Glen Villa Apartments Fire & Northway Ruins

Highland Park & Detroit, MI (Map)

Winter 2015-16


After saying goodbye to LaSalle's arena & popping out to the Pontiac Silverdome only to get screamed at by an overzealous security guard with his kid in the car, we returned south towards Detroit & got off the highway around Highland Park. There was a lot of smoke rising up from something & we were going to go check it out.

One thing that stopped us in our tracks was this cat in the uppermost window of a fire-damaged house. Y'know, just chilling out and keeping an eye out for any birds that might think they can land in those trees.

I can't say I've ever noticed a windowsill cat at an abandoned house before.

It was only a few more blocks until we were in the fire zone where thick smoke enveloped the neighbouring homes.

There are sadly so many fires in Detroit that you have groups of photographers who get into fire photography & shooting the firefighters and the scenes. For me, I can only remember once or twice taking the time to stop, or to drive and seek out what was on fire.

One of those other times was a modest house fire over near Ferry St.. There was much more smoke and danger today with this 5-story, 4-winged structure going pretty good.

As we were walking up, there were hoses and extensions down entire blocks and whole other streets. With my inexperience in watching Detroit firefighters work, this didn't strike me as particularly odd though.

It turns out that this was actually because of all the low water pressure and broken fire hydrants nearby. Motor City Muckraker reports that even when they would try to hit the fire with multiple streams, they still weren't getting enough pressure to fight the fire properly.

The building on fire was the Glen Villa Apartments & there isn't much online about its history. has a few nice comments about the ownership back in the mid-2000s, but also that it was declining by the late 2000s and into the 2010s. The Detroit News report about this fire states that the building was vacant at the time, with a fire chief quoted as putting two and two together that this must've been arson.

StreetView shows the Glen Villa Apartments occupied with people outside in August of 2013 (this fire was in January of 2016).

StreetView also shows this building as a burnt out shell in October of 2016.

We didn't have any grand target for today, so we eventually ended up between 96 and Rosa Parks, in one of those unique areas with factories, empty lots and ruins divided by the railway and interstates.

I've driven past this particular site on Lawton Street countless times over the years, but a recent post made me finally want to stop for a closer inspection.

And I mean, there's no better way to spend a cool winter's day, than with friends in an overgrown forest with old infrastructure and building ruins (and/or discarded boats to boot!)

Nailhed's writeup shows that this was more than just a dumping grounds for boats, as this plot of land, bits of floor and handful of cement walls used to be the Northway Motor & Manufacturing Company.

Motors were made here for most of the car companies of the time, until GM bought it exclusively for their own use in 1909, before converting it to Chevy Gear & Axle by 1926.

The Northway Plant here would burn in an incredible fire in 1987. 3 firefighters would die and 10 were injured in the blaze, which Nailhed states was the worst since 1894.

(The 1894 Kennan & Johns furniture store fire at 215 Woodward killed 5 firefighters, 1 spectator and injured 10 persons when the building collapsed. Just in case your mind works like mine & wonders about these things.)

Looking at this site on, the 1973 image shows these buildings in all of their glory with the railway spur still going over Lawton Avenue. Switching to the 2002 image, the building across the street is totally gone & only this concrete area with the water tower remains.

The 2002 image also shows this lot jammed with cars and boats, in what looks like overflow from the junkyard that's still behind this property on Warren Ave. (There IS a gap between the two junkyards, so they could be unrelated.) As there are no cars left here today, the boats must not have been worth pulling out of this property by whoever came along between 2002 and 2005 (the cars are all gone in the 2005 aerial).

One of the things that I thought was the coolest about this location - and my friends agreed - was that old railway bridge that once went over Lawton Avenue. This is where we posted up and sipped 40s with convenient ledges for tables, while walking up to the fenced end where the concrete simply drops off nowadays.

It was a great spot to chill up high and overlook everything. If only some Ring-necked Pheasants were mulling about the boats and putting on a show, but you can't have everything. I guess we had to settle for the entertainment of harassing the selfie-taking one of our group.

There's a bit of a gap here in the photos as we shot the shit at the Northway ruins and then went cruising.

Now I knew my Chiefs were playing a playoff football game tonight, something that's rare and also important that I watch. The only problem was that I knew Donnie & Steve have about as much interest in football as I have in their Orange Is The New Black.

But alas I planned ahead, knowing that I could offset having to watch football for them if I chose a cool neighbourhood bar. Thankfully we've only reached the tip of the iceberg for awesome Detroit bars over the years, so I had plenty to choose from.

Arriving at the 2 Way Inn over on Nevada & Mt. Elliott, I actually had plans for a second place to head between quarters or halves to keep my friends enjoying themselves; but it was decided that we didn't have to go anywhere since Donnie & Steve enjoyed the company of the bartender and this old watering hole was pretty sweet and quiet.

(As for history, the 2 Way Inn has been a bar since 1876, including verification that they sold booze during prohibition. The bartender told us about the house of the man who constructed the 2 Way Inn and we walked by its dark shell down the street once we left.)

And now I'm always going to have a soft spot in my heart for the 2 Way Inn, seeing as it's where I watched my Chiefs win their first playoff game in 22 years!

It was pretty incredible to watch them act in a competent manner for once, instead of being their usual bumbling sad selves.

We acquired Nailhed soon after this & stopped at that car showroom-turned-church, finding our way up to the sea of frozen tires that was the roof. Afterwards we went all the way over to the west side for a new, tall building, to sit on the roof during this first actually cold night of being home (it still wasn't crazy cold).

This is also where Donnie read the drawn Powerball numbers from his phone, since Steve & I bought tickets in Pontiac because the prize was $60 trillion or some other unfathomable number. As Donnie read out the numbers, I thought about whether I would have to play it off like I didn't win, since money makes people do crazy things & I didn't want to get thrown off this Dexter Ave building. Do I really trust these three characters?

Thankfully I didn't win the Powerball & none of them would have to question my awful lying skills. We continued to sip 40s, unable to leave Newfoundland or buy the Pontiac Silverdome with Powerball winnings.

Photo from Twenty Three Photography. Border comes from my web code.

We stopped at one last place, where the smoke from the Glen Villa was still visible off in the distance. The fire had seemingly ignited and flared up again.

This is also where I put my foot/leg through the roof, "falling through a floor" for only the second time in 15 years of this nonsense (and the other time was a porch). Don was quick to the rescue and scoop, where we then laughed at how 500lbs of man between the two of us, going in all of these dilapidated buildings, had only brought us "falling through" two times total over all these years. Putting your foot through the floor really doesn't happen that much.

Anyway, we would eventually wrap up things here and in Michigan. This would be the last of my Detroit visits over this Christmas holiday and a nice little bow on everything.


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2 - The Northway Inferno -
3 -
4 - Pitiful! What happens when firefighters have no working hydrants or water pressure, Steve Neavling, January 10, 2016, Motor City Muckraker
5 - 138 Glendale St. Highland Park - The Bedbug Registry
6 - Fire engulfs vacant Highland Park building, The Detroit News

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