NRPH Part 2: The Lunatics Running the Asylum

Photos date from 2009.

CLICK to return to Part 1


After 2005 I quit exploring Northville Regional Psychiatric Hospital (NRPH) because of the rapid increase in the number of kids going there, and the intensified pressure from Northville Police—but we had also completely covered NRPH by that time anyway, and turned our attention to Ypsilanti State Hospital's newly abandoned sections.

But in about 2009, things changed again...


The developer REIS bought the property from the state in 2006, for $31 million and soon announced an $800 million dollar project that included lots of condos, businesses, public park land, and even a school. Northville officials objected to the size of the development, saying it was too big, and didn't fit into their picture of how the township ought to be.


In 2007 REIS pulled the ineffective private security guards out and began placing "residents" on the property by renting out four trailer homes, with the premise that they were going to be like caretakers of the property, to more effectively deter trespassers. Needless to say this came as a surprise to everyone, and while the plan did deter trespassing to an extent, it certainly was nowhere near as effective as the original State of Michigan guards had been. There was also an automated entrance gate added to the front driveway of the hospital from Seven Mile Road, which allowed vehicle access by punch-code.


It wasn't long before the true reason for putting those "residents" on the property became clear, however. REIS essentially installed those six or seven people to petition to secede their property from Northville and become part of Livonia by ballot issue, essentially doing an end-run around the zoning restrictions that Northville Township had in mind for that land. REIS had apparently been in talks with City of Livonia officials, who were much friendlier to the big type of developments that REIS wanted to do, because somebody found the loophole whereby they could take the NRPH property away from Northville to legally make it part of Livonia and do with as they wish, because the eastern edge of the hospital property bordered that city.


Except it didn't quite work out that way...not to mention one of the new "residents" they hired to live on the hospital grounds was the lead singer of a punk rock band who we quickly befriended. The end result of this was that we soon had the punch-code to the electric gate, and could drive right into the place by invitation every weekend like we owned it.

Here is the view out of his front window, with A-Building and C-Building clearly visible:


The housing market continued to crash, and the voters of Livonia overwhelmingly rejected the sleazy ballot issue of annexing NRPH, temporarily putting both REIS's grand plans—and their abandoned hospital—right back into limbo. In other words, the summer of 2009 became for us the biggest party ever—the lunatics had been given the keys to the asylum! There was booze, barbecues, live heavy metal music, drag racing, illegal fireworks, drugs, golf cart mayhem, medical-grade ether, explosions, bonfires, four-wheeling, general debauchery—oh yeah, and raiding the hospital too, but who cares about that? ;)


The crusty old yuppy neighbors despised our ruckus, but we were always sure to cut off the guitar amps before the noise ordinance went into effect, so the police couldn't do anything. They still ended up coming onto the grounds a few times for noise complaints anyway, which was almost the height of the bizarreness of it all; for all those years I shuddered in fear at the thought of seeing a cop while on the hospital grounds—and now I was comfortable standing out in the open with an open beer in hand, not the least bit afraid of legal reproof. Having an abandoned 500-acre asylum to use with impunity as our playground for a summer was an impossibly rare delicacy that I savored to the fullest.

And if you don't believe me, just watch Guppy's video:


Once winter began setting in we knew that the hourglass was running low for our free-for-all, so we started exploring the buildings again. There were a few that I hadn't been able to enjoy or photograph thoroughly before, due to the stress of evading detection, so that's what I focused on. Those buildings included parts of the A-B-C cluster and the Activity Center, which had always been the riskiest to snoop around in.

By this point we had also found master keys for ourselves, so we were coming and going freely through the entire complex like we owned it. It was also extremely strange to re-explore pristine areas that we once had to crack our way into with the utmost of nocturnal stealth—now being able to casually waltz into them in the middle of the day without fear.


Finally Northville Township decided to buy back the western chunk of the property containing the hospital buildings from REIS for $21 million with plans of eventually making it into a public park while they waited for the market to improve. REIS then began to clear-cut the Evil Woods from the much smaller eastern parcel and develop it into a strip mall or some crap like that.

Here's the Maintenance Building, with the Powerhouse behind it (both of which have been demolished already), seen from O-Building:


A nurses's station inside J- or K-Building:


The lobby of L-Building, I believe, packed with junk:


The courtyard of K-Building:


The next shot shows the catastrophic failure of a brick curtain wall on the H-Building, which again, was the most decayed building of the bunch, since it had been abandoned as far back as the 1980s:


The exterior of K-Building:


Again, part of the reason why I have so few building exterior photos was because it was extremely dangerous to be wandering around the complex outside in the open, with those guards on the prowl.


Swingset in the courtyard:


Inside K-Building...


Pretty much all the hallways in the complex looked just like this, not very exciting:


I was always eager to get into K-Building, because my comrades who had been in it before me said that there was a library in there. Naturally my bibliophilic sensibilities led me to want to pillage said library, but by the time I arrived the cupboard was bare:


I'm not sure that much of interest to me was ever there in the first place, and I suspect that the State Archives of Michigan may have come to collect any important files relevant to the operation of the institution that may have been held here. Or, so I hope.


Yet another empty room:


It was somewhat depressing to see the occasional hard-tiled patient room "personalized" with a meager strip of decorative wallpaper , as if that was all the decoration or personality that these people were allowed within the confines of this state-sanctioned dungeon:


The showers weren't very much cozier either:




Perhaps an occupational therapy room or dayroom:


Kitchen area in J-Building:


Stacks of desks being stored, as if they were ever going to be reused anywhere:


Some of these outbuildings had what appeared, anyway, to be entranceways of rather ordinary security; no hardened facility here, come and go as thou wilt...


...no wonder there were so many walk-aways.

This was next to J-Dock:


Fugly curtains:


A nurse station in J-Building:


The nice thing is that while the buildings offered no architectural beauty to the patients, at least most of the windows looked out onto some nice woods.


I know that if I were forced to live in a building that resembled a public school, I would try to escape as often as possible, or go crazy otherwise.


Some patient rooms were group rooms, where multiple beds were clustered in communal living areas for those who could be trusted to coexist in a group environment:


This hallway was covered in an inch of water:


Medication time:


This is too funny...


Looking downhill toward the city, you can make out a tall building on the horizon that I figure is probably the Ford Motor Co. World Headquarters in Dearborn:


One of the cool things about this site was the fact that if you simply stood at the edge of those woods and looked to the southeast off towards Detroit, you could see the lights of the Ambassador Bridge twinkling as plain as day in the distance, and sometimes the downtown skyline as well. It really illustrates just how high Northville sits above the elevation of Detroit; it's like looking downhill.

The moon rising behind A-Building, where some logging had recently been done:


One of the buildings that I wanted to check out better now that we had easy access, was the sprawling C-Building:


C-building had narrow wings that I found intriguing, but for whatever reason I had never gotten the chance to check it out properly.


A view out one of the many windows, showing the tower of the A-Building in the distance:


C-Building also had some roof patios as well:


Smoke 'em if ya got 'em. This place would actually be pretty pleasant if it weren't for all the security-screened windows and animal-cage fencing everywhere...


C-Building's gym and cafeteria wing:


The rear of B-Building:


A linen closet:


It was always important to get up on top of the shelf to see if the staff had ever hidden away any items in the uppermost cubbies. A couple times this was where we found the best souvenirs.


Seclusion wing in C-Building:


I put serious thought in those days to bringing some tools and removing one of these hardened doors so that I could reuse it in my house, but alas, laziness.


Floor-to-ceiling windows in C-Building:


An article I found in the March 30, 2007 Detroit Free Press tells the story of one particularly interesting former NRPH staff member, whose autobiography Never Lose, had just come out.

Jumpin' Johnny Kline was a Detroiter who played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1953 to 1959, followed by a decade of drugs and the excesses that his stardom opened up to him. After reforming himself he got a PhD in education and was appointed director of education and substance abuse at the Detroit Health Department in 1985. Mr. Kline then ran for Detroit City Council before working as an administrator here at NRPH. I wonder if he ever taught any of the patients his fancy moves here on the court?


Besides this smaller gym in the C-Building, there was also the main one in the Activity Center, and I believe a smaller one in the H-Building.

Johnny Kline was also the president of John Kline & Associates, "a counseling and health promotion consulting firm," as well as the founder of the Black Legends of Professional Basketball Foundation.


The final irony of 2009 was being able to walk into the room where the state security guards had once sat while monitoring the surveillance system—the holiest of holies—watching the same cameras that we used to sneak past back when it all started. I still got a nervous feeling from being in here, even though I knew there was no longer any danger.


There was once a time in which even merely standing in this location represented a grave personal risk, but it could be done if one wanted to tiptoe around with state guards, motion sensors, and surveillance cameras all trying to catch you.


Going up this close to the front doors essentially meant venturing into the lion's den, and was only for the bravest (or most foolish) of souls.


An office in the administration wing:


The connector from A-Building to B-Building, where the admissions office was:


Here is the morgue, which I previously had always regarded as being too risky to attempt sneaking into:


It sat near A-Dock, which meant sneaking up to within earshot of the security guard station:


The table:


Creepier than the autopsy table in my opinion, was the way the trees outside brushed up against the frosted privacy glass...


They appeared ghostly and blurred, except for the very ends that were the closest to the glass, which came into sharp focus:


Tap tap....tap...tap tap.....


The A-B courtyard:


Here's the Activity Center auditorium, with the hospital's watertower seen rising behind it:


Courtyard inside the Activity Center:


Gym bleachers that looked out onto a part of the roof:


Two friends and I also finally conquered the very last part of the hospital that we had never been able to safely attempt before—the watertower. This is a shot of us sitting on the top of the tank itself:

Photo by a friend.
It's kind of bizarre, but I miss this place. Well, maybe I don't so much miss the place, as I miss the times I had there in spite of its terrible history.



References:
http://www.northvillehistory.org/keyword.html
Northville Township...From the Beginning, A Journey Recalled, by Shari Peters
Northville Michigan, by Barbara G. Louie, p. 52-53
Northville...The First Hundred Years, by Jack W. Hoffman
http://www.northvillehistory.org/interviews/Watkins-Tom.pdf
http://www.asylumprojects.org/index.php?title=Northville_State_Hospital
“We Learn By Doing,” History of the Wayne County Training School, by Adam Barrett
http://wacots.org/tiki-index.php?page=Northville%20Regional%20Psychiatric%20Hospital
Northville Record, January 7, 1976, p. 6C
Northville Record, October 15, 1980, p. 4A
Northville Record, October 21, 1981, front page
Northville Record, November 25, 1981
Northville Record, May 4, 1983, front page
Northville Record, November 3rd, 1983, p. 7A
Northville Record, December 19, 1983, p. 4A
Northville Record, March 21, 1984, front page
"Lessons in Game of Life: Starting over Helped Ex-Globetrotter," Detroit Free Press, March 30, 2007, p. B1

2 comments:

  1. I was so surprised to see the hospital abandoned. My mother worked there in the Food Service department. She was secretary to the administrator of that department. When the hospital was in operation it didn't seem so 'cold' and creepy. It served a great need that now has created a terrible vacuum in the care of those who have mental illness or addiction. I volunteered there when I was in high school at Northville High. The place made me feel sad. Interesting tour though.

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  2. Thank you for how that picture was framed in the pool room, blocking the name next to the naked woman torso with the weird, creepy snake like penis pointing at it... my friend being an asshole had put my nickname next to it after crudely drawing it back in 05' when the temper piece was put up... same night, we were all there together. I ran under a different tag, the Moshi at the other end of the pool at the time than the nick name left by the crude drawing but I'm actually known by the name by the drawing so I'm very thankful that you cleverly placed the pool ladder properly in front of that graffiti. I've always wanted to go back and clean that up but met with physical disability which makes adventures in places like this far too risky anymore since I can no longer run in case of cops.

    Jealous you guys were living there, it's always felt like home to me and I miss it every day. Thank you for sharing though, you've always been a great documenter.

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