Detroit’s long-forgotten buildings subject of new book

Dan Austin may seem like an improbable Detroit historian.

With shaggy sideburns, a strong affection for vinyl records and just 31 years old, Austin has become the go-to guy on Detroit architecture. In true Detroit fashion, Austin earned that distinction with tireless work, uncovering long-forgotten details of the city’s storied high-rises, theaters and churches.

In his first book, “Lost Detroit: Stories Behind the Motor City’s Majestic Ruins,” which has received glowing reviews since its 2010 release, Austin takes the reader inside the city’s crumbling, iconic buildings and tells their heartbreaking stories in poignant detail.

The Detroit Free Press copy editor followed that up with HistoricDetroit.org, a not-for-profit hub of information on the city’s oft-forgotten, magnificent buildings. Before the new site, Austin operated BuildingsOfDetroit.com for five years.

Now Austin needs your help. He’s working on his second book, which will explore about a dozen buildings that have long been demolished and now “live on in only the memories of a fading few and in old black-and-white photographs,” Austin wrote for the fundraiser. The buildings may include Detroit’s ravishing Old City Hall or the hotel where Houdini died on Halloween 1926.

Austin hopes to publish about 100 photos of the featured buildings, but each costs $50 to $135.

You can donate to the effort online until Thursday night.

Although Austin has easily surpassed his goal of raising $3,000 – a testament to the respect he has earned and the value of the future book – every extra penny will help.

Austin operates the most thorough and incisive website on Detroit architecture and history, without the help of advertisers or other income. The site operates purely on the penniless passions of Austin and other contributors who are moved to tell the story of Detroit – building by building.

Money that Austin doesn’t use for his second book, he told me, will be used for the site.

Preserving Detroit’s history is a worthy cause. If you can spare a donation, this is one cause not to pass up.

Photo above: Courtesy of Dan Austin

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.