Rotting textbook warehouse in Detroit

Flickr user Sweet Juniper has a heartbreaking, gorgeous and horrifying set of photos of a rotting Detroit school book depository, where mountains of yellowing, damp, torn schoolbooks moulder, right in the middle of town:

This is inside the building right next to the Michigan Central Station. Apparently at one time it was a post office, and then it was used by the Detroit Public schools to store textbooks and materials. The columns in here are particularly beautiful. I think I read somewhere that the building was designed by Albert Kahn, but I haven't been able to verify that.

All those metal bars once supported pallets where all those papers and books were stored. This is the state I found it in.

Link (via Making Light)


  1. As heartbreaking as that is, it seems like the loss of all those textbooks is “only” an example of a malicious act by an individual, as opposed to an example of the complete failure of the education system in Detroit (or the United States, in general). Sweet Juniper, the Flickr user linked to here, writes that “on the third floor of the book depository, there had clearly been a major fire.” That’s gonna have had a ruinous effect on a warehouse full of books on the floor below.

    According to a discussion in the forums at, the building “was destroyed by fire in the late 80s by a disgruntled employee.” There are a lot of insightful and interesting comments about this building in that short thread.

    Here’s a photo of the outside of the building, in case anyone’s curious:
    This picture is especially fun for the fact that it shows the roof with the collapsed skylight/garden featured in Sweet Juniper’s set.

  2. Something to keep in mind when viewing stuff like this: it is very difficult for a school system to throw away textbooks. When new books are bought to replace the old ones, the old ones are typically warehoused. One of the reasons for this is that if schools are caught throwing away old books, bad publicity results, on the order of OMGWTF SCHOOLS ARE THROWING AWAY TAXPAYER-BOUGHT TEXTS WHAT A CRIME!!1. So they retire the books to mass storage until the silverfish eat them, or until they can be disposed of quietly.

    It would be nice if they could be redistributed to other places that could use them, but it doesn’t happen too often.

  3. If you like this, do yourself a favor and check out all of SJ’s Detroit images. They’re all at least as compelling as this one.

  4. Detroit may not realize it (or be proud of it), but I suspect they’re getting tourists just for its urban ruins. I’ve made a trip there myself primarily to see them, especially the dead skyscrapers and Brush Park. I first found out about them several years ago from Camilio Vergara’s book on urban ruins, and have been fascinated ever since by the phenomenon. Detroit really is the capita if you’re looking for that sort of thing.

    The Michigan Central Station alone is fascinating, especially when you spot it from the Ambassador bridge, the daylight shining straight through hundreds of shattered windows.

  5. I just wanted to thank z7q2 for the insightful comment above about my photos, and everyone else for not turning this into a detroit-bashing thread like this same story has become over at reddit.

    The ruins of Detroit are a real tourist attraction, and there are plenty or urban exploration sites out there touting it as the best city in the U.S. for that sort of thing. But there is a lot more to see and do there—I recently wrote a guide for design*sponge.

    Also, if anyone is interested in more about this building and other detroit buildings like it, and generally how we react when we see buildings like this, I would welcome more discussion at my blog where I wrote this post about those photos.


  6. Look at it this way, this schoolbook depository could be worse – it could be a vacation spot for the Zapbruder family!

  7. Thanks for stopping by, Sweet Juniper. Detroit fascinates the hell out of me too. The mansions, the fires, the architecture, the industrial history, the incredible divisions between the suburbs and the city. I grew up down the road from it in Toronto and it loomed large in my imagination all my life.

  8. There was a library in East St. Louis that had tons of books left abandoned for years, during which time the place got trashed by squatters and the elements. There are some pictures of it here.

    It sounds like in that case, the city somehow forgot to transport all the books from the old library to a new one, then even after they were salvaged, forgot to pay the bill on the storage space where they were keeping them. Mismanagement at its finest…

  9. Come to Detroit and see the post-apocalypse!!

    I went there on business a couple of times 20 years ago and was amazed at how dead the downtown seemed. Since then, all this stuff about farms downtown and the majestic ruins has come out. It’s dissonant in so many ways to think of a city that embodied technology becoming a ruin.

  10. It is a bit puzzling to see so many books left to rot. I suspect what happened is that the fire and subsequent fire-fighting efforts damaged much of the stock, and the school board declared the warehouse a total loss and collected their insurance payout. I would not be surprised if efforts to collect usable material from the wreckage could put their total-loss claim in jeopardy, and they therefore left it all in place.

  11. December 19 2007, columnist Daniel Howes of the Detroit News bluntly wrote, “In making the rounds this week of the city’s dailies, the schools chief painted a picture of financial mismanagement that is stunning in its ineptitude, corruption and possible criminality. It’s sickening, this mess that essentially says the education of 105,000 Detroit students is less important to bureaucrats than gaming an inefficient system awash in taxpayer dollars and crying for more.”, in response to an apparent visit by Detroit Public Schools Superintendent Connie Calloway. [23]

  12. That building is a few steps from my front door. I haven’t been inside, but apparently trees grow from the top floor, where parts of the roof have collapsed.

    I recently posted a guide to what I can see outside my apartment window. I neglected to mention this book depository but it is visible. The third arrow in “I SWEAR THE BRIDGE IS RIGHT ABOUT HERE” points to the corner of it. Perhaps I should revise the panorama.

    Outside my window

    Despite the urban ruin, I enjoy living here. My neighborhood is only 1 1/2 miles from the center of downtown, but there are people growing food, keeping starter orchards, and raising chickens here. My street is packed with musicians, and I get to look at the amazing Michigan Central every day when I walk out my door while cheerfully humming the music from the opening of “Naqoyqatsi”.

  13. I’m traveling to Detroit on Monday for the auto show, but actually find abandoned buildings and areas to be somewhat more interesting. Anybody know how close Michigan central station and this building are to Cabo center? I also realize that Monday is going to be a high of 22 degrees so that wouldn’t make exploring very much fun….

  14. do a search on flickr for

    “urbex” and “detroit”

    (urbex being the hip term the kidz use for this sort of dangerous unlawful behavior).

    and you’ll find hundreds of amazing pics of
    the bits of detroit.

    and just as an aside the “Fisher body works” building is just wide open, if you can find the address (i’m not going to make this _too_ simple for ya) you just walk in a giant hole in the wall and wander around (be polite to any homeless you bump into), check out the freaky sinks bye

  15. Cory D., come to Detroit for Penguicon 2008. You could see Fair Detroit from all sorts of angles. Michigan is such a strange place to be right now.

  16. So neat to see this on Boing Boing. Great pictures. I’m from this area, too, and have been in some of these buildings.

    I have this kinda whacky idea that Detroit should cordone off sections of industrial ruins like these, preserve them, and sell the use of the them as sets to Hollywood, perhaps offers some major tax incentives to do film work here. I’m sure that would never happen, though, as it doesn’t put the best face on a city that has a number of political problems. Detroit wants to be thought of as “the vibrant Super Bowl city” or “the casino city,” not “the urbex city!”

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