Detroit in Ruins

Above: The ruined Spanish-Gothic interior of the United Artists Theater in Detroit. The cinema was built in 1928 by C Howard Crane, and finally closed in 1974.


“Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre’s extraordinary photographs documenting the dramatic decline of a major American city”

- Observer


Above: East Methodist Church

Above: Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, built in the Gothic revival style in 1911

Above: East Side Public Library

Above: Light Court, Farwell Building

Above: Michigan Central Station

Above: Dentist Cabinet, Broderick Tower

Above: “Offices, Highland Park Police Station

Above: The biology classroom at George W Ferris School in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park

Above: St Christopher House, ex-Public Library

Above: The ballroom of the 15-floor art-deco Lee Plaza Hotel, an apartment building with hotel services built in 1929 and derelict since the early 1990s

Above: Michigan Theatre

Above: View of Woodward Avenue from the Broderick Tower

Above: Detroit’s Vanity Ballroom with its unsalvaged art deco chandeliers. Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey once played here

Above: William Livingstone House, Brush Park, a French Renaissance-style house designed by Albert Kahn in 1893 and demolished since this photograph was taken

Above: Waiting hall, Michigan Central Station


Thank you to Simon Fielding.

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32 comments to Detroit in Ruins

  • Robin

    It’s really disturbing to approach Detroit on I-75 by car and realize suddenly from the light patterns that the giant building you can see easily from the highway is a hollowed-out hulk. Good post here, documenting how much more of the city is falling apart. I love Michigan but I don’t know how it can turn around from the economic changes of the last 35 years.

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  • Kurt

    It would be interesting if Detroit could move to a post-urban design, more open, green and farming spaces.

    For another take: Johnny Knoxville: Detroit Lives

  • Aaron M. Renn

    You might also want to check out my post “The Other Side of Detroit” that shows and tells the other side of this city:

    For some reason, it seems to be going a bit nuts in the UK right now, even though I wrote it last April. Cheers.

  • Nigel

    A disturbing view of a city I don’t know other than by name and reputation.

    Despite all the gloss and glamour in other places I wonder how many out of the immediate area realise what sad sights are to be had.

    Too expensive to renovate? Too expensive to demolish and clear?

    I guess there is a lot of life and energy out there for the budding retronaut to discover and enjoy…

  • Tat

    What a beautiful moving record of the decay of a city. I hope that some of these lovely buildings and the space around them can be renovated and re-used in some way that the community benefits one day.

  • jufjo

    Disgusting that such amazing buildings can be neglected.
    They should be rescued.

  • kathy

    Heartbreaking. I was in many of these buildings when I was a child and when they were in their glory. It’s as if they were vacated swiftly with no looking back, I guess that is the sad story of Detroit.

  • Mark

    these photos are like a warning shot over the bow of many cities in the rust belt. Detroit is not the only city suffering the decline, it is likely the biggest but its not alone.

    These buildings are magnificent; if only there were a way to recycle them

  • sonny

    absolutely had no idea
    shocking to see
    so then I watched the doco Johnny Knoxville did, and nice to see the local community trying to do something about it


  • Daniel Latinus

    “Offices, Highland Park Police Station”

    Is that picture for real? Did the police really leave all those mug shots and records in an abandoned building? I could see this in the aftermath of a natural disaster or some kind of sudden depopulation catastrophe, but as a result of urban decay? I would have thought, whatever else got left behind, the records (along with weapons and similar items) would have been moved to secure storage.

    I am similarly skeptical about the East Side Public Library as well.

  • Daniel Latinus

    “Dentist Cabinet, Broderick Tower”

    The air conditioner in the window in front of the dentist chair looks like a GE unit my family had back in the 1970s. (As a matter of fact, we had two.)

  • Liz R

    In the US we have abandoned cities writ large. There have been incentives for years to lure us to the suburbs. Detroit is merely the extreme example and it has become an easy target for gaping.

  • Denny, Alaska

    Detroit did not crumble and fall into ruin from “economic” changes or woes. Detroit is in its present state due to social and cultural destruction. It began with the riots of 1967 and has steadily declined. These photos, though beautiful, are hard to look at for any of us who remember Detroit as the great city it was in the ’40s and ’50s.

  • Rana

    Jim of Sweet Juniper has also documented some of Detroit’s decay, from the perspective of a person who lives there. His photographs of “feral buildings” are particularly haunting.

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  • Sara

    This is so sad, but so beautiful.

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  • Philip

    Hornsey Town Hall in Crouch End, north London, has been bereft of purpose for some years - it featured in the BBC documentary about Ray Davies over Christmas.

    I understand there are now (at last) plans to restore and reuse this marvellous building, but many of the photos at the address below have a very Detroit feel to them.

  • Nancy

    It’s amazing at how much potentially usuable stuff was merely abandoned: books on shelves at 2 libraries, the science equipment, the flag, piano & hymnals at the church, artwork on the walls… What a waste!

  • Old_Salt

    @Daniel Latinus.

    Yes, there was a natural disaster. It is called the one-party-state. This started in 1974 when the business community was bluntly told, “You know where 8 mile is.” Some community pillars chose to leave the city rather than to allow their businesses to be tormented and plundered by a corrupt city. The unfortunate business that stayed behind are but a sad memory; Strohs, J.L. Hudson, Sibley’s, Vernors, Crowleys’s, Sanders etc. The story of the Detroit based grocery chain, Farmer Jack, is a typical example of a thriving business destroyed by a political machine. The story of Detroit needs to be told because your city, state or country could be next.

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  • City girl

    Old Salt and Denny Alaska are absolutely correct. There is a much deeper story here to tell. Sadly, no news agencies will write it or pick it up because the culture of Detroit is, sadly, the way the culture of the nation is going. For a former native of Detroit, it is heartbreaking. I left because of work related issues, but my childhood was spent in Detroit and my heart is still there amongst the ruins. I was just a child (and I am only in my mid-fifties) when I did not think twice of hopping on the bus and spending the day at J L Hudson, lunching on the Mezzanine, or just hanging out with friends in Lafayette Square. Now, people tell me they would never venture there. The mammoth Dutch Elms lined my inner city street, and as I rode my bike down the center of street, gazing up at the green canopy, I thought I was in heaven. The Dutch Elms started to die, and although the city did try to save them, when they were cut down,they were never replaced. Hence, the cold concrete corridors, devoid of green, devoid of life, as seen from the view of the Broderick Tower. Mr. Young, you destroyed my city.

  • IgotBupkis

    > I love Michigan but I don’t know how it can turn around from the economic changes of the last 35 years.

    Simple, really: STOP SEEKING GOVERNMENT SOLUTIONS. Get government OUT of the business of running business.

    Make deals with businesses (and this can be consortiums of individual citizens — we aren’t needfully talking “Exxon” or anything here) to give them outright title to properties if they can demonstrate the wherewithall to refurbish them.

    Some of these properties are clearly likely to be in such decay that demolition is the only option, but even there, the land may have enough value that the government won’t have to pay for THAT.

    In other cases, provide a business with a 99 year lease and zero property tax to refurbish a space. And so forth.

    “Oh, but the lost revenue” ??

    WTF revenue you talkin’ ’bout, Willis?

    The means and mechanism for fostering growth and prosperity are and have always been fairly clear. Just look at Texas as a model.

  • D OG

    I call this the Greening of Detroit. The environmentalist should applaud this.

  • jorod

    This is the legacy of HUD housing policies of the ’60s and ’70s..what happens when you move the middle class out of the city and into the suburbs.

  • Rasha Bitar

    I wish I had money… There must be a way to save this place. Money talks…

    Come on people… these buildings are beautiful!

  • JPzke

    No one has stated the obvious…if the problems with Detroit were just from politics, then all of the jobs would be beyond 8 mile. They are not! When we start purchasing products Made in America, we’ll have jobs in America. Fill those buildings with manufacturing! So start today…read all of the labels for products you purchase, and only buy American.

  • IgotBupkis

    > No one has stated the obvious…if the problems with Detroit were just from politics, then all of the jobs would be beyond 8 mile. They are not! When we start purchasing products Made in America, we’ll have jobs in America. Fill those buildings with manufacturing! So start today…read all of the labels for products you purchase, and only buy American.

    No one has stated it because at least a fair percentage grasp what you’re so clueless about. Not everyone parrots the ignorance of NPR’ Liberal economics-fact-free journalism.

    1) Where does America’s Manufacturing Economy Rank in the world? Answer Here, from an economist, Dr. Mark Perry. Be sure to read the comments, they include, and respond to, many arguments with his claims and data.

    2) We’ve lost literally millions of Agricultural jobs in the last century and a half. At one time, America’s populace was more than 90% agriculturally employed. Why are we not screaming about this, and calling for less mechanized agriculture, and a return to “honest farm labor!!”? Instead of 90%, we now employ much less than 5% of our workers to produce our food, as well as a vast excess for world consumption. This is largely due to mechanization and other productivity improvements. Yet everyone is strangely silent regarding all these lost jobs…! Why?

    As roboticization and other productivity improvements occur in Industry, it seems as though one would have to be pretty damned stupid not to see a day coming when perhaps the industrial economy employs less than 5% of the labor pool, too. And indeed, once more, Dr. Perry Makes the Case. You will find, as with the above, a healthy set of cross arguments and answers to possible disputes with Perry’s numbers and reasoning. More on the issue and here (A specific breakdown example using the iPhone)

    3) There’s an economic principle at play called “Comparative Advantage“: Comparative advantage explains how trade can create value for both parties even when one can produce all goods with fewer resources than the other. In other words — in trade, specializationeven at the national level — pays off.
    Here’s a more readable example of the concept in play, that makes a hash of your basic concept:
    The Nation That Lost Its Jobs (But Got Them Back)

  • IgotBupkis

    OOps. Sorry:

    More on the issue here and here (A specific breakdown example using the iPhone)

  • Colin

    Its gone to China.

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