Detroit: A City on the Rise

BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Writer

So I’m guessing that you’re probably wondering about the title of this article. This article will be about the revival of the city, different things to do and see historic buildings and places and the history and what made the city what it is today.

Looking up Woodward in the early 1900s

The City of Detroit was founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer while traveling up the Detroit River. He named the city after the body of water he was traveling on, which in French means “the strait.” The city would become a key port city for the French, British and Americans throughout its history. It was also an important military city as it was just across the river from Canada which the French first held until the British took over after the American Revolution. The city would change hands multiple times from the French to the British to the Americans back to the British and the Americans once more.

Detroit did fall to fire, just like Chicago, in 1805 which destroyed nearly the whole city. Augustus Woodward would be commissioned to redesign the layout of the city as he was the Chief Justice of the Michigan Territory. He laid the city out in a baroque styled radial fashion, with traffic circles to help with the flow of traffic. Only part of his plan worked out, but as you can tell now it looks like the spokes of a wheel with the streets of Jefferson, Michigan, Grand River, Woodward and Gratiot all panning out in different directions.

The 1800s many different styles of buildings arose in the city, with lots of different architecture. The city began to grow and played an important part in the Civil War.

Campus Martius, Latin for “Field of Mars,” the basic center of the city, became the meeting center as many citizens enlisted right after the war started and was a place for speeches and rallies during and after the war. By the early 20th century, the automobile had been invented and Henry Ford perfected the assembly line to create mass production of the automobile thus creating the influx of immigrants to the city to work in the factories. The automobile would change the face of the city and literally make the city what it is today. As the population began to grow, so did the city. Buildings began to rise up in the skyline, and more and more people began to live downtown or in outer areas where are the work was.

Detroit's skyline grew faster than any city in the country in the 1920s

The Detroit Skyline in 1931 (Courtesy Detroit News)

World War II came around and with all the automobile plants in and around the city, the military capitalized on all the manufacturing in the city with Detroit producing many of the war materials used overseas. In fact, they produced so much of the equipment, vehicles, ammunition that it got the nickname: “The Arsenal of Democracy.” The city then became huge, the largest city in Michigan, in fact peaked as the 4th largest city in the country at one point, and its largest population came in the 1950s. Then the decline began with segregation growing all around the United States especially in the south and in Detroit. The 1960s rolled around and a term: “white flight” became a norm as many Caucasian Americans fled the city as more African-Americans came into Detroit to live and work.

 The Riots of 1967 really played a big role in Detroit’s history and we still haven’t recovered from it. Basically, police raided an after-hours bar, called a “Blind Pig” and pretty soon everyone that was there was African-American which caused a huge disturbance and riots began for 5 days straight and didn’t stop. Governor George Romney at the time had a great relationship with then President Lyndon B. Johnson, which fell apart during the riots. The National Guard was called in to help control the violence and many buildings were burned. Of all the casualties from the riots, only 43 people died, 7,200 arrests were made and over 2,000 buildings were burned. It was the second largest riot in the country’s history, only to the New York City Draft Riots during the Civil War in the 1860s. The decline of Detroit only went faster after the riots as “white flight” became more prominent.

The 1970s brought a worse economy to Detroit with the gasoline crisis that really hurt the auto industry as more and more people and businesses moved out of the city. The Renaissance Center, which sits right on the river and is now currently the home to General Motors and Blue Cross Blue Shield, was built-in the late 1970s in hopes of having a so-called “renaissance” in the city. In 1980, the Republican National Convention was hosted by Detroit, nominating Ronald Reagan for the Presidential bid, which of course he went on to win. Many vacant structures were demolished in the 1980s in hopes of bringing redevelopment to the city, which of course never came.

The 1990s was where Detroit started to be revived at a very slow pace. One Detroit Center was built, in a Neo-Gothic style to give the skyline of Detroit a different look, becoming the second tallest building in the city. Casinos would be built such as Greektown, MGM Grand and MotorCity Casino to spur development. The Lions came back into the city, along with the Tigers getting a new home, right next to each other. Finally, Campus Martius was re-done and the scene in the new century helped Detroit really get back on its feet. The history of Detroit is long and great and we must learn from mistakes before we rebuild and reinvent ourselves. In the next article we will talk about the Somerset CityLoft on Woodward, in Downtown Detroit.

To read the original post that appeared in The Michigan Journal, on September 13, 2011, go to www.michiganjournal.org.

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