Michigan Central Station - Abandoned

Michigan Central Station

Michigan Central Station is located in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, Michigan and was constructed in 1913 for the Michigan Central Railroad.1 7 Built at a cost of $15 million, it replaced an earlier depot that had burned on December 26, 1912.7 9

The depot was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.


Planning for the future Michigan Central Station involved coordination with a railway tunnel for the Michigan Central Railway under the Detroit River into Canada.8 The station, designed by Warren and Wetmore and Reed and Stem in the Beaux-Arts Classical style, was patterned from New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.1 4 5 8 9 The building featured 500,000 square-feet,1 making it the tallest railroad structure in the world at 18 floors. It was hastily put into operations in mid-1913 before it was completed after the older Michigan Central Railroad depot burned; it was formally dedicated on January 4, 1914.7

The complex was divided into two components: the tower and the railroad station. The tower, with a height of 230 feet, was designed to host a hotel and offices but those plans never came to fruition.8 All but the top floor was used for offices for the Michigan Central Railroad.

The station’s waiting room was modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse, with walls of marble that was adorned with Guastavino arches and Corinthian columns.4 6 7 9 The concourse featured brick walls and a large copper skylight. From the concourse, passengers could walk down a ramp to 11 departing train platforms.


Michigan Central Station’s location was approximately two miles from downtown Detroit and remained underutilized during its operation. It was designed to be placed near the edge of Detroit to spur development, similar to what later occurred at New Center.4 9 The expanse boulevard that extended from the station’s main entrance would have linked Michigan Central Station to a cultural center across the city.4 The majority of passengers would depart or arrive from the station via interurban or streetcar service.7 9

By 1938, interurban and streetcar service was discontinued in the city, further isolating Michigan Central Station.7 9

During World War II, passenger counts surged partially because the government needed trains to transport large numbers of troops. Like with most railroads, passenger use declined post-World War II as automobile ownership increased.7


In 1956, Michigan Central Railroad attempted to sell the building for $5 million in an attempt to downsize and move to a smaller size; the asking price was only a third of the original building cost.7 9 The first attempt to sale the building failed and it was placed for sale again in 1963.

The restaurant, arcade shops and the main entrance were closed due to declining usage in 1967.7 8 9 Much of the central waiting room was also shuttered and passengers were rerouted to a rear entrance. Only two ticket windows were maintained and passengers shared the same parking lot as railroad employees.

Amtrak took over passenger rail service from the Michigan Central Railroad in 1971. The main waiting room and entrance were reopened in 1975.8 9 The depot was given a $1.25 million renovation in 1978 that added a bus terminal for Greyhound.7

In 1984, Michigan Central Station was sold for a transportation center project that never materialized.7 9 It would have included provisions for high-speed passenger rail and enhanced bus terminals.

Owing to low usage, Amtrak shuttered the Michigan Central Station on January 6, 1988.7 8 9 The passenger platforms were demolished in 2000 for an intermodal freight yard, which were later abandoned.8


Various proposals for the restoration of Michigan Central Station were floated since the building’s closure in 1988, including a Trade Processing Center that would convert the building into a customer and international trade processing center.2 7 It was considered advantageous due to its proximity to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. The owner of the station at the time, Matty Maroun, who also owned the Ambassador Bridge, stated until that the was a tenant and deal lined up, that he would not spend any money on preserving or cleaning the depot property.

In 2004,, casino owner Manuel Moroun proposed a convention center and casino in the station at a cost of $1.2 billion.3 $300 million of the cost would be tied into the restoration of the station. Then-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick later announced that the city was pursuing options to restore the depot into Detroit Police Department’s headquarters only for the deal to fall through in mid-2005.3 Restoration costs of Michigan Central Station were estimated between $80 to $300 million.1

On April 7, 2009, the Detroit City Council passed a resolution calling for the emergency demolition of the station and then charging the owner, Matty Moroun demolition costs.10 Then-Mayor Kenneth Cockrel Jr. had already requested the demolition be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and vowed to go after the building’s owner to be reimbursed. Cockrel had requested for $3.6 million from the federal government for the building’s demolition.10

Action was delayed by City Council on May 18 after Moroun stated that the federal government was interested in developing the property as a base for its Homeland Security operations in the region.11

In August 2014, Moroun announced tentative renovation plans for Michigan Central Station after an agreement was reached with the city.12 Under the deal, the city agreed to transfer three acres of the eastern portion of Riverside Park to Moroun’s bridge company in exchange for $3 million and 4.8 acres of riverfront land to the west for additional park space.

Chamberlain Glass and Metal, of St. Clair, Michigan, announced on February 23, 2015 that it had reached an agreement with Moroun to install 1,050 windows in the depot.12 The project was completed on December 31 on time and on budget. As of late-2015, more than $12 million has been expended by Moroun on electricity, a new freight elevator and windows.

Movie Filmings

Since Michigan Central Station’s closure in 1988, the property has been the set for several films.1 The station was used for scenes in the movie Naqoyqatsi in September 2002, Four Brothers in 2004, The Island in January 2005, and Transformers in October 2006.7