David Byrne, of Talking Heads fame, shares a travelogue-cum-history of contemporary Detroit:
Part of Henry Ford’s brilliant idea with the assembly line meant that by breaking down the making of a car (a complicated piece of machinery) into miniscule jobs, he could hire unskilled (and cheap) labor to fill his factory. The original place where he first built a car was on the site of the Michigan Theater, which now houses a parking lot.
There are numerous explanations for how this movie-palace-turned-parking-garage came to be.
The multiplexes in the suburbs took moviegoers away from these theaters, but this one had hit hard times before that. White folks were leaving the city center for the suburbs long before multiplexes became common. The car, and the highways the car and oil companies lobbied for, made that migration possible. Though the auto industry started here, the more successful it became, the more it destroyed the place that nurtured it. This theater, after many incarnations (one was a venue to watch live hockey games on a screen!) eventually gave up, and when the need for one more parking garage superseded any possibility of renovation there was talk of tearing it down. But it turned out it was cheaper to leave it up and simply gut itand besides, it seemed that removing it would put the integrity of the building next door in perilso here it remains. At least the Romans didn’t do this, though they did probably sell off all the valuable statuary that wasn’t tied down.
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