“Why would anyone want to spend time in Detroit?” asked the passport inspector at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport. Shocked, I heard myself saying, “well it’s the birthplace of Motown, home town of Aretha Franklin, has the amazing Detroit Art museum not to mention the Ford museum”. He raised an eyebrow – either I was a big shot or I had clearly done my research.
“In that case” he said, “if you have a good time and tell all your friends. Have a nice day now”.
On reflection I’m not really that surprised at the banter. Detroit is still under the cosh of its reputation as being run-down and a little unloved. Yet the city has spent the last decade going through a regeneration process where forlorn skyscrapers and iconic buildings have been and are still being restored.
The buzziest part is downtown Detroit, where just one square mile offers 175 bars and restaurants. This is also home to a heritage steeped in ice hockey (Detroit Red Wings), baseball (Detroit Tigers) and American football (Detroit Lions) who collectively entice hundreds of thousands fans into the city’s magnificent stadiums.
In any case, Detroit, part of the State of Michigan, is known for two amazing achievements, both of which will get you moving. The first is the motor industry thanks to Henry Ford and the second is the legendary Motown music.
Some say that the city reminds them of New York because it has skyscrapers. And like the Big Apple, homes are heated by underground mechanisms and to release the pressure, steam is let out from holes in the ground. Fair enough, but that is where any similarity ends.
Must stay at the Aloft Detroit at the David Whitney building
The Aloft hotel is housed in the iconic David Whitney Building. It was built in 1915 in a Neo-Renaissance style exterior with a beautiful terracotta and glazed brick facade. It recently underwent a huge refurb costing $92 million resulting in 136 contemporary styled rooms scattered over 19 stories. The X-factor is the incredible four storey atrium and skylight that splashes daylight over a spacious lobby that is unabashedly covered in marble and gold leafing.
Must tour the Ford Rouge Factory
Detroit aka Motor City has a long history connected to the Ford family. The city is known for the manufacture of Chrysler, General Motors and Ford in the Henry Ford factory. It impacted the city positively by employing 10,000 of its two million city folk. But then came automation and robots and the workforce reduced. Today there are around 3,000 people who oversee the smooth running of the production line.
Though it may seem odd to suggest a visit, watching how a car moves through the assembly line with the precision of human intervention is actually mesmerising. A new car leaves the assembly line every 53 seconds, averaging 1,500 trucks a day every single day. The 007 style multisensory film in 5D is pretty amazing and later you get to see the Legacy Gallery display of the groundbreaking V-8, the classic Thunderbird and the Mustang.
Must check out Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation
This is a rather large snapshot of American life depicted through Henry Ford‘s massive collection of Americana which he started in 1929. You’ll get to see his first ever car, the “Quadricycle,” which ran on four bicycle tyres, presidential cars, airplanes, a museum of mathematica, furniture and even tractors.
You can also see the bus in which Rosa Parks, dubbed the Mother of Human Rights, famously made a stand against segregation causing a city-wide boycott of the bus company of Montgomery in 1955. The story goes that Rosa indignantly refused to give up her seat in favour of a white person. It was her arrest that led to the wave of protest and the following civil rights movement.
Other interesting artefacts are the rocking chair in which Abraham Lincoln was shot and died, tens of cars and tractors and even planes.
There’s also a real Model T, the first affordable Ford car, which is taken apart every day and visitors can put it back together again. It’s really quite simple.