Artist's Internet site paints the real Detroit
By Maureen McDonald / Special to The Detroit News
About midnight, I strolled across the street from my hotel in Las Vegas
last month and watched a fake volcano at the Mirage explode 100 feet
into the air with pyrotechnics, lights and rumbling sounds. Then I went
to the Bellagio and viewed some electronic water jets dance to the tune
of Singing in the Rain. It seemed so real that people clapped.
On to the Venetian to watch human gondola drivers ply historic boats
along a synthetic canal that wound through a shopping mall. O sole mio,
take me back to Detroit.
Here at home, we're sitting on the ultimate tourist destination and
we're too blind to see it. Many of us would sooner hop a plane to "Glitter
Gulch" than look around. Thanks to Lowell Boileau and his Web site
artistry, the truth is shining through.
"Tourists through the centuries have beheld the ruins in awe and
wonder ... the last hidden ruin site passes unnoticed," he said
with poetic imagery.
Click http://Detroityes.com and take a virtual tour of the defunct Packard
Plant on Mt. Elliott, beleaguered Michigan Central Depot on Vernor,
ghostly houses in Brush Park, noticing the intricate beauty in decay.
"I've always been fascinated with ruins," said Boileau, a
former Highland Parker who recently moved to Farmington. "You get
a strange feeling when you are in them. You feel what must have been
incredibly vibrant spaces now deeded to the ghosts.
"Visit Athens or Rome and see ruins. Ours are bigger. Theirs are
revered as tourist sites. Ours are despised," he said, noting Detroit
was the arsenal of democracy, birthplace of Motown, forerunner of minimum
I took a pair of reporters, Terho Puustinen and Timo Plyvanainen from
Finland, on a tour of the Packard's perimeter recently. Pylvenainen
nearly jumped out of the car as he gawked at the formidable site, a
place that once hummed with 10,000 workers, now housing less than 12
businesses and countless piles of trash.
Staring at the mile-long building that begs for renewal, rapidly clicking
his camera, he said he hadn't seen such grotesque buildings since visiting
That was done by bombs in a war. This was done by years of benign neglect
and leadership that fails to value preservation. Others find its value
in cyberspace. Boileau, a painter turned Web site builder, gets 5 million
hits a year on his Web site. It was Yahoo's pick of the year in 1998,
even generated articles in Wired magazine and The New York Times.
It recently spawned lively e-mail discussion group with folks from all
over the world inquiring about Detroit. The series of shots on his Web
site depicting Hudson's implosion drew so many requests that Boileau
began selling posters of the pictures.
Each has a haunting verse: "an inch of dust covered everything
for blocks around and there, in the midst of it all, lay the smoldering
and shattered heart of 20th century downtown Detroit."
When Boileau hosted a techno party at the Cass Cafe recently for his
local Web site followers, word spread faster than a new blond joke on
e-mail and crowds jammed the Wayne State hangout. He hopes to have more
"The Web is a unique forum for discussions like Detroit's ruins,"
Boileau said. "People make statements in their e-mails and these
can be embodied as text around photographs and illustrations. The art
work takes on a feeling of a virtual community."
Let's hear it for a real community -- one that cares about preserving
some of the landmarks. Otherwise, all our towns will look as synthetic
as Las Vegas, with the real stuff preserved on photographs in cyberspace.