Nestled among the skyscrapers of Washington Boulevard once stood a stunning Art Moderne monument to transportation, one as sleek and stylish - and silver and gray - as the buses of the company that built it.
A brief history of Greyhound
Greyhound got its start in 1914, when a young Swedish miner named Carl Wickman drove a Hupmobile up to a saloon in Hibbing, Minn, and picked up a group of miners. Charging them 15 cents a person, Wickman drove his passengers 4 miles to the mine. Wickman had opened a Hupmobile dealership as a side hustle, but had been unable to sell a single car. So, he rigged up his seven-passenger demonstration vehicle in order to carry 10 people and went into the bus business. Wickman soon had a business partner, blacksmith Andrew Anderson, and initially called their bus line the Mesaba Transportation Co.
Other bus lines started popping up around this time, and they took on names of animals: Golden Eagle, Blue Goose, White Swan, Jack Rabbit and Tiger. One of the early intercity buses of those early days was a 1921 Fageol, slim and gray in appearance, and thus called “the Greyhound.” By 1925, there were some 6,500 bus lines around the country, though most were small, with only a couple of buses each. In 1930, the Greyhound Corp. evolved from a merger of Wickman’s fleet and that of Orville Caesar of Superior, Wis. They bought more of the so-called “Greyhounds” and picked the speedy racing dog as their mascot and trademark.
Fifty years after its founding, Greyhound was raking in $377 million a year by 1964 (about $3.4 billion in 2021 dollars, when adjusted for inflation), and had 5,000 buses covering 100,000 miles of routes, employed 40,000 people and traveled 10.2 billion passenger miles a year.
The new Detroit depot
The bus terminal took just eight months to build, but it took years of overcoming City zoning regulations that made it difficult to find a location downtown that was both convenient and met City approval. Previously, an attempt was made to place a bus terminal around Campus Martius and Monroe Avenue, but that plan was shelved because of traffic concerns with buses trying to cross the intersection of Michigan and Woodward avenues.
It was decided to place the terminal on the northwest corner of Washington Boulevard and Grand River Avenue. Ground was broken for the depot Sept. 19, 1936, with the first scoop being served by a steam shovel manned by P.L. Radcliffe, general manager of the Blue Goose Lines; Manfred Burleigh, president of Greyhound Terminals of Detroit; and Arthur Kiernan, president of the Eastern Michigan Motor Busses.
The architects for the terminal were Thomas W. Lamb of New York and Phelps & Bernardi of Detroit. The stone-and-glass building ended up costing $300,000 (about $6.4 million in 2022 dollars) – which was $100,000 over the original budget. The contractors on the project were Holton-Seelye & Co. of Chicago.
The building opened for public inspection May 3, 1937, with a fanfare of visiting bus line executives, music from an orchestra, buses on display, and entertainment and souvenirs for the kiddos. An estimated 50,000 people turned out for the public unveiling. The terminal went into service the following day, on May 4, 1937. It was billed as the biggest and most modern bus terminal in the country at the time. There was also a Cunningham’s drugstore on the ground floor.
Some 600 buses used the depot every day. The large fleet required up to 90 mechanics at the Greyhound garage at 3511 W. Fort St. The garage still stands today.
But Greyhound was not the only bus line calling the terminal home; the building was also the official depot for Greyhound, Blue Goose, Great Lakes, Eastern Michigan and Red Star Lines, as well as suburban buses. The Washington Boulevard terminal was not only within walking distance to both downtown and the entertainment district and hotels, but also opened straight through from Washington Boulevard onto Park Place. Greyhound Lines execs and employees had offices on the mezzanine, as did the Greyhound Travel Bureau. As an added bonus, the new terminal opened just in time for the summer travel season.
Detroiters could hop on a bus and be whisked away to anywhere in the U.S., as well as Canada and Mexico. Greyhound let people “travel three times as far on every dollar,” a 1937 ad proclaimed. The prices seem like a steal in 2022, but when adjusted for inflation, the prices explain how Greyhound was rolling in it. At the time of the terminal’s opening, round-trip fares were advertised as $7.20 to Chicago (about $151 in 2022 dollars); $7.20 to Cincinnati; $4.50 to Cleveland ($95 in 2022); $5.60 Grand Rapids ($118); $3.30 to Lansing ($69); $57.35 to Los Angeles ($1,205); $33.25 to Miami ($699); and $17.95 to New York ($377).
The civic center building spree
As Detroit entered the 1950s, like many American cities, there was a major movement in the Motor City to tear down old structures and build modern ones. This idea manifested around the new Civic Center. Detroit had moved out of Old City Hall and into the City-County Building (now known as Coleman A. Young Municipal Center) in 1955. The Ford Auditorium had opened in 1956, stealing the Detroit Symphony Orchestra away from Orchestra Hall. The Ford-UAW Resource Center (originally the Veterans Memorial Building) had opened in 1951, and Huntington Place (nee Cobo Center and Arena) was under way and slated to be completed in 1960.
And just as Detroit was looking to build a new city borne from the old, Greyhound just so happened to be embarking on a major program to build new terminals across America in the 1950s.
Plans were announced that a new Greyhound terminal would be built at 130 Congress, across from the City-County Building on a block bounded by East Larned, East Congress, Randolph and Bates streets. The land for the terminal was sold by the Bagley Land Co. to Greyhound on April 18, 1955. The Bagley family had owned it since 1880, when former Gov. John J. Bagley bought it.
The terminal’s roof had a parking to accommodate 600 cars, as well as a restaurant, cafeteria, cocktail lounge and nine shops. The parking garage opened Nov. 1, 1958.
The new terminal, designed by Clair Ditchy Associates, was expected to serve more than 3 million passengers a year, with 224 buses arriving or departing the terminal daily. The building cost more than $4.5 million (about $50 million today) to build.
All 112 daily inter-city Greyhound schedules were shifted to the new terminal starting Dec. 16 at 5 a.m. But first, there was a party.
A three-day celebration with free orchids for the ladies, doughnuts and coffee, and an appearance by Steverino the Greyhound, kicked off Dec. 15, 1958. An ad announcing the bus bonanza boasted that the new depot would "add a new dimension to travel ... a dimension called PLEASURE!"
At 12:30 p.m. Dec. 15, 1958, a parade marched to the new terminal from the old, heading up Washington Boulevard to Grand Circus Park, then over to Woodward Avenue and down to the new terminal on Randolph and Larned. The parade included old and new Greyhound buses, floats depicting early life of early Detroit luminary Father Gabriel Richard (whose home and church were situated on the site of the new depot). The mosaic was unveiled and dedicated at 1:30 p.m. Mayor Louis Miriani proclaimed the day Gabriel Richard Day, and renamed Woodward Avenue “Gabriel Richard Drive” for the day. The first bus arrived around 5 a.m. Dec. 16, 1958, from Toronto.
Meanwhile, back at the old terminal, the final inter-city bus, bound for Toronto, coincidentally, pulled out at 4:45 a.m. Dec. 16, 1958, and a “quiet of a sort fell on the worn place for the first time in 21 years,” the Detroit Free Press wrote the next morning. “Quiet, except for the soft sounds of the mops of the cleaning crew. … It was the first time since 1937 that the morning light did not find tired people waiting on the hard walnut benches, nodding over suitcases and parcels. … There were some special problems. The double swinging doors between the old terminal and Cunningham’s next door had not been at rest since World War II, night and day. The hinges were so worn, the lock wouldn’t meet the strike plate, so new hinges had to be put on during the morning. … There were a few who wanted to run their hands on the shiny banisters from which the plating had long since worn.”
A new, but short, life
Plans were announced in 1958 that the old terminal would be remodeled into a station for airport shuttle buses, where travelers could catch a 35- to 50-minute ride from downtown to the airport. The move made sense because, at the time, Washington Boulevard was where most of the airlines had downtown ticket offices. Greyhound ran the service to Willow Run on a 30-minute basis from 5:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.; service to Metro Airport was based on flight schedules.
But on Nov. 1, 1961, the airport bus terminal shut down after three years of operation.
"A company spokesman said the move is being made because of increased operating costs to the bus company since the airlines began operating from two airports instead of one," The Detroit News reported Oct. 27, 1961. After that, the buses were running light on passengers. Travelers going from downtown to Metro and Willow Run airports were shifted over to pick-ups at various hotels instead. The spokesman also told the News that he "had no information on the fate of the old terminal."
That fate would be decided soon enough. After sitting empty for a couple of years, the old terminal was sold by Greyhound Corp. to Service Parking Grounds for an undisclosed price. Demolition began in late 1963.
On Jan. 16, 1964, before the terminal was even fully demolished, plans were announced for a 22-story, 400-room motor hotel and parking structure to be built on the site. Developer M.E. Arden said that construction would start in the fall of 1965 and cost $4.5 million. In the interim, the site was to be used as a parking lot by Service Parking Grounds. Once the structure was completed, Service Parking was to lease the lower six floors for parking of up to 420 cars. The architects were Harley, Ellington, Cowin & Stirton. Arden also was one of the developers behind the Professional Plaza on Woodward. That project started the same year that the Washington Boulevard project was announced. The Professional Plaza vision originally called for 16 buildings to be built in the complex; Arden built two. The 400-room motor hotel, like the other 14 buildings of the Professional Plaza, was never built. The site, as far as can be determined, remained a surface-parking lot for more than a decade.
It would not be until almost two decades later that Arden’s vision for the site would come to life.
Clang, clang, clang goes the Trolley Plaza
As Detroit prepared to enter the 1980s, Mayor Coleman A. Young had a vision for a “downtown district” that would turn many of the old, mostly vacant office buildings into residential ones. But Young also wanted to fill in a lot of the missing teeth in downtown’s skyline smile – and he had a giant surface parking lot smack dab in the middle of Washington Boulevard.
Cleveland-based Forest City Dillon finally got approval to build a 23-story pre-fabricated apartment tower on top of a new five-level, City-owned parking deck. Jude T. Fusco Associates Inc. of Ferndale, Mich., was the architectural firm; Turner Construction Co. was the contractor.
Judy Landis, who worked next door in the Book Building, was the winner out of 15,000 people who suggested names in the fall of 1979 during an Oktoberfest event on Washington Boulevard. She won a trip to Montreal for two as a reward. The inspiration was a trolley that used to run up and down the boulevard.
Construction began Oct. 27, 1980. The $18 million project opened in the fall of 1981 with 351 units. By April 1982, Trolley Plaza was already 93 percent occupied, with monthly rents for the one- and two-bedroom apartments ranging from $375 to $1,000 (the equivalent of about $1,100 to $3,100, when adjusted for inflation).
The Trolley Plaza is also notable for being the first new unsubsidized apartment building to be erected in downtown Detroit in more than three decades.
In 2008, with the trolley long gone, Trolley Plaza was renamed Washington Square Apartments. Five years later, it was redubbed the Detroit City Apartments.
‘New’ Greyhound terminal put down, too
In March 1989, Houston developer Gerald Hines bought the newer-but-not-so-new-anymore civic center Greyhound terminal in order to build Detroit's largest office project since the Renaissance Center more than a decade earlier. Hines' original plans were to build a pair of office towers, each approximately 50 stories tall, to be called One Detroit Center - and they were to cost $200 million apiece, a staggering $452 million in 2022 dollars.
The project was designed by John Burgee; his former partner, renowned architect Philip Johnson, was the design consultant on the project. It was said that Hines had enough tenants lined up to start the first of the two towers; construction of the second – to be built on the Greyhound terminal site – would depend on demand. That demand would not materialize. If the second tower were built, Detroit's twin towers would have been nearly the same size as the 2.2-million-square-foot Renaissance Center.
The bus terminal and parking deck would be replaced by another parking deck, this time for One Detroit Center. The civic center bus terminal closed in the fall of 1989. Demolition on the terminal and a small hotel was completed in 1990. The new 2,000-space parking garage opened in its place on Nov. 4, 1991.
Ground was broken March 21, 1990, for the 619-foot tower, the tallest office building in the state of Michigan. The building is 1 million square feet. Over the years, the tower has been known as Comerica Tower and, currently, Ally Detroit Center.
Demolishing the Greyhound station meant the bus company was on the move again. On July 19, 1989, the State of Michigan announced it would put $5.9 million toward building a new Greyhound station to replace the old one. In the interim, intercity buses ran out of a building owned by the State near the new terminal, at 1000 W. Lafayette. With service beginning at the temporary location starting at 5 a.m. Oct. 4, 1989. This building has since been torn down for bus parking.
The new, permanent location was built at Sixth and Howard streets in Corktown, just off the Lodge Freeway. The Corktown depot also would house offices for the freeway operations of the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT).
The present terminal opened Oct. 24, 1991, with the first bus - bound for Chicago - rolling out shortly before 1 a.m. The $5 million terminal was designed by Detroit architect William Kessler; Kessler also designed the Detroit Science Center, Detroit Receiving Hospital and the State of Michigan Library and Archives in Lansing.