The Grande Ballroom and Grand River Avenue, Detroit

One place I wanted to visit in Detroit was the Grande Ballroom on Grand River Avenue, northwest of downtown. While the building has been abandoned for decades, it once played a pivotal role in the development of rock and roll, particularly as it was where the band MC5 played early in their career.

Other very famous bands played at the venue, and there’s even a documentary you can watch for free at the local PBS station’s website.

I thought it would be interesting to proceed back southeast on Grand River Avenue, which is also labeled M-5, back to the center of the city.

Grand River Avenue is a perfect example of a commercial corridor, while certainly affected by a multitude of complex stressors, that has been in part majorly decimated by the construction of an interstate only a stone’s throw to the southwest of the street’s alignment. The Jeffries Freeway, renamed the Rosa Parks Expressway in the city, allowed commuters to speed by the businesses they once patronized along Grand River Avenue, leading to vacant storefronts, and eventually, of course, vacant lots. We see it repeated across America, and in St. Louis, we see it on North Florissant Avenue, Gravois Avenue, North and South Broadway, and even Watson Road in St. Louis County.

The wide open spaces provided by all the vacant lots did allow me to spot this beautiful building below off in the distance, and I took a detour.

Lee Plaza, designed by Charles Noble, who also was the architect for the initial phase of the Packard Plant, was developed by Ralph T. Lee, and opened in 1929, right before the Great Depression.

A 2019 redevelopment plan at least got some new windows into what had been wide open holes, but it is pretty obvious that construction has ground to a halt and the planned senior housing is not happening.

The building is on West Grand Boulevard, which is an east-west artery, not to be confused with East Grand Boulevard, which is a north-south artery created when the former doglegs on the east side of Detroit.

There’s another cool Mid-Century motel that I also did not stay at when I was in the city. A recent review stated: “This place should be condemned. Pure exploitation of the human condition. The living quarters are deplorable. Fire, Health and Safety Violations abound. Bedbugs, mold, and mildew. Never do this. EVER!”

Further down West Grand is the Motown Museum, in the house where Barry Gordy began his famous record label that changed the course of music history.

I continued down Grand River and as i approached the Edsel Ford Freeway, I encountered an obstacle that is all too common across America nowadays: the crumbling of the interstate highway system. Now several generations old, interstates are now showing their true cost, which is infinitely more expensive than their original construction cost. Built of fallible materials such as concrete and rebar, we are now left with endless detours, dangerous construction zones, and inconvenience as we frantically try to patch up what was an astronomically huge network of roads originally subsidized by the federal government.

My odyssey took me on a circuitous rout with my fellow motorists onto quiet backstreets into residential neighborhoods just off the major artery.

But after five minutes, I was back on Grand River.

The huge Olympia Stadium once stood on the avenue, but is now nothing but a vacant lot. The Red Wings played there, as well as many famous bands who outgrew the Grande Ballroom.

Historic American Buildings Survey, Creator, © Howard Crane, and Massillon Bridge & Structural Company. Olympia Arena, Grand River Avenue, Detroit, MI. Michigan Detroit, 1933. Documentation Compiled After. Photograph. Library of Congress.

This is the Redeemer Presbyterian Church; there is no way that it is the original congregation who built this building; I strongly believe it was once Catholic. Redeemer seems to have moved around a lot.

This is the Eighth Precinct Police Station, looking very much like a French chateau.

The church below is the former Trumbull Presbyterian Church, which Historic Detroit describes as “Venetian Gothic.” I’ve been to Venice; it’s not Venetian; it’s Northern German in influence.

Another cool motel I didn’t stay at.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Alan Creek says:

    Thanks for the glimpses of Detroit!

    1. cnaffziger says:

      You’re welcome!

  2. Brooke Petryka says:

    Always wanted to see Detroit, thanks for taking me there without the road trip

    1. cnaffziger says:

      You’re welcome!

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