Before the completion of the Detroit Harbor Terminals complex along the Detroit River in Detroit, Michigan, most of the commodities and raw materials used in Detroit were shipped first by water to Cleveland, Chicago, or Toledo and sent to Detroit via the railroad. The construction of a ten-story, 900,000 square feet building, of reinforced concrete, was the largest on the Great Lakes when it opened on March 15, 1926. It was designed by famed architect Albert Kahn and his firm.
Prior to the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway, which enabled oceangoing vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes, each of the Great Lake ports had their captive cargoes. Detroit claimed iron ore, gravel, coal, and related commodities. Traffic was only expected to grow with the opening of the Seaway, and in 1958, the year before it opened, Detroit handled 87,232 tons of overseas imports and exports.
After the Seaway opened, Detroit handled 50% of all foreign cargo on the Great Lakes, and by 1965, its ports managed 1,658,732 tons of cargo.
Unfortunately, a complicated deal with Detroit Harbor Terminals eventually led into bankruptcy in the 1970s. The complex increasingly became reliant on handling steel imports from Japan and China but saw its fortunes slip after the federal government imposed higher steel tariffs in 2002. In 2003, Detroit Marine Terminals, who then operated the warehouse, defaulted on bonds owed and the facility closed.
In the years since, Detroit Harbor Terminals has been a focal point of urban exploration, partly due to the enormous Boblo Island Amusement Park mural painted on the side of the building. For several decades until 1993, the docks behind the terminal served as the terminus for the park’s ferry. The ten-story building, at 115 feet high, also provided optimal views of the Detroit River and a skyline view of downtown Detroit.