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Detroit Public Schools Book Depository – And its anatomy of loneliness

Nikola Petrovski

The year is 1926, and the city of Detroit is a need of a book depository. The location chosen for this new undertaking was 2231 Dalzelle Street, which itself is located in the neighborhood of Corktown.

The Roosevelt warehouse. Author: Junkyardsparkle CC0 1.0

The Roosevelt warehouse. Author: Junkyardsparkle CC0 1.0

The task of designing this new structure was granted to Albert Kahn. To those of us not familiar with the architectural world, Albert Kahn was ‘the’ American industrial architect. In his time and age, he managed to design more than 50 buildings among which are the Packard Automotive Plant, the Fisher Building and the Ford Motor Company Assembly Plant.

Hundreds of books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Hundreds of books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

In its beginnings, this structure was built to serve the Detroit Post Office for it was close to Michigan Central Station.  Back when the post came using the railway services, it was brought from the railroad depot to the Detroit Post Office, where it was sorted and packed for delivery, via a tunnel that runs deep below street level.

The Michigan Central Station. Author: Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0

The Michigan Central Station. Author: Ken Lund CC BY-SA 2.0

This building was used as a post office for some decades. After that, it was decided that the post office needed a larger space and so it was moved to Fort Street. 2231 Dalzelle Street was now an empty space which the Detroit Public Schools found to be perfect for their needs and so took this place, and made it their warehouse for storing surplus supplies.

Detroit Public Schools Book Depository interior during daylight. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Detroit Public Schools Book Depository interior during daylight. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

The warehouse was functioning flawlessly and it offered work for more than 100 people. But then, at 9:20 am March the 4th 1987, a massive fire broke out and took everything with it. Given the fact that this place was principally a book depository it was easy for the fire to spread and reduce to ash what stood in its path.

Another section of the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Another section of the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

The firefighters (100 of them) struggled with this fiery beast for hours but the fire just refused to give up. Eventually, after thousands of gallons of water, the fire had no choice but to give up. What was left was a devastated building with millions of dollars in repair costs. Needless to say but the building was left abandoned.

Detroit Public Schools left countless books and other school equipment behind to decay together with the building itself. Many items including all sorts of textbooks survived undamaged but nothing was salvaged.

Piles of books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Piles of books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

And so after years of being used, it was all of a sudden useless. The building has lain alone for decades. Apart from the vandals who found their way inside.

Children’s books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Children’s books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Since then this place became the holy ground for urban explorers, graffiti artists, and all sorts of different thrill seekers. All of them in for a sight. The interior of this place was stacked full with books. But some of them were in for an even bigger surprise.

Open to nature’s elements. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Open to nature’s elements. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Given the fact that this place was open to nature’s elements, it wasn’t uncommon for the water that once got in to be completely frozen during the winter. The thrill seekers found this to be quite amusing and used the frozen water for playing hockey.

But it was less of amusing when during one of these games, in January 2009, some of the folks found a frozen body in the bottom of a lift shaft. According to the Detroit News “He’s encased in ice, except his legs, which are sticking out like Popsicle sticks”.

I had a dream. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

I had a dream. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Following a thorough investigation, it was discovered the frozen man was Johnnie Redding. According to his brother, Johnnie was a drug addict and frequent alcohol user. The autopsy revealed that this man died from a cocaine overdose.

Countless literature books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

Countless literature books. Author: Shane Gorski CC BY-ND 2.0

The story of Johnnie spread like wild fire. The owner made a number of attempts to secure the building and in 2013 cleared out all of the books. In 2017, the facility is boarded up and all of its entrances blocked, there is even a rumor that this building awaits its demolition.