The Implosion of J.L. Hudson’s Flagship Store in Detroit

February 22, 2010 Art & Design

At 5:47 PM on October 24, 1998, the iconic J.L. Hudson’s flagship department store in downtown Detroit was imploded. As I recall, there was much controversy surrounding former Mayor Dennis Archer’s decision to bring down this _______ (eyesore; historically significant structure; reminder of better days in a tired city; etc.). Sadly, to this day, nothing has been built upon this massive footprint in the city. Almost twelve years have passed and I can’t help but wonder what could have happened had that magnificent building been restored, rehabilitated and/or adaptively reused.

As a young art student with a love for the city – most of my creative work focused on Detroit – I made a point of attending the destruction of this icon. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the smartest move I’ve made in my life. Who knows what I inhaled in the plume that engulfed the city following the implosion that day (I’m sure I lost a couple years of my life). I remember feeling both exhilarated and depressed, simultaneously. I documented the destruction I saw with my 35mm SLR camera. My goal was to eventually do something with the series of images.

Originally, I planned to print a series of nine images showing the collapse of the structure. However, after further thought this didn’t seem appropriate. Later, I thought about screenprinting the series on Hudson’s store bags. The name of the series was to be 13 Hour Sale! (yeah, it’s satire for those familiar with Hudson’s). In the end, my ambivalence and personal confusion over the building prohibited me from finishing the series.

Today, I’m snowed in and feeling a bit nostalgic. I recently located some scans of the images on an old Zip disk (yes, the quality of the scans is poor). I thought I’d share them here with you today. Only a handful of friends and family have ever seen these images. If you have recollections of the building or old Detroit, please do share your thoughts in the comment section below (or email me if you prefer to be private).

Hudson's Implosion 01

Hudson's Implosion 01

Hudson's Implosion 02

Hudson's Implosion 02

Hudson's Implosion 03

Hudson's Implosion 03

Hudson's Implosion 04

Hudson's Implosion 04

Hudson's Implosion 05

Hudson's Implosion 05

Hudson's Implosion 06

Hudson's Implosion 06

Hudson's Implosion 07

Hudson's Implosion 07

Hudson's Implosion 08

Hudson's Implosion 08

Hudson's Implosion 09

Hudson's Implosion 09

Other resources:

– Devon Akmon

8 Replies to “The Implosion of J.L. Hudson’s Flagship Store in Detroit”

  1. J.Knecht says:

    #3 is my favorite. Thanks for posting.

  2. Sean says:

    To this day (February 2010), I am saddened, bitter and unforgiving to Metro-Detroit for allowing this tragedy to happen. I agree that imploding Hudson’s was not necessary nor smart at the time. I am a GenXr, so as a childe, I was fortunate enough to enjoy Hudson’s during the last decade it was open. To me, the store was beautiful and huge. My favorite part was the endless amount of elevators and the glass doors that you could see through as you were whisked up to the 12th floor for Christmas. Long after the store was gone, I bought the book, “Hudson’s: Detroit’s Legendary Department Store”, and saw pictures taken before my lifetime. I was shocked to discover just how beautiful the store was prior to my existance and finally truly understood why people older than eye had it worse than me: they saw it’s true splendor.

    Now, in 2010, the ignorance of Metro-Detroit (Detroit AND the suburbs, who ruined this landmark together–eventhough suburbanites typically act as though they had nothing to do with it–and I am a suburbanite who disagrees with that mentality) there is nothing there. A large parking lot and a reminder of what was, could have been and will never be again. The promise of new land developement was already shaky before the Superbowl, and now the economy has stalled progress.

    The true crime is that this region, its culture and citizens have truly forgotten what it is like to be grand, glamorous, classy, and have any sense of civic pride in buildings. The ignorance is amazing to visitors when they hear the story.

    Oh well, at least Chicago is nearby, and that lost Detroit slendor of great shopping streets can be relived though State Street and the Macy’s (formerly Marshall Field’s) Hudson’s-like store. Thank you for letting me express myself on this site. Great article.

  3. Devon Akmon says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. On a better note, I just learned today that Prelinger’s Lost Landscapes of Detroit are now available for download and remix. This is a “collection of amazing and almost-all-lost footage that celebrates a vibrant, busy and productive Detroit from 1917 through the 1970s.” You might find this interesting.

  4. Josh Nagy says:

    I too have some images (different vantage point) from that day. If I can get around to scanning them, I’ll be sure to send them your way. It would be interesting to see a series of that event through many different eyes.

  5. Devon Akmon says:

    Good to hear from you! Would love to see your images!

  6. Zee says:

    Very eloquently put Sean. I think the demolition of Hudson’s was urban terrorism. Millions of memories and ghosts crushed under the rubble. We will never see stores of that stature and grandeur again.

    I bought the Hudsons book too and was amazed at the lavish interiors and sheer scale of the place. it had something liek 17 selling floors!! A whole floor of restaurants, Michigans largest bookstore and a huge theatre/auditorium were just some of its many attractions. In its heyday between the 1920s – !970 the store was so busy it had its own telephone exchange second in size only to the Pentagon.

    It was also a home for exclusivity with many designers from Europe and America having shows there and many celebrities making appreances. If you bought something at Hudsons is was condsidered very classy and the best of its kind.

    By the end of teh 1960s the whole of downtown Detroit was in decline and people preferred the saftey of shopping in the suburbs. Someone was shot at Hudsons and after the Detroit riots many people avoided downtown shopping . Hudsons contributed to its iown demise by opeing large out of town stores from the mid 1950s.

    The store closed in 1982. Was kept secure and guarded for many years but eventually when it was sold was pillaged and fell ito disrepair. Many irtems that were stolen at the time including light fittings and furniture turn up for sale on the internet from time to time.

    The destruction was on a par with that of Penn Station in New York. Unforgiveable. The store building may not have been able to operate on that scale any mor but would have made great mixed use – with offices, retail and maybe a hotel. No one will ever have the chance now…..

    tragic.

    You can at least still make their famous salad served in the stores many resturants..

    http://www.grouprecipes.com/45006/classic-maurice-salad.html

  7. Zee says:

    You can get some idea of teh scale of teh store here

    http://streaming.thecreation.com/glaserproductions.com/hud.wmv

  8. paule deneau says:

    Much thanks for preserving this historical document. As a teenage univ. student from Canada I too was smitten with the grandeur and splendour that was Hudson’s. If Mammon was the new god, I was prepared to worship here. I dreamt about this place long after I left the area.As a penniless student I even bought a few items which I still vividly recall.(only at the sales) The whole Detroit saga is mythic…like Pompei or the sack of Rome and you are living witness. Of course there is a monumental story here which you historians are outlining. Greed, ignorance, racism and failure of the political will etc. But I am not a historian. Was very interested to read that Diana Ross was the 1st? black woman employed as bus girl in the basement cafeteria in 1960 in Hudson’s. FYI I moved to London, Paris and Athens during the 60’s and on every corner you could find a pub, cafe, or bldg that was 200 or 300yrs old never mind the preservation of the ancient monuments. How and why this destruction happened in Detroit is a huge chapter in American history. I will keep following.

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