Longtime neighbors, former employees remember Michigan Central Station, look forward to its future

Posted at 5:27 PM, Jun 04, 2024

DETROIT (WXYZ) — After being anchored in Corktown for generations, Joan Hitch says she can vividly remember time spent with her mother at Michigan Central Station in Detroit.

"It was always imposing, a beautiful structure and during the Second World War there was a room where the USO operated for years and that seems to have been forgotten," said Hitch. "It was a very busy place. The trains were coming and going all the time, day and night and the ladies who volunteered there took care of whoever came through. They gave them something to eat, conversation, held their hand and talked to them, helped them make telephone calls."

JOAN HITCH Michigan Central Station

Hitch says her mother was one of the volunteers there assisting service members passing through the Detroit depot.

"There was a newspaper stand and there was, I think, a barbershop. Of course, I was 11 or 12 and I was more interested in looking at the service guys but it was a very vital part of this whole part of town," Hitch recalled and laughed.

David Strange, who grew up in Garden City, began working at the train station in 1967. Strange says he was fresh out of high school and working at the building was the first time he really ventured into the city.

David Strange Michigan Central Station

"It had marble floors. It had decor I’d never ever seen before. The trim work and millwork in that building was like from the late 1800s or 1900s," said Strange. "It was a shame to see it go downhill but it was like everything else in Detroit, things were falling apart."

Strange says the station is steeped in a rich history he's proud to have witnessed.

"All those box cars you see in the Detroit yard and stuff we’re all full of auto parts from Cleveland and Fort Wayne, just depending on whose ordering them up," Strange recounted. "They used to make tanks at the Warren plant and we had whole trains of tanks that would come out of there and we’d prep them and get them ready to go and send them on their way ‘cause they were all headed over to Vietnam."

After the last train left the station for Chicago in 1988, the building sat idle and deteriorated for years. Then in 2018, Ford Motor Company purchased the station and began working to rehabilitate it. Community members say they're excited to see the station getting a facelift.

The 30-acre campus is now set to reopen Thursday, June 6th complete with performances by Diana Ross, Jack White and Big Sean, and many more. Once unveiled the campus will include retail shops, office space, and a hotel. The campus is also anticipated to be a new hub for electric vehicle innovation.

"First of all look what it’s already doing for Corktown: raising the property values, making it a great place to visit. There’s already so many cool restaurants and places to be here," said Claude Molinari with Visit Detroit. "To have another tourist destination and another hotel which we sorely need in the downtown area is going to be fantastic and I’m just over the moon."

CLAUDE MOLINARI Michigan Central Station

Molinari says the renovation is continuing the momentum for big events in the city after the 2024 NFL Draft and the Detroit Grand Prix and also changing outside perception of Detroit.

"There’s so much history here and again for something that was maybe the poster child of what was wrong with Detroit, it’s now going to be the poster of what’s happening here and what’s making it right," said Molinari.

The 90-minute concert event is now sold out. The opening celebratory concert will stream on Peacock at 8:30 p.m.