Detroit: A City on the Rise: Campus Martius Park

Campus Martius Park in 1901, the left is Old City Hall, the tall building is the first skyscraper in the city, and to the right is the old Detroit Opera House (Photo Courtesy of: SeekingMichigan.org)

BY CHRIS ZADOROZNY, Staff Columnist

Field of Mars. What does that make you think? Probably the planet out in space, or the saying, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.” You probably don’t think of Detroit. Well, that’s what Campus Martius means in Latin.

Campus Martius is a municipal park in the middle of Downtown Detroit. It is located directly on Woodward Avenue at the intersection of Michigan Avenue. It was designed as a military ground (another nickname for Campus Martius) in 1788. Unfortunately, a fire destroyed most of the city in 1805, including Campus Martius.

Detroit was rebuilt according to Judge Augustus Woodward’s baroque street-style plan with Campus Martius was to be the center of the new plan. Woodward, in which Woodward Avenue is named after, was the main architect of the plan, along with many surveyors from Canada. They laid the street plans out by placing their instruments on a giant rock in the middle of the park, which is known as the “Point of Origin.” That point is now marked, and is the center of the city. This is where the mile roads originate from. 8 Mile, 9 Mile, 10 Mile all the way to 26 Mile Road.

From that point on, it was a gathering place for all Detroiters. After 1900, when Detroit was just starting to come alive, the city began to retool the park. It was less a park, with a few monuments around Old City Hall, the first Opera House, and the city’s first Skyscraper. Hart Plaza was created in its place, and didn’t get the reviews many had hoped. It turned out to be more concrete, and less of a park.

Campus Martius from the Compuware Building (Photo Courtesy of: Flickr.com)

When the city began hearing about a lack of a public space, other than Hart Plaza in Downtown Detroit, the city got to work. The Kwame Kilpatrick administration decided to use the former Campus Martius park space. The only thing that was left of the former public gathering space was the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

The administration approved the construction and it soon began in May of 2003 with completion on November 19, 2004. The park includes two stages, sculptures, public spaces, and an ice rink in the winter. It is smaller than the original park at 1.2 acres, but the city also created Cadillac Square Park directly east of Campus Martius, toward the Greektown Historic District.

The ice rink is meant to resemble the rink at the Rockefeller Center in New York City, and in fact is larger than that. Cadillac Square Park opened in 2007, with the Bagley Fountain relocated to attract more people to that side of the park.

Since its opening in 2004, Campus Martius has become more and more popular with Detroiters. It is home to the Motown Winter Blast, a Christmas tree and Menorah lighting ceremony, and has brought over 450,000 people each year since its opening. Campus Martius has been named one of the Top 10 Great Public Spaces for 2010 and the Top U.S. Urban Park by Urban Land Institute.

It is open every day and there is even a small restaurant there to warm up for what is left of winter, eat, drink and have a good time. Fountain Bistro is open Monday-Thursday from 11:00am-11:00pm and 11:00am-12:00am on Friday and Saturday. They serve alcohol, sandwiches, soups, entrees and hors d’oeuvres.

Campus Martius was Detroit’s gathering place at one point during its life. It then died out because of the use of automobiles, larger buildings, and more people living in the city. It was revived because of the people of Detroit, and it now stands to be at the center of one of the greatest revivals we might ever see. So get down to Campus Martius, enjoy the outdoor space, embrace the feeling of being in a big city, and love the connections of a small city. Campus Martius: A historic piece of Detroit in the 21st Century.

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