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Michigan Central’s History: A Transitory Story of Transportation’s Future

Photo: Burton Historical Collection ~ Detroit Public Library

DETROIT, June 3, 2024 ~ Back at the turn of the 20th century, Michigan Central Railroad was looking to replace their existing Downtown Detroit train depot, which was becoming inefficient and overcrowded. The need led management to the architectural firm of Warren and Wentmore, a company that boasted significant experience in depo design.   

Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore were the namesake duo behind the preferred architectural arm of railroad mogul Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had previously commissioned the pair to build the then revolutionary Grand Central Station in New York City.

With contracts secured and permits in hand, Whitney and Charles broke ground on May 16, 1910, possessing plans to build a Beaux Arts-style wonder that would serve as a welcoming gateway to those visiting Detroit.


(CONTINUED) Through an unexpected turn of events, the original downtown depot tragically burned to the ground in December of 1913. The fire rendered the facility unusable, creating an urgency for an expedited timeline at the new station. Despite its incomplete state, the all-new Michigan Central Station was commissioned ahead of schedule for use by travelers in January of 1941.

During its heyday, Michigan Central serviced more than 4,000 passengers a day through more than 200 trains arriving on 10 platforms. Use remained vibrant through the conclusion of World War II

The advent however of other transportation forms, including air travel and passenger cars, led to a steady decline in those passing through the station. Several attempts to sell the facility through the late ’50 and into the ‘60s didn’t attract a buyer, and growing expenses led to closures of the arcade, restaurant, and shops. 


(CONTINUED) Amtrak assumed operations of the nation’s railways in 1971. The government-run entity did attempt to revitalize Michigan Central Station, though a combination of low passenger volumes and rising maintenance costs led to the facility’s eventual closure. The last Amtrak train departed Michigan Central Station on January 6, 1988.

In 1995, the station was purchased by interests controlled by Grosse Pointe billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun, who most notably was behind operations of the Ambassador Bridge. The Moroun family considered several revitalization proposals through their stewardship of the station, though none came to fruition. Moroun also enacted efforts designed to prevent blight caused by decay and vandalism, though success was difficult and limited.


June 1, 2024 ~ Ford Motor Company‘s “Detroit Never Left” promotional video unveils the new Michigan Central Station, promoting the company’s blueprint vision for the future of transportation.

(CONTINUED) With wrecking balls seeming inevitable, Ford Motor Company Chairman Bill Ford stepped forward with a bold plan. The 2018 purchase of the station by Ford came alongside a vision to create an innovation hub dedicated to cutting edge technologies related to electric and autonomous vehicles, urban mobility, and other transportation solutions. 

Dedicated alongside the $350 million in renovation funding was a commitment to the surrounding neighborhood and citizens, with Ford investing $10 million to support residents in the Michigan Central impact area.

Programs focus on economic growth, housing affordability, workforce development, neighborhood safety, and preserving the cultural quality of life.


Proposed design of the greenspace planned for placement on the south side of Michigan Central Station.

(CONTINUED) All of these efforts culminate this week. On Thursday, June 6, the community will gather for a celebration concert event in Roosevelt Park, which is located directly in front of the depot. Then on June 7, Michigan Central will kick-off its Michigan Central OPEN campaign, a 10-day open house event that will give the public a chance to see firsthand the restoration inside Michigan Central Depot.

More information about Michigan Central Station and Michigan OPEN is available at MichiganCentral.com.