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Lee Plaza Hotel (Detroit, MI) | Bleeding Out

Lee Plaza Hotel (Detroit, MI) | Bleeding Out - Lee Plaza Hotel
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In many ways, places like the Lee Plaza are ground zero in Detroit's struggle to maintain some sort of economic viability. While every few years there is a resurgence of talk about a renaissance in the city, the ubiquitous abandoned homes and businesses are like gaping wounds, evidence that no matter how much publicity or promotion is done to tout a supposed recovery, Detroit is bleeding out. Long past the tooth and nail struggles of decades past to maintain jobs and workers, on many blocks Detroit is more like a ghost town than a battle zone. It is evident when you drive through the business district on a weekday afternoon and notice how few people or cars share the streets, and it is evident at night when the forlorn hulks of crumbling towers soar up into the night around you, their windows all as dark as the grave. The Lee Plaza is one such building; it stretches fifteen floors above street level and gazes down with eyeless despair through the holes where all the windows used to be. The gargoyles and lions that once decorated the facade have been torn out as well, and nearly every unique architectural feature save for the molding on the ceilings inside has been looted by thieves. A few years ago there was a somewhat empty victory as many of the lions were recovered from an architectural salvage shop; several had actually been affixed to a Chicago building that had won an award for preservation. Even though they were saved, and the complex issue of how to protect neglected buildings designated as historic sites was brought up, they were never reattached... and why would they be? The theft continues unabated. The copper roof was peeled off in broad daylight and what little there was that wasn't stolen was destroyed by vandals or by water, now that there are no windows or an intact roof to keep it out.

The era of Detroit's industrial supremacy is over. Once the fourth largest city in the United States and the symbol of our dominance in auto production, it is now a sad reminder of the nation's fall from grace. In 2009 the city's unemployment rate peaked at over 28%, and though the auto giants continue to shuffle about in a flurry of restructuring that consists mainly of closing more plants and dealers, the already bleak outlook only seems to get worse by the month. From the point of its founding in 1701 to the glory days when it was known as the Paris of the West, Detroit and the area surrounding it have quite possibly never seen such a dire situation. The city's budget is unable to even support its basic infratructure needs and children in the floundering school system are asked to bring their own toilet paper with them because the schools can't afford it themselves. One wonders how the area can possibly bounce back, and if it doesn't, what lies ahead? Will the city wither futher and further, until it is little more than an overgrown graveyard full of monuments to an era when the dreams that built it still existed? There is a small but tenacious faction of those still loyal to Detroit and the ideals that founded it, and their passion for salvaging the city is evident in their pride and dogged determination to overcome the odds and bring back the businesses and innovators that defined the town in better days. I'd like to see them win. In the tales we are told through movies and television, our own modern mythology, the story of the underdog who beats insurmountable odds to emerge victorious through strength of character and will is one of the most common. It is one of the cornerstones of our culture, a recurring theme that defines our very national identity. The real question is, is it true? Is there hope for the floundering metropolises that dot our country, the multitude of towns like Buffalo and Newark and New Orleans and Cleveland that have sunk into a morass of joblessness and decay?

One thing is certain, and that is that the problem is very real and it is becoming harder and harder to avert our collective eyes. Detroit may be the most glaring example, and the Lee Plaza may be one of the many indicators of how far it has fallen, but it is not an isolated incidence nor is it an anomaly. We must all face up to the reality of what has happened to this city now, and the reasons why it has become that way, before all of the symbols of when our nation was at its proudest and greatest look the same way and there is no hope left for recovering them or for recovering ourselves.
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Photograph of the Lee Plaza Hotel (Detroit, MI), 2009. Image and text by Matthew Christopher of Abandoned America. If you're interested in more Abandoned America blogs, follow this link. If you enjoy my writing, check out my books: Abandoned America: Dismantling the Dream (Amazon / Barnes & Noble) or Abandoned America: The Age of Consequences (Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Signed copies).


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