The Death of The Average Joe

My Canadian associate Donnie had been out of the country for three years, but when he came back he immediately showed me up by mentioning that he had just been inside Joe Louis Arena, which is currently being demolished. Since there is usually a 24-hour shelf life on his tips, I didn't hesitate to act. Even though I am in semi-retirement, and even though I had skipped out on visiting old Tiger Stadium during its demolition for sentimental reasons, and even though I was still mildly hungover from our bonfire the night before, I decided that this was worth lacing up the boots before access got more complicated.

I figured it was worth a shot, even though it had already been so thoroughly gutted that you could see the Detroit River right through it from two blocks away:

Opened in December of 1979, "The Joe" was named in honor of the legendary Detroit boxer Joe Louis. Though designed by Detroit's venerable architectural firm of Smith, Hinchman, & Grylls, we can't exactly say that it was their finest work. Nonetheless it has been made iconic as the home of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team, and for the other historic events that took place within its walls, but as far as stadiums go it was pretty average. You may recall an older post of mine where I screwed around on top of the distinctive, futuristic pedestrian "tubes" that connect the arena to its parking garage.

In light of the fact that the arena is going to be exactly the same age as me (40) when demolition is complete, I hardly think that euthanasia is justified quite yet. Luckily society deems me worthy to stick around a little longer, even if my bones aren't made of steel like the Joe's.

Speaking of average Joes, here goes Al Sobotka, probably the only zamboni driver the Joe has ever had:

According to, the 20,000-seat arena was one of the oldest in the NHL, and one of the few left in existence that didn't have a corporate name. Naturally, Mike Ilitch was bound to put an end to that, even if he had to burn the motherf**ker down. Ironically, he named his own organization (Olympia Entertainment) after the Red Wings' original home, the old Olympia Stadium on Grand River Avenue, which was demolished in 1987.

Mike Ilitch is the local billionaire who owns Little Caesar's Pizza, half of the Detroit sports teams, half of City Council, and is singlehandedly responsible for blighting or demolishing at least 25% of downtown Detroit over the course of several decades for his own personal real estate schemes.

By the way, for all you loud Mike Ilitch worshippers out there who think he was just a saint who put his own money on the line to singlehandedly "save Detroit when nobody else cared," let's not forget that three years after Joe Louis Arena was built (at a cost of $57 million to taxpayers) Ilitch bought the Red Wings (for a mere $8 million) and threatened to move the team out to Farmington Hills where he was building his Little Caesar's headquarters. It was Mayor Coleman Young who facilitated this extortion by entering the desperate city into a "sweetheart deal" to keep the Red Wings downtown by giving Ilitch complete operational control over the arena and parking structures, as well as capping his property taxes at $250,000 per year for 30 years (and other perks).

And let's not forget Mr. Emmet Moten, Mayor Young's economic development chief who "negotiated" the whole deal for the City of Detroit...who *mysteriously* became Mike Ilitch's vice president of development right after the Joe Louis deal was sealed. Ilitch has been blatantly pimping us taxpayers for 40 years and y'all bootlickers still want to idolize him—and then hate on those of us calling him out for doing it again with the new Pizzarena. Some people just love to be used, I guess.

Anyway, enough shade-throwing.

I'm sure many of you recognize this passageway as part of the journey from Congress Street to the pedestrian tube over the Lodge Expressway...considering the millions of people who regularly traversed this path, it is amazing to me to see it overgrown with weeds and currently serving as the campsite of a homeless person (whose clothing can be seen hung on the fence):

The crosswalk at West Jefferson Avenue is like a total ghost town scene:

The iconic stairs leading up to the "Gordie Howe Entrance" have already been wiped away forever. A forlorn depiction of the Red Wings' eleven Stanley Cup victories is still showing on the pedestrian overpass:

With its metallic skin peeled off, all passersby could glimpse inside the guts of the beast...a very bizarre change from the blank, windowless wall that once characterized this street.

And here is the approach to the Gordie Howe Entrance from the People Mover station...again, a pathway that we remember as always being utterly packed with people, now completely devoid of life:

The entrance was guarded by this formidable yellow beast, its razor-sharp hydraulic beak snapping at me hungrily as we eyed each other and squared off. I channeled the ghost of Gordie Howe, then faked and ran between its legs, utilizing the big five-hole to gain access into the sacred shrine of Detroit hockey.

Well, this is last glimpse:

Below follows a list of the most historic moments that played out within this hallowed hall...

February 5, 1980
The two greatest hockey players of all time, old Gordie Howe and young Wayne Gretzky, played against each other in the first NHL All-Star Game to be held at the new Joe Louis Arena—and it was Howe's last.

February 17, 1980
According to, the first concert at The Joe was Rush and Max Webster. A look down that website's master list shows that plenty of the most famous musicians have performed here over the decades.

March 2, 1980
Detroit's iconic Kronk Gym took the boxing world by storm with a run of decisive underdog victories at Joe Louis Arena. The Detroit Free Press recounted the night that three Kronk boxers made history in this building. Hilmer Kenty took the world lightweight championship by knocking out Ernesto Espana, middleweight Mickey Goodwin knocked out Leo Saenz, and crowd favorite Tommy Hearns won a welterweight title by knocking out Angel Espada...the impact of all three of those huge upset victories occurring in one night in their hometown was what put Kronk on the map.

Kenty, Goodwin, and Hearns were then considered underdogs who were going up against the world's greatest boxers, and even the hometown crowd at Joe Louis Arena expected them to take a beating. But when the Motor City fists came out flying and decimated the reigning champions so completely, it went down as one of those rare moments in history where downtrodden Detroit showed the world what power it still had left in it. Even Joe Louis himself was in attendance. Sugar Ray Leonard (who had also once trained at Kronk) was slated to fight Hearns, but didn't show. If he had, there was a good chance that two world championships would have gone to Kronk fighters that night. Kronk founder and manager Emanuel Steward was quoted as saying that Detroit had officially burst its way into the big leagues of boxing—"It's the Mecca of boxing right now, I'd say."

I explored the legendary (and also recently demolished) Kronk Gym in an older post.

August 2, 1980
Kronk Gym’s young and undefeated Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns returned to the Joe to trounce Pipino Cuevas, who had been World Boxing Association welterweight champion since 1976. Hearns KO'd Cuevas in just two rounds to capture his title.

July 16, 1980
The Republican National Convention took place here at Joe Louis for several days—ironically, in one of America's most steadfastly Democratic cities. According to the Detroit Free Press, the events that played out at the convention "changed the course of U.S. politics for at least three decades." Ronald Reagan was trailing President Carter in the polls, and to bolster his ticket he decided to try and get Michigan's own former President Gerald Ford to be his running mate.

"A former president running to be vice president? It was the biggest story at a convention in eons." The negotiations with Ford failed however, and George H.W. Bush was selected as Reagan's running mate instead, setting up what would become the Bush political dynasty, as well as the dawn of the "Reagan Era." On the final night of the convention the three men stood on stage, and Reagan bashed Carter's economic policy, declaring,
We must overcome something the present administration has cooked up: a new and altogether indigestible economic stew, one part inflation, one part high unemployment, one part recession, one part runaway taxes, one-party deficit spending and seasoned by an energy crisis. It’s an economic stew that has turned the national stomach... 
For those who have abandoned hope, we’ll restore hope and we’ll welcome them into a great national crusade to make America great again!
It was the first time those now-infamous last four words were spoken, and Reagan went on to beat Carter in a landslide.

November 4, 1984
When Prince had the number-one movie in the country (“Purple Rain”), the number-one album in the country (“Purple Rain”), and the number-one single in the country (“Purple Rain”), he opened his Purple Rain Tour here at the Joe. Regarding Detroit as a second home, the legendary performer rewarded his fans with the tour debut by playing seven sold-out shows here in nine nights. The tour generated so much interest that "nearly 300 reporters, including delegations from Europe, Japan and Australia, and enough photographers to fill the two penalty boxes" were here to cover it.

January 6, 1994
The U.S. Figure Skating Championships was held at The Joe. While leaving practice at nearby Cobo Arena, skating super-star Nancy Kerrigan was attacked with a club to her knee. The assault was orchestrated by a rival skater, Tonya Harding, who wanted to get her out of the way and figured that having the beating occur in Detroit would make it seem inconspicuous. It worked, for a second; the whole world was soon talking about the incident—and joking at the apparent illustration of how easy it is to get clubbed in even inspired a lyric in a Weird Al song. When the movie The Crow came out a few months later, it kept Detroit's sad state of affairs in the limelight even longer.

March 26, 1997
The royal rumble between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche, the defending champs—and our current nemesis. It was one of the most historic brawls in the at least 100 years since hockey was invented. Long story short it was the moment of payback for a dirty hit earlier in the season that seriously injured one of our players. It was also the moment when the Wings showed the league that from then on, bullying Detroit wasn't gonna fly anymore. Old-time hockey was back.

I barely recall whether any hockey was actually played that night, because once the first punch was thrown, utter pandemonium erupted on the ice, in the entire arena, and in my buddy James's basement as he and I flew out of our seats to begin shouting maniacally at the TV and swinging our fists around, flailing into furniture and each other like lunatics, as if we were right there in the action. His mother upstairs was scared sh*tless. One fight turned into two, then four, then everyone on the ice was brawling. Everywhere the TV cameras panned, it was complete mayhem of flying fists, splattering blood, and torn equipment.

Even the two goalies had come out of their nets to pummel each other to the insane screams of berserk spectators and the fireworks of ten thousand camera flashbulbs going at once. It was practically Pentecostal. When the furor finally died down there was a lake of blood on the rink, and several overturned couch cushions in our basement TV room, but it was perhaps the most cathartic moment of my suburban adolescence...we were ecstatic for a week straight. The fisticuffs continued throughout the rest of the game—even though we did win, on a beautiful goal from my favorite guy, Darren McCarty, the enforcer who started the most important of the many beatdowns.

I was months away from graduating high school, and James and I had been riveted to the TV for the whole season. We had been waiting our whole lives to see our trampled team win, and this year it looked like it might actually happen. For me nothing could ever top this hockey season, which culminated in Detroit's first Stanley Cup championship in my lifetime—and nothing ever did. In fact, I stopped paying attention to sports entirely soon afterward. Nothing could impress me anymore.

June 7, 1997
The Red Wings won their first Stanley Cup in 42 years. Sure, they went on to become one of the most invincible dynasties in the history of sports, earning Detroit the name of Hockeytown (and making Mike Ilitch very rich), but for me nothing would ever top 1997.

June 14, 2016
Gordie Howe, aka "Mr. Hockey," lay in state at Joe Louis Arena after his death, while 15,000 fans came here to view his casket.

The Detroit Historical Society says that the 2006 WNBA Finals championship game was hosted here at the Joe (and won by the Detroit Shock), as well as Detroit Rockers soccer games, World Wrestling Entertainment events, plenty of concerts, and three NCAA Frozen Four college hockey finals. During the 1984-85 NBA season the Detroit Pistons even played here when the roof of the Silverdome unexpectedly deflated.

Some sort of first aid station or something:

I am sorry to report that the stairwells were blocked off, meaning I was going to be stuck exploring just the ground level for now. Like I said I was a little hung over, so I wasn't feeling up to any of my usual acrobatic antics to get upstairs. Maybe I will manage to make a return trip at night (stay tuned).

Well Joe, it was a good run...time to go onto the scrap heap of history like old Tiger Stadium.

Since I have sworn off corporate sports and since I am boycotting all things Ilitch, I will not be going to see any events at the new Pizzarena. So this is more than just a regular "good-bye," it's permanent. Just memories of the good-old days, now.

The other hockey arena skeleton I've explored and written about:
Kimball Arena

"3 Up, 3 Down; Hearns' KO Leads Kronk," Detroit Free Press, March 3, 1980, p. 41

The Scene of the Crime

Photos date to May 2013.

Foster Elementary School was pretty much only ever on the "urbex circuit" at all because it was (1) completely wide-open and directly in the path of the throngs of Detroit Lions fans who used this vast barren area for parking on game days, and whose courage had been enhanced through the consumption of alcohol, and (2) because it was yet another pile of dilapidation that even the least creative person could juxtapose in a ruin porn photograph of downtown, like so:

Built in 1957 at the northeast corner of Brush Street & Winder to serve residents of the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects, it was named after the guy who wrote the classic American song "Camptown Races." Ah, the American age of (so-called) innocence.

The fact that it was once the home of the Detroit Police bomb squad, and crime lab escaped most people's notice until after they peeked inside, at least. The school was retrofitted to house these police units in the late 1980s when the crack cocaine epidemic steamrolled this part of the city into a war zone. It was properly called the "Detroit Police Department Forensic Services Laboratory," or DPFSL.

I was actually pretty late in exploring this one, well after all the cool stuff was looted or removed by police.

This facility is referred to in two books by criminal justice author Brent E. Turvey, entitled Miscarriages of Justice, and Forensic Fraud.

Turvey writes that the DPFSL was closed due to malpractice stemming from events that began unfolding after a shooting case in 2007 where it was erroneously claimed that all 42 bullet casings found in a double murder originated from a single weapon. The discovery of the error prompted a Michigan State Police audit of the DPFSL, which determined that 10% of all DPD firearms investigations contained "serious errors," as well as grievous noncompliance with laboratory standards for evidence handling.

The numerous errors "made by multiple examiners" within the lab, Turvey wrote, was "indicative of a systemic problem," and it was directly because of this that the lab was ordered closed in October 2008. Worse yet, as if to rub salt into Detroit's wounds, the building was also ordered to be condemned because of its poor condition. Keep in mind that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick had just resigned in disgrace once month prior to all this, due to his own scandals.

A good part of the building had already collapsed by the time of my visit:

Faced with the sudden absence of a functioning crime lab, the City of Detroit asked the Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division to temporarily take over the responsibility for the city, representing a 150% increase in the state police caseload, according to a .pdf document at Before the DPFSL was closed in 2008 it took in approximately 20,000 cases annually, and offered forensic services in ballistics, biology (DNA), latent prints, drug analysis, toxicology, and alcohol analysis.

Lab staff included 32 uniformed officers and 36 civilian employees, eight analytical employees, eight in the bomb squad unit, 10 in drug analysis, three in latent prints analysis, two data entry technicians, and 30 crime scene techs. In its last fiscal year of operation the lab had a budget of $8 million.

By 2009 it was determined by investigators that at least 147 Detroit cases had to be retested as a result of errors by the DPFSL, and defense attorneys identified another 30 where evidence had been mishandled in some way.

"These and other scandals" within the DPD, Turvey wrote, combined to suggest "a department out of control, with ethically bankrupt leadership creating a culture that is marked by entitlement, permissiveness, and in extreme cases, criminality." Clearly, in light of these grave issues the lab's closure had been justified, but it also effectively ended any internal investigation of the concerns over misconduct and wrongdoing, leaving a lot of questions unanswered.......on purpose?

Despite claims by DPD that evidence left behind in this building was properly secured, local journalists (as well as friends of mine) found otherwise: thousands of rounds of live ammunition, sealed evidence kits and case files containing victims' personal information, hazardous blood samples, etc., were still strewn around the lab two years after it had closed. This was also a precursor to when the infamous 11,000 untested rape kits were found and made the news shortly afterward, although they were not stored here, but in Fisher Body Plant #10. As a matter of fact it was exactly 10 years ago that the discovery of the kits was made, and it is back in the news again because the testing backlog has finally been cleared—thanks to funding from private donors.

The completely impenetrable foliage around the building reminded me of exploring the infamous Byberry State Hospital in Philadelphia...

I could've sworn I read somewhere recently that the Detroit Police played a role in the birth of modern fingerprint collection and cataloguing in the early 20th century, but now I can't find where the reference might have been. Oh well, the Detroit Police Crime Laboratory was definitely one of the oldest municipal crime labs in the nation, dating back to 1927. Naturally Detroit had kept a lab of its own separate from the state system because of its great population and size of its caseload.

The present system of fingerprinting used worldwide was developed in the late 1900s by Sir E.R. Henry of Scotland Yard.

Detroit Free Press article from June 1920 entitled "Finger Prints Urged for All," seems to indicate that not only were the DPD using fingerprinting to solve crimes by that time, but they definitely were part of the push to create state and federal fingerprint registries for the purpose of universal fingerprinting identification.

At the International Police Chiefs' convention in Detroit that month, Eugene VanBuskirk, the superintendent of the National Bureau of Criminal Identification made a motion that Congress be petitioned to do just that, referring to an increase in crime during the economic Depression of 1920 (a depression that was especially stark in Detroit). A police chief from Buffalo was quoted as saying, "The growing national character of police work and the activities of the [IWW labor union] and similar organizations are only additional factors that make it necessary for police departments to work in closer relation with one another than ever before."

VanBuskirk added, "The general unrest probably will continue for some time," he said, before going on to blame the trouble on citizens who had become migrant workers due to economic conditions during World War I, claiming that they were people of "vicious tendencies," and in the commission of crime were impossible to trace due to their "non-identity." Newsmen stoking the fires of the Red Scare, or the beginning of militarized policing? Either way, it sounds awfully familiar today.

It wasn't until January 1926 that I found another Free Press article about fingerprinting in Detroit. Entitled, "Fingerprinting Wealthy Detroiters," it featured several photos from the rush of 3,000 members of Detroit's wealthiest upper crust and their rug rats, who lately had signed up to be fingerprinted. Of course back then it wasn't all about busting criminals, fingerprinting was also being used to prevent infant mix-ups at hospitals (an infamous case of mistaken baby switching had recently happened at a Detroit hospital in 1925), and prints also served as a bank signature to prevent forgeries as well.

A year later in June 1927, the International Police Chiefs' convention was back here again, on the other side of the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario, and they were still urging for the adoption of universal fingerprinting. The headline "Police Heads Join Rush for Windsor Rum," reminds us that this was still in the heat of the Prohibition (rum-running) era here, revealing the motivation for the push to beef up fingerprinting technology. Despite Chicago's gangster-era limelight, almost all of Capone's booze came across the Detroit River, so despite its comparative quiet Detroit was even more flush with criminals to catch in those days, and police were losing the war.

The next headline, from that autumn, "Police Call on Science in Detroit Crime War," details the birth of what came to be known as the Detroit Police Crime Laboratory, replete with a full-page photo spread:

Image from Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Police introduced a chemical research bureau and a ballistics bureau in October of 1927 under the supervision of Capt. Charles E. Carmody, chief of the identification bureau. The combining of these two new divisions with the identification bureau (fingerprinting) under one banner marked the official beginning of the Detroit Police Crime Lab, which was then located on the fourth floor of the Police Headquarters on Clinton Street. The article goes on to say that Detroit's had in fact served as the central fingerprint bureau for all of Michigan at that time, since the state police had apparently not formed their own yet. It was described as one of the most complete in the country in 1927, and by far the most complete in the state, continually exchanging prints with the federal bureau in Washington, other U.S. cities, Scotland Yard, and the Paris Prefecture of Police.

Ironically, the although entire exterior of the building is under attack, the greenhouse is totally devoid of plant life:

I wonder if this is where the cops stored marijuana plants they confiscated as evidence?

More zombie fetishism:

Rifling those drawers for the goods...

Going down into the basement we soon found the ubiquitous nuclear fallout shelter, and the requisite drums of survival rations...or maybe its a bunch of drums containing toxic zombies like in that movie Return of the Living Dead:

A few abandoned Brush Park mansions in view here, awaiting regentrification...if only someone would build a giant tax-funded hockey stadium across the street:

Here is a shot from the roof showing just how close the Brewster Projects were to the former school:

Oh hey, is that a generator?

Oh my god, some vandal wrote my name on it!

What sort of miscreant lowlife would do such a thing?! Especially with such sophomoric handskills? I mean, it's not even a Nailhead engine, it's a Ford 302...

And here is one of the non-abandoned Brush Park mansions, with the skyscrapers of Grand Circus Park in the background:

Here is St. John's Episcopal Church (built from 1858 to 1861), along with the looming black tower of our energy monopoly overlords, Detroit Edison:

The crime lab was demolished in early 2015, and remains a vacant lot to this day, despite the rapid regentrification of the surrounding area.

Here is a list of my other Detroit Police related posts:
Detroit Police Dept. 6th Precinct
Detroit Police Dept. 9th Precinct (Mounted Division)
Detroit Police Dept. 16th Precinct

"Finger Prints Urged for All," Detroit Free Press, June 10, 1920, p. 26
"Police Heads Join Rush for Windsor Rum," Detroit Free Press, June 10, 1927, p. 1, 2
"Fingerprinting Wealthy Detroiters," Detroit Free Press, January 24, 1926, Feature Section
"Police Call on Science in Detroit Crime War," Detroit Free Press, November 6, 1927, Feature Section
Miscarriages of Justice: Actual Innocence, Forensic Evidence, and the Law, by Brent E. Turvey, Craig M. Cooley, p. 186
Forensic Fraud: Evaluating Law Enforcement and Forensic Science Cultures in the Context of Examiner Misconduct, by Brent E. Turvey, p. 219