The Detroit News
July 6, 2004


Detroit Walks on the Wired Side

Web sites delve into the past, present and future of the city and the state

     By Kara G. Morrison / The Detroit News /photo Brigett Barrett

Lowell Boileau chronicles some of Motown's most impressive architecture -- mostly abandoned relics of the Motor City's past -- at his Web site, www.detroit, which also includes an active forum.

In the mid-’90s, Lowell Boileau realized the Internet had great potential as a vehicle for selling his fine art paintings. But when Boileau started creating a Web site, he discovered the perfect high-tech canvas. Today, the Farmington resident hosts one of the most well-known Web sites about the city:

Dubbed “The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit,” the site chronicles some of Motown’s most impressive architecture — mostly abandoned relics of the Motor City’s past. His Web site — which boasts more than 2 million visitor sessions a year — is one of a growing number of virtual windows to Detroit hosted by locals.

Boileau, who considers his Web site a tribute to a city that’s rising from ruins, grew up in small towns in Michigan and Wisconsin and has lived in Metro Detroit since the early 1970s.

“I’ve always been a believer in not gilding the lily,” says Boileau, 59, who spends hours taking digital photos of his favorite abandoned buildings and researching their history. “If you stand in Detroit and look at (the ruins), they’re so impressive, and they beg a big question. It really says ‘What went wrong?’ It’s grist for artistic energy.”

What started as a way to chronicle Detroit’s ruins — much like those of Athens and Rome — has become a virtual community. More than 800 people who are registered on Boileau’s online forums discuss everything from the latest downtown development plans to the state of Detroit’s schools to incidents such as the June 23 shooting in Hart Plaza.

Boileau, who gets donations to keep his site going and designs commercial Web sites for paying clients, hopes it’s a uniting force.

“I’d really like it to be something that would unify all of Metro Detroit — the city, Windsor and the suburbs,” he says.

Such sites serve an important function, says Jerry Herron, American studies professor at Wayne State University and author of “AfterCulture: Detroit and the Humiliation of History” (Wayne State University Press, $17.95).

“I think what Lowell and others have done has shown people how to see (Detroit) in a way that’s hopeful,” Herron says.

“He gets people to talk to each other about what they see. ... People begin to belong to this invisible city by virtue of conversation. It makes real life in the real city more hopeful and fun.”