A Secret Tour: Detroit’s Forgotten Architectural Landmarks

It’s strange to think that many once iconic landmarks across the nation now stand dilapidated and abandoned. Detroit is home to one of the most stunning collections of pre-depression architecture in the world.With decades of sweeping urban flight and a plummeting population, many of these treasures sit vacant, waiting for economic revival.

Through a little bit of urban exploration, David Kohrman chronicles the current state of a few of these landmarks at Forgotten Detroit. Let’s take a walk through a few of these once-grand monuments.


Michigan Central Depot

In the early 20th century this train depot and shopping arcade was constructed in the beaux-arts neoclassical style. It was modeled after an ancient Roman bathhouse with an impressive vaulted ceiling. Passenger traffic to the somewhat isolated depot slowly declined until 1988 when the last train departed and the building began it’s quite decay. There is current discussion of renovation to transform the Depot into the Detroit Police Headquarters.


Book Cadillac Hotel - Forgotten Detroit

Book-Cadillac Hotel

A former symbol of Detroit’s supreme wealth and optimism, the Book-Cadillac Hotel became the largest abandoned building in downtown. It stood vacant for 20 years and was heavily vandalized. Here you can see the once opulent grand ballroom.  but after a major restoration in the 2000s, it again reigns supreme as the city’s finest hotel.


Kales Building - Forgotten Detroit

The Kales Building

This long vacant property is among many that has led Grand Circus Park to be called a ‘skyscraper graveyard.’ This former eyesore was revitalized in 2005 and converted into lofts. Treasured detailing like arched windows and curved stairwells have been preserved for a few more generations.


GAR - Forgotten Detroit

The Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.)

Perhaps the most unusual building downtown is this triangular “castle”. Rather then some fairy-tale landmark or defensive fortification the Grand Army of the Republic Building served as the local quarters for an association of Union Civil War veterans. Intended as a memorial, its spacious meeting hall served Detroit’s citizens for over 80 years. Today its social rooms and fortress like turrets are inhabited only by armies of pigeons.


What Forgotten Treasures Are In Your City?

Have you embarked on your own urban exploration adventure? With the high cost of renovation it’s often cheaper to tear down old structures and start from the ground up. But, the sentimental architecture lovers among us would love to see old spaces get a new life. Maybe ‘recycling’ old buildings is a better choice than knocking them down.

Weigh in and let us know what you think in the comments!

Photos and content thanks to Forgotten Detroit and David Kohrman.

About Author

Abigail Sawyer

Abigail Sawyer is a Social Media Marketer for Blinds.com. As a newlywed, she’s on the hunt to outfit a new home with all things handmade, preppy and eclectic. Walking in the footsteps of Martha Stewart, she’s happiest when she’s crafting or whipping up a new recipe; although nothing beats curling up with a good book and some Girl Scout Cookies. Chat with her on twitter @BlindsDotCom + @whatabigailsaw and support her rampant pinning habit at @BlindsDotCom + @whatabigailsaw.


  1. Did you see all this through a tour company? If so which one please. 🙂

  2. Barb Larson Reply

    The archiecture, the public buildings, the DIA, the money behind it all; the richest dang city in the country…brought to what it is now. Sobering.

  3. Was at one time one of the most fantastic cities in the USA

  4. "Rise from the ashes of the Phoenix" …

  5. Jackie Elliott Reply

    VERY sad Becky. But lets go meddle in someone else's conflicts and possibly start another war…..I am NOT for that! I would much rather get things straightened out on our shores.

  6. Gretchen DeKok Reply

    WAY back in 1975, I stayed ONE night at the Book Cadillac to go into the Army, and that's where we were housed. I wasn't real crazy about the hotel, seeing as I had to share a room with another woman, also joining up, that I'd never met before. Something about the place just gave me the creeps. All I can say is that I really hope it's alot better now.

  7. Greg Miller Reply

    A couple of notes: There is no plan to renovate the Central Depot into police headquarters; they used a nearby former casino instead. Also, the GAR building is in the middle of a complete restoration. They just got a Federal grant to help, too. The details on the other two buildings appear to be accurate.

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