Crumbling factories, deserted factories, and proud churches that still stand tall despite their decaying interiors – these are just a few of the abandoned places in Detroit. But peel away the layers of dirt, grime, and graffiti and you’ll find the forbidden allure that calls out to urban explorers.
Detroit, Michigan has gone through major economic and demographic decline. Detroit’s population, at its peak in 1950 with 1,850,000 residents, came crashing down to just 680,000 residents in 2015. In the wake of these drastic changes, Detroit left behind a trail of economic blight and abandoned places.
Discovering Abandoned Places in Detroit
This makes Detroit an ideal spot for an urbex adventure. These abandoned places in Detroit may not continue to serve any purpose to the people they were built for but they remain as historical monuments and works of art to urban explorers. Urban explorers may be the last to witness these cultural sites and record them for prosperity.
A quick Google search will show many results for abandoned places in Detroit. In fact, after Jacksonville, Florida, Detroit may be the best city in the United States for urban exploration. Here is our list of the top ten abandoned places in Detroit that you should visit before they are gone.
Note: All of the below places can be explored as of mid 2020. However, it should be noted that all properties here, and many other abandoned places in Detroit, are private property, and exploring would be considered trespassing.
While there are some that are relatively unwatched, there are others under strict supervision around the clock. Do your due diligence, be smart, and read our resource Caught Trespassing? Staying Out Of Trouble Urbexing in 2020.
Fisher Body Plant #21
The Fisher Body Company was founded in 1908 by Albert Fisher and his nephews Charles and Fred. Originally the company produced bodies for horse-drawn carriages and then later on for the auto industry.
During the early days of the automobile industry, the passenger compartment or the body of the vehicle could be swapped out on different makes to meet the customer’s specifications. The customers could also choose between various amenities of the day.
The body of the vehicles was a complicated process that needed to be constructed by skilled craftsmen. Auto manufacturers outsourced this component of vehicle production. Fisher manufactured bodies for Cadillac, Huson, Ford, and Studebaker, among other names.
Business was good for Fisher and they expanded their operations to meet the increasing demand. Eventually they operated over forty plants in Detroit, Cleveland, Flint, and Ontario.
Fisher body plant number twenty-one was built just down the street from Ford’s workshop. Designed by Albert Kahn, the six-story building was built in 1919. It featured reinforced concrete construction and large floor to ceiling windows to bring in the natural light.
During WWII the plant retooled to produce parts for airplanes, guns, and tanks needed in the war. After the war, Fisher started to recede from public view, and in November of 1982 the plant was officially closed.
It was then purchased by Carter Color Company and used for industrial painting however this didn’t last long as Carter Company filed for bankruptcy in 1993 and then the building was added to the list of abandoned places in Detroit. Ownership of the site is now in the hands of the city of Detroit.
Packard Automotive Plant
The Packard factory consists of 43 buildings on Detroit’s east side of town. Known for its post-apocalyptic look the abandoned factory is a wasteland of crumbling concrete, graffiti, and rubble.
A century ago, The Packard name was equivalent to luxury and the company wanted its factory to reflect that. Albert Khan, the same architect who designed the Fisher Body Plant, created a reinforced concrete building that accommodated more than 40,0000 workers and took up more than four million square feet.
Like many other factories, it retooled for WWII production and began building aircraft engines but after the war, Packard couldn’t get back into its groove. In the mid-1950s the last Packard automobile rolled off the line and then the buildings were mainly used for storage until the 1970s.
There was always hope that someday the buildings would find a new life but they were too expensive to tear down so they say abandoned and decaying. A Spanish developer bought the Packard plant in 2012 with the vision of turning it into residential units, commercial spaces, restaurants, and an art gallery but progress remains slow.
While most of the buildings still sit in ruins it has come a long way. The project could take up to fifteen years to complete and it ranks as one of the world’s most difficult and ambitious redevelopment projects to date. Today it still sits as one of the abandoned places in Detroit that every urban explorer should visit.
The Roosevelt Warehouse is one of the key abandoned places in Detroit. The building was used as a school book depository for the city of Detroit during the 1980s after the Post Office moved to a new location but the building caught fire and caused millions of dollars worth of damage.
Today, acres of rotting books cover the floor of the building which has been left open to the elements. The building became infamous in 2009 when the body of a homeless man was found encased in ice in an old elevator shaft. Since that time patrols around the building have increased and all of the entrances have been boarded up.
In the summer of 2012, the contents of the building were excavated as the city of Detroit began to make preparations to convert the old warehouse into a parking garage.
In 1926 the Michigan Theater was one of the most stunning and decadent buildings in Detroit. Designed by Cornelius and George Rapp, the 4,000 seat theater was a symbol of opulence and luxury in Detroit. The four-story building with chandeliers and marble columns would hold 1,000 cinema attendees to see classic vaudeville acts such as Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Betty Grable, and the Marx Brothers.
An enormous Wurlitzer organ played along with the films of the silent era and in 1929 the theater was wired for sound. Eventually, the theater moved to show mostly movies although Louis Armstrong played Michigan Theater in 1936.
By the 1960s the Michigan Theater struggled financially and held its last showing in 1971. The theater then changed hands several times as it tried on different identities. It was the host of an elegant supper club and even a rock music venue but by 1976 the theater was closed again.
The owners initially wanted to demolish the theater right away to make room for a parking lot but a structural survey indicated removing the theater would weaken a thirteen-story office building attached to it. Instead the theater was gutted and converted into a parking garage.
Parts of the theater were preserved including the lobby, decorative plasterwork on the ceilings, the balcony, and the projection room.
Today the old Michigan Theater is somewhat of a tourist destination. Urban explorers and tourists alike make their way to the building to marvel in its past splendor. Today, football fans tailgate in the garage under the same roof that once filled with the sounds of great musicians and performers of the past.
St. Agnes Catholic Church
Bishop John Foley, a leader of the Detroit Catholic Archdiocese, believed it was time for a new church in the growing LaSalle Park neighborhood. He recruited Rev. Henigan led the church and in April of 1914 the church held its first mass.
The congregation grew quickly and soon needed a larger physicality. Construction of the permanent location of St. Agnes church and school started in 1922. The church was built in the gothic style by Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough, and Renolds. Later on a custom-built organ became a centerpiece of the church.
St. Agnes thrived, growing to accommodate more than 1,600 families, three priests, twenty-two nuns, and a girl’s high school with 18 students by 1964. Just a few years later a police raid on an after-hours drinking establishment quickly grew into one of the worst outbursts of civil unrest in Detroit history.
Though St. Agnes was left untouched by the riots the buildings around it burnt to the ground and attendance numbers began to decline. Just 162 families were worshipping at St. Agnes in 1986 when the church decided to merge with St. Theresa Avila in 1989 formed a new parish that would continue.
The school closed in 2000 and afterward was used for storage. In 2006 it became impractical to continue on and maintain the building. The church was closed and put up for sale. The Archdiocese removed the pews and stained glass and a new congregation bought the building but they never took possession of it. Instead the church fell into ruin and disrepair.
Metal thieves stole the organ’s pipes and vandalism faded the former glory of the church during the early 2000s. The future of the church is still very much up in the air. Scott Griffin purchased the building in 2012 and secured it from future trespassing but has no plans to develop the building.
Highland Park High School
Highland Park, a separate city located in the borders of Detroit, is also home to many abandoned places in Detroit. Highland Park met a fate similar to Detroit were budget cuts led to closures of fire stations libraries and schools.
Highland Park High School was attended by the children of the Ford Plant’s workers. It featured English architecture with a central building that was three stories tall and two end wings linked by classrooms. The east wing had an auditorium and the west wing had a three-story gymnasium featuring a swimming pool. The school included dedicated classrooms for botany, sewing, machine tooling, drawing, and chemistry.
The exterior of the building featured grey limestone with moldings and details work in Bedford stone. Eventually, the school faced problems with overcrowding and a new building was constructed in 1917. The building was the same style but laid out slightly differently. This new building became a school for girls. Later on the two schools joined together and became co-ed.
In the 1940s Ford moved production out of Highland Park into the suburbs hastening the flight of residents to the suburbs. The 1950s brought several newer schools to the Highland Park area and Highland Park High School gymnasium caught fire. The administrators put a temporary roof over the building because the damage was too costly to repair.
Not wishing to demolish the limestone building, the gymnasium wing sat empty until it was turned into a multi-purpose concert hall in 1983. Eventually after accusations of misuse of funds and decline in the number of attendees the school ran out of money and closed down in 1995.
George Ferris School
The George Ferris School also follows the line of boom and bust in Highland Park. The elementary school was built in 1911 to cope with the overwhelming number of students arriving each day brought by their parents who all worked at the Ford plant.
Eventually the school shifted to become a middle school in 1960. It’s number then went through a period of decline and in the late 90s the George Ferris School closed its doors. There were plans to reopen the school but with the number of students still declining the plans were dropped.
The school has now been vacant for twenty years. During this time it was stripped of everything of value and the gardens are completely overgrown with vines and trees spreading out into the cafeteria. The school is one of the abandoned places in Detroit scheduled to be demolished though no work has started as of this time.
Belle Island Nature Zoo
Belle Isle is a two and a half-mile long island in the Detroit River. This park was a getaway destination for many generations of Detroit residents. Sadly Belle Island has lost its past glory.
The Detroit Zoo once called Belle Islands home. In 1956 the Detroit Zoo moved to its current home in Royal Oak and the Belle Isle location became a small children’s zoo.
Later on in the 1980s the zoo was renamed to Safariland. By 2002 the zoo faced budget problems due to declining attendance and the zoo closed. The passage of public bonds gave funds to Belle Isle to build a new zoo at the other end of the island. The zoo construction cost millions of dollars and eventually closed in 2017.
Today the zoo sites are both vacant and in severe disrepair. Trees have fallen in the walkway and graffiti covers the walls. The zoos have been used as film locations but it remains unclear whether the state of Michigan is interested in restoring Belle Isle to its former glory and reopening the zoos.
Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church
Woodward Avenue was a masterpiece of Modern English Gothic Architecture. It featured towers and a gabled entrance carved of stone. The octagonal sanctuary has a magnificent stained-glass dome with stone at the center. Construction finished in 1911 and the church was outfitted with a massive pipe organ.
In its early years the church was open seven days a week. It had recreational facilities including a multi-lane bowling alley and was a place where young people would meet and play sports. During the First World War shortages in coal led the church to close its doors except for two days a week. The Red Cross used the facility to train and raise funds for the war effort.
After the war the church began to grow and repairs were made to the interior of the church. But like many other churches in the area economic conditions of the 1950s led to many of the church’s congregations to move to the suburbs. The church continued to shrink through the 60s and 70s.
In 2005 the Rev. Douglas who was in charge of the church at the time died and left the church in a state of limbo. The building became one of the abandoned places in Detroit and scrapers and the elements took their toll on the building. The cost of restoring the building to its former glory is too high so it has sat vacant ever since, sitting as a beautiful example of the abandoned places in Detroit.
United Artist Theater
The United Artist Theater was once a part of Detroit’s theater district. Today it sits as one of the grandest abandoned places in Detroit. In 1927 United Artist began construction on a three million dollar theater in Downtown Detroit. The theater was designed by C. Howard Crane as motion pictures were replacing large state shows. The building also featured an office tower to bring in revenue during off-seasons.
The United Artist Theater was hailed as a marvel of design and construction and quickly became Detroit’s premiere theater. Over the yeast the theater underwent several renovations. In the 1960s when people flocked to the suburbs downtown Detroit theaters had a difficult time gaining an audience.
The theater began showing exploitation and pornographic films and eventually began to deteriorate. Eventually the theater closed. Plans to reopen the theater came and went. The Detroit Symphony used it as a concert hall for recording until the theater was unusable in 1983.
The theater closed in 1984 and was put up for sale. It has been bought and sold several times since then but the high cost of renovations always made it difficult for investors. The theater remains in poor condition to this day with no plans announced for its future. For now, it remains one of the most intriguing abandoned places in Detroit.
Visit These Abandoned Places In Detroit Before They Are Gone
Whatever your motives for visiting abandoned places in Detroit you are sure to be met with the history of our past and quite a splendor. It’s quite the opposite of being out in nature. It allows you to see the greatness of early Detroit in a past time and reflect on the lack of permanence of time and the creations of mankind.
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