Author Dan Austin and photographer Sean Doerr capture Detroit’s abandoned architectural gems in Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City’s Majestic Ruins. Detroit was once a thriving metropolis, driven by the booming auto industry. As a result, it was rich in culture, architecture, and the arts. However, with Americans no longer buying American made cars, Detroit’s automotive industry has been on death’s doorstep and, as a result, the city and its once beautiful structures have fallen into ruin and decay.
Reading this book just makes me sick. Our society has no appreciation for architectural beauty. We build ugly, throw-away structures today that aren’t expected to last more than a few decades and can be torn down without any sense of loss, but even just a century ago, Americans built with pride and a sense of design and architectural achievement. Schools were built to be as beautiful as the young minds they educated. Theaters were decked out with marble columns, domed ceilings with gorgeous frescos, and chandeliers that sparkled like diamonds. They were as much a work of art as the movies that flickered across their screens. But with our lack of appreciation for beauty and history and with an economy that continually struggles, these buildings are being abandoned, left to rot until they are finally demolished.
I think what I am most shocked by is that even putting a building on the National Register of Historic Places cannot save it. I guess where there is no money, there is no hope, and a plaque noting a structure’s historical significance holds no weight with vandals and thieves set on destroying beauty and taking what is not theirs for their own gain. I will never understand the vandal mentality of pointless waste and intentional destruction.
Since this book was published in 2010, the Eastown Theater, with its gorgeous plasterwork and paint scheme, has been torn down. At the time of its demise, its stunning domed, fresco-adorned ceiling still looked as new as the day it was painted. The detail, design, and artistic integrity that went into the creation of The Eastown will never be recreated or replicated. We have lost something that we will never have again. Tearing down structures like this one is the same as pouring bleach on the Mona Lisa or spray painting The Sistine Chapel. The demolition of this theater is so much more than the loss of a building. It’s evidence of total disregard for our history, our creativity, and our community.
“If Detroit loses the Metropolitan Building, we will lose not only a very unique building, but we are saying we don’t care about Detroit’s heritage and we don’t care about America’s heritage.” – Architect Lucas McGrail.
Sadly, McGrail’s quote could be about any abandoned historic building in any American city.
If you take one thing away from reading this book, I guess it would be this: Look around you. Take in the old, forgotten structures of a once grand past. Look at Corinthian columns, wrought iron fencing, stained glass windows, crystal chandeliers, art deco flooring, marble stairways, ceilings with rosettes and frescos, and ornate plasterwork. Look at them, study them, commit them to memory because once they are gone, and most of them will be in the not-so-distant future, we will never see their like again. In a disposable world, the architectural beauty of the past is unappreciated and will not be replicated in future construction.
A follow-up to the review…
And now that I’ve had some time to cool my anger over the loss and neglect of these places, I realize that I never really said what a fantastic job Austin and Doerr do in preserving the memories and beauty of these structures. Austin gives a wonderful history of each location and informs readers of what may lie in store for those that still survive. Doerr’s beautiful photographs capture the surviving details amid the decay. In a collapsing ruin, he showcases the artistry, talent, and love that went into building them and that still manage to shine despite years of neglect. If you enjoy the images from the book, you can see more of his fantastic work here: http://snweb.org/category/portfolios/