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About Detroit

Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and the seat of Wayne County. Detroit is a major port city located north of Windsor, Ontario, on the Detroit River, in the Midwest region of the United States. It was founded in 1701 by the Frenchman Antoine de Cadillac.

Destination Guides > North America > USA > Great Lakes > Michigan > Detroit

It is known as the world's traditional automotive center—"Detroit" is a metonym for the United States automobile industry—and an important source of popular music, legacies celebrated by the city's two familiar nicknames, Motor City and Motown. Other nicknames emerged in the twentieth century, including Rock City, Arsenal of Democracy (during World War II), The D, D-Town, Hockeytown, and The 3-1-3 (its area code).

In 2007, Detroit ranked as the United States' eleventh most populous city, with 871,121 residents. At its peak, the city was the 4th largest city in the country, but has steadily declined in population since the 1960s. The name Detroit sometimes refers to the Metro Detroit area, a sprawling region with a population of 4,468,966 for the Metropolitan Statistical Area and a population of 5,410,014 for the nine county Combined Statistical Area as of the 2006 Census Bureau estimates. The Windsor-Detroit area, a critical commercial link straddling the Canada-U.S. border, has a total population of about 6,000,000.Detroit's urbanized area population sat at 3,903,377 as of 2000, ranking it ninth largest in the United States.



Main article: History of Detroit

The city name comes from the Detroit River (in French le détroit du Lac Erie), meaning "the strait of Lake Erie," linking Lake Huron and Lake Erie, in the historical context the strait included Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River. Traveling up the Detroit River on the ship Le Griffon (owned by La Salle), Father Louis Hennepin noted the north bank of the river as an ideal location for a settlement. There, in 1701, the French officer Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac founded a settlement called Fort Détroit, naming it after the comte de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine under Louis XIV. Francois Marie Picoté, sieur de Belestre (Montreal 1719–1793) was the last French military commander at Fort Detroit (1758–1760), surrendering the fort on November 29, 1760 to the British.

During the French and Indian War (1760), British troops gained control and shortened the name to Detroit. Several tribes led by Chief Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, launched Pontiac's Rebellion (1763), including a siege of Fort Detroit. Partially in response to this, the British Royal Proclamation of 1763, included restrictions in unceded Indian territories. Detroit passed to the United States under the Jay Treaty (1796). In 1805, fire destroyed most of the settlement. A river warehouse and brick chimneys of the wooden homes were the sole structures to survive. Detroit's city flag reflects this French heritage. (See Flag of Detroit, Michigan.)

Detroit in the 1880s.
Detroit in the 1880s.

From 1805 to 1847, Detroit was the capital of Michigan. As the city expanded, the street layout followed a plan developed by Augustus B. Woodward, Chief Justice of the Michigan Territory. Detroit fell to British troops during the War of 1812 in the Siege of Detroit, was recaptured by the United States in 1813 and incorporated as a city in 1815. Prior to the American Civil War, the city's access to the Canadian border made it a key stop along the underground railroad.

Many Detroiters volunteered to fight during the American Civil War. Following the death of President Abraham Lincoln, George Armstrong Custer delivered a eulogy to the thousands gathered near Campus Martius Park. Custer led the Michigan Brigade during the American Civil War and called them the "Wolverines."

Detroit's many Gilded Age mansions and buildings arose during the late 1800s. The city was referred to as the "Paris of the West" for its architecture. Strategically located along the Great Lakes waterway, Detroit emerged as a transportation hub. The city had grown steadily from the 1830s with the rise of shipping, shipbuilding, and manufacturing industries. In 1896, a thriving carriage trade prompted Henry Ford to build his first automobile in a rented workshop on Mack Avenue, and in 1904, the Ford Motor Company was founded. Ford's manufacturing — and those of automotive pioneers William C. Durant, the Dodge brothers, and Walter Chrysler—reinforced Detroit's status as the world's automotive capital. The industry spurred the city's spectacular growth during the first half of the twentieth century as it drew many new residents, particularly workers from the Southern United States. Strained racial relations were evident in the trial of Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black Detroit physician acquitted of murder after he shot into a large mob when he moved from the all-black part of the city to an all-white area. With the introduction of prohibition, the river was a major conduit for Canadian spirits, organized in large part by the notorious Purple Gang.

Cadillac Motor Co. (c.1910) Cass Ave. at Amsterdam St.
Cadillac Motor Co. (c.1910)
Cass Ave. at Amsterdam St.

Labor strife climaxed in the 1930s when the United Auto Workers became involved in bitter disputes with Detroit's auto manufacturers. The labor activism of those years brought notoriety to union leaders such as Jimmy Hoffa and Walter Reuther. The 1940s saw the construction of the world's first urban depressed freeway, the Davison and the industrial growth during World War II that led to Detroit's nickname as the Arsenal of Democracy. The city faced major challenges during the war as tens of thousands of workers migrated to the city to work in the war industries. Many of these migrant workers were blacks and whites from the U.S. south. Housing was difficult to find. The "color blind" promotion policies of the auto plants resulted in racial tension that had erupted into a full-scale riot in 1943.

With white flight to the suburbs, many Detroit inner-city neighborhoods endured a painful decline from the 1960s and 1970s leaving many areas of the inner-city with urban blight. The Twelfth Street riot in 1967 and court-ordered busing accelerated the white flight from the city. An extensive freeway system constructed in the 1950s and 1960s facilitated commuting. The percentage of black residents increased rapidly thereafter. Accordingly, the city's tax base began a steep decline. Retailers and small business owners departed the city in the wake of the increased crime rate. Within a few years large numbers of buildings and homes were abandoned, many remaining for decades in a state of decay. In 1973, the city elected its first black mayor, Coleman Young. Young's chaotic style during his five terms in office was not well received by many whites, who continued to leave the city in large numbers.

The gasoline crises of 1973 and 1979 shook the U.S. auto industry as small cars from foreign makers made inroads into the traditional dominance of the domestic automakers. High-paying manufacturing jobs became scarce. Acute heroin and crack cocaine use afflicted the city with the influence of Butch Jones, Maserati Rick, and the Chambers Brothers. Drug-related violence and property crimes rose, and many abandoned homes were demolished as they had become havens for drug dealers. Sizable tracts have reverted to a form of urban prairie with wild animals spotted migrating into the city. "Renaissance" has been a perennial buzzword among city leaders since the Twelfth Street riot, reinforced by the construction of the Renaissance Center in the late 1970s. This complex of skyscrapers, designed as a "city within a city," was unable to reverse the trend of businesses leaving the city's downtown.

In 1980, Detroit hosted the Republican National Convention which nominated Ronald Reagan to a successful bid for President of the United States. Four years later, the city again appeared on the national radar, but for unwanted reasons: rioting in the wake of the Detroit Tigers' World Series championship left three dead and millions of dollars in property damage.

Detroit skyline to the right and Windsor, Ontario to the left of the Detroit River.
Detroit skyline to the right and Windsor, Ontario to the left of the Detroit River.

In the 1990s, the city began to enjoy a revival, much of it centered downtown. Comerica Tower at Detroit Center (1992) arose on the city skyline. In the ensuing years, three casinos opened in Detroit: MGM Grand Detroit, Motor City Casino, and Greektown Casino which are now adding resorts. New downtown stadiums were constructed for the Detroit Tigers and Detroit Lions in 2000 and 2002, respectively; this put the Lions' home stadium in the city proper for the first time since 1974. The city hosted the 2005 MLB All-Star Game and the 2006 Super Bowl XL, both of which prompted many improvements to the downtown area. The city's riverfront is the focus of much development; in 2007, the first portions of the Detroit River Walk were laid, including miles of parks and fountains. This new urban development in Detroit is a mainstay in the city's earnest desire to reinvent its economic identity through tourism.

Detroit International Riverfront at night.



1001 Woodward (1965) right, reflecting the Penobscot.
1001 Woodward (1965) right, reflecting the Penobscot.
Renaissance Center with giant decal for the 2005 MLB All-Star Game.
Renaissance Center with giant decal for the 2005 MLB All-Star Game.

Detroit's waterfront panorama shows a variety of architectural styles. The past meets the present as the city's historic Art Deco skyscrapers blend with the post modern neogothic spires of the Comerica Tower at Detroit Center (1992). Together with the Renaissance Center, they form the city's marque. Examples of the Art Deco style include the Guardian Building and Penobscot Building downtown, as well as the Fisher Building and Cadillac Place in the New Center area near Wayne State University. Among the city's prominent structures are the nation's largest Fox Theatre, the Detroit Opera House, and the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Penobscot Building(1928) left, with the Dime Building(1912).
Penobscot Building(1928) left, with the Dime Building(1912).
Old Main, a historic building at Wayne State University.
Old Main, a historic building at Wayne State University.

While the downtown and New Center areas contain high-rise buildings, the majority of the surrounding city consists of low-rise structures and single-family homes. Outside of the city's core, apartments and high-rises are found in neighborhoods such as the East Riverfront extending toward Grosse Pointe and the Palmer Park neighborhood just west of Woodward. Many of the city's neighborhoods were constructed prior to World War II, and feature the architecture of the times. Wood frame and simple brick houses in the working class neighborhoods, larger brick homes in vast middle class neighborhoods, and ornate mansions in neighborhoods such as Brush Park, Woodbridge, Indian Village, Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, and others. The oldest neighborhoods are along the Woodward and Jefferson corridors, while newer neighborhoods, built as late as the 1950s, are found in the far west and closer to 8 mile (13 km) Road. Some of the oldest extant neighborhoods include Corktown, a working class, formerly Irish neighborhood, and Brush Park. Both are now seeing million dollar redevelopments and construction of new homes and condos.

Detroit's architecture is heralded as some of America's finest; many of the city's architecturally significant buildings are listed by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as among America's most endangered landmarks with the city containing one of the nation's largest surviving collections late nineteenth and early twentieth century buildings.

The city has an active community of professionals dedicated to urban design, historic preservation, architecture, and investment in the city. A number of downtown redevelopment projects — of which Campus Martius Park is one of the most notable — have revitalized parts of the city. In 2006, a state-of-the-art cruise ship dock was added to Hart Plaza. Grand Circus Park stands near the city's theater district, Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions, and Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers.

The Detroit International Riverfront includes a partially completed three and one-half mile riverfront promenade with a combination of parks, residential buildings, and commercial areas from Hart Plaza to the MacArthur Bridge accessing Belle Isle (the largest island park in a U.S. city). The riverfront includes Tri-Centennial State Park and Harbor, Michigan's first urban state park. The second phase is a two mile (3 km) extension from Hart Plaza to the Ambassador Bridge for a total of five miles (8 km) of parkway from bridge to bridge. Civic planners envision that the newly reclaimed riverfront with pedestrian parks will spur more residential development. Other major parks include Palmer (north of Highland Park), River Rouge (in the southwest side), and Chene Park (on the east river downtown).



Historic homes in the Indian Village neighborhood on the east side.
Historic homes in the Indian Village neighborhood on the east side.

Detroit has many neighborhoods and historic districts which contribute to its overall quality of life. Several neighborhoods and districts are listed in the National Register of Historic Places such as Lafayette Park, part of the Mies van der Rohe residential district. On Saturdays, about 45,000 people shop the city's historic Eastern Market. The Midtown and the New Center area are centered around Wayne State University and Henry Ford Hospital. Midtown has about 50,000 residents, yet it attracts millions of visitors each year to its museums and cultural centers; for example, the Detroit Festival of the Arts in Midtown draws about 350,000 people.The University Commons-Palmer Park district in Northwest Detroit is near the University of Detroit Mercy and Marygrove College and has historic neighborhoods including Palmer Woods, Sherwood Forest, and Green Acres.


Culture and contemporary life

Metro Detroit suburbs are among the more affluent in the U.S., in contrast to the poorer areas of the inner-city. Lifestyles for rising professionals in Detroit reflect those of other major cities. This dynamic is luring many younger residents to the downtown area. Luxury high rises such as the three Riverfront Towers have views of Hart Plaza and Canada. The New Center area contains examples of historic housing redevelopment. The Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel will include a number of luxury condos. The east river development plans include more luxury condominium developments. A desire to be closer to the urban scene has attracted young professionals to take up residence among the mansions of Grosse Pointe just outside the city. Detroit's proximity to Windsor, Ontario, provides for spectacular views and nightlife, along with Ontario's 19-and-older drinking age.


Entertainment and performing arts

Fox Theatre lights up 'Foxtown' in downtown Detroit
Fox Theatre lights up 'Foxtown' in downtown Detroit

Live music has been the dominant feature of Detroit's nightlife since the late 1940s bringing the city worldwide attention. The metropolitan area boasts two of the top live music venues in the United States: DTE Energy Music Theatre and The Palace of Auburn Hills. The Detroit Theatre District is the nation's second largest. Major theaters include the Fox Theatre, Masonic Temple Theatre, the Detroit Opera House, and the Fisher Theatre. Orchestra Hall hosts the renowned Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

In the 1940s, Detroit's blues scene saw the long-term residency of John Lee Hooker. During the 1950s, the city became a center for jazz, with stars performing in the Black Bottom neighborhood. Berry Gordy, Jr. founded Motown Records which rose to prominence during the 1960s and early 1970s with acts such as Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, and Marvin Gaye. Gordy moved Motown to Los Angeles in 1972 to pursue film production, but the company has since returned to Detroit. Aretha Franklin is another Detroit R&B star.

Detroit also gave birth to the Nederlander Organization, which originated with the purchase of the Detroit Opera House in 1922 by the Nederlander Family. The organization would later go on to become the largest controller of Broadway productions in New York City.

The area spawned a high-energy rock in the late 1960s and 1970s around the Grande Ballroom with artists Alice Cooper, Ted Nugent, Mitch Ryder, Rare Earth, Brownsville Station, Glenn Frey and Bob Seger. The group Kiss captured the love for rock music in "Detroit Rock City." This was a precursor to punk rock's MC5 and Iggy Pop's The Stooges, among others.

As a birthplace of Techno music emerging in 1987 to venues worldwide, seminal Detroit Techno artists include Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson. This genre developed alongside Chicago's House music, yet was more influenced by funk and European electronic pioneers such as Kraftwerk, as well as Atkins's own early electro work. Techno reached a worldwide audience and in Europe triggered a revolution in both youth culture and music industry.

In addition, Detroit's garage rock of the 1990s rose to national attention with the bands The White Stripes, Von Bondies, the Dirtbombs, and Electric Six. In recent years, bands like The Hard Lessons and the Amino Acids revived garage rock. Hard rock, powered by 101.1 WRIF, produced local success for bands like Sponge. Detroit Hip Hop rose to prominence in the late nineties with the emergence of Eminem, Kid Rock, Street Lord'z, Slum Village, D12, J Dilla, Obie Trice, Blade Icewood, Big Herk, and Royce Da 5'9 as well as other artists like Tone Tone and Esham. Detroit Rap and Soul are internationally recognized. Detroit Soul artists include Dwele, Amp Fiddler, Monica Blaire, and Kem.

Other music events include Ford Detroit International Jazz Festival, the Detroit Electronic Music Festival, the Motor City Music Conference (MC2), the Urban Organic Music Conference, the Concert of Colors, and the hip-hop Summer Jamz festival.



Many of the area's prominent museums are located in the historic cultural center neighborhood around Wayne State University. These museums include the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Historical Museum, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Detroit Science Center, and the main branch of the Detroit Public Library. Other cultural highlights include Motown Historical Museum, Tuskegee Airmen Museum, Fort Wayne, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID), and the Belle Isle Conservatory. Important history of Detroit and the surrounding area is exhibited at the The Henry Ford, the nation's largest indoor-outdoor museum complex. The Detroit Historical Society provides information about tours of area churches, skyscrapers, and mansions. The Eastern Market farmer's distribution center is the largest open-air flowerbed market in the United States and has more than 150 foods and specialty businesses. Other sites of interest are the Detroit Zoo and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle.

Greektown in Detroit
Greektown in Detroit

The city is accustomed to large crowds. River Days, a five day festival on the International Riverfront, marked the opening of the River Walk along the east river leading up to the Windsor-Detroit International Freedom Festival fireworks with about 3.5 million visitors. The city's Greektown and casino resorts serve as an entertainment hub. Other events include the Electronic Music Festival typically attracts crowds of over a million visitors. Within downtown, Campus Martius Park hosts large events such as the Motown Winter Blast. As the world's traditional automotive center, the city hosts the North American International Auto Show. Held since 1924, America's Thanksgiving Parade is one of the nation's largest.

CityFest in the New Center with Cadillac Place in the background.
CityFest in the New Center with Cadillac Place in the background.

An important civic sculpture in Detroit is Marshall Fredericks' "Spirit of Detroit" at the Coleman Young Municipal Center. The image is often used as a symbol of Detroit and the statue itself is occasionally dressed in sports jerseys to celebrate when a Detroit team is doing well. A memorial to Joe Louis at the intersection of Jefferson and Woodward Avenues was dedicated on October 16, 1986. The sculpture, commissioned by Sports Illustrated and executed by Robert Graham, is a twenty-four foot (7.3 m) long arm with a fisted hand suspended by a pyramidal framework.

Artist Tyree Guyton created the controversial street art exhibit known as the Heidelberg Project in the mid 1980s. The exhibit used junk and abandoned cars, clothing, shoes, vacuum cleaners, and other garbage Guyton found in the neighborhood near and on Heidelberg Street on the near East Side of Detroit. Guyton painted polka dots and other symbols on several houses on Heidelberg Street. The city sued Guyton twice for creating a public nuisance, removed large parts of his art project, and tore down two vacant homes he had painted with various symbols. Nevertheless, the Heidelberg Project is continually updated.



Looking towards Ford Field the night of Super Bowl XL.
Looking towards Ford Field the night of Super Bowl XL.

Detroit is one of 13 American metropolitan areas that is home to professional teams representing the four major sports in North America. All but one plays within the city of Detroit itself (the NBA's Detroit Pistons and the WNBA's Detroit Shock) both play in suburban Auburn Hills at The Palace of Auburn Hills. There are three active major sports venues within the city: Comerica Park (home of the Major League Baseball team Detroit Tigers), Ford Field (home of the NFL's Detroit Lions), and Joe Louis Arena (home of the NHL's Detroit Red Wings). Detroit is known for its avid hockey fans, earning the city the moniker of "Hockeytown."

In college sports, the University of Detroit Mercy has a NCAA Division I program, and Wayne State University has both NCAA Division I and II programs. The NCAA football Motor City Bowl is held at Ford Field each December.

Comerica Park 2007
Comerica Park 2007


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