winners & losers
By Susan Farley
On a brisk autumn Sunday, the Arts at Michigan Culture Bus geared up
for yet another trek into Detroit, this time to view its “Fabulous
tour was led by artist and Web designer Lowell Boileau. Boileau is a
former U-M graduate student who left school to join the Peace Corps
during the Vietnam War and later returned to the Detroit area as a Sears
delivery person. It was during several years as a delivery person that
he familiarized himself with Detroit’s splendid and vanishing
ruins, Boileau says.
The bus tour’s title, “The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit,”
which is the same title as one of Boileau’s Web sites, www.detroityes.com,
“started as a tongue-in-cheek thing. Athens has ruins; Rome has
ruins; Detroit has ruins—only bigger,” jokes Boileau.
Boileau’s artwork and Web site led Nancy Lautenbach, program specialist
of Arts at Michigan, to contact him regarding doing an “alternative,
very educational tour of Detroit.”
Detroit’s population peaked in the mid-1950s at nearly two million
residents, but now has less than a million. “Subtract a million
people, and that explains a lot of the empty space in Detroit,”
“Detroit has picked itself up over the last five years or so.
Unlike the ruins of Athens or Rome, the ruins will probably not be here
[in Detroit] much longer,” observes Boileau.
The tour passed seven major sites in Detroit and the enclave cities
of Highland Park and Hamtramck, with stops at three locations. Other
major sites were viewed by slow cruise by and standing stops.
Passengers disembarked at the abandoned Michigan Central Railroad Station
and then walked by places, such as the Fort Shelby Hotel, Cadillac Hotel,
Grand Circus Park Ruins and Park Avenue. Boileau says that the Michigan
Central Railroad Station is the “crown jewel of Detroit ruins.”
It was disheartening to see such a beautiful structure in utter disrepair.
Some gorgeous architecture is simply lying in ruins throughout Detroit.
But we also saw places that have been recently restored.
When asked why he loves Detroit, Boileau responded, “Detroit is
a real kind of edge city, a post-industrial society, gritty, honest
and real kind of place.”
Arts at Michigan has been presenting bus tours this semester to selected
events and locations in the Detroit metropolitan area for U-M students,
faculty and staff. This year, LS&A is participating in Detroit 300,
a celebration of Detroit’s 300th anniversary, and has designated
the fall 2001 semester as a theme semester to honor Detroit’s
tricentennial. In collaboration with these efforts, the Culture Bus
has been offering an expanded schedule of arts-related trips, which
center on the rich history of Detroit’s 300 years.