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An architectural analysis of the abandoned Michigan Central Station (MCS), a train station built in 1913 Detroit, reveals much about the society and culture that is responsible for the construction of this once beautiful landmark. The current vacancy of such an impressive building while saddening is not implausible, for the architectural style, materials, placement, scale, and function of this train station were built for what the culture of the 1910¶s needed, valued, and hoped for their city and not for the culture of the current time. Detroit, Michigan in the 1910¶s was undergoing massive population and economic growth due to the immigration of Eastern Europeans and American farmers, and a promising automotive industry. Detroit was on its way to becoming the fourth largest city in the
Front View of MCS (Kavanaugh 2004, 32)
USA; by 1920 there would be just under a million residents (Rogers 2002, 7-8). Like the other major cities of the time, Detroit needed a train station to serve as a grand gateway to introduce visitors to the prosperous city. Stations built before, such as Penn and Grand Central Station had set the bar high in terms of size, functionality, and architectural style (Roth 2001, 297). Detroit, being a comparatively newer city, perhaps felt slightly inferior to the older east coast cities. Therefore, in an attempt to prove itself as a great American city, Detroit hired the same two architectural firms that constructed the Grand Central Station; Reed and Stem, specialists in station design, would plan the layout and mechanical aspects, while École-trained Warren and Wetmore would work with them on perfecting neoclassical style of Architecture (Ferry 1968, 226). The MCS was intended to become the pride of Detroit.
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three massive arched windows are surrounded by giant Corinthian order engaged columns. the MCS gained the title of the tallest train station in the world. tree-lined boulevards. a streetcar terminal and entrance was constructed on the eastern entrance of the building. In the front portion. Being far from downtown. The building exhibits perfect symmetry. These boulevards and the large rotary connecting them in front of the station create a sort of processional landscape that allows for travelers to see the most attractive sides of the building in all their grandeur. the top floor is segmented from the lower levels by Doric engaged columns lining the building. parallel. The large entrance portion. long.The Michigan Central Station Much optimism was present in the placement of the MCS in a slum two miles from downtown Detroit. On the tower portion. Large detailed crests are carved into the granite in between the columns. which reflects the role early automotives played in influencing building design. this optimistic speculation seemed justified. Considering the population and economic growth of the time. planners hoped that the grandeur and convenience of the MCS would stimulate the development of a surrounding business district (Kavanaugh 2004. On the western entrance there was a taxi terminal. and the formality and classical designs typical of École-trained architects. containing the great waiting room. and the corners of the building were bordered with similarly designed pilasters. Therefore. creates an interesting contrast with the prominent tower of 18 floors behind it. 2004). there are two. the flow of passengers to the station from Detroit depended heavily on streetcars (Kavanaugh 7. 7). the giant scale of the granite building is the most noticeable and telling feature of how important the building was to Detroit. From the outside. Both of these terminals were constructed with exposed steel which 2|P ag e . While the station could have been built closer to downtown. One can only image the majestic feeling created from approaching such an exquisite building through these boulevards. In fact. Leading up to the entrance.
which also happens to be the grandest of the three entrances. which has slightly less impressive walls made of brick and a beautiful copper framed skyline spanning the length of the room. one would be further exposed to the neoclassical style by a beautiful grand waiting room inspired by the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. it is much simpler than the grand waiting room. perhaps it functioned as a drop-off area for the more elite passengers who could afford personal drivers to transport them.The Michigan Central Station created a more industrial look. chandeliers hanging from each peak in the ceiling. you walk along the concourse. This follows the traditions seen throughout history of providing the wealthiest with the most luxurious of amenities. with wonderfully vaulted ceilings over seventy-six feet tall. On your sides you pass restaurants. received the least amount of traffic. On your way to the platforms. created the perfect portal to represent the prosperous city of Detroit. beautiful wooden benches. appropriate for the high-tech modes of transportation they accommodated. a pharmacy. Upon entering. The hierarchy of the spaces is clearly seen as the rooms become more important and impressive as you progress from the platforms to the grand 3|P ag e The Grand Waiting Room (Welt) (2). and large arched windows. While this room is beautiful. rotary connecting the two boulevards. The front entrance. Since the front entrance was accessible from the Drawing of MCS (Allposters). . and a barbershop before you enter the outdoor platform behind the building and leave the neoclassic design for a more industrial exposed steel design (Tracey 1987). a floor of marble. Giant Doric columns and walls of granite.
in this way.The Michigan Central Station waiting room. For example. the construction was not done with load-bearing materials. By this we can imply that there was no demand for this amount of space at the time of it construction. more efficiently. The top most level was never fully constructed and remains unfinished today. they are not all of the finest quality. steel was used for the structural support of the building (1). architecture may not be advancing in terms of new styles being developed. but they would not be considered unique. The 18 floors of the large tower portion where never fully occupied. To these passengers. and it would surely leave the lasting impression of grandeur the architects intended. The extreme height of the building would be like nothing they have ever seen on a train station before. Most likely this was done with the philosophy of saving the best for last. Unlike the baths of Rome however. the ceiling of the grand waiting room was made out of a new synthetic lookalike of Marble that easily was water damaged (Tracey 1987). and looked back while they were travelling away from the station on one of the boulevards. the interiors of the MCS would certainly be beautiful and augment their view of Detroit. Since MCS is a big station and connects to big cities of the east coast. boarded the streetcar. and less expensively in order to create buildings that fully meet their needs. while the materials appear impressive. The willingness to use new materials and construction methods shows that while on the surface. Instead. many visitors to Detroit probably departed from similarly grand stations. Also. but the designers had hoped that the beauty of the building¶s exterior and grand station rooms would create demand in the 4|P ag e . beneath the surface. like Penn Station. What would differentiate the building for these people would be when they exited through the east exit. there is innovation and technology that allows people to build bigger. each successive room impresses the visitor more and more so that he or she leaves the MCS with a sense of awe.
yet from its imposing exterior. which further isolated the building from downtown. until it was shut down in 1988 (Kavanaugh 2004. Soon after the construction.The Michigan Central Station future. and remote placement of the MCS made sense for a confident city. For this building. a mere shadow of the beauty it once was. but also for a supposed culture that never materialized. The failure of this building is due to the fact that it was not just designed for the culture of the time. for as an increasing number of people came to own personal automobiles. perceived beauty was given more importance than functionality and practicality. the neoclassical style. The MCS now it stands vacant in ruins. The tower floors that were used were designed in a simple manner typical of offices of the time. After WWII the station¶s usage would steadily decline. grand materials. and further develop within its borders. but rather only by office workers who did not need elaborate environments in which to conduct work. The tower could have been a complete empty shell. 7). overly large scale. the great depression occurred that resulted in the land around the station never being developed and the city streetcar service to be shut down. Its success depended too heavily on the future economic prosperity of Detroit and the buildings ability to attract neighboring development . as a visitor would still be impressed. Oddly enough the success of Detroit¶s automotive industry had a negative impact on the MCS. seeking to heighten its name. connect to the country. The reason the details and beautiful architecture from the ground floor were not carried up to the floors above was because the tower¶s interior would never be seen by visitors.a feat it never accomplished. 5|P ag e . routes once traveled by train were now traveled by automobile. For the time of it construction.
below the current state of the grand waiting room is shown. Detroit¶s Michigan Central Station (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing. 2009). vandalism and theft in the building have left every room in this massive building in disrepair.com.com/albums/c339/alexanderwelt/?action=view¤t=Before-after. 2 Alexander Welt.jpg (accessed March 1.photobucket. Kavanaugh.The Michigan Central Station Endnotes 1 Kelly B. 6|P ag e . Since the buildings closing in 1988. 32. 2004). ³Before-after. From the picture the grand waiting room can be seen in it prime in the upper photo.jpg. http://s30.000 tons of steel were used in the construction of MCS. Over 7.000 cubic feet of stone and seven million regular bricks were used.´ Uploaded to Photobucket. In addition 125.
Jim.youtube. American Architecture (Boulder: Westview Press. Detroit¶s Michigan Central Station (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing. 2001) 296-299. ³Historical Population and Employment by Minor Civil Division. H. 226. 2002. Tracey. 2009) 7|P ag e . Online video clip. Rogers. 2009).pdf (accessed February 22. Kavanaugh. Kelly B. http://library.com/watch?v=sbtyUsnrY2I (Accessed February 22. June 27. Robin. 7.´ 1987.org/InmagicGenie/DocumentFolder/HistoricalPopulationSEMI.semcog. Leland M. http://www. ³Michigan Central Station. Sunday Times Production. 2004). Roth. The Buildings of Detroit (Detroit: Wayne State University Press.´ SEMCOG. Southeast Michigan. 1968). W.The Michigan Central Station Bibliography Ferry.
2004). ³Before-after.jpg (accessed March 1.photobucket.jpg (accessed February 27.com. 2009) 8|P ag e .´ Uploaded to Photobucket. Kelly B.com/albums/c339/alexanderwelt/?action=view¤t=Before-after. Detroit¶s Michigan Central Station (Chicago: Arcadia Publishing. http://imagecache2. Welt. Alexander.allposters. 2009) Kavanaugh. 32.jpg.com/images/pic/FIP/MI-00109-C~Michigan-CentralStation-Detroit-Michigan-Posters.The Michigan Central Station Image Sources Allposteres. http://s30.
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