The Oddest Car Park In The World?
A Car Park Like No Other

When you hear a rumour you can do two things, pay it some ear service and then dismiss it, or become intrigued and embrace the need to know more. Is it true – did somebody really gut the inside of a 4000-seat theatre and turn it into a car park? Is the ornate ceiling really still in place? Is there still carpet on the floor in places? The ‘Michigan Building Car Park’ might sound like a mundane kind of name, but it’s the stuff of folklore in Detroit and further a field.

So forgive me for telling a story with no cars in it on Speedhunters – but you’re going to want to see this. Oh, and there’s a cool twist in this tale too…

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage

The car park (because that’s what it is), has been successful in it’s own right, having been used for adverts and films for the last few decades. But it’s the theatre part which fascinates me. The why, how and who were ringing in my head after I remembered it existed on a recent trip to Detroit.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-23

It’s one of those places I’d heard of, and when the chance arose to actually get inside I couldn’t resist seeing if the dramatic pictures in my head levelled up with any kind of reality. Seeing as it’s a privately run garage for the Michigan Building (an office block alongside), we needed to secure proper permission for access. But all formalities aside, as the roller shutter raised up and this was the first thing I saw. I got that buzz in my stomach which makes me act like a kid at Christmas.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-31

The car park is inside this building, and you can see the two towers joined at either side which are the office parts of the structure. The entrance is on the other side and you drive along the wall line inside on the right in this picture. Imagine you were looking up and headed directly for that large bricked up arch window, which also gives you a clue as to the grandeur of this place in its heyday.

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The arch on the outside of the building lines up with the one you can see here on the left at the back. The pillars you can just make out on the far left line the inside of the openings you can see on the wall in the picture before this one. But I’m getting ahead of myself here as this photograph was taken from the first floor, and we’re not done with the ground floor yet!

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-2

Just behind the white pickup truck (on the end of the row above) is the entrance to elevator. This whole section was the entrance foyer to the theatre, and with a capacity of over 4000 when it opened in 1926 you can imagine this buzzing with life; cigarette smoke hanging in the air and music wafting in from the theatre itself. Nowadays this elevator is long gone – the base of the shaft filled with stinky brown water and the doors are only just holding on to the frames. To access the next floor you drive around this corner, which I presume is a supporting feature of the building that couldn’t be ripped out.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-19

But why virtually destroy what was hailed as one of the most impressive theatres of its kind, only to fill it with a steel-framed, multi-storey car park? It opened in the ’20s when live performances were still popular and the original owner was a guy called John H. Kunsky who sold it sometime after. It then passed through a number of different owners and as the world moved on I guess it’s relevance faded. But like Detroit itself, the building is a survivor.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-3

When the theatre lost favour with the locals and finally closed for business in 1976, it didn’t get pulled down. It must have been a pretty big landmark given the number of people who had passed through its downtown doors over the preceding five decades. But just as it had gone from grand performances to music nights and then finally – by all accounts – a nightclub, it had to survive and that meant becoming a car park.

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So hang on, I know what you’re thinking… Why a car park? Well in the mid ’70s the occupants of the main Michigan Building didn’t have enough parking (which is ironic given the large, empty urban spaces surrounding the car park today). So the enterprising landlord, fearing a mass exodus of tenants, decided to rip out the lower guts of the failing theatre and put in the three-storey metal structure that’s here today.

PS. Remember this picture, I’ll refer back to it later.

Going Up
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Three storeys were enough to solve the parking problem, but that didn’t change the fact the original building was still nine storeys high… So as you walk up from the second level of parking you’re greeted by the most amazing sight. As most of the original ceiling was revealed to me, I got a proper handle on the scale of the place for the first time.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-5

Looking straight up at the top of the ramp showed how the box of a building had been transformed into the grand theatre – a metal mesh-like frame hung from the roof and the plaster then hung on it.

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But it was when I turned around that I got a true sense of the scale. Yes, it looks shitty and decayed, but as far as buildings go this is seriously impressive. How did this once great place descend so far, yet hold on to so much? Because the car park conversion was done as cheaply as possible, I guess it was just quicker to leave the roof in place. Effectively, everything non-structural was cut out and the rest was left.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-14

You can see where they sliced through the top tier of seating, with the projection and lighting gallery being right up at the top in the middle. I left the tail end of a Mercedes-Benz 200 in the picture on the left here for the purpose of scale… And to get a car in the story!

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-12

Getting closer to what would have been the back end of the theatre you can see just how ruthless the demolition work was. And remember – this was completed nearly 40 years ago.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-13

Turning around to look back to where we came up to the top floor and you could see the massive curve of the top of the stage – still with part of the curtain material hanging down.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-25

Not wanting to get this far and go home, I decided to ask if it was possible to head up to where we’d just been looking – right up the back at the top. So after removing some wooden panels on one wall, one of the original grand staircases – carpeted and seemingly ready to welcome guests – was revealed. Using a smartphone’s torch, a few precarious climbs later and this was the view. Take a couple of steps past this point and it’s a five-storey drop down though…

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-27

Back to that picture I asked you to remember (one of the outside of the building), and in it you can see a massive arched false window. As I was weaving my way in and out of a maze of empty offices and stairwells, I stumble across this crazy fifty mirror interior to that very window!

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-20

Down on the ground level again this is the back stage area – itself absolutely massive. The performances here must have been a major affair. In fact, the whole theatre cost US$5,000,000 to build in the mid ’20s, so can you imagine what that would be now?

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-24

I could go on (and I have) about how cool this old car park is. There must be other structures like it out there, but because this is Detroit it feels extra special. What will become of it in the future? Who knows. Right now the whole car park thing is working out pretty well, but the regeneration which will inevitably come is a fair way off yet, so I reckon it’ll be here for a while. And all the time this angelic, yet slightly eerie face, will stare down at you from the ground floor ceiling.

Michigan Building Theatre Car Park Garage-32

So what about that twist I mentioned at the start? Read this sign…

Yup, you read it right – the Ford Motor Company was essentially founded after what happened on this sight in 1892. So maybe it’s not so strange that the theatre gave way to a car park after all.

Anyway, normal service will now resume… I’ll get back to hunting speed soon enough, but thanks for coming on this little detour with me. Our world has been impacted so much and in so many ways by the motor car, that it’s good once in a while to get blown away with surprise and remind yourself just how important it is to us.

Bryn Musselwhite
Instagram: Speedhunterbryn

Please – under no circumstances – try to gain illegal entry to the Michigan Building Car Park for exploration purposes. This is a private building and I had permission to be there.

Cutting Room Floor
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Wow. A unique article, not usually what you'd expect on Speedhunters, but loved it nonetheless. Thanks for adding a dash of variety! Interesting how it is a private building, being from Auckland (another car-centric city albeit not the motor city) I'd have expected this building to be run as an overpriced commercial carpark. It is dangerous though with all the drops and lack of maintenance.


Holy...There should be a "photographer paradise" sign at the entrance. I'd love to shoot cars in there! Amazing location.


John Kio Glad you liked it, you're right it's not what you'd expect to see here but I figured I was in to it, so maybe others would be too! I think the car park might open up for public use when there is a football game on, but other wise it services the needs of the attached office block. Unfortunately there are large areas of downtown Detroit (which this is on the edge of) which are levelled and empty, so parking isn't a problem. I've got another story coming from Detroit which shows more of what there is to see.


JDM_Luca I know right? There's never a feature car around when you need one!


Why they dont restore that place?


That's the most impressive car park ever! As said before, a photographers paradise!


Brynmusselwhite Very cool Bryn. I'm always amazed by stuff that can be just around the corner that you never knew was there.


Really interesting as it's a structure that's instantly recognisable having been used as a location for several big films in recent years. I had no idea of the scale of the place!


Bryn you are turning this car blog into proper journalism. Big thumbs up! You should've taken more pics of that W123 in the first picture. The scene is perfect for that old workhorse


this car park could be an awesome car photosession spot.


Not an article I was expecting to see on Speedhunters, but a fascinating read (on a fascinating subject). Great work!


What a stunning structure!


Thanks for visiting our city !


adamindet It was a pleasure, there's another story coming about Detroit. Really nice city you've got there.


tbtstt Thank you, I knew if I was enjoying it a few others might too!


Vittorio Jano Thank you, that's very kind. As for the Merc I was too distracted by the magnificent ceiling!


Timfy We were doing some filming in the city and the location guy we were working with hooked us up to go take a look, he's used it loads. Maybe it will become iconic as a car park and preserved because of that?!


JuusoTero There's no money for it, to rebuild would cost tens of millions, Detroit is getting there but right now that's not feasible.


I wonder if the latest CTS-V advert was shoot here ?


RDS This one? If so yes, it was :)


Really nice article and pictures. I am intrigued by those decayed buildings. This one is truly massive! As for a feature on Speedhunters, I think this is great. It is on the edge of what is automotive, but due to the current function of the building (and the Ford history) it fits within Speedhunters, imo. Please bring more of these articles, cause it gives more variety and some insight in worlds you usually don't get in to :-) .


You, Bryn, now have given me a brilliant idea as to how I'm gonna make my personal car park.

We must sleep together and connect our brains to construct it.


I wonder what a V8 engine would do to what is left of the ceiling! or even a V6 with a rev limiter and some nice back fire indoor shooting!
I personally think that who ever parks in this theater is committing an artistic crime! unless this is the only one in the area.


Huh, I always wondered where it is shame it's a private car park, but oh well.  It's cool to finally see inside, the all the commercials don't really go into detail. And the freestyle video with Eminem was only in one place.

And welcome back to Michigan, you seem to be coming here often.

Gianluca FairladyZ

Very nice! Good work Bryn


Wow....  and... how sad :(


Parking Garage*. This isn't a place where you let your cars out to frolic and play ;).


Very nice set, I imagine this place would look quite impressive with proper lighting but I really like how you captured it as it is. Refreshing change of pace as well.


I have a real thing for abandoned structures, Detroit is a gas mask fetishists dream of stunning architecture, asbestos and lapsed security contracts: is a good place to start wasting hours flicking through photos of some really amazing buildings

A group of friends and I blagged our way into Shea stadium while it was being ripped down around us and we all left feeling rather.. sad I guess but at the same time stunned at the effort that goes into building such massive structures.


tarik_tjs Thanks, there's another one on Detroit coming soon :)


UWerqxTeam_MJ Not so sure about the last part, but I'm glad you're feeling inspired. I think! :)


AymanAl I'm guessing it's structurally sound, but you do have to wonder if after 90yrs how long it can stay hanging up there?


EricSeanDelaney Glad to be of service, I started the year in Detroit and finished it there. We had a much better look around this time though, another story is on the way about that. Then one on the Henry Ford Museum.


Gianluca FairladyZ Thanks!


LouisSoon Kind of... But like I say, Detroit is a town with energy and spirit.


TYRphoto Thanks!


TarmacTerrorist I think a lot of us enjoy seeing abandoned places, day dreaming about the echoes of what was there before. That's a great website, another story on Detroit is coming!


It's a connection to the past in the present... It's quite comforting knowing that in60 years time there may be a little of our time left in 2075 :D Is another great site but unsure how current it is these days.


Speedhunters_Bryn Very cool. Weren't you guys planned for Lingenfelter at one time too?


How dare you use quotation marks to paraphrase! Nobody in Detroit says "car park", they say "pawking lwot".


@Barf I was drinking kwoffee at the time... Sorry :)


I shot here for Honda Tuning a few years ago. The security guard gave us permission to shoot for an hour. We did have to give him whatever cash we had on us.... which was about $23. lol


cadillac shot a video of the new cts-v there


LOL!!! That d!ck on the 5th image 2nd chapter!! Great images BTW!


That was so cool! Thanks for finding and sharing that with us Bryn!!!


Cool piece Bryn. Briefly thought about settling down out there, buying a neighborhood and building cars but decided against it haha.


@chris chabre You could have your own street race/drift course.


This looks like a place out of Half Life 2, haha


KeithCharvonia @chris chabre I've put together another story on Detroit which will publish soon, I was seriously impressed with place. There's a real energy to it and the feeling that there are genuine opportunities if you want them. I saw so many buildings that would make great loft living space and with a workshop area, and for once they're actually within price range. My marriage wouldn't stand the move, but damn... Exciting times for Detroit, for sure.


jungle168 Pleasure, glad you liked it!


@Dude123 Al, is that you? :b


ginash Bargain, great location huh? I'd love to have been able to shoot something there.


gatoonik They shot it the day after we were there as our location guy was working for them too.


Speedhunters_Bryn ginash Bryn, I beleive the day rate is $5,000 to use the location "officially."


greeeeeeat piece!! 

it would be the best facility to make an autoshow of classics... all that glamour that the building still have... 

the parking lot full of mercs, caddys, big fords, etc... oooooh the glory days....


it would have been amazing to see back in the day, just beautiful!


Presentation mode is trumps for these images. I'd love to shoot here!


Detroit is full of architectural gems in ruins like this. Once elegant homes, schools, office towers, theaters, and once grand hotels abandoned to decay. So very sad, and yet this hulk still retains some usefulness housing the very things that the city is known for. Somehow I can see a Ken Block video in this space with him plunging through a huge picture window in his mustang!


@Dude123 haha


The recent vampire film, 'Only Lovers Left Alive' had a scene in here, along with other Detroit haunts.


mnchk1987 That's a really good idea! You could have a cars and coffee meet here which would help fund it.


dangina Take a look at some of the pictures from when it was being converted, a Google image search brings up a few of how it was back in the day :)


StreetStatik So many people still don't know about presentation mode, thanks for being a user! And yes, to have had a decent car there would have been amazing.


Larspeed I think people have been more sensitive to Detroit in recent times, since the bankruptcy it's as though the sympathy levels have gone up. I have discussed projects with people about using the place as an urban playground in films, but it's always been considered a little vulgar or disrespectful. I just produced a short film there that was more about the energy of Detroit and showing it's slick side.


keithwwalker Loved that film


Where's Cliff Brumby when you need him? He'd have big plans for that place. Like a rooftop restaurant.


Was thinking the same as obsession_Si.
I really like this as said a great place for a meet/show.
Just like the article bryn did with jon h about the car park in Get carter.


obsession_Si Haha, is there a Mr Carter in the roooom?


turbom Wow, good memories! That was a great trip, all gone now though. I still have the slide images I took when I first went up there around 12yrs ago.


Oh yes , that one !
One thing I remember is the uphill ramp that turn at the end .


Cool...but I wouldn't go there in the middle of the night on a full moon :)))


Immense stuff! Love how the upper circle is just partially hanging there!


AdeBrannan You need to get out there and do some collages!


Speedhunters_Bryn AdeBrannan Too right, I'd love to there! After I build a few of New York I'll be hunting down new locations once again.


Great article sad to they didn't think it'd ever be in that state in its hay day.


The place where a Legend was born... Eminem.


Detroit = shithole.



There may be numerous decaying buildings, but Detroit is far from a shithole.


This is really stunning and it makes you wonder what it used to look like. I d love to see this building back in its heyday for sure, especially with that beautiful architecture. I want to just park my car here to explore, really a gorgeous building.


This is a nice building. and i am thinking the cost of the building in today's market condition. unbelievable sculptures made. what a building it is. i was getting scared before the last paragraph of the story. but when read the birthplace of ford motor company, i got relaxed. amazing photos. looking like a haunted place. i always want to be there once, if a get a chance. would you please tell me how to enter in this place now. actually who is the owner of this building now. This is really a car parking area or something else.