Michigan Central Station (MCS) was mentioned in the previous article about Corktown, but has its own article this week because of how big the history that surrounds it is, and because of the news that constantly flows from owner Matty Moroun. It is one of the most iconic structures in the city of Detroit, and with the improvements surrounding it, the building may be on the rise in the near future.
MCS was built in 1913 as Detroit’s second railroad depot, but became the most famous. The first depot had been 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 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 eighteen story office tower.
The train station was in use the most during World Wars I & 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” Moroun bought the station in 1996 because of its proximity to the Ambassador Bridge. Since 1996, Moroun 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 undergone renovations, thanks to Moroun, who finally invested in something. This past summer, renovations started with 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. Moroun 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 Moroun. 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 what was 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!