Fires break out inside iconic ruins of Michigan Central Station in Detroit

Michigan Central Station, by Steve Neavling/MCM
Michigan Central Station. By Steve Neavling/MCM

Several fires broke out inside one of Detroit’s most iconic ruins, the Michigan Central Station, on Monday night.

Firefighters arrived shortly after 6:15 p.m. and ascended the cracked, graffiti-strewn stairs to the fifth and sixth floors, where several small fires were burning. Flames also were spotted on a parapet overlooking the front of the abandoned building.

Firefighters reported the fire was under control at 6:46 p.m., but they found more flames in a utility area on the fifth floor at 6:59 p.m., possibly from embers from the floor above.

The fires were out shortly after 7 p.m. and caused only minor damage.

The fire department’s arson unit is investigating.

Train Station lobby
The grand lobby at Michigan Central Station.

The majestic Beaux Arts building opened in 1913 and included an 18-story tower with office and residential space. It was the tallest train station in the world and served as a gateway to the rapidly growing industrial heartland.

Since closing in 1988, the hulking train station has become a stark symbol of the city’s decades-long economic and residential decline. Billionaire Ambassador Bridge owner Matty Moroun bought the train station in the 1990s and did virtually nothing to improve it until a few years ago.

In June 2014, the Moroun family began pulling city permits for $676,000 worth of work at the train station. The plan was to install a service elevator to work on the roof and install more windows on the building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.

While the train station seemed destined for demolition-by-neglect just a few years ago, developers and urban planners are expressing more optimism about its potential. Most of the commercial buildings that were vacant a decade ago between the train station and downtown have been transformed into bustling restaurants, coffee shops, restaurants and art galleries.

The growth along Michigan Avenue has nowhere to go but north, where the Michigan Central Station is.

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.

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  • EazyRider

    Rode by there yesterday around 3P. I originally perceived a man wearing bright orange clothing as some sort of inanimate object, high up near a window facing Michigan Ave., but as I was riding closer, going away from Michigan Ave. while on W. Vernor, I was able to recognize that it was a white man. Not certain which floor it was, but definitely above the middle floor.

    I didn’t think much of it, and just assumed it was someone permitted to be up there, doing work. May have been a cigarette or the like that caused it, if not arson.