time detroit 09

October 5, 2009 cover, courtesy Dewey from Detroit

On Monday, August 8, 2016, Donald Trump reiterated his economic plan in Detroit, Michigan, before an audience of 1,500 members and guests of the prestigious Economic Club in a ballroom of Cobo Hall.

I say ‘reiterated’, because much of what he said went public last autumn and has been on his website for months. However, he added more specifics.

Detroit then and now

Using Detroit as an introductory backdrop, he compared what Motor City was to what it is now (emphases mine):

Detroit was once the economic envy of the world. The people of Detroit helped power America to its position of global dominance in the 20th century.

When we were governed by an America First policy, Detroit was booming. Engineers, builders, laborers, shippers and countless others went to work each day, provided for their families, and lived out the American Dream.

But for many living in this city, that dream has long ago vanished.

When we abandoned the policy of America First, we started rebuilding other countries instead of our own. The skyscrapers went up in Beijing, and in many other cities around the world, while the factories and neighborhoods crumbled in Detroit. Our roads and bridges fell into disrepair, yet we found the money to resettle millions of refugees at taxpayer expense.

Today, Detroit has a per capita income of under $15,000 dollars, about half of the national average. 40 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty, over two-and-half times the national average. The unemployment rate is more than twice the national average. Half of all Detroit residents do not work.

Detroit tops the list of Most Dangerous Cities in terms of violent crime – these are the silenced victims whose stories are never told by Hillary Clinton, but victims whose suffering is no less real or permanent.

In short, the city of Detroit is the living, breathing example of my opponent’s failed economic agenda. Every policy that has failed this city, and so many others, is a policy supported by Hillary Clinton.

Those policies came about once the city’s residents began voting overwhelmingly for Democrats in the 1960s and 1970s.

Democrats’ policies are destructive. In 2013, Dewey from Detroit explained:

the point remains: Detroit has been served exclusively by Democrat leadership since 1962Coincident with that 50 year period the city began a steady state of entropy that culminated in the bankruptcy filing yesterday

This is Dewey; reminding you that if Obama had a city, it would look like Detroit.

Detroit is, for the moment, an outlier. However, other cities are crumbling, poised to follow.

Expect more Detroits if Hillary Clinton gets to the White House in January 2017.

My visits

I’ve been to Detroit four times: thrice in the late 1960s as a child and once in the late 1970s as a university student visiting friends.

My mother knew the city well from previous trips in the 1940s and 1950s. She loved it and could hardly wait to see it again.

My parents and I first saw it in August 1966. It was bustling and busy: traffic and people everywhere. We were just passing through then on our way elsewhere, but saw the automotive and automotive accessory plants, the nearby neighbourhoods as well as the nicer parts, e.g. Henry Ford’s home and other mansions.

The next time was in 1967 or 1968. It might have been early springtime, because it was cold. My mother and I went by train, where we met up with my dad, who was working away from home at the time. It was a weekend for all of us to get together away from home and have fun.

WestinBookCadillac.jpgWe stayed at what was then called the Sheraton Cadillac — now the Westin Book Cadillac. My mother thought it looked a bit down at heel, but I was impressed. I was in primary school at the time. Wikipedia describes the decor:

embodies Neo-Classical elements and building sculpture, incorporating brick and limestone. Among its notable features are the sculptures of notable figures from Detroit’s historyGeneral Anthony Wayne, Antoine Laumet de La Mothe, sieur de Cadillac, Chief Pontiac, and Robert Navarre along the ornate Michigan Avenue façade and copper-covered roof elements.[2]

The hotel was very busy, and she and I met a celebrity of the day in the lobby, with whom we had a lengthy and friendly exchange.

Before Dad arrived, Mum and I went to Hudson’s Department Store, which my mother spoke of often, particularly in the run-up to our trip. It was just as huge as she had promised. In fact, it was second in size only to Macy’s in New York City.

I loved Hudson’s, especially the toy department, but my mother was disappointed. There were kids running around unsupervised, and she thought the merchandise and layout needed a refresh.

Once my dad arrived, we went to dinner at a gorgeous rooftop restaurant with a view that overlooked the Ambassador Bridge and a stunning Windsor, Ontario. We went to Mass on Sunday in a beautiful church, St Aloysius. A lot of people attended, all in their Sunday best. We had brunch and then we checked out, Dad to return to his work assignment and the two of us to go back home.

The last time I went was in the late 1970s to spend time with friends. By then, the new Renaissance Tower was the talk of the town, and our hosts were eager to make sure we not only saw it but toured the public space and stopped for a drink. The Renaissance Tower was emblematic of new hope for the city, which was in decline and already making national news for that reason.

I noticed when one of my friends was driving us there that there were gaping empty spaces in the downtown area, which hadn’t been there a decade before. Hmm. My friend tried to brush this off as ‘change’ and ‘progress’ which had to take place. Nothing to see here, move along!

We were also told time and time again, ‘Look, we’re going to a night spot which is a 20-minute drive away. Make sure you go to the bathroom before we leave my parents’ house and before we leave the nightclub. It is too dangerous to stop in between the two. Is everybody clear?

Later developments

My friends in Detroit did not wish for me to think anything bad about the place they and generations of their family considered home, so, during the 1980s and 1990s, any negatives were clearly dismissed and the conversation changed quickly.

Their denial didn’t really help when one could see what was happening from the news!

J L Hudson’s flagship store

The aforementioned Hudson’s department store was Detroit’s the Midwest’s jewel in the retail crown.

A fascinating article from 2015 in the Detroit Free Press recaps its history:

For generations, it was as synonymous with Christmas and fashion as it was Detroit.

The Hudson’s department store at Woodward and Gratiot avenues was absolutely massive, evolving with the Motor City until it became the tallest department store in the world. By the time it finished growing, the store’s size almost defied belief.

That’s why they called it the Big Store.

The building was 2,124,316 square feet, making it second in size among department stores to only Macy’s in New York. The store was spread out over 32 floors, and at 410 feet, Hudson’s was the tallest department store in the world. Hudson’s featured more than 200 departments across an incredible 49 acres of floor space, and it featured about 600,000 items from 16,000 vendors. Twelve thousand employees, 100,000 customers came each day at its peak. In 1954, Hudson’s had sales of more than $163 million (an astronomical $1.28 billion today, when adjusted for inflation).

A number of factors contributed to the decline of Hudson’s Big Store: the construction of the massive freeway system in and around Detroit, the move to the suburbs and the rise of malls in those areas. People also felt less safe travelling into the centre of town. And why pay for parking downtown when you could get any variety of spaces for free in the suburban mall?

In 1983, after 90 years of business, Hudson’s closed its flagship store. It still retained offices there for 1,200 company employees working in management and administration.

Hudson’s moved out in 1990. A company from Windsor, Ontario, bought the building. Unfortunately, what was the Big Store lay derelict, attracting trespassers and window-breaking vandals. For whatever reason, various plans for redevelopment were shelved.

On October 24, 1998, a sad event took place. And it even saddens me to watch this, the destruction of the J L Hudson Department Store:

The site has served since then as an underground parking garage.

Discussions are still taking place on renovating the site above ground.

I see the Free Press does not allow readers to see the 34 comments on this article and 9 from the one cited earlier. I bet there were some gems there.

You can get an idea of the store’s iconic status in these historic photos from The Detroit News.

Michigan Central Station

This railway station was a temple of transport — so awe-inspiring, so beautiful. When it opened in 1914, it was the tallest railway station in the world.

Amtrak services stopped serving Michigan Central in 1988 and continued at a nearby platform instead. A new station opened several miles away in Detroit’s New Center in 1994.

Once closed, Michigan Central became an attractive target for vandals and delinquents. A number of photographers have taken pictures of the interior and exterior since closure. A 2013 photo shows all the graffiti marring the majestic waiting room. A series of photos shows the architecturally Beaux Arts classical exterior and all the broken windows.

The best, however, is French-Canadian Jean-Pierre Lavoie’s 360 degree panoramas of the the Michigan Central train station — a must-see. As Dewey from Detroit described it in 2009:

It feels like a nerve unsheathed, it looks like a malignant menace. It is the face of a city waiting for salvation, it’s worthiness unclear.

Societies require care and selfless leadership to survive, let alone thrive. Detroit has had neither for nearly 40 years. I mention this simply as a cautionary tale.

The Mouroun family, local billionaire industrialists, purchased Michigan Central and are slowly refurbishing it. In February 2016, they had replaced all 1,050 of the station’s windows on time and on budget by enlisting the services of a glass and metal company in nearby St Clair Shores. The Mourouns have spent several million dollars on other improvements to electrics and the elevator shaft.

Although the building’s new purpose is unclear at this point, at least this is a move in a positive direction.

Other ruins

Some people look at a decayed city and say, ‘So what? Everything changes.’

An ad man from Britain opined on the planned redevelopment of the Old Port in Marseille and said the same thing to me a few years ago.

Dewey from Detroit has photographs from other former Detroit icons: the Vanity Ballroom where all the Big Bands from the 1940s played, the Lee Plaza Ballroom, the stunning cathedral-like organ screen from the abandoned United Artists theatre and the tragically abandoned Ford River Rouge Plant.

In that 2009 post, he explained what had happened over the years to put Detroit on her deathbed:

Photographers keep showing up and taking pictures that people can emote over for a few minutes, and then they go about their business. But keep ignoring the path our country is on and soon you, too, will have no business to go back to.

here a taste of what the Great Society [Democrat Lyndon Baines Johnson, mid-1960s] has wrought on a once prosperous and proud city.

Get up close and take a look into the abyss that 40 years of elite liberal East Coast driven social policies have created.

And spare me the litany of other factors that contributed to Detroit’s decline; they contributed, they didn’t create. Only government policies that suck the souls of its citizens dry of any personal responsibility and self-respect can so effectively kill the motivation, drive and ambition of people. Only multiple generations of people born into the entitlement mentality of government provision and care can kill the soul of the people, and with them their city

Detroit may just be beyond redemption. The rest of the country is still our call.

Too right.

Seven years on and no one really cares, including millions of American citizens carping about the state of the country! Because it’s so much easier to sit at home and complain rather than to start educating ourselves about the reality of the situation then going out to vote for a candidate who can reverse this tragic trend!

I’ve said it here before and I will say it again: 2016 is America’s last chance for survival.

People know what to do, so why don’t they get on with it? I do not know.

Detroit in the 21st century

Today, Detroit is best known for its declining automotive industry and, oddly enough, a huge pawn shop, American Jewelry and Loan, as seen around the world in the television series Hardcore Pawn.

If Hardcore Pawn reflects the reality of today’s residents of Detroit — and, heaven forbid, the rest of the country’s major urban areas — America is doomed.

This show is amazing, and not in a good way. It must be seen to be believed. A more vulgar, incoherent group of customers I have never seen, where ‘going to work’ unabashedly means ‘going to the casino’. Scary.

Back in 2009, the idea was mooted that Detroit be turned into farmland. Detroit has one of the largest square mile urban areas in the United States. The population is now just over 800,000. Dewey has a helpful graphic and puts it into perspective:

Consider an interesting fact about Detroit: it’s huge, even by city standards. 140 square miles. Manhattan, Boston and San Francisco could all fit comfortably within the borders of Detroit and still have room left over.

Outside of the centre, most shops have closed. Huge swathes of open space exist, beautiful houses long gone — burnt to the ground or razed:

On its face the urban farm concept for a city as deeply scarred as Detroit holds a great deal of poetic appeal. After all, the city was built on rich, arable farm land that still lies beneath the structures. The once fertile fields were gradually annexed and filled with housing stock to meet the needs of a growing urban population that congregated around the industries that built America into the most powerful industrial giant the world had ever seen. 

He has another post, ‘Feral in Detroit’, which shows more tragically spacious lots and abandoned homes. Again, some may say, ‘So what? It was probably not a populated neighbourhood to begin with’.

st cyril detroit 2008There they would be wrong. Dewey gives us an aerial cutting from a 1949 map of the neighbourhood of the now-demolished St Cyril’s Catholic Church and school. The whole area is full of houses, with no vacant space. By 2003, most of those homes were destroyed. There is a lot of vacant space. I am borrowing a picture from his post, taken by Robert Monaghan, to show you what the area around St Cyril’s looks like today.

Mr Monaghan’s photographs of Detroit are well worth looking at and remembering.

The story of Detroit resident Marabel Chanin describes the eeriness of life there. She died alone in a lovely house in 2008. She had outlived her friends. Dewey says:

When Marabel moved into the house on Robinwood Avenue in 1964 it was a beautiful neighborhood of 1920’s era brick bungalows, stately trees and neat gardens. The northwest Detroit neighborhood was adjacent to the exclusive Palmer Park Golf Course and Country Club. A serene, safe and attractive community. Forty five years later, it had turned into a dump.

Robinwood, like countless streets in Detroit, had turned into a block of abandoned carcasses. Burned out, boarded up falling down houses littered the block, and served as gathering places for drug dealers, users and thieves. Marabel lived out her life a prisoner in her own home, fearful of gunshots, burglary and worse.

Conclusion

Detroit might still have a lifeline somewhere at some time.

However, its government has been continually corrupt over the past 50+ years.

Detroit’s newish mayor Mike Duggan might be able to make a difference. I certainly hope so. Even then, the city will never recapture its former grandeur.

As Dewey says, ‘Let this be a cautionary tale’. It can happen to your city or town, too.

Get out and research your local, state and national candidates this year. Instead of complaining, start listening to what the various presidential candidates are saying in full, rather than relying on television or radio soundbites.

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