Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Detroit Public Schools Book Depository/ Roosevelt Warehouse

John Brownlow of the Streetphoto List pointed me to these amazing photos from "Sweetjuniper" on Flickr of the derelict Detroit Public Schools Book Depository/ Roosevelt Warehouse

"This is inside the building right next to the Michigan Central Station. Apparently at one time it was a post office, and then it was used by the Detroit Public schools to store textbooks and materials. The columns in here are particularly beautiful. I think I read somewhere that the building was designed by Albert Kahn, but I haven't been able to verify that.All those metal bars once supported pallets where all those papers and books were stored. This is the state I found it in."

Like the ruins of some war devastated city or a building unearthed from dormancy by a team of archaeologists, the textbooks from the 1980 - pile after collapsed pile - remain like artifacts of some long dead civilization.

The photographer writes about their experience here :

"This is a building where our deeply-troubled public school system once stored its supplies, and then one day apparently walked away from it all, allowing everything to go to waste. The interior has been ravaged by fires and the supplies that haven't burned have been subjected to 20 years of Michigan weather. To walk around this building transcends the sort of typical ruin-fetishism and "sadness" some get from a beautiful abandoned building. This city's school district is so impoverished that students are not allowed to take their textbooks home to do homework, and many of its administrators are so corrupt that every few months the newspapers have a field day with their scandals, sweetheart-deals, and expensive trips made at the expense of a population of children who can no longer rely on a public education to help lift them from the cycle of violence and poverty that has made Detroit the most dangerous city in America. To walk through this ruin, more than any other, I think, is to obliquely experience the real tragedy of this city; not some sentimental tragedy of brick and plaster, but one of people...

Pallet after pallet of mid-1980s Houghton-Mifflin textbooks, still unwrapped in their original packaging, seem more telling of our failures than any vacant edifice. The floor is littered with flash cards, workbooks, art paper, pencils, scissors, maps, deflated footballs and frozen tennis balls, reel-to-reel tapes. Almost anything you can think of used in the education of a child during the 1980s is there, much of it charred or rotted beyond recognition. Mushrooms thrive in the damp ashes of workbooks. Ailanthus altissima, the "ghetto palm" grows in a soil made by thousands of books that have burned, and in the pulp of rotted English Textbooks. Everything of any real value has been looted. All that's left is an overwhelming sense of knowledge unlearned and untapped potential. It is almost impossible not to see all this and make some connection between the needless waste of all these educational supplies and the needless loss of so many lives in this city to poverty and violence, though the reality of why these supplies were never used is unclear. In some breathtakingly-beautiful expression of hope, an anonymous graffiti artist has painted a phoenix-like book rising from the ashes of the third floor..." (more)


Stan B. said...

And make no doubt- this is exactly how the Bush administration would like all of public education to look like throughout this country.

Doug Rickard said...

My God... these photographs just enrage me to no end.

"Someone" needs to get their ass thoroughly kicked to allow this to occur... and no doubt "someone" is a long, long list.

drew said...

Until this afternoon, the words "school book depository" only brought to mind Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Now the same words will always bring to mind these fantastically sad photographs. The loss of a President is a world historical event; the loss in these photos is bigger, worse, and by contrast so entirely unseen.

Camilo José Vergara suggested several years ago that the abandoned skyscrapers in Detroit should be preserved as ruins, like an American acropolis. Might not this book depository fit right in: the destruction of the American industrial economy slipping under the waves with the promise of universal public education right behind?