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 www.allanbarnes.com