The Ur-Ruin Site

…at least for me.

Until about ten years ago I had no idea that anyone else besides me found decrepit old buildings at all interesting.

Then I ran across the work of Camilo Vergara, specifically the book American Ruins. An article about the book pointed me to what I call the “Ur-Ruin site”: The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit.

Warning: You can get lost there for days upon days.

Detroit itself is a ruin, or perhaps a relic. There are sporadic attempts to rebuild on the old foundations, perhaps like Rome. Rome’s population declined from over a million during the Empire to perhaps 20,000 during the Early Middle ages, “reducing the sprawling city to groups of inhabited buildings interspersed among large areas of ruins and vegetation.” (as per Wikipedia). Is this where Detroit is going?

I realized, of course, when I saw these pictures, that I had seen this before. In 1984 I had traveled to Detroit on a church youth mission trip. I think we were helping a struggling church with some basic painting and maintenance and such. Obviously, that’s not what stuck in my mind. We drove downtown. On the way in, we passed neighbourhoods consisting of empty lots and decaying, grand houses (I would later identify this neighbourhood as Brush Park). In the middle of the city itself was a street where nearly every storefront was boarded up. We had entered what Vergara has termed the “skyscraper burial ground.” It was quiet and empty and seemed very wrong. Here were buildings that once teemed with life, forgotten.

The word that describes Detroit best is cavernous. It abounds with huge, empty, abandoned spaces–once elegant or functional, now just silent and empty. Tiger Stadium, where I first saw a major-league baseball game on that trip in 1984, was cavernous. It is now almost completely gone.

I will come back to Detroit–to Brush Park and the skyscraper graveyard, in particular, but also to the occasional sign of hope. It still makes me feel like crying.