On any given day, one can witness a variety of visual extremes in our local landscape from the grandiose art deco excesses of the Guardian building to the perpetually graying and disintegrating corpse we all know and love as Michigan Central Station. Stopping nearby its ruins, we grabbed some lunch at the Mercury Coffee Bar. Over a plate of fresh greens, all you could see was the station’s wrecked facade from the counter bar. Nowhere else but in Detroit can you have a more surreal culinary experience, and I couldn’t help but think about this area as it existed decades ago, when the trains were running and Michigan Avenue was really alive.
From the train station, we decided to travel across town, ending up on Detroit’s east side, where the Packard plant, Albert Kahn’s industrial masterpiece, was the most awe-inspiring stop of the day.
In all its glorious and wintry decrepitude, the plant’s creepy vibe gave this author and my visitors more than a moment to pause and reflect since a strange serenity permeates this place. You never stop getting the feeling that something – you don’t really know what – may happen and that ghosts, their memories as well as local scrappers, haunt every path and corner. Fortunately, veteran urban adventurer/photographer and Packard plant enthusiast Jessie Ehrler was on hand to provide some history and lead us through the rubble. Back in October, Ehrler offered some guidance around town when Doug and Mike Starn visited the city to scout sites for their projects currently in development.
Ehrler has been photographing Detroit’s ruins, specifically the Packard plant since around 2000. Her work came to my attention last year when she submitted images in the DIA’s on-line Flickr photo competition. She noted in her artist’s statement that the “silence of this building is eerie, but calming…” and perhaps her remarks uncover a larger revelation, namely that this city’s character is quietly emoting its new vocation as the artist’s muse. In the throes of “beautiful decay,” as some natives refer to Detroit’s widespread urban blight, the city has, for some time, been the subject of many Detroit-area photographers’ lens, but it is quickly becoming more than the local artist’s fancy.