Detroit’s Fort Street runs about 7 miles west from downtown to the city of Melvindale, just across the Rouge River. It’s a wide, multi-lane street that was once lined with small, active manufacturing facilities, mom and pop retail stores and other businesses that have served to community over the years. But like many major streets in Detroit, most of the places have closed, moved or been abandoned and boarded. On my ride west on Fort Street the other morning, I began to notice the beautiful old red brick buildings and the intricate brickwork incorporated into the overall design. I also noticed dates etched into cornerstones and keystones above doorways.
Looking at the dates found on the cornerstones of the buildings, I could follow the development of Fort Street from downtown heading west, out to the city limits. The buildings close to downtown are dated in the late 1800’s and the further west I rode, the etched-in dates began to climb through the 1930’s. The date range of the buildings I looked at represented a variety of architectural eras and styles. They included the Classical style featuring Romanesque Pillars and multi-level Victorian Era structures with intricate brickwork. The simple, clean lines found in the Arts and Crafts period are represented as is the eclectic design elements of the Art Deco Movement.
Traveling this street is a living history lesson of industrial and commercial architecture built across this city, in phases, during its manufacturing heyday. Cycling along, I could imagine how it must have been back then with streets bustling with people, cars everywhere, beautiful new manufacturing plants, built of red brick, humming around the clock with thousands of employees supporting the many shops that lined the street. Unfortunately, the only activity I saw on my ride the other day was limited to truck traffic near and under the Ambassador Bridge and at the Detroit Produce Terminal, a large warehouse facility where many trucks were backed in being loaded and unloaded. Not many cars passed me while riding on Fort St. There was virtually no foot traffic to speak of, and the only places open were a couple of party stores. What a shame to lose so much history through abandonment and deterioration.