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On this day in Detroit history: Final train departs Michigan Central Station

MCS closed after 75 years

Michigan Central Station served as a bustling transportation hub in Detroit until it closed in 1988. (Photo courtesy of Ford)
Michigan Central Station served as a bustling transportation hub in Detroit until it closed in 1988. (Photo courtesy of Ford)

DETROIT – After a decline in train travel, the last train left Michigan Central Station on Jan. 5, 1988.

Michigan Central served as a transportation hub in Detroit for 75 years. It opened earlier than planned on Dec. 26, 1913, after a fire at the old depot at Third and Jefferson avenues rendered that station inoperable.

It was once bustling and booming, but that would change.

The concourse at Michigan Central Station before the train depot shuttered.
The concourse at Michigan Central Station before the train depot shuttered.

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.

However, those improvements weren’t enough to save the station.

As the Chicago-bound train left MCS in 1988, the depot would begin a fall into decay and vandalism.

The video below is a segment from 1991, as the station started its descent toward decay.

Vacancy and decay

Over the next three decades, plans for the station would continually fall through.

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.

MORE: A brief history of Michigan Central 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.

As the hulking structure stood unoccupied, it attracted both negative and positive attention. It became a place for vandals, homeless people and urban explorers. 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.

Inside Michigan Central Station in July 2017 (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)
Inside Michigan Central Station in July 2017 (Amber Ainsworth/WDIV)

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.

In 2018, 30 years after the station shuttered, new hope was announced.

Ford shares plans for MCS

Ford Motor Co. announced it had purchased the train station in the summer of 2018.

Since then, the automaker has been pouring money into the depot, with intentions of moving its autonomous vehicle team into the building as part of a development that will include other buildings.

Ford is planning on creating a campus that will consist of about 1.2 million square feet of property in Corktown. The mixed-use space will feature office space, retail space and residential housing.

While efforts are underway to revitalize the building, Ford has said it plans to try to restore the depot to its former glory. It has turned to artifacts that were stolen and returned for inspiration, and it said original limestone will be used.

A rendering of Ford's vision for MCS compared to a photo from inside the station in July 2017. (WDIV)
A rendering of Ford's vision for MCS compared to a photo from inside the station in July 2017. (WDIV)

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