Thursday, July 30, 2015

Abandoned Detroit

Southwestern High School - Detroit, MI
It was really heart breaking to see destruction and waste of this magnitude in Detroit, even so, the abandoned parts are a fascinating aspect of the city to me.

Most of us have heard to some extent of the abandoned Detroit and it is no secret that a few years ago Detroit had no alternative but to file for bankruptcy, but just how did the city once known as the Paris of the west get to that point? Well, it was actually something that was decades and decades in the making. 

In the late 19th century and beginning of the 20th century Detroit's economy was booming. It became one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the country drawing in people who were in search of a better life through manufacturing jobs from other parts of the U.S. and the world. This included Black Americans from the south. As a result redlining occurred and racial divide and conflict became very apparent with the race riot of 1943, but the race riot of 1967 is what seems to really have started Detroit's demise because people, whites in particular, started leaving the city for the suburbs. As Keith B. Richburg puts it in his article, "The white population's abandonment of the city left Detroit with a shrinking tax base and deteriorating, segregated public schools...." 

Of course in later years globalization would only worsen Detroit's predicament. Since NAFTA came into effect in 1994 many auto manufacturers moved to Mexico to stay competitive with other foreign auto makers, forcing many, if not most of the factories to shut down, thus forcing people to leave Detroit and move elsewhere to find their livelihood. The fact of the matter is that it was not just the auto industry that was affected, but just about everything the U.S. once manufactured has been outsourced over seas. It is the cost of living in a world where we constantly demand goods for cheaper prices. Though I think this is only the tip of the iceberg. I'm afraid there are other factors that play into this as well.

Today Detroit has thousands, that's right, thousands of abandoned houses and buildings. It is incredibly astonishing to see so much ruin in a city with such a glorious past like Detroit's. 

The reason I went to Detroit was to enjoy a special art exhibition for a weekend (see my blog post about that right here), which I very much did enjoy, but having been able to see the abandoned part of Detroit was just as fascinating and educational for me.

The first abandoned place I visited in Detroit was Southwestern High School. The school shut down in 2012, which was not long after a having had a $3 million renovation. Unfortunately, there was no choice but to shut down the school due to low attendance numbers. The cost of keeping a school open, especially during winter, was just not feasible for a much lower number of students than its capacity. As with most buildings that shut down and become vacant (because no one wants to buy them) metal scrappers make their way into them to steal the metals of value leaving the buildings completely trashed and only helping speed up the deterioration process. 

Southwestern High School Sign (just a bit of irony)

Southwestern High School Music Room
Southwestern High School Room

Southwestern High School Auditorium
Southwestern High School Hall

Southwestern High School Textbook
Southwestern High School Peeling Paint
Southwestern High School Room

Southwestern High School Crustaceans in Science Room
The second abandoned site I visited was the Saint Agnes Catholic church and school. It was originally built early in the 20th century in a once rapidly growing neighborhood of Detroit, however, after the riot of 1967, the neighborhood never quite came back to life causing the population to decline. Eventually the church could no longer afford to maintain or fix some much needed, but costly repairs so it was sold to a different denomination at the beginning of the 21st century, but it was never used again, falling into ruin instead. Even so, this church is absolutely visually stunning. It was even chosen by a couple as the place for their marriage to take place. 

Saint Agnes Catholic Church

Saint Agnes Church Altar

Saint Agnes Church Tiles

Saint Agnes Church

Saint Agnes School Bathroom
Saint Agnes School Room
Religious Books in Saint Agnes Church

The third and final abandoned place I visited was an old Fisher Body Plant. It was designed by Albert Kahn who was the best industrial architect of his day. Kahn's style was groundbreaking at the time and he sort of set the standard for industrial architecture. This six story building was originally built in 1919 and during the depression it served as a homeless shelter.

Fisher Body Plant - Detroit, MI

Skate Park inside the Fisher Body Plant

Fisher Body Plant Rooftop

Fisher Body Plant

Spray Paint Cans in Fisher Body Plant
Broken Window at Fisher Body Plant
Blue Windows in Fisher Body Plant

And some life among the debris, a sign of hope perhaps?

Aside from scrappers taking the metals from the abandoned buildings in Detroit, there is also a lot of vandalism that occurs, or in some cases art depending on how you want to look at it. Not only are windows broken (many more than are necessary to get into these buildings), but there is graffiti art all over these places and even skate parks are put together with whatever is around. Sadly, arson is also a common occurrence.

I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see just a tiny fraction of abandoned Detroit. If you want to see some of this I highly recommend going with a local who knows the area and can take you around considering most of these abandoned places are privately owned and you could technically be trespassing. You could also run into homeless people or drug activity.

I paid for a photography tour that was worth every single penny and more. I have to mention that I got a little nervous after booking my tour and reading the advisories. It wasn't the "bring a flashlight" or the "wear appropriate shoes," but the "we carry mace" (yikes!) that made me a bit nervous. Luckily all was fine and I felt safe going into these places especially as part of a group. Just keep in mind that you will have to sign a waiver.

That is all for this time. Thanks for stopping by! 


P.S. The photos on this blog post are all mine so please do not use them without permission.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Heidelberg Project

The Number House in the background
The Heidelberg Project is an open air art project in the city of Detroit that Tyree Guyton started creating in the mid 1980's.

After the riot of 1967 Guyton's neighborhood, where the Heidelberg Project is at, started to deteriorate. Almost two decades later, after he came back home from serving in the U.S. Army he came to find it in even worse shape than before. Many of the houses were abandoned and it had turned into a scary and dangerous neighborhood to walk in even in broad daylight.

In 1986, with the help of his grandfather, Guyton began to revive the block he grew up on with paint and discarded items such as tires, toys and shoes. Despite having fires and demolition obstacles in the past, the Heidelberg Project is still going strong today, almost 30 years later, drawing in thousands of visitors every year from all over the world.

The People's House or The Dotty Wotty

I can't believe I almost didn't go to the Heidelberg Project while I was in Detroit, but I'm so glad I decided to go. It is truly a unique experience and one you shouldn't miss if you're visiting Detroit.

Just a word of caution, be careful in the area. I decided to walk to the Heidelberg Project from the Detroit Institute of Arts (see my blog post about the DIA here) because my phone said it was only a couple miles away (I have a feeling it was at least twice that distance though, it sure felt like it anyway) and when I called my hotel shuttle to pick me up afterwards I was told that I was outside the three mile radius they service so I offered to walk somewhere that would put me within the three mile radius, but the nice shuttle driver said: "No! I will come and get you! You should not be walking in that area!" Oopsie. Now, I did not feel in any kind of danger on my walk there, but some of the streets are a little creepy considering there are abandoned and burned down houses and businesses. Also, if a Detroiter tells you not to walk in an area of Detroit you better listen.

Until next time!


Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dear Cake...

Dear Cake,

If you could go straight to my boobs instead of my thighs and belly that'd be great, thanks!



P.S. I have enough booty too, thanks!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Diego and Frida at the Detroit Institute of Arts

I made it, I actually made it and with a day to spare too! For a moment there I thought I was going to miss the special Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo exhibition of their time in Detroit at the Detroit Institute of Arts (see my blog post about that right here). I was there on July 11th and the last day of the exhibition was July 12th. (Whew, that was close!)

I know that when people think of Detroit the last thing they think about is art, but let me tell you that the art is really happening there and not just the street art either.

As you may or may not remember, Detroit was once a very important city in the U.S. and a very wealthy one too because it was such a huge industrial hub. Late in the 19th century Detroit was even known as the Paris of the west and what would Paris be without art?

The Detroit Institute of Arts, or the DIA as it is widely known, has one of the best art collections in the U.S. In fact, the first Matisse and Van Gogh pieces to come to the U.S. went to the DIA.

I got to spend about six hours at the DIA and I could have spent even more time there. I kind of wish I would have. This was, after all, my reason for going to Detroit.

Because most of Kahlo's pieces are privately owned (even, ahem, Madonna owns a few) most people do not want to lend them out (and can you blame them?) so it took 10 years for this exhibition to come together according to one of the docents at the DIA. I found it astonishing that it took that long to get the pieces that they did on loan for this exhibition and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to see them. It was absolutely phenomenal, a dream come true, really. I wish I could have taken photographs. Luckily I will never forget the experience.

But let's not forget about the great pieces that are part of the DIA's permanent collections. Aside from finding Matisse and Van Gogh there you can also find Picasso, Bernini, and so many others from all over the world.

The Thinker by Auguste Rodin 
Self Portrait With Straw Hat by Vincent Van Gogh

The Detroit Industry murals, one of the DIA's highlights, sit on the walls of the DIA's courtyard. They were painted by Diego Rivera who was the best and most well known muralist of his time. In 1932 Edsel Ford (Henry Ford's son) and William Valentiner (the DIA's director) commissioned Rivera to paint a mural about Detroit. Ford paid Rivera $20,000 which in today's money would roughly be a quarter of a million dollars. Upon completion many people disliked the murals and wanted them destroyed, but Edsel loved them and would not allow it. It was his gift to Detroit and in my opinion his gift to the world. Thank god it remains today because it is said that Detroit Industry is the best work of Rivera's career and with good reason. It is quite intriguing and well worth the visit to the DIA.

Detroit Industry (North Wall) by Diego Rivera

Detroit Industry (South Wall) by Diego Rivera

Detroit Industry by Diego Rivera

Selfie at the DIA while trying to contain my giddiness 

I think the DIA has made it to my list of favorite museums. That says a lot.

Thanks for stopping by!