Abandoned Detroit FEATURE

From the Ruins

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Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Dalene & Pete Heck

If history has taught us anything, it’s that history has taught us nothing. While Detroit’s bankruptcy is historic in its grandiosity, the narrative is not new. The Motor City has risen from the ashes before and is on its way again.

What we do in between is observe and document it. Reflecting on the ruins will allow us to greater marvel at its rebirth.

fisher body 21

Once an important supplier to General Motors, it was sold in 1989 to a paint spray company who promptly went bankrupt and did nothing with it. It is now owned by the city.

southwest general hospital

It is one of six hospitals abandoned. Sometime between 2000 and 2002, they locked the doors expecting to reopen, but never did. Scattered on the floors we found medical records and even cancelled checks.

southwest high school

Closed less than two years ago, this school is symbolic of the “circle of death”, and is one of 59 that have been abandoned. Metal scrapers invade soon after doors close, others come just for the thrill of smashing things up.

how to do it

While it would be possible to visit any of these buildings (and more) on your own, we chose to take this tour with a local photographer. It was comforting to walk through these buildings in a group, and with someone who was familiar to point out any safety concerns. The one thing about this tour that could be improved is that I would have liked more information about each building we visited.We can not explicitly endorse this tour as it does come with some element of danger, and of course being inside these buildings constitutes trespassing. Do so at your own risk.

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  1. Great pictures of course! I find it so intriguing, it’s modern day ruins. In Rome or Angkor Wat, etc. when I look at ruins it’s hard to feel, truly understand, what life was like. But Detroit, it’s like the buildings would be whispering and talking to you. I’d be able to feel that there was life there and that now it’s gone and ghostly quiet…

    1. That is what was so shocking about it. It was like it was full of people one day, then empty the next, with so many remnants. The medical records in the hospital, some paints and books in the school.

  2. It’s incredible how a whole U.S. city (almost) can be abandoned today.Detroit’s “ruins” are very different from how we think of ancient ruins in Greece or Egypt, say. But perhaps when these ancient cities were first abandoned, they too exhibited the detritus of ordinary life.

    1. Yeah, we’ve wondered that too, what those were like when first abandoned. And the thing is that I don’t think Detroit is the worst of it in American right now.

    1. Yeah, that’s why we could only do it in a group. 🙂 We were going to go to another place on our own the next day but couldn’t get up the nerve.

    1. Thanks so much Beverley! As much as we hate to say it, given the people who were sadly affected by all of this, it was really enjoyable to photograph.

  3. Amazing Photography, Dalene & Pete! There is something so beautifully haunting about the destruction you see in them. I can see the story without reading a word. Thank you for the inspiration!

  4. I’ve never really thought of Detroit as a possible cool destination I’d love to visit but after reading your posts about it the city seems to be totally incredible and is definitely my kind of place! When I finally make it to the States I’m so gonna go there! Thanks for bringing my attention to it!

  5. I know you’ve already heard it, but I have to say it too, amazing photos guys! I love abandoned places even if it’s very sad when thinking of how many people were affected b the bankruptcy.

  6. They are quite poignant photos. i had read previously about the downfall of Detroit and sounds like your tour just emphasized it. Hard to believe this is an American city though. Looks like something out of a story book plot.

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