The genesis of automotive mass production can now be yours. Henry Ford famously built the Quadricycle, his first car, and had to knock a hole in his garage to release it to the world. That site is now up for grabs. But it’s not just the historical marker that makes this piece of land interesting.
After WWI, Ford’s rented workshop on 58 Bagley Ave went from a rural garage to a speck being consumed in the expanding heart of Detroit. So his shop was moved to Ford’s old time Greenfield Village, and in its place the 13-story Michigan Building was built — complete with a grand theater occupying the ground floors. Just like a home built on a burial ground becomes filled with boogeymen, cars have haunted this hallowed auto ground.
The Michigan Theater was a grand structure with a four-story lobby and a 4,000+ capacity. It had fanfare when the doors opened in 1926, but the good times wouldn’t last. Television, suburbia, and a bit of slowing in the auto industry meant the theater closed within about 50 years of its opening (see plenty more pics and read the full history on the Historic Detroit site.)
By 1977 the tenants of the Michigan Building were asking for more parking, and the theater was no longer in use. Stripped of its former glory, the Michigan Theater was going to be knocked down and made into a parking lot. That plan was not possible because the theater was integral to the attached office building’s structure. So the alternative was to turn the theater directly into a parking garage. It seems like a bit of irony that only 80 years after Ford had to knock down walls of his garage to get his car out, the same space had to keep its walls to get cars in.
For nearly four decades the building has served as possibly the world’s most intricate parking structure. The ceiling is a faded and chipped grand showpiece of plaster carvings. The lobby has lost its luster but the entryway is unmistakable. Balconies, staircases, and especially the projection booth are reminders of this palace’s former glory. Curbed Detroit calls it, “one of Detroit’s ruin porn all-stars.”
The $3,000,000 price tag almost makes this place affordable, especially to a large corporation (wink, wink General Motors). The land has tried to escape its humble auto roots only to have return them even stronger. Possibly the only way to truly appease the car gods is with a GM museum. After all, Ford already has a huge public facility, and if taking over the Renaissance Center wasn’t enough of a GM power play, how about owning the spot of Henry’s first oil slick?
Pictures: HistoricDetroit.org / Dan Austin (where noted)