Detroit in the Freezing Rain

Detroit, Michigan (Map)

Winter 2015-16


Back home for Christmas, it was time for a couple of days over in Detroit. Donnie wanted to walk around downtown, so I decided we should finally check out Nick's Gaslight Lounge while getting lunch.

Nick's Gaslight is the kind of place that grabs your attention and leads your mind to wonder. It stands alone on its city block as the Detroit Times Building0 was destroyed back in 1988; and while there were other two and three-story buildings between the Detroit Times Building and Nick's Gaslight, they're also all gone. This leaves Nick's Gaslight sitting alone on one corner of a block that is otherwise a sea of parking.

The bar or lounge or club or gangster hideout that is Nick's Gaslight - I never had any concrete grasp - is adorned in neon signs and as you approach the 1925 building, you discover elaborate wood doors and stone crests. Considering that I've wondered about this building for over 10 years, we surprisingly only tried to visit one other time.

(To this day, I regret not thinking of this place during Roach's bachelor party. We were right near here, but I totally forgot & we went to some awful hotel spot with terrible service and a business casual atmosphere.)

0 - Image courtesy of Bill and Doris Rauhauser Photography Archive.

Luckily for us, Nick's Gaslight was open today. The inside was pretty standard though, away from the cream-coloured leather curving couches that were straight out of a mobster movie.

Our food ended up being fine, they had ice cold Stroh's and the Lions game was on. Both of us found it good enough that we'd come back and I'm always happy to check out the old institutions of a city.

After lunch we walked all over downtown, checking out the now-closed Steve's Restaurant, the JL Stone Co with its $350 sweaters straight out of a Notorious B.I.G. video, and the exterior of this strip club that recently caught fire.

The remainder of the night was spent simply cruising around, scouting spots for Donnie to take pictures & for me to get scolded for taking long exposures of liquor stores.

Another thing Donnie wanted to scout was this string of greasy motels in Melvindale. Now you're getting a bit rough when you start to talk about $40 motels just outside of Detroit and I wanted little part of this, but Don thought it would be fine.

The first one we went to, we paid our money and got the key only to find the above room. It was hands down the grossest motel room I've ever been in by a country mile. And I know some of you think I stay in skeezy motels, but this was just no. In addition, they gave us a room with 1 bed, so we went to get our money back and magically the guy at the front desk suddenly had trouble understanding our English. After arguing with him for 20 minutes, he eventually wore us down and we gave up. I'm happy to see that his motel is now marked as CLOSED on Google Maps.

At least my $20 got me some entertainment in how Donnie reacted to the question of whether we were going to stay in this 1 bedroom room. He exploded with "You would stay there, are you fucking serious?!" Ha ha. (I wasn't serious.)

We moved down the road to a much better place. The Lamplighter was almost like a normal room that had been cleaned in the last month, but it would still rank high on my list of crappiest places I've ever stayed.

I suppose the one cool thing is that these motels are all here because of how Dix Highway used to be that, a highway, before the interstate was put through. They've only survived by now offering low rates, weekly rentals, hourly rentals, etc.

(Many of them are actually such a magnet for criminal activity that what to do with these motels has played a part in Melvindale city council election promises.)

Plus there's also a double polejam right out front of The Lamplighter. Although I can't think of anything you would do on a double polejam.

Things were overcast in Melvindale, but with driving into the city and time passing into the afternoon, we started to find snow & freezing rain. By the time we reached the eastside and hit up a couple things, Donnie's truck was slipping and he let me know that the roads weren't the best. Although this is normally cause for concern, with such a quiet ghost town of wide, empty roads; you can take it slow and occasionally slide without a ton of worry towards hitting cars or buildings.

Eventually we would make it to Rose Elementary. While Detroit has an incredible number of abandoned schools right now, the strange dome of Rose Elementary piqued my interest more than say, the 20th school from the 1910s with the same identical layout. Even Donnie, who often only entertains schools because I like them so much, was intrigued by the look of Rose Elementary as we rolled up.

Walking inside, things were already getting interesting with these retro, two circle doors in the main lobby. Rose Elementary must've ordered these doors in bulk, as they were also used for almost every other door in the building.

This school is not only odd from the outside, it also has an interior to match. As you walk inside, you move along the first floor to the central area, where the main offices are below you in a square that's dug out of the basement.

All along the edge of the first floor walkways are classrooms with picture windows towards the central office area, but no outside windows.

Now I know sometimes windows to the outside world can distract a student, but this seemed overly cruel. The thought of poor youngsters in here only getting a bit of light from the central court was depressing, even as I stood here and the school barely resembled a school anymore.

The only light came from a row of half-circle metal skylights above the middle area. And It seemed like there would be even less light if it wasn't for scrappers tearing apart the ceiling. Overall, this felt more like futuristic coding headquarters than a place for elementary school children.

As for the big dome, both of us thought it would soar over the middle area and provide gym space or a unique classroom, but it was simply the mechanical room. We climbed around heavy machinery and ladders to get outside on the roof and appreciate all the wackiness that is this former school.

It was hard to take pictures on the roof because of all the freezing rain & now the roads were really getting a good coating. We would have been better off with hockey skates than shoes going back to the truck.

I love visiting in the wintertime and exploring in nasty conditions. I find it gives the day notoriety and makes it more fun to put up with this stuff and go about your day. It might also have to do with loving the Midwest and the Midwest's acceptance of dealing with this stuff, to see life continuing and people braving these conditions, but also to be out myself and find lots of empty space as one of the yahoos that's out and about.

There's also something to being inside a building and peering in a room and seeing ice pellets coming in, or the outside snowfall increasing, or heavy rains coming through the roof, or standing on a roof and feeling the frigid wind and/or various precipitation. It feels more real, it feels like you're more in touch with the place than visiting when it's 40°F and partly sunny.

Of course I have to thank Donnie for carting me around and risking his truck sliding into car or curbs, but with how he never worries about driving in awful conditions, it was great to sit back, take it slow and appreciate the increasing freezing rain.

As it was getting to be time for dinner, we started making our way over to Buddy's Pizza, taking our time with driving and also stopping at random buildings along the way. There was nothing but time & neither of us were starving, so I was ecstatic to get out of the car and explore a little more during some of the last light of day.

Another fun curve ball was that it was supposed to warm up in the evening and the nighttime low would be warmer than the afternoon high. So, after dinner, it was time to stop at another liquor store and hustle inside to now get out of the cold rain.

Oh how I was loving all of this inclement weather!

(If you're confused, I never hated winter and snow until I moved to Newfoundland. Winter & snow doesn't bother me, the removal of hope and the acceptance that it will be below freezing and snowing for 4 straight months is what bothers me :)

We checked off another thing that's forever been on the to-do list by going to the Carbon Athletics (Private) Club in Delray.

Delray is an area that the two of us have spent countless hours driving around and exploring. The Carbon Athletics Club is tucked away enough that we passed it here and there over the years, but it was one of those places you pass and exclaim "oh yeah, that place!" Especially when you get over to this Carbon Works area, where you have I-75, giant industrial properties and islands/peninsulas created by the Rouge River all working together to make confusing neighbourhoods with a seemingly endless supply of surprise new areas.

I really should have taken out the tripod for an exterior photo, but with the rain coming down we hurried up to the lonely 2-story building, wedged between train tracks and bordered with a few homes in various states of repair. I was skeptical as to what kind of reception we would receive, but the members were friendly and the bartender even more so.

The most interesting part was that Donnie liked it enough that he wanted to become a member. He asked if we should, which I thought was a funny notion since I live in Newfoundland, but I was almost on board before the idea eventually fizzled out. There's still a chance in the future.

We spent the night at some motel on 8 Mile that wasn't really remarkable or noteworthy. That said, it was better than The Lamplighter.

The snow and ice was all gone the next morning, leaving behind your standard, 40°F, gray, late December day. Driving down Michigan Avenue, I asked Donnie to stop so we could finally slip through the fence and onto the grounds of old Tiger Stadium.

(Skipping ahead to 2017, this field has now been taken over by developers who say they'll build a youth ballpark on the grounds, so it was good to get out today and stand where all kinds of baseball greats have stood. I was also thankful for the volunteer crew who risked trespassing tickets and arrest just to come here and cut the grass and maintain the field on their own dime.)

By now, we had been in Detroit for 3 days & 2 nights, and I knew I had to deliver something good as this is usually when Donnie gets tired of being over here.

Spotting a boring-looking, concrete rectangle church, I thought it could be a decent bet for at least a picture of the altar or something.

It turns out the church was way cooler than I imagined. This building used to be a factory of some sort; making for an interesting conversion into a modern-day church. There was everything: sponge-painted purple cement pillars, the above parking or equipment ramp and painted windows that would've looked from the concrete ramp to the factory floor.

Image courtesy

Update: Big thanks to Nailhed for working and finding this advertisement from the May 6, 1940 Detroit Free Press. You can see the same ramp in this ad for a central display of Dodge "job-rated" trucks, that you have in my pictures of the church.

Here I was thinking it was going to be some small auto part manufacturer or something else that doesn't register to someone like me, but at least for some time it was a place for displaying trucks all the way back in the 1940s.

The only other reference to this building I could find comes from fishing and boating magazines, listing this building as the home of American Marine Supply Co. in an advertisement for marine radios.

This being one of those industrial/automotive buildings without windows, there wasn't much light upstairs in the flooded altar area.

Also, with this much water coming in & most things being moldy, I'm really curious about what the future holds for this building.

The administration area/priest's office.

In addition to the ramp, there was also a staircase with red carpet from the church & yellow walls (presumably) from the old times. Exploring this place really was like countless other industrial structures, but with just a bit of lipstick put on the usual staircases and pillars.

Leaving the church but not quite wanting to go back yet, I got Donnie to stop when we passed an old hospital that's been sitting here for something like 20 years. This hospital has been sitting here so long that it was featured on my friend Chad's website back in 2004.

And well, there's a reason it doesn't get much coverage nowadays. The inside was utterly decimated and there was hardly anything left of interest. Although, we both agreed that if we knew about this spot all these years, it would have made for a decent 40-drinking spot on some random night of ice pellets or frigid temps.

We wrapped it all up with one last stop at this old house that's one of my favourites in the city. I've passed by on more recent trips and it's still there, so I really hope for it in the future (although it has an uphill battle being in poor shape & in a declining neighbourhood).

It was time to wrap things up though. After all, it wasn't snowing, raining or freezing raining, so why were we still over here?


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