Thursday, June 11, 2009
Tomorrow the climactic game of the National Hockey League season will be played at Joe Louis Arena in “Hockeytown,” Detroit, Mich., where thousands of rabid fans will pack the downtown riverfront arena. The sight (more crowded for games than those at the suburban basketball arena) will be a rare one in Motor City. Less than a mile to the east is the headquarters of General Motors. Enough said. And a little more than a mile to the west is the empty shell of what used to be Michigan Central Station. With its cavernous Roman waiting room and huge office tower behind it, the station was once one of the world’s most impressive rail temples (here’s a photo back in the glory days), but was abandoned by Amtrak in 1998. It is now empty, with window glass shattered. The city government voted earlier this year to demolish it, but local preservationists are struggling to save it.
If the station were in, say, Chicago or Boston or Seattle, where historic preservation is an essential part of local government, the station no doubt would have been transformed into some sort of public arts center or mixed-use facility. (Here are some fascinating photos of the graffiti-covered but apparently still-structurally intact station.) But it’s easy to forget that the powerful preservationist instinct is not nearly as well-developed in other places, such as Detroit, where the politically powerful have shown little interest in preserving hundred-year-old Roman temples, in the face of problems such as unemployment, crime, and falling populations. And it doesn’t help that auto interests have never looked kindly on rail interests. In cities such as Detroit, it is not easy to raise public funds for preservation of a history, an architecture, and a culture that seems remote to both the typical citizen and the average politician. And this indifference to historic preservation is not likely to change any time soon.
Perhaps some of them can take solace in hockey triumphs. Go Wings …
[Comments must be approved and thus take some time to appear online.]