one is Palladian?

7:09 PM  
Anonymous Jin Kim said...

I keep forgetting to write about how I like the idea of Detroit becoming a city of 500,000 with smaller foot print. I agree that in its current form, it is bloated and far too unmanageable. Now that's what I call imagining the city radically differently.

7:20 PM  
Blogger accidentalactivist said...

I meant Ilitch didn't count as a serious candidate for redevelopment. As you say, he/they clearly have major real estate interests, they just seem to either want to hang onto things or tear them down. You might work in the Silverman building I was talking about. It's a four story ( think) of orange brick and arched windows with limestone (I think). He said one floor was leased by an architectural firm.

2:30 PM  
Anonymous Jin Kim said...

Ah, yes, that's the one. It's called Parker-Webb, though.

The architectural firm in the first floor is Kraemer Design Group (founded by a couple of architects out of U of M as matter of fact) and they're the ones who did the plans for the restoration of Parker-Webb.

They're also the ones who were involved in the Merchants Row renovation along Woodward across from the old Hudson's footprint. I think they actually had drawn some plans for Madison-Lenox a few years back. Obviously that felt through.

They've done many restorations in Detroit. If you're interested, you can find more details on them and other projects else where at There are a whole slew of new projects that'll get posted on there pretty soon, also.

The before/after photos of Parker-Webb building is pretty startling.

No, I do not work at Kraemer Design Group.

1:02 AM  

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