Detroit was once a glamorous industrial hub, a city that stood as a shining example of American innovation. Beginning in the late 1970s however, beloved establishments felt the oppressive force of economic downturn, leaving them to sit empty for many years. Now in a state of rebirth and bursting with exciting local energy, a few places still offer a glimpse into the past of what the city once was. These buildings are historical and beautiful, and they will not last long—the city is already in the process of rebuilding. A visit now ensures a dramatic before & after photoshoot.
Image via (Belle Isle Zoo, above): Detroit Turbex
Belle Isle Zoo
This outdoor zoo was operational for 107 years, before being closed to open a new zoo on the other side of the island. In its glory days, visitors could see polar bears, kangaroos, elephants and more. Today, it looks like something out of a movie scene—overgrown plants and trees litter the zoo grounds, ironically leaving the once thriving collection of exotic wildlife completely reclaimed by nature. There are no plans to reopen the zoo.
Image via Z Fein
Michigan Central Station
While never fully abandoned, the train station in Detroit has decayed, having sat empty since 1988, and been bought and sold many times. When it opened in 1914, it was the tallest rail station in the world. Its architecture is in the beaux-arts neoclassical design, with massive columns, arched windows, and a high vaulted ceiling in the main waiting room. The last train departed on January 5, 1988, and the building has since been quiet. As of July 2017, it has been announced that there are plans for reconstruction in the near future.
Image via Architectural Digest
Packard Automotive Plant
This list would be incomplete without mention of the Packard Auto Plant. The building is a staggering 3.5 million square feet and was built in 1911 as a luxury car manufacturing plant. It closed down in bits and pieces—first in 1958, then a few businesses used the space in the 1990s, and the final tenant packed up in 2010. However, this building will not stay empty for long, as it was purchased in 2013 for just under half a million dollars and reconstruction has already begun.
Image via Curbed
Once home to premier jewelers and watchmakers, the stunning Metropolitan building has sat vacant since 1979. The cathedral-looking 14-story building features impressive gothic-style architecture. While currently empty, the building is in good condition and is in the process of renovation to be repurposed as a new Element Hotel.
Image via Road Arch
United Artists Theater
Founded in part by the late great Charlie Chaplin, Detroit’s United Artists Theater featured a Spanish-Gothic architectural style, with its interior outfitted with vaulted ceilings, large chandeliers, and a grand staircase. The theater played films, and was home to prestigious Detroit Symphony Orchestra as the building was notably acoustically perfect. Since its glory days however, the building has been left empty since the 1990s, and was announced in May of 2017 to undergo renovation as residential units and retail space.