A Rare Look Inside Ford Auditorium
The Detroit city council voted this week to put the brakes on plans to tear down Ford Auditorium because council members want to nail down future plans for the property before they let the wrecking ball swing.
What has become of the downtown venue since the symphony moved out more than two decades ago? Detroit 2020 got a chance to go inside for a rare look at the empty Ford Auditorium.
Ford Auditorium opened in 1955 as the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Set on a prime piece of riverfront property, the auditorium was built with money raised by the Ford family and local Ford and Mercury dealers. But today, after many attempts to save it, it sits vacant.
Detroit 2020 cameras were allowed into Ford Auditorium recently. Hints of its grandeur remain to this day and you can almost hear the sounds of the symphony, but years of abandonment and a brief stint as a warming shelter have left it cold, dark, and littered.
Martin Luther King spoke at Ford Auditorium and it was the site of Malcolm X’s last major speech before his murder, but the acoustics in the auditorium were never well-designed for classical music performances. So in 1989, the symphony moved back to a remodeled Orchestra Hall and the once-grand auditorium began its slow decline.
Today the floor of the stage is buckled in places, pieces of the curtain lay shredded on the floor, but the rigging remains intact. The lights look like they could shine at any moment and a specially built organ may still have some rich notes to share.
Over the past two decades, there’s been talk of using the building for an aquarium, or a bank headquarters, but those plans never materialized. For one year it was used as a city warming center and here are indications it is still serving that purpose in an unofficial way.
There is a proposal that the land be used to build a 5,000 seat amphitheater, but for now the Ford Auditorium continues to sit and await its fate.