The Tuller Hotel, 1986

pictures and words


Allan Barnes


It was, I think, a time in which Detroit had just about bottomed out. Autumn 1986. Things would still get worse, but it was a year in which there was wholesale abandonment of buildings large and small. I photographed Devil's Night that year, and there were a couple hundred foreign journalists in town, covering the strange new sport of burning houses for

Yet, I saw opportunity. I was fresh out of college, teaching photography part time. My rent was cheap. An artist could live here and have enough space to drive a semi through. You just had to have some bars on the windows. I had two roomates; my rent was 75 bucks a month for a cozy place in Southwest Detroit. I hated that my parents and so many others had simply walked away from my birthplace. Surely it was worth more of a

I found this whole corner of downtown that was just empty. The Tuller Hotel was the centerpiece of a trove of empty ten and fifteen story buildings. Park Avenue reminded me of New York City, except that it was virtually empty. The ornate Tuller reminded me just a bit of the Chelsea in New York, where a couple friends were sharing a studio with a bathroom down the hall. But at the Tuller, even the Ballroom was free, any time that you wanted it. The views of Park Avenue and Grand Circus Park were stunning.

I decided that the Tuller would be my studio - I had to put it to SOME kind of use.

One morning, I awoke at dawn and stopped to stroll through the upper floors of the Tuller with a couple rolls of Kodachrome. Sure, there were others in the building, but they mostly inhabited the lower floors. The upper floors were for the ambitious.

The early morning and late afternoon light swept through the windows and lit up the darkened rooms. I returned to the Tuller many times over the next year. Sometimes to photograph the space, though I was mainly a people photographer. A couple of times I brought bands to photograph. The following spring, I brought a date; her grandmother had given her a picnic basket as a present, and the roof of the Tuller was a charming place for a picnic.

It's better that they tore the place down before parts of it fell onto some unlucky soul; and given the water damage, that would surely have happened. But I still miss the place.

Allan Barnes is a freelance photographer, who teaches photography part time at Washtenaw Community College. When not wandering or photographing, he restores neglected and abused houses.

See more of his work at


© 2002