to mystify into “poetic” inconsequence and remoteness the past that is represented by Detroit, and along with it the conclusions we might draw as a result. Those otherwise troubling conclusions, and the actions that might follow from them — actions undertaken in the name of shared responsibility — are now translated into matters of taste and technique.
– “The Forgetting Machine: Notes Towards a History of Detroit”, Jerry Herron, The Design Observer Group, dated January 9 2012, last accessed June 16 2014.
Or to put it another way, if you make it into “art” instead of fact, then people can ooh and aah over it, and never have to ask themselves “Could this ever happen to me?” or “What would I do if it did?”
The entire article is a bit long, but well worth reading. Herron moves from discussing various museum shows and coffee table books showing Detroit’s ruin to discussing what Detroit once was.
The section on the department store Hudson’s was really fascinating:
Joseph Lowthian Hudson was an immigrant from Newcastle-upon-Tyne who became Detroit’s premier upscale retailer in the early 20th century. Hudson’s flagship department store, located at the center of Detroit, on Woodward Avenue, was among the largest in the country — 28 stories, plus four basements, comprising 2.2 million square feet of interior floor space. Completed in stages between 1924 and 1929 under the architectural supervision of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, the store had 5,000 windows, 700 dressing rooms and 50 passenger elevators, each with its own white-gloved attendant. At its height in the 1950s, Hudson’s employed a staff of 12,000. Only Macy’s in New York City was bigger.
. . .
Hudson’s, at its height in the mid-1950s, served 100,000 customers per day; the store boasted its own telephone exchange, with the third largest switchboard in the United States, exceeded in size only by the Pentagon and the Bell System.
A thank you to Charles Hugh Smith, whose weekly Musings report contained the link to this story.