Resurgent cineribus I: The Metropolitan

And next up on the Shostakovich: All The Feels tour, we have Detroit.

I have tickets to hear the Shostakovich 8th Symphony performed by the Detroit Symphony on Sunday.  If the 7th Symphony was the entrance to this whole wonderful rabbit hole of exploring a world of incredibly moving music that I had only skimmed before, the 8th has come to mean something deeply personal to me, a rebirth of sorts. (You can find all of that starting here.) I saw the 7th was performed in my birthplace, Columbus, where it all began (literally) for me. The 8th…in Detroit. A city I’ve never lived in, but which, for some reason, means something just as deeply personal, the city of ruins, but now, the phoenix rising. Speramus melioraresurgent cineribus.  (We shall hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes – Detroit’s motto).

There shall be more to write, I am sure, and I’ll spend the next few days highlighting this very thing.  Because if you haven’t noticed, if you still think that Detroit is a bankrupt, blighted place, you haven’t been paying attention.

Downtown Detroit was once described as a sarcophagus of skyscrapers. One whole area of town, close to Grand Circus, was littered with the corpses of Detroit’s hopeful past–empty hotels, vacant office buildings, shuttered, theatres, and parking lots where once other buildings stood.  My absolute favourite of these was a beautiful little Gothic-Deco tower called the Metropolitan Building.

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The Metropolitan in 2014. (Photo credit: Steve Neavling)

This particular building, which was finished in 1925, was once home to jewelers–both sellers and manufacturers. In fact, it was the manufacture of illuminated watch dials and the resulting contamination that thwarted its modernization, and it closed in 1977. The style of the building, designed by architects Weston and Ellington, is a mix of Gothic and Art Deco elements.  It’s clad in brick, granite, and terra cotta.

The Metropolitan was abandoned for many, many years, although a surprising amount of its original charming ornamentation managed to survive.  The Downtown Development Authority, which owned the building, had to install netting in 2010 to keep pieces of the facade from falling off, and in 2014 a large piece hit a pickup truck.  It was a perfect example of the issues that had plagued downtown Detroit for years–buildings with gorgeous bones, left to decay.  Yet by 2014 things were already starting to change. Just a few blocks away, the old Book-Cadillac hotel, which had stood vacant for decades, had been gutted and then restored to its former glory as a Westin property. Gradually, the vacant skyscrapers were being brought back to life as downtown Detroit began to stir.

But the poor Metropolitan, with its toxic residues and crumbling facade, was seemingly left behind, a building with promise and obvious charm, a tarnished gem….

The following year, things changed.  The DDA initially approved over $23 million to renovate the building for apartments.  The following year, the plan was altered, with the goal now being to open the building as a hotel.  Just last month, after a restoration that cost $33 million, Element Detroit at the Metropolitan unveiled as 110-room extended-stay hotel, including retail space, meeting space, and a rooftop patio on the 11th floor.

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The Metropolitan at its reopening on December 18.  Photo credit: Curbed Detroit

Read more about the building’s history and resurrection here.

Curbed Detroit has published an excellent article on the restoration, including some stunning before and after pictures.  Here are just two.

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Great Hall before restoration…
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And after….

The hotel literally opened this past week. As I finished up this post, I discovered multiple articles on the opening dated within the past few hours, as if it were just waiting for me to find it again ahead of my visit next Sunday.  It joins a number of nearby buildings newly restored.  I will definitely be driving by to see for myself.

Just north of there, Brush Park awaits, the neighbourhood that first brought the ruins of Detroit to life for me over 20 years ago.  That’ll be my next post.

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