Calling all adventurous urbanites!
Have you ever heard of urban exploring? It’s a subculture of people who love exploring old, abandoned buildings. Why is this even popular? Well, there are a lot of urban explorers who are interested in the historical significance of old buildings. Others are all about documenting what they find. Though a few of the properties on this list are perfectly legal to check out, others were just too interesting not to include. Explore them with caution or research from afar!
This boarded up building on Grand River Ave has an impressive nightlife legacy spanning almost half a century. Designed in 1928 by Detroit architect Charles N. Agree in an Art Deco style, the building was originally a jazz dancehall with a unique “floating” floor that raised revelers up on springs, giving the illusion of weightlessness. In the 1950s, the jazz ensembles gave way to bands as the Grande Ballroom became a dance club. This era was less successful, in part due to its alcohol-free policy, and the club was turned into a roller-skating rink and temporarily, to a storage facility. In 1966, the Grande Ballroom reopened as a rock venue, and quickly became a standby of the local psychedelic and garage rock scene. It played host to iconic acts like the Velvet Underground and Pink Floyd alongside local up-and-comers until its final closure in 1972. In the years since, the building has fallen into disrepair, though intrepid explorers continued to sneak in to see its iconic dancefloor. Today, it’s near-impossible to get in, but fascinating to witness knowing the history the building has witnessed.
Find it at 8952 Grand River, Detroit, MI 48204.
Abundant Life Christian Center
Just over a half mile away from the Grande Ballroom, the Abundant Life Christian Center also dates back to the early 1900s. Dedicated in 1918, it was once the Calvary Presbyterian Church. Throughout the 20th century, attendance dwindled due to changing neighborhood demographics and Calvary Presbyterian moved out of the building. Just before the turn of the century, the building was converted to the Abundant Life Christian Center and later, The Greater Faith for Deliverance Church. In 2009, a fire swept through the building and it was left abandoned. Since then, explorers have taken the pews and stained glass, only the shell of the former church. As of Feburary 2021, the building appears to be accessible, but proceed with caution.
Find it at 8240 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48204.
Packard Automotive Plant
This abandoned automotive plant is noteworthy based on sheer size: it’s one of the largest abandoned buildings in the world, spanning over 40 acres. Between 1903 and 1911, it was a cutting-edge auto production facility, and it remains a relic of the automotive industry that earned Detroit the Motor City nickname. Designed by the iconic Detroit architect Albert Kahn, it also epitomizes the industrial architecture of the time. In the years since, it’s become a popular photoshoot spot for urban explorers. There are also plans in the works for the property to be revamped as a mixed use development, though a timeline on these plans has yet to be released.
Find it at 5815 Concord St, Detroit, MI 48211.
St. Agnes Church and School
At the time this stately Gothic church was being built, there were barely any other houses in the area. However, the bishop John Foley, who let the Detroit Catholic Archdiocese, knew the city well and predicted its growth. When the church opened in 1924, the area had become densely populated. In its heyday, the church had an impressive parish and Catholic girl’s school attached to it. However, a police raid on a drinking establishment in the area incited years of civil unrest that left much of the neighborhood burned. Attendance numbers at the church fell and the building was put up for sale, but never sold. As the building stood abandoned, prospecting explorers disassembled the organ and took many of the church’s decorations. What remains stands as a bittersweet and haunting reminder of the community the church once fostered and the ever-changing character of its neighborhood.
Find it at LaSalle Gardens & Rosa Parks Blvd, Detroit, MI 48206.
Giant Cow Head
Though this abandoned ice cream shop isn’t quite the architectural marvel like some of the other buildings on this list, it has one defining feature: the giant cow head that surveys the landscape from its roof. The small building below was once the Ira Wilson & Sons Dairy building. It got a little TLC with a fresh coat of paint when was featured in the movie 8 Mile, but as remained abandoned and for sale since.
Find it at 13099 Mack Ave, Detroit, MI 48215.
This one isn’t quite abandoned — in fact, it’s now an incredibly beautiful parking lot. When the Michigan Theatre first opened in 1926, Detroit was at the height of its industrial heyday. The impressive 4,000 seat theatre became a downtown movie-going institution. When the television entered people’s homes, the theatre struggled to compete and finally closed in 1967. After the initial closure, it temporarily served as a supper club, concert venue, and porn cinema before ultimately being abandoned in 1975. While investigating the building for eventual demolition, workers determined that the adjacent tower was structurally dependent on the Michigan Theatre building and alternate plans had to be made. The building’s shell was turned into a parking garage, which still reveals fragments of its former glory to those who park inside.
Find it (and park there) at 238 Bagley St, Detroit, MI 48226.
Much like the Grande Ballroom, the Vanity Ballroom was a popular music venue throughout the twentieth century. Opened in 1929, it had a vast 5,000 square foot dance floor that once played host to Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Most notably, the unique interior featured Aztec-inspired decorations in a warm southwestern color palette. It briefly closed between 1958 and 1964, after which it became a garage-rock venue and later, a Caribbean-themed club. The Vanity Ballroom is now on the National Register of Historic Places, but nevertheless has had its share of scavengers. However, the site is not entirely abandoned: realtor Leroy Burgess currently owns the building and has expressed interest in restoring it.
Find it at 1024 Newport St, Detroit, MI 48215.