not all those who wander are lost

For about 8 years I have been wondering what on earth this building was in its day. It sits across Gratiot from Gethsemane Cemetery right next to the railroad tracks. I always assumed it was a church, but could never find anybody who recalled it as such. Usually churches are not hard to date and name, but this structure has eluded that resolution.

Until recently, when an online expert at such matters enlightened me about the original purpose of this building – thanks to MikeM for that ! !

This is what he called the Gary Interurban Station. This is where streetcars would gather to relieve traffic congestion, and for riders to wait for trains. This was the “end of the line” for the electric trains, and as such, this was as far outside the city center as my grandfather could go to build a house, yet still be able to take the trains to work and into the City.

Any further than this point, and you had to switch at Gary Station to a bus. My father in law tells me they had electric bus lines that ran all the major thoroughfares: Gratiot, Grand River, Grand Boulevard , Woodward, Warren etc.

This area is the hood where my mother and my father-in-law both grew up, so I spend quite a bit of time poking around and finding places from the stories told to me by these family members. This is the station where my grandfather boarded the electric train to ride to work at Dodge Main back in the mid 1950’s. (they lived on Nashville Street)

Except back then, it didnt look like this at all.

It looked like this…

Note that the over hang “wing” of the building has since been removed from the northern face, and then the other enclosed on the southern side.

And inside this crispy critter we see the current condition.

This is inside looking toward the end of the building that faces Gratiot.

And here is the original interior.

What is truly sick about this little story, is that this region had state of the art mass transit 50 years ago, but that infrastructure was destroyed at the request of the automakers, who did not want people in this region sharing transportation. So in 1956, the electric street cars were shut down and sold to a more intelligent community.

And even now, as President Obama talks of building high speed rail systems in various metropolitan areas, Detroit is not included.

[I didnt read closely enough, thank GOODNESS! Eric adds: According to the article you linked, Detroit IS included in the high-speed rail plan: The city of Chicago, Illinois, would be the hub of the proposed Midwest Regional Rail System, which would stretch to Madison, Wisconsin, in the Northwest; St. Louis, Missouri, in the South; and Detroit, Michigan, in the East. It won’t be a hub, but it’ll be on the line.]

For now, if you want to go anywhere in this region, you go in your car by yourself and drive the most dilapidated and most expensive roads in North America.

Like many in this place, I am torn about the auto industry. Frankly, when GM and Chrysler are dead, I may just spit on their grave. I live in a region that was both built by the auto industry, and also DESTROYED BY THE AUTO INDUSTRY.

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And this dirty little building, sitting in a overgrown field populated by a pack of feral ghetto dogs, stands silent witness to my outrage.

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11 Responses to Gary Interurban Station

  • oh – and KPR, btw thanks for reading the site !

    always happy to talk to the readers, especially if you DONT agree with something Im putting out there. this is also just a weblog, so people need to call me on bullshit if I am totally wrong on things at times. (and they do – lol)

  • Hi KPR –

    Well, I do not think my point of view concerning the auto industry and mass transit in my area is at all an assumption, even if you challenge my assertion.

    I also do not recall Portland as being any type of global manufacturing center, nor as one of the worlds major population centers… so that comparison is a little bit lost on me.

    DDOT is the current mass transit system (1974 – Detroit Department of Transportation) and it evolved from DSR (1922 – Department of Street Railways). So Detroit’s mass transit was UNprivatized in 1922, and saw its peak of performance under city operations. The Detroit set of tracks and operations were made Public Commons after being purchased from the private entity Detroit United Railway. (1900-1922)

    The trains in Detroit were dismantled and sold in 1956. This is the simultaneous with the peak of power for the auto industry, and the suburbanization of the Detroit Metro. The suburbanization was facilitated by the National Defense Highway System – ALSO launched in 1956. In Detroit, the automakers seized on these conditions to squeeze out all other industries and modes of transportation. They had the power around here because back then giant companies actually paid United States income and property taxes…unlike now.

    “When President Eisenhower went to Kansas to announce the interstate highway system, he announced it as “the National Defense Highway System.” In 1956 President Eisenhower signed legislation establishing the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways (about 41,000 miles of roads). The National Defense Highway system was designed to move military equipment and personnel efficiently ”

    I will grant you that I tend to simplify problems in my rants, and that my specific regional issues with mass transit are more complicated than just blaming auto makers.

    But there is blame to be had – and these folks have been over due for several generations.

    AND the asshole dealerships, who are also finally getting theirs.

    AND the fat lazy auto unions, who have at times squandered rights ( which were earned for us by our ancestors ) for momentary creature comforts.

    AND who pays the price ? The innocent tax paying bystander, per usual.

  • Love the site and thank you for all the work done to make it possible.
    I think your assumption about the modes of transportation disappearing at the behest of auto makers could be wrong, though.

    I base that on another city that once had electric train and trolley and bus service, only to see it disappear in the 40’s and 50’s. That’s Portland, Oregon. The reason it vanished is this: the city powers that be (mayor, city council, rich business men and government officials who love bribes) saw to it that it was put out of business because they saw they could make more money by operating the system themselves. So all these privately funded modes of transportation were put out of business, then the city of PDX created a regional taxing authority, created a public bus system (trimet) that could create new taxes on locals, appeal for state funds, and get its paws into the Federal Gov’t’s pocketbook, thus supplying many more dollars for bribes. Now they created ‘new’ trolleys, ‘new’ trains and ‘new’ bus lines all out of things that were in place, paid for and created 100 years ago. But it is much more fun for greedy men and women to play with literally tens of billions of dollars today than the small pie monies that would have come from these already-existing businesses if they had been allowed to survive.

    I don’t think Detroit car makers had much pull with local Portland politicians 40 years ago. Anyway, just something to think about. Everyone knows Detroit pols are as crooked as they come, but then again all one has to do is look at D.C. and we can see ALL politicians can sure look crooked at one time or another.

  • Of course it pays to be a born again cynic about this stuff. Back in the late ’40’s & early ’50’s who do you think profited from the death of the interurbans not just in Detroit but around the country? The oil companies and bus manufacturers. For you visual types out there I suggest the movies Chinatown, The Two Jakes and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. The story of LA is everyones story. One of the fun things about all of this is the fact that a lot of the current LA transit expansion is happening on the bones of the old interurban systems. The more things change the more they stay the same.
    Old Skool

  • Interesting article.
    Thanks for the research.

  • Awesome work! I’ve driven through that area numerous times and haven’t noticed that building. I’ve seen some of the footage about the electric street cars but I’ve never heard about the Interurban Station. Wow!

  • Angela, you got that right ! MikeM is also responsible for the historical photos of the station posted here.

  • Oh and MikeM is seriously the guru of knowledge on forgotten buildings in the D. :D

  • Sweet!! I have been wondering what this building was seemingly forever. I’d always assumed that it was connected to the mobile home park that once stood just north of it, but this is so much more interesting.

    Thanks for sharing the old and new images. :D

  • According to the article you linked, Detroit IS included in the high-speed rail plan:

    The city of Chicago, Illinois, would be the hub of the proposed Midwest Regional Rail System, which would stretch to Madison, Wisconsin, in the Northwest; St. Louis, Missouri, in the South; and Detroit, Michigan, in the East.

    It won’t be a hub, but it’ll be on the line.

  • Thanks for posting this. My grandmother was the first one to tell me about the interurban’s. She told me they had a car but rarely used it except maybe on the weekends to drive way out to Romeo to spend the day.She said during the week they used the street cars or if time was tight the interurbans.

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