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Abandoned in Detroit

Detroit Michigan: A very quick sample of inner city blight

Detroit Michigan.  Gone and mostly forgotten.

A friend of mine remarked some years back that he took a video camera and shot video of his travel into Detroit Michigan on the way to work.  He then showed his wife and friends the video.  They were a little shocked.

He lives way out beyond the edge of the suburbs way out beyond the Metro area.  He drives a long way to work.  His video showed stuff like some of these photos.  The poor neighborhoods looked like they were bombed out.  His profound statement was, “Detroit is kind of like the bombing of London in WWII, just a little slower, maybe taking 10 or more years”.  Like a slow bombing raid.

We often see great pictures of a major city from a distance.  Sometimes you’ll see ads with fashion models in an ad for a conference in a nice part of the city or maybe something showing a bum for a charity raising purpose to “help the poor”.  Otherwise images are mostly shown of large glimmering cities from a distance.  

Here’s a typical picture of a large city, not even the biggest or best view of Detroit, just a shot from a distance not really looking at waterfront skyline we are used to seeing, rather just a view down East Grand Boulevard toward Henry Ford Hospital.  This one is taken from a window at my workplace.

I have a really nice night shot picture from this same vantage point using low light near twilight believe it or not.  That different exposure, makes this same scene look like a promotional photo for the Las Vegas casino strip.  The glowing lights.  I remember one face lift project on this street alone which planted trees and grass in the middle of the street.  It cost millions of dollars for landscaping and some brickwork and curbs for turn around areas.

Now it’s interesting to see all the photos and some details of different buildings all over the country in “Abandoned but not forgotten”.  It tends to make me think the entire country is falling apart if we only view photos and focus on decay.  

Some of the other photos I’ve seen on the site are interesting and haunting as well.  I don’t have many of those types here.  More like a quick survey and some comments about inner city decay and what causes it.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive report about blight and what causes it.  Suffice it to say there are 10,000 felons in Detroit wandering the streets at any given time.  Many of these have records due to being in the drug trade.  There are perhaps a few hundred perpetual bums who walk around homeless and live off shelters, these are used to being homeless.  Some of the newer ones may be new drug addicts or people with newer mental problems.  Most of the homeless we see are not “new poor” divorced women with kids that was once a problem paraded as the big homeless problem.  Homelessness is often a breakdown in mental or other addictive conditions that make a person to much of a burden to help, so they lose all family support and walk the streets, most adapting.  Most of the homeless we see are fairly self sufficient, perhaps even appearing to be homeless while living in poor housing to beg and use the appearance for sympathy.  Most of the homeless we see are used to it and have adapted to that dysfunctional lifestyle.  This is not to say that all the homeless are responsible for the damage you see.  There are low level criminals and thieves as well.  Probably most of the damage is happening from thieves or vandals who are living in poor conditions, but looking to make some money from stealing something from an abandoned building.  

Now among the poor there is a vast group of workers who drive in and out of Detroit .  Also there’s the unfortunate home owners who stayed in the neighborhood or cannot leave it because nobody will buy their house at any price.  

There are some new housing developments in some areas, even houses and apartment projects.  I kind of laugh at times at these new projects in the city, and wonder if they are worthwhile risks.  After dark most suburbanites rush to their cars and drive out to the suburbs before it gets to dark.  They tell us to go in groups to avoid the occasional crook  who might try to mug you.  

There has been much flight out of Detroit as well.  Poor whites, blacks and others who don’t have a good job may wait and apply for “section 8” housing in the suburbs, part of some apartment project where most of the renters are on welfare or in a low paying job.  The suburbs are full of these developments and living in an “apartment with section 8 housing” often means you get some criminal element perhaps those with nothing better to do than watch your place when you leave and then break in to take your stuff.  Because of this people who live in these apartments make a habit of leaving their TV on loud when they leave their apartment and it becomes a habit.  I have a friend who still did this after getting his own house in a safe neighborhood, just because of the habit of leaving the TV on as a poor deterrent to keep a thief out.

No matter what your neighborhood, city or rural your house is only as safe as your neighbors.  If they are good and keep an eye on your place while your gone your much safer, if they are not even there, as in many rural property situations, a thief can easily break in.  Of course in any city or suburb even a relative with a drug habit could steal from you, so it’s impossible to think you can move away from all crime.


In Detroit we used to have a holiday which wasn’t official more like a Little Rascal type of holiday, who knows when it started, maybe some young punks thought about it many years ago maybe in the 1930s.  It was called “Devils night”.  I’m told it’s a Detroit area thing and other parts of the country don’t even have an unofficial holiday like that.  I’m not sure it’s origins.  But kids often passed down “this prank tradition” with doing things like toilet papering trees the night before Halloween.  

In Detroit there was for many years a habit that was the torching of houses during “Devils night”.  Several hundred fire calls would go out every “devils night” as abandoned buildings were torched each year.  This was fought with an “Angels night” campaign and citizen patrol.  Local media reported that many absent landlords who owned slum rental housing or those who owned a house, would actually be torching their own house for insurance money.  Owners wanting to get out of a property found it was easier to burn it down than try to move it.  Community patrols were eventually organized to practically get rid of that practice.  It’s worked pretty well, but still a lot of fires happen in abandoned buildings during the course of a year.  Sometimes people try to warm their house with a stove or poor/unsafe heater and end up having fires.  These places may soon be abandoned, boarded up and left to decay.

I drove to a Pizza place in Detroit known as Buddy’s Pizza, it’s a famous Pizza place in Detroit that serves Chicago styled Pizza.  Many go to Buddy’s, they have great Pizza.  If you take a short cut through a couple of blocks near Buddy’s you’ll see a two block sample of one of the poor burnt out sections of Detroit.  This is much worse than it was 10 or 20 years ago.  Perhaps one or two houses were on the block in bad shape at that time.  Over time houses go into disrepair, they are boarded up, bums may break in, and they are eventually torched.  Here’s some photos from my drive down two blocks of a street near Buddys Pizza in Detroit.  First we’ll start at the parking lot.


This is the start of my journey back, the side of the parking lot.  Head out into the street turn a left into the first block across from this lot and you’ll see the following.

First house on the block, for sale.  Anyone want this one?  A few windows look to be in need of repair.

Keep in mind there are houses near these where people live and they usually stay indoors at night.  It’s safer to stay at home and watch cable TV to avoid night time crimes.  Those who go out have to worry about robbers or worse.  Detroit has a very high cable subscription rate.  In the past couple of weeks (Jan 2007) there have been some reports about car jacking shootings, something that used to be more frequent perhaps 10 to 15 years ago, may start happening again with more frequency.


I didn’t get a complete photo of this next house, it’s on the same block.  Keep in mind I was just driving down the street and taking pictures quickly out the window.  Didn’t have a lot of time to stop and get a great framing of each house.  Frankly I didn’t want to stop and take one, who knows who would be around and they might get upset that I was taking a photo of a dope house or whatever.  You can see part of this house in the next picture.  And of course it’s natural for people to not want photos of the bad part of town to be put out.  Why would someone want to put out these?  To make the town look bad?  No just to put out a little slice of reality, rather than just a good image.  There are good and bad sections in most cities.


There’s a space between these two.  Looks like someone was planning on doing a roof job.  This house looks abandoned.  You can board up a house, that won’t stop the criminals who break in and squat or trespass on a house perhaps torching it, maybe using it for a crime or drug house.


This sign is on an empty corner lot one block down.  This field was probably occupied by a house.  I remember going down this street when many of the houses you see in these photos were occupied.  Perhaps 10 years ago.

Next store we see the next house.



Next we have what happens when they remove a house a field remains.  

next. .


Finally a quick look back down the two blocks that contained all those burned out houses.  There are entire neighborhoods like this in Detroit.  This happens when industry collapses and when crime is allowed to grow.  People just flee and industry moves.  It’s more than one problem.  Now let’s take a look at a Funeral home on the same block.  It was in business maybe 10 years ago. I kind of forgot when this was abandoned.  As a traveller through an inner city you kind of get used to ignoring this stuff.

This is not to say that everything about Detroit is bad.  A lot of money goes into the downtown toward new projects by corporations or millionaires who will not give up on the inner cities.  There’s often projects like the new stadiums in Detroit, Compuware’s Campus and the Casinos.  There used to be a bunch of people who would cry out on local radio on call in programs asking that more money be put into the neighborhoods.  I haven’t listened to those shows much lately, and I think they finally gave up.  Because they felt it was probably better to just go away.  Sometimes a project will be targeted around some area.  Some area will be designated as a project by a charity or the local government, perhaps most of the houses will be bought up and new townhouses or apartments will go in.  This was rare in the past under Coleman Young and we see a lot more of it happening lately.  It still doesn’t scratch the surface of these neighborhoods.

One of the problems is when you try to improve others are still wandering the streets looking to tear the place down.  Another problem is it’s not legal to just go in and tear down an abandoned house.  If a slum lord leaves a house and boards it up, he still has rights to the house.  If it’s unoccupied it can become a target, and there’s little the city can do.  It takes a long time to take possession of a house.  


Here’s some businesses or other buildings where you can see this happen.

A local Televangelist had a church in Detroit on East Grand Boulevard.  Called “Faith For Miracles”  Here’s what’s left of it.

Here’s a business that closed up a few years ago.  Check out the way they blocked the door.  I think a radio station or realtor was in this place.  Closer to my workplace I’ve heard of guys stealing cable.  Sometimes they try to take live electrical cable running to a working building. I heard of one account of a live wire being cut and the police finding a “hand” lying severed by the wire.  I know of a situation where one of the office buildings lost a lot of phone connections because someone stole the phone wire running to the building during the day.  It took some time to get all the phone lines running again.


Here’s a business that closed on Woodward.  Many of these happen in inner cities all the time.  The air conditioners were stole off the roof of this building last year. This particular abandoned store was broken into a few weeks ago.  The back door was cinder blocked in with brick, but someone bashed it down.  I saw a big engraved cane left near the door, perhaps by some crazy bum I used to see walking with it. I figure he used the cane to break in and then left and left his cane behind.   It was re-bricked shut the next day.  Not quite abandoned yet.

Here’s photos from that earlier break in.  I took a photo 10/22/2007.

Crazy man’s cane?  Did “crazy man” break in with the cane and then flee?

Ever feel the temptation to stick a camera into a building and let the flash show you what’s inside?  I couldn’t see anything in there, but the flash showed a bit of what was in there.  Later that day, the door was re-blocked in by a crew.  This really wasn’t abandoned, just attacked by someone, probably looking for copper.   The local parking lot attendant stated they probably “thought there was something valuable inside and were disappointed.

Here’s another building in the area that was a small office building for a while maybe 20 years ago.  The owners try to reclaim it and perhaps use it for something in the future.  You can see new windows.  Of course there’s new grafitti as well.  Sometimes a bum is sleeping in the doorway.  You can see some stuff (behind the bush) which is trash and perhaps a sleeping roll for the bum.


Even inner city businesses that are still running or recently shut down have grafetti sprayed on them.


The same day I drove home after taking those pictures I found a fire in a neighborhood burning. This was in a suburb and not an abandoned home.  It will be rebuilt or torn down and the owner will move.  This is in a neighborhood that is under a lot of stress in the suburbs due to economic down times in Michigan.  There are hundreds of houses on the market in every city that are not being sold, because nobody wants them or has a future with a decent job to pay for them.  A lot of low prices.  It’s interesting to hear the spin that realtors put on the situation to try to make a bad housing market seem to be good news.

Here’s a photo I took about a year ago about 5 blocks from my workplace.  This is made up of a series of shots I took of the results of a fire that leveled a warehouse.  This warehouse was once a small car factory and became a storage place and had some businesses that were meat packing distribution in them.  People had cars and all kinds of stuff stored in this building.  It’s interesting to see buildings like this after a fire and note that the steel structures twist due to the heat from the fire.  Steel may be fireproof but under enough heat it expands at different rates and twists, as you can see if you look closely at the above photo.


I’ll end this with a high note: Here’s some buildings that are definitely not abandoned.  Fisher building and GM building in Detroit Michigan and New Center One mall.  Still from time to time a window is broken in one of them.  Without guards and repair people, any building can fall into disrepair, regardless of it’s beauty or design.

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