Over the last few years, Gotham City, Batman’s hometown, has been “played” by several different real-world cities. While one might expect New York City to be the prototype for Gotham (and it still is, in the comics), this hasn’t been the case for the cinematic Batman. Christopher Nolan used Chicago as Gotham for Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. He also included Pittsburgh in The Dark Knight Rises. Each city has its own distinct look and feel. They each contribute something different to our collective imaginations and what we think of when we think of Gotham City. Although you might not have realized it, there’s a new Gotham in the DC Extended Universe: Detroit. In fact, a Detroit landmark served as the location of the climactic, long-awaited Batman v Superman fight scene in 2016: the derelict Michigan Central Station.
While Detroit might not be the first city that comes to mind when one pictures a Gotham-esque metropolis, it actually fits quite well within the new cinematic universe that DC is building. The Ben Affleck version of Batman is definitely not the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale version. Even from an aesthetic point of view, the DCEU Batman is distinct. It follows, then, that his city would look and feel different. In Batman v Superman, Bruce and Alfred mentioned that they’ve fought crime in Gotham for 20 years. This Batman is older, tired, and more than a bit cynical. It has been a rough few decades for him and, by extension, Gotham. All the while he, and the city, are still fighting the good fight, still doing what they can to make things better. That sounds an awful lot like Detroit to me.
For the citizens of Detroit, Michigan Central Station has become a symbol of the city’s past glories and current struggles. Now, it will become a symbol of the city’s rebirth.
The Motor City Rises
Michigan Central Station first opened in 1914 in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, the oldest neighborhood in the city. It was designed by the same team of architects that designed Grand Central Station in New York, and it’s a wonderful example of the Beaux-Arts Classical Style. For all its beauty though, it has become a symbol of Detroit’s former greatness and more recent problems. It was closed in 1988 and has remained closed since, aside from occasionally being used as a backdrop for a movie. Graffiti and urban decay have slowly taken over the structure.
Detroit, its people, and its industry are making a comeback though. It’s absolutely poetic that Michigan Central Station, a symbol of the city’s decline, would also be a symbol of its renaissance.
On June 19, 2018, the Ford Motor Company, a name synonymous with Detroit, announced that it was purchasing the property. The company has some incredible, ambitious plans for Michigan Central Station and Corktown. They even have a hype video! Check it out:
Not only are they going to breathe new life into the old station and give the entire thing a facelift, they’re going to completely transform Corktown as well. They plan to make Corktown into a “hub where Ford and its partners will work on autonomous and electric vehicles, and design urban mobility services and solutions that includes smart, connected vehicles, roads, parking and public transit”. In short, they want Michigan Central Station to serve as a 21st Century, autonomous vehicle version of what it was to our 20th Century counterparts.
Michigan Central Station Lives
Needless to say, this is big news for Ford and for Detroit, and they decided to celebrate. The festivities kicked off with a large celebration at the train station, hosted by the Ford Motor Company and Bill Ford (Henry Ford’s great-grandson). The ceremony also included appearances by local personalities and a performance by the Detroit Children’s Choir and rapper Big Sean. Last but not least, Ford announced that they’d be opening the station to the general public for three days only. They hosted an open house for the weekend of June 22, 23, and 24. Now, Michigan Central Station is once again closed to the public for Ford’s refurbishments.
For the first time in three decades, the citizens of Detroit were allowed to (legally) visit the landmark. Over 20,000 Detroiters RSVP’d on Ford’s website. They lined up for hours on end to get inside and catch a glimpse of the station. Former employees and patrons of the station, affectionately referred to as “the Depot”, shared stories of the building’s golden age. A group of urban explorers, who had stolen a large clock from the Depot years prior, surreptitiously returned the piece to Ford before the open house.
A Once in a Lifetime Experience
I was lucky enough to be among the crowd. The station itself, though basically a ruin and covered with graffiti, was still a wonder to behold 30 years after it closed. Honestly, I got goosebumps upon entering the massive structure. My geek side was thrilled to see the location of the Bruce Wayne vs. Kal-El bout. My Detroit side was humbled to be a part of the celebration. Of course, I took plenty of photos.
All in all, it was pretty darn perfect. The atmosphere was positively electric. It was an absolutely wonderful day. We were standing in the literal midst of Michigan Central Station’s – and Detroit’s – rebirth.
What do you geeks think of this Detroit landmark? Do you think it’s a perfect representation of Gotham? Let us know in the comments!