Michigan Central Depot
mcs photos


old mcs
Old MCS.


When the old Michigan Central Depot burned on December 26, 1913 the still unfinished structure off of Michigan Ave. was called into service. Designed by noted hotel architects Warren & Wetmore and engineers Reed and Stem, the MCS was an exceptionally beautiful building. The style of choice was beaux-arts neoclassical. Flanking massive arched windows were pairs of Corinthian columns, a hallmark of the style. Inside the rooms were modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse, particularly the massive main waiting room. With an impressive vaulted ceiling this room was the most imposing in the building.

Smaller rooms for women and men were placed at either end of the waiting room as were a cafe and restaurant. Deeper into the station was a hall of massive paired Doric columns. This area housed the ticket office and a long shopping arcade. Beyond them one entered another large space, the concourse. It was at the concourse that one departed for their trains. The room was far simpler then the waiting room, with walls of brick rather then marble. But it featured a massive copper skylight. From the concourse one passed through a similarly styled ramp down into a long tunnel to the train platforms.

1913 shot
The MCS prior to opening.

The station's most distinctive architectural feature lay not inside but was the office tower rising above the station proper. Rumored as a possible hotel, it actually housed offices. The lower floors had marble lined corridors while the upper floors were bare. The top floor was never finished, its walls never being plastered over. Architecturally this mass was joined to the station with a band or pilasters running around the upper floors. The total composition included 18 levels above ground. A massive basement level provided facilities for baggage and mail.

When the station first opened automobiles were still not common. Therefore the station was not, nor would ever be, given decent parking facilities. The intended main entrance was not the grand northern entrance dominated with the three huge arches. Rather, the most used entrance was intended to be the east entrance. This was made so by the presence of a streetcar terminal there. Because of the station's distance from downtown it was thought that most passengers would arrive via streetcar or interurban. They would exit the streetcar at the terminal and then enter the station through the east entrance. With the Depression came the end of the interurban service and by 1938 the street cars were gone. The station was suddenly isolated.

waiting room
The Waiting Room.

The station's isolation had not been a great concern in 1913. It was believed that the presence of a large station would cause the business district to spread towards the area. This had been the case with the Pennsylvania Station in New York. The slum in which it had been built quickly transformed into one of the city's finest retail addresses. Unfortunately, such developments never took place for the MCS. During the mid twenties, Henry Ford purchased land and planned to build a large business center. However land values, the General Moters-Fisher Building complex, and the Great Depression put an end to these plans.

The passenger tunnel.

The station thrived prior to the Second World War. During the Second World War the rails were crowded with military traffic and the MCS saw many tearful good-byes as soldiers departed for the front. After the Second World War, however, the slow decline began.

Automobiles gradually took over the Detroit-Chicago route. The loss of passenger traffic become so bad that by 1956 an attempt is made to sell the station for $5,000,000. There were no buyers. Profits continued to decline and by 1963 another attempt was made to sell the station, once again there were no buyers. The station's decline is made painfully obvious in 1967 when the main waiting room and park entrance are closed due to declining passenger traffic. Also facilities such as the arcade shops and restaurant closed. Gradually the building deteriorated.

The station towards the end.

In 1971 Amtrak took over the nations passenger service. Once again things started to look bright for the station. In 1975 the main entrance and waiting room were reopened. Better yet, in 1978 $1,250,000 worth of renovations begin. These include new track, bus facilities, and cleaning. The offices were used by Conrail. These bright days did not last. In 1984 the station was sold for a transportation center that never materialized. And then the unthinkable. Passenger traffic declined so severely that the decision was made to close the facility. On January 5, 1988 the last train departed. The building was permanently closed later that day. The building then started its quiet decay.

Open throughout much of the 90's, the station has been vandalized. Its plaster and brass details were gutted out by scavengers. Currently there has been discussion of its renovation as the new Detroit Police headquarters.

Read more about it...

Kavanaugh, Kelli B. Detroit's Michigan Central Station. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2001.
- A great collection of historic photographs accompanied by informational text on this beautiful landmark.

Cousins, Garnet R. and Paul Maximuke. "Detroit's Last Depot, Part 2: The Ceremony was 61 Years Late." Trains Magazine, August 1978: 40-48.
- An old article but full of great information. Most of what is on this page was gleamed from this source.



Copyright 1999 - 2004, David Kohrman
Last updated on March 28, 2004