Thursday, April 2, 2015

Detroit Agonistes, Part Two: Raising the Dead in the "Skyscraper Graveyard"

 With our newsfeeds filled with almost daily updates of new restaurants and businesses coming online in Detroit's Downtown, Midtown, New Center, Corktown, and now even Southwest neighborhoods, it's hard to remember how empty, how cold, how... hopeless things felt in the years between Wall Street's 2008 implosion and the end of the Great Bankruptcy Drama.

But not all the way through those years. Remember, we're a resilient people who don't know how to wave a white surrender flag. So stuff kept happening around the edges of the cold empty hopelessness. A soon-to-be-famous barbecue joint opened on a dismal block near a giant empty lot that used to have a baseball stadium on it. A crazy Venezuelan businessman bought the Packard Plant, and almost immediately started actually cleaning it up. ABC came to town to film a series called Detroit 1-8-7, featuring an episode in which two detectives go searching for a bullet casing from a street shooting and find dozens of other casings too, because hey, it's Detroit. Also, the lead female cop, played by Natalie Martinez, was smokin' hot.

And the media coverage continued. The Los Angeles Times encouraged its readers to move to Detroit because it was "America's Great Comeback City." In Berlin, another wealthy crazy man talked of restoring another abandoned auto factory and turning it into a giant techno dance hall. (In his defense, the Motor City does host a pretty good world-class annual EDM festival, so the clientele is there.) AMC, confident it could do better than ABC, not only set a new cop drama, Low Winter Sun, in Detroit, but also pinned the network's hopes on that show to become a hit as huge as Breaking Bad, which was wrapping up, and to bring BB's audience along with it. Didn't happen, but the showrunners did demonstrate how to tell a story with Detroit as a main character, rather than a backdrop as it had been on 1-8-7. Also, the lead female cop, played by Athena Karkanis, was smokin' hot.

And we converted this:

Into this:

And the Broderick Tower, an empty 34-story embarrassment that loomed over the new Tiger Stadium baseball field downtown, stopped being empty and was converted to residential apartments that sold out as soon as they were done. The Broderick is smack in the center of downtown, and on national television during Tigers games, so it's about as good as a symbol of rising from ashes can get.

And we turned this:

Into this:

Because every major city should have a castle as one of its prominent downtown features.

And all of that resurrection, restoration, rebirth is awesome. But there are some specific markers to watch before the "Great Comeback City" label bestowed by the LA Times will be 100% accurate.  There's the east-side Vanity Ballroom and its fadingly-famous west side sister, the Grande Ballroom, which used to be the legendary site of rock shows by an amazing roster of artists and is beautifully documented here. In Midtown there's the Lee Plaza, once an upscale residence for upscale residents but now a see-through hulk. And downtown, there's the Book Tower, as ugly and weird as a tower can be, in desperate need of power washing (the porous limestone facade has sucked up decades worth of dirt, turning the building from its original hue to an unpleasant shade of fecal brown), and with a hideous exterior fire escape that no other major skyscraper around it has. The Book will take several tons of work.

But the #1 indicator of Coming Back is the giant Symbol of Ruin sitting on Michigan Avenue in Corktown, owned by an eccentric billionaire who's in no hurry to do much more than offer promises about planning to rehabilitate it. Assurances of new windows resulted first in sheets of plywood on the ground floor that were painted to look like windows (we can't make this stuff up), and then in at least 8 actual glass windows appearing among the 1,000 window holes needing to be filled. Like we said: eccentric.

Yes, the world's most notorious train station.

But look: if we can bring back the Wurlitzer Building downtown, a little tower notorious for pelting pedestrians with bricks from its crumbling facade, and if the toxic Metropolitan Building—a former jewelers' enclave where hazmat jewel-processing materials once flowed like wine—can join the Wurlitzer in rebirth, then The Train Station From Hell can come back, too.

When that happens, the agony of Detroit Agonistes will officially end. So we're making this call: the buildings heralding the beginning of the end of The End will re-rise in this order: Book, Lee, Vanity & Grande, Michigan Central. (Keep in mind that if the Lee, Vanity, and Grande are just flattened as part of the great Blight Removal campaign, we're gonna consider that a good sign, too.)

And then Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus (We Hope for Better Things - It Shall Rise From the Ashes)—

—will change to Nos Retro, Iniucundum Populus (We're Back, Bitches!).

Coming in Part Three: The Barons

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