2004, and The Eddystone

It's hard to believe I wrote this over a decade ago.

Being that it's from that long ago you may detect that it is a little amateurish in spots, but it has some parts that I still believe are good stuff; the original intent was that I would put a website up back then, joining the ranks of Detroitblog, Ghettropolitan Journal, DetroitYes!, Detroitfunk, Wide Open, ForgottenMichigan, and ForgottenDetroit as the only outlets for this type of content on the web (who were all still basically unknown anyway). In the end I chose not to do yet another redundant website, and there didn't need to be any more publicity for what we did. My friend Chisel eventually took down ForgottenMichigan for these same reasons.

So keep in mind, this was written before anyone outside of the tri-county area even knew anything about Detroit's true condition, much less cared. This was written before Detroit became the worldwide media flavor of the month, and when I still felt there was a need to explain the obvious to an audience who knows nothing of the city...a time when there was no apparent hope of renovation or rebirth in Detroit, and it was still taken for granted that the decay of our historic buildings would continue unchecked indefinitely. It was also written before "urban exploring" was the established tradition/sport here that it is today, and the thought of *going into abandoned buildings in Detroit* was still inconceivable to almost everyone.

Again, my older photos are scanned from film, and I have added newer ones in from more recent times.


It just so happened that one Saturday in the gloomy month of February, the weather broke and it got nice out for one day. Spring fever hit us hard. 


The infamous Cass Corridor of today is nothing compared to what it was like in the '70s, but in 2004 it was still one of the crustiest, most barren parts of a city one will ever see. It's what was left over from the skid row days when you could hardly walk (or drive) down there without getting shot at; piles of scorched buildings, and fields of weeds and mudholes where illegal dumping had gone on for years. The main inhabitants were the homeless who wandered by night and hid by day. A couple shithole bars were open, and the Masonic Hall still stood defiantly near the Lodge Freeway, though poised almost as if it were preparing to make its own hasty getaway to the 'burbs.


In the middle of all the desolation stood a pair of gaping empty buildings, the Hotel Park Avenue (left) and the Eddystone Hotel (right):


The Hotel Park Avenue had been turned into a Salvation Army "Harbor Light" shelter, and was still operating back then, and the neighboring Eddystone was a squatter's palace where the rest of the homeless took up residence en masse. We would find that out soon enough. As we approached the grime-stained building we could see that there were many homeless out and about on this fine day.


We were however, daunted when we noticed a couple big dudes milling about in front of the Eddystone. One, who had been walking away from its entrance turned back and started directly toward us when he realized what we intended to do.


Tom was his name, we found out, and we chatted and told him what we were up to. He replied that he lived in the building and would be more than willing to show us in—it didn't sound like we were going to get a choice, haha. Confident, but not about to let our guard down, we followed. Tom seemed nice enough, but we weren’t about to blindly trust that he wasn’t setting us up to be looted for everything we were worth (incidentally not a helluva lot).

Inside, Tom explained how nice of a hotel this used to be and gave us a little history of the building, while pointing out some of the more beautiful features of the lobby. 


I shone my maglite up into the darker recesses of the ceiling vaults and found some nice goldleaf detail faded on the brown walnut, and even faux inlaid gems if I'm not mistaken. Tom seemed as genuinely saddened at the pitiful waste of such beautiful buildings as any nostalgia-afflicted suburbanite I had ever met. David Kohrman got a better PHOTO of the front desk, in 2001.


He soon led us upstairs, saying he would show us to the roof but then would have to leave. He cautioned us that if we were going to explore the rest of the building, to be careful of the other residents who were still inside. 


After all, we were not simply in an abandoned building, but this was home to some people, and we should show the same respect and courtesy we would expect others to show us in our own house. [Remember, most of these pictures were taken at a later date, after the Eddystone's residents had been cleared out.]

 

As we ascended the stairs, Tom knocked on certain doors and called out a few names to warn those inside that we were here, so they wouldn’t freak out. 


The view off the roof was even more impressive than the one we had recently seen from the top of Lee Plaza—we were miles nearer to the downtown skyline and could see up-close the upper architectural details of the Hotel Park Avenue (Harbor Light Center) across the street:


You can even still see the rear of the Donovan Building in this view, as well as a Victorian house and some other buildings that are now long-gone.


Here's a great shot showing the Masonic Temple, the now-demolished William Apartments, and the vacant Hotel Fort Wayne:


Midtown, back "before it was cool":


Here's Cass Technical High School with the Ambassador Bridge behind it:


The Alhambra Apartments are seen at bottom-right of this view toward New Center, with Lee Plaza off in the distance:


Moody downtown:


Wow, check out all the long-gone Brush Park buildings in this next photo...


...the Brewster Projects are visible in the background as well.


We sparked up the roof doob' and BS'd with Tom some more, enjoying the unseasonably warm 50-degree weather before he had to leave. 


The Eddystone was designed by Detroit architect Louis Kamper in the early 1920s, for the Tuller chain of hotels, and as a matter of fact he was responsible for the Hotel Park Avenue across the street as well. The "Hotel Park Avenue" pictured in that last photo was originally called the Royal Palm Hotel, and was another Tuller / Kamper creation.


Little did we know, the Eddystone was to be the first in a long line of derelicted Louis Kamper buildings that we would sneak into.


In a pleasant mood, we soon headed downstairs to check out some floors. We found the place to be littered with the usual filth. 


There was a lot of pigeon crap in here too, raising a skanky reek that curled the nosehairs. Perhaps the one thing that interested me most (judging by the pictures I took) was the architectural detail on the outside of the building.


Apparently I deemed an interior transom window worthy of a photograph as well:


This was a hopeless place, far from any likely renovation plans it seemed, and it almost felt like there was a duty to photograph all this stuff for future generations who will grow up in a world of plastic and plywood buildings totally devoid of human creativity or organic beauty.

It is moments like this that I realize most clearly that we are living in a changing time; a fading era where the old is crumbling to the dust of death, and being replaced only with bland, artless buildings of the philosophy that function and disposability are paramount to all else, and beauty is seen as needless ornamentation and a waste of money, not as a cultural enrichment, or matter of pride.


Due to its uniquely sudden economic collapse, the hands of time essentially stopped in Detroit, and the rest of the world glibly passed its hopeless obsolescence by. This left it with an incomparable amount of relics from the old world, when it was considered safe and only proper to carve a company’s name into the stone above the entrance to its building; when it was taken for granted that they would still be around next year.

That sort of thing inspires confidence, and a feeling of security in the prosperity of our society's institutions—something that has not carried into this age of flimsy, cold, Modernist glass buildings and faceless companies. Something that has almost entirely left Detroit. Staring out the window and admiring the crumbling architecture around us, we were standing on the brink of our time, witnessing the slow passing of a golden age, seemingly helpless to do anything to turn the tide.


We just have to make the personal decision to do so—and not simply by taking photos of it decaying. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.


They say poverty is the greatest preserver of history, and in Detroit it has afforded us the opportunity to save a piece of that past, which has all but disappeared from almost every other sector of the modern world, to be replaced by depressing sterile buildings of a fleeting rather than permanent nature.


The warm feeling that any real human gets from old architecture is addictive. Once you become acclimated to it, you no longer want to be in Sprawl-Marts, and as often as possible you will seek solace in an old brick building—even if it is abandoned and filled with runny feces, used needles, and dead pigeons. At least that has been my experience...


Check out the old Victorian house still standing on Sproat Street...(lower-right corner of the previous photo)...a survivor from the days when this was a neighborhood for the mansions of lumber barons and elder statesmen.


We continued exploring downward, and found that one of the floors had once been on fire. The upper half of the walls was blackened, greasy, and bubbled up. It started getting late in the day by the time we were heading down to the main level. When we reached the lobby again, we inadvertently interrupted a certain "transaction" between a few individuals of an apparently less-than-savory nature, so we opted to give them time to finish up by visiting the basement in the meantime.


After the two men had completed their business, we took some more pictures in the lobby, which had an even more powerful stink of feces than the rest of the building. 


In fact, we stumbled upon another guy, grinning and pulling his pants back up, mumbling about how we startled him while he was taking a dump. After taking a couple more pictures, we decided to call it a day. There was a slight change taking place in the scene here as the sun went down that didn't bode too well, and Tom was nowhere to be seen.


An eerie, electric-orange loneliness envelops this pair of derelict skyscrapers after dark:



The "population" of the Eddystone was what kept the curious out of it for a long time. But a couple years since that first time we went into the Eddy a dead body was found there, causing the place to be cleared out by authorities and bricked up. It stayed sealed for a long time, but eventually the United Vandals got back in and took to painting some of the windows.


Those who had been displaced from the Eddystone eventually moved into the William Apartments, across the street from the Masonic Temple. Chisel and I found this out the day we went into the William by talking to those who lived there at the time.



References:
City of Detroit City Council Historic Designation Advisory Board Final Report, Proposed Eddystone Hotel Historic District