When Detroit's Michigan Central Railroad depot opened a century ago on December 26, 1913, it was a majestic symbol of the city's grandeur and phenomenal industrial success.
It was the tallest railroad station in the world, and the fourth tallest building in Detroit. The Michigan Central Railroad (a subsidiary of William Vanderbilt's New York Central RR) spent $16 million - about $332 million today - on the new station, office building, yards and the underwater rail tunnel, which opened on Oct. 16, 1910. The cost of the station alone was about $2.5 million ($55 million today).
Today its hollow ruin has become an icon of the city's monumental decline.
From 1884 to 1913 the Michigan Central Railroad operated out of a depot in downtown Detroit at Third and Jefferson. In 1906 the company began constructing a tunnel under the Detroit River to Canada. To meet the demands of its growing business the railroad decided a new and much larger depot should be built nearby and began acquiring property in the Corktown neighborhood in 1908.
The new depot was to be formally opened on January 4, 1914, but a fire broke out at the old depot around 2 p.m. on December 26, 1913. The flames spread and it was quickly determined that the building was no longer usable. To avoid disruption of service, operations were hastily moved to the new building, and at 5:20 p.m. the first train departed for Saginaw and Bay City. An hour later its first inbound train arrived from Chicago.
Seventy-four years later, at 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 5, 1988, Amtrak 353 bound for Chicago became the last train to roll out of the once-grand depot.
Its only use in the last quarter century has been to serve as an easel for graffiti vandals, a makeshift shelter for vagrants, a target of scavengers and scrappers who have stripped it of anything and everything of value, a paintball shooting gallery, and an occasional set for apocalyptic films.
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