A brief history of Michigan Central Station as historic Detroit train depot prepares for new chapter

Ford Motor Company purchases former train station

Michigan Central Station has loomed vacant over Detroit for three decades. (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

DETROIT - The last train rolled out of Michigan Central Station 30 years ago.

Over the past three decades, the building has loomed over Corktown, a symbol of decline and recently, revival. It fell victim to vandals and the elements, but renovations during the past few years, including new windows and an elevator, pointed toward a positive future.

PHOTOS: A look inside Michigan Central Station

With Ford Motor Company now owning the historic building, the next chapter of the once-booming transportation hub is beginning.

Michigan Central Station (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

First train leaves Michigan Central

The building's construction began in 1910. Michigan Central station was slated to open in 1914. However, a fire at the old depot at Third and Jefferson avenues forced the station to open early.

The first train departed the new station for Saginaw Bay on the afternoon of Dec. 26, 1913, and a train from Chicago arrived that evening.

"The new station stood last night, lights shining from windows high above the building line in the neighborhood, a sentinel of progress," the Detroit Tribune published after the station's rushed opening.

That quote has been projected on the front of the building as anticipation grows for Ford's 2018 announcement of what's coming.

A newspaper quote from when Michigan Central Station first opened in 1913 is projected on the front of the building on June 15, 2018. (WDIV)

Inside the operating station

According to Historic Detroit, the waiting room was adorned with marble floors, bronze chandeliers and gargantuan Corinthian columns.

When the station was operational, it featured a restaurant, cigar shop, drugstore, bathing area and a barbershop.

Station traffic decreases, last train departs depot

As train traffic decreased, Michigan Central Station began to struggle.

The main waiting room was closed in April of 1967. Amtrak would later take over the station in 1971, reopen the waiting room and pour more than $1 million into renovating MCS. This renovation included the addition of a bus terminal.

The train station was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

Still, the station's use was on a decline, and Amtrak decided to find a smaller station instead of remaining in the massive depot. In 1985, the building was sold to a New York-based company, Kaybee Corp.

MCS ceased to serve as a transportation hub when the last Chicago-bound train departed the station on Jan. 5, 1988.

Big plans fall through, new owner acquires station

Real estate developer Mark Longton Jr. purchased the building in 1989 with plans to open a casino, however the plan never materialized.

In 1996, Controlled Terminals Inc., a company owned by Manuel Moroun, bought the station.

Since Moroun acquired the building, several ideas have been proposed for MCS, including a trade processing center, a casino, a new Detroit Police headquarters and a new Michigan State Police headquarters, but the space has remained empty.

Michigan Central Station in 2013. (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

Decay and renovations

As the hulking structure stood unoccupied, it attracted both negative and positive attention. It became not only a hot spot for photographers and the homeless, but for vandals. The inside and outside of the building were canvases for graffiti and the hundreds of windows were smashed. Scrappers also did a number on the station, stealing much of its wiring and plumbing.

The elements also took its toll, evident by the puddles pooling inside the building.

In the past few years, renovations have given the station a facelift. Security was ramped up as work started. New windows were installed in 2015, as well as an elevator that is able to transport heavy construction materials and machinery to the top floors.

The inside of Michigan Central Station in 2017. (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

Ford Motor Co. announced as new owner of MCS

On June 11, 2018, Manuel Moroun's son, Matthew Moroun, announced at a news conference that Ford Motor Company had purchased the vacant building.

"The depot will become a shining symbol of Detroit's success. The Ford Motor Company Blue Oval will adorn the building," Matthew Moroun said.

MORE: Ford Motor Company shares peek at plans for Michigan Central Station, Corktown

The company also purchased property around the corner from the station, and it moved its autonomous vehicle work just down the street from the station earlier this year.

The automaker is planning to announce its plans for the space on June 19, 2018.

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