Inside Decaying Michigan Central Station, Detroiters Made Memories

Empty for 30 years, all walks of life were drawn to one of the world’s most iconic abandoned structures.

Joshua A. Gaudette

CultureShift airs weekdays at 12 p.m.

More than 20,000 people signed up to legally tour the future Ford campus this past weekend. Demand had built up with few opportunities available for the general public to peek inside the 18-story towering ruin.

But as one of the world’s most iconic abandoned structures, the Michigan Central Station has long been an unsanctioned attraction in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood.

Anyone inquisitive enough could easily access the old depot day or night for years, creating a surprising amount of pedestrian traffic that merged photographers, graffiti writers, the curious and the homeless alike.

Joshua A. Gaudette

CultureShift gathered our listeners’ stories to remember a time when entering the Michigan Central Station didn’t require an RSVP. Listen below.

“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.”

Colleen Robar is the president of Robar PR and serves as the project manager for Crain’s Detroit Homecoming, which threw a lavish dinner inside of the train station last year.

“So many people crawled through the holes in the fence,” says Robar, who snuck into the building during a lunch break back in 1991.

“It was so dark, you couldn’t see,” remembers Robar. “There was clothing everywhere, so much dirt… but you know what, it was still beautiful” with furniture and original marble still in tact.

Courtesy of Garrett Passiak

“18 years ago, it was lawless… you could walk through the front gate.”

Garrett Passiak is a well-known Detroit bartender who currently holds court at La Feria in Midtown and Detroit City Distillery in Eastern Market. Since moving to Detroit from the suburbs nearly 20 years ago, Passiak has been a fan of the Michigan Central Station.

Passiak remembers a time when you could “literally just walk through the front gate” into the station.

“I’ve never been a graffiti artist, stripped anything or vandalized anything,” says Passiak. “It was just that whole surreal experience of actually going into an actual historic building.”

How about the view from the top?

Adriel Thronton is a longtime event producer and current director of marketing for MoGo, the bike-sharing service available throughout the city. One of his favorite memories of exploring the train station was hosting an impromptu picnic on the roof.

“We brought a little boombox and some food,” says Thornton. “In hindsight, it was kind of a dangerous thing to do.”

But Thornton says the view was worth it.

“It’s a really good view of the city,” says Thornton.


  • Ryan Patrick Hooper

    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host and producer of CultureShift on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.