Detroit's Historic Buildings Crumble With Decay, Vandals

Motor City's vacant properties are a playground for urban explorers, criminals.

ByABC News
April 16, 2010, 10:15 PM

DETROIT, April 18, 2010 — -- Preservationist Karen Nagher is fighting to save the landmark eyesores of her troubled town, such as the abandoned Michigan Central Depot.

Built in 1913, it was once the tallest rail station in the world. Today it sits empty, a towering reminder of what has happened to so many once-great buildings in this town. Some have compared it to Roman ruins.

"It's certainly iconic enough. You can see it from just about everywhere around here," Nagher says, as she looks past the tall fence and barbed wire surrounding the old building. "We just need to keep the people out."

Those people are the many vandals and urban explorers who trespass in Detroit's 10,000 abandoned buildings and homes. People come from all over the world to enter the structures illegally and take pictures of the city's decaying buildings, posting those photos and videos online.

Some do more than take just pictures: They add to the destruction. Last fall a crew of vandals spent several months pushing a rusty old dump truck from the fourth floor of the abandoned Packard Motor Plant. They first had to smash out part of a wall and jack it up to fall off the edge, returning several times to finish the work.

Stephen Mcgee, a freelance photographer from Detroit, videotaped their efforts. Mcgee also recently captured scavengers as they dropped refrigerators from the upper floors of an abandoned apartment complex, gathering the valuable parts once the appliances smashed to the ground.

Oftentimes the crimes are far more serious.

When arsonists struck the Packard building earlier this year, the fire was left to burn itself out because Detroit firefighters are under orders to only fight fires from the exterior of the dangerous building. Earlier this month, homicide investigators were at the plant investigating a body found in the trunk of a burned out vehicle.

This month the movement to rid Detroit of its dangerous structures reached a fever pitch when the first of 3000 abandoned homes was torn down by the city.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing wants to raze 10,000 abandoned or vacant buildings by 2014 as part of his efforts to downsize his city of abandoned properties. Plans call for the vacant land to be used for urban farming or to be turned back into countryside.