What do people associate with Detroit? Clearly: the automotive industry, art and music. Whether Model T or Motown Music, iconic skyscrapers or the Detroit Institute of Arts – the largest city in the state of Michigan has a rich cultural scene and an eventful past. Detroit was once the quintessential American industrial city. However, the glamorous times when Detroit was the engine of the American economy and Woodward Avenue was more glamorous than Fifth Avenue in New York are long gone. What remains are numerous sights that should not be missed during a visit to Detroit. We have put together some classics that still top the list of the top sights in Detroit. But beware, Detroit is a city in flux. In addition to the evergreens such as Motown and Art Deco skyscrapers, the city, which was still on its knees 20 years ago, has a very special spirit.
Ford Piquette Avenue Plant
It’s hard to imagine Detroit without the history of the automotive industry. The Ford plant in Piquette Avenue is the birthplace of the Ford Model T, which sparked Americans’ love of cars. A private initiative has campaigned to preserve the historic production site. Little has changed since Henry Ford established the world’s first series production here. However, the famous Model T was only produced here from October 1908 to December 1909. The efficient manufacturing process made cars affordable for more and more people. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant quickly became too small for the high demand. Not much remains of the former production line. The story is told with the help of numerous models and photos.
DIA – Detroit Institute of Arts
The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) in Midtown Detroit is home to one of the largest art collections in the United States. Here you can find everything from contemporary art to classical art and from the earliest civilizations to the present day. The DIA is particularly well known for its collection of African-American art and the Detroit Industry Murals by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The frescoes were created between 1932 and 1933. The Rivera Court consists of 27 panels and shows, among other things, car production at the Ford Motor Company. Diego Rivera also dealt with the subjects of medicine and the production of weapons of war. Rivera considered the Detroit Industry Murals to be his most important work. Painted on walls, the cycle explores the relationship between man, nature and machine. The DIA is located on Woodward Avenue and can be reached by the free QLine streetcar from downtown Detroit.
Motown Music – Hitsville USA
Whether you are a music fan or not, anyone visiting Detroit should not miss out on a tour of Hitsville USA. The two inconspicuous houses on Grand Boulevard are the original location of a great success story that goes far beyond number one hits, gold records and superstars. As an African-American in segregated America, Berry Gordy succeeded in making a company big in a way that had previously only been possible for white Americans. Gordy, a former boxer, founded the record label Motown Music in 1959 with an 800 dollar kedit from his parents. The name is a portmanteau of motor and town and alludes to his home city of Detroit. Berry Gordy had big plans and wanted to create nothing less than an African-American music empire. To achieve this goal, Gordy adapted the assembly line principle of the Detroit car companies.
The Motown Music studio was open almost around the clock. Gordy provided the artists with his house band, which also became legendary. The importance of Motown Music for the music history of the 20th century can also be seen in the chart positions it achieved. The Funk Brothers house band, featuring keyboardist Earl Van Dyke and bassist James Jamerson, played on more number 1 hits than Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys put together. Berry Gordy also hired the best songwriters and producers. Everything was tightly organized and, just as cars rolled off the production line at the Ford factories, Motown Music delivered top hits and superstars.
Between 1961 and 1971 alone, Motown landed 110 hits in the US Top 10 – on average, a new top hit almost every month. Among the artists who recorded for Motown were Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Motown Music can only be visited as part of a guided tour and these are quickly booked out, especially at weekends. The tour ends with a vocal rehearsal in the legendary Studio A. And if you’re very lucky, you might even meet former band members such as Carolyn Gill, the lead singer of the Velvelettes.
The Guardian Building: The Art Deco icon
The Guardian Building in downtown Detroit is hard to beat in terms of opulence, both inside and out. 1.8 million orange bricks encase the steel structure. The bricks were specially designed for the building in a special shade of orange, which the architect Wirt C. Rowland christened Guardian Brick. When it was completed in 1927, it was the tallest brick building in the world. It was built by the Union Trust, which at the time had merged with the National Bank of Commerce. Only the best materials were used, such as Rookwood ceramics, Pewabic tiles and Italian marble. As a result, the building was later nicknamed the Cathedral of Money.
In 1986, the Guardian Building was declared a national monument. Unfortunately, this designation came a little too late to prevent the unsightly connection with a neighboring building. In 1962, a connecting corridor to the neighboring building was rammed into the hull of the Art Deco icon. The skyscraper at 1 Woodward Avenue was designed by architect Minoru Yamasaki, who later also designed the World Trade Center in New York. The Guardian Building is open to the public. The former banking hall is now home to several stores, including a bank and the tour operator City Tour Detroit, where you can book informative city tours of downtown Detroit.
Detroit in transition: from problem child to place to be
So much has happened in Detroit in recent years that we are dedicating a separate story to the city’s new positive vibes. Since the mid-2010s, Detroit has been experiencing an upward trend that continues to this day and is reminiscent of Berlin in the 1990s. The possibilities for getting around are also interesting, as mobility in Motown works pretty well even without a car. <How to get around well in Detroit>.
The research was supported by Visit Detroit