An Urban Exploration (Detroit Pt. 1)

St. Agnes Church, Detroit


Having read, discussed and studied the story of Detroit over the years in grad school, taking the time to go and visit for myself had always been on my bucket list.

Specifically, when you think of Detroit, you think of all the negative media images of blight and abandoned real estate; and I wanted to find a way to see the ‘destruction’ with a guide who knew where to go and what to see.

Fortunately, Detroit now has a mini-urban exploration industry, geared towards tourists and photographers, taking them around some of the most run down institutions in the area. There are all sorts of blighted property types; libraries, churches, schools, warehouses, factories, residential…whatever it is, you can find one that’s completely stripped and abandoned in Detroit.

Detroit Public Library; John S. Gray Branch.

John S. Gray LibraryTake for instance, this public library in the heart of the city. Constructed over 100 years ago in 1913, funded by John Gray who was the former CEO of Ford Motor Co. and served on the city’s Library board. The building has beautiful architectural features and a sturdy brick façade. However, after nearly 20 years of disrepair, this structure is sadly part of the blight that is gripping the city, with its interior stripped of everything but THE BOOKS! Go figure…Detroit Library Interior

Historic Site Owned by City of Detroit. Fate: Likely acquisition for Public/Private community use.


St. Agnes Church

I was not surprised to find a Roman Catholic church on our list of abandoned sites to tour. As a matter of fact, due to the state of the church overall, their falling parishioner participation and recent consolidation of parishes throughout the country, the likelihood that some of their properties would fall by the wayside is very high. Particularly properties in locations like these, whose continued care would likely have no financial upside. Nevertheless, the interior was majestic (image at the top of the post) and worth the exploration. Here are some other notable images:

It was a haunting experience… This site is owned by the city of Detroit. Fate: DEMOLITION


Hutchins Intermediate School.

This property happens to be FOR SALE. It was my intent to do a quick analysis on its potential value; but having limited knowledge of Detroit, I had a difficult time figuring the highest and best use of 30,000 sf of space in the middle of a depressed residential neighborhood on the north side of Detroit. Average value in that neighborhood is $39/sf. I will call the broker and post an update soon!

Hutchins School for saleThe school had been fully vacant and unsupervised since 2013, yet every part of it has been completely stripped. Here’s one of my favorite shots from this location.School HallsBased on similar municipal property sales, average value is: $390,000 Fate: sale to private investor


Fischer Auto Plant.

This was BY FAR my favorite location. The property is vast at over 500,000 sf, 5 stories, and has been abandoned since 1994. At this time, the City of Detroit is shopping the site to potential investors for uses that do not include nightlife (as proposed by Dmitri Hegemann, Berlin nightclub owner).

Fisher Plant 5th Floor

The photos cannot begin to explain the feeling of being in such a vast and beautiful decaying space. It is a grand, artistic, somber and reflective space. One of the last structures from the height of the auto industry, putting its decline into perspective.

And like every potential development or rehab, one of this size has to be supported by local demand for its potential use. Perhaps an Ikea Furniture location..? Ideal for all the downtown Detroit “hipsters” everyone seems to be so concerned about. Perfect size, and the lot is large enough to accommodate parking. The existing Ikea location is about 35 minutes drive from the Central Business District. Just a thought, and before you judge, Ikea had $37 B. in revenue last year, and is contributing jobs to the local economy. All this equals revenue for Detroit, should the company decide to invest in that location.

FOR SALE. Fate: likely acquisition by private investor, pending approval of USE by Detroit Gov.


Industrial Smoke

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