The downtown Greyhound bus terminal opened with the promise of being a gleaming transportation temple in the heart of Detroit, but closed with the acknowledgment and embarrassment of being yet another symbol of the city's decline and an obstacle to progress.
In 1937, Greyhound opened a sleek and stylish bus terminal on Washington Boulevard and Grand River Avenue. It was a product of both Detroit's boom times and the rise in popularity of bus travel. This was before the U.S. highway system was built and before America entered the boom times for airline travel in the 1950s.
And 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. The country was enraptured with all things new. Ornate plasterwork was covered under drop ceilings. Fanciful lighting fixtures were ripped out in favor of fluorescent bulbs. Fake wood paneling was somehow favored over the real stuff. TVs replaced radios in most every home. Deodorant in spray cans was the coolest thing ever. Teflon pans replaced cast-iron. America was in the "Mad Men" era of modernism, and things were becoming deemed more and more disposable. Perhaps it's fitting that Styrofoam plates and cups became commonplace in this era, as well. And that attitude toward things being disposable extended to architecture and buildings, too.
The terminal's beginning
This 1950s ideal for new and modern 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 E. 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.
To make way for the new Greyhound terminal, the block was cleared, including the Strelinger Building. Strelinger, operating out of a six-story factory at 149 E. Larned St., manufactured workshop machinery, tools and accessories, as well as things like gears, welding equipment, paints and more.
The new bus 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 was designed by the Louisville, Ky.-based firm Arrasmith & Tyler, which designed more than 60 terminals for Greyhound and was the bus line's preferred architect. Locally, the firm Clair Ditchy Associates was hired to handle project implementation. The new Detroit depot 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.
The depot would serve Detroit for 30 years, but, as the city's fortunes fell, Greyhound pulled significant upgrades and upkeep. By the 1980s, the depot had developed a rather negative reputation. Given its prominent location downtown and rundown condition, it wasn't long before talk began about departing for another location and making way for something big.
Everybody off the bus
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.