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About the Photos

Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • FLY TO THE CARIBBEAN BY CLIPPER, c. 1950s

Moonlight Tower: 1890

Moonlight Tower: 1890

Circa 1880-1899. "Majestic Building, Detroit." And a good view of one of the "moonlight tower" arc lamp standards whose base can be seen in the previous post. Some of these towers are said to have made their way to Austin, Texas, where they are the sole remaining examples of their kind. View full size.

 

I wonder

Who can read THIS from the street.

Majestic Demolition

I was one of the two crane operators that participated in the demolition of the building in 1962. We hoisted a small 10 ton Bantam crane and a small John Deere loader-dozer atop the building and slowly worked our way to the third floor where the building was becoming unstable. We removed the equipment and finished the demolition from the ground. I worked for Arrow Wrecking Co. for nearly 20 years and am now retired to Upper Michigan. The photos of the demolition brought back many fond memories of my old home town. Thanks.

Austin Towers

See all 15 Moonlight Towers - http://www.andymattern.com/moonlighttowers/

So little traffic

Lots of streetcars. Some commercial drays. A handful of private coaches.

And many pedestrians. Looks something like Moscow would have until the end of the Soviet Union. Plenty of space on those broad boulevards.

Moonlight Towers in Austin

There are indeed remaining moonlight towers here in Austin. Seventeen of them are still in use, retrofitted with incandescent bulbs in, I think the 1950's.

More info here. lick below to enlarge.

Demolition of City Hall

The corner of old Detroit City Hall is seen at the left edge of the photo. In one of the most notorious incidents in the history of Detroit, as preservationists and boosters alike fought to save the old city hall, an injuction was filed to stop the demolition. The contractor snuck a bulldozer into the site at midnight and demolished the portico on the front of the building, compromising the structural integrity of the edifice, and forcing the full demolition.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument

The lady in the lower right stands atop the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, which commemorates the civil war. The statue, as mentioned above, was recently moved about 100 feet, to accommodate the re-creation of a park in Campus Martius. Its still there and looks as good as the day she was unveiled. Stop in sometime and have a look. Its at the heart of downtown Detroit.

1896-1962

The Majestic was Detroit's second skyscraper.

Appearing at the Auditorium

General William Booth wasn't just any Salvation Army speaker, he founded the organization in 1878, after the 13 years that he and his wife Catherine spent leading his East End (London) organization, The Christian Mission, nee The Christian Revival Society, itself formed after his four unhappy years as a Methodist (they wanted him to take a pastorate, he wanted to travel and evangelize). Initially regarded as a crank, by the time of this photo both William Booth and his Salvation Army were highly regarded.

I am wondering if The Auditorium refers to the Auditorium of the Detroit Museum of Art, which at the turn of the century was criticized for booking "shallow" speakers, not aligned with the "purposes for which the art museum was organized." (see: "Museum on the Verge," by Jeffrey Apt, Wayne State Press, 2001)

Austin memories

I'd forgotten all about these. I moved to Austin for college 40 years ago and lived near a light tower myself. It wasn't "the only light source," but Austin in those days was a much, much smaller town with far less light pollution than today. The artificial moonlight was noticeable from almost anywhere in town, as I recall.

Eight Storeys in the Naked City

From Printer's Ink, July 5, 1899:

"The finest commercial structure in Michigan is the Majestic Building, Detroit, occupied by the department store of C.A. Shafer ... Mr. Shafer uses eight floors and the basement."

In 1901 Shafer was bought out by Pardridge & Blackwell. This photo must date from between 1896, when the building was completed, and 1901, when P & B took over. Also, General William Booth (as advertised on the street banner) did a tour of U.S. cities in 1898.

Cadillac Square

If that's the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in the lower left right (as identified in earlier posts of Cadillac Square), then I'm guessing this photo was taken from the Hotel Pontchartrain.

RE: circa

I know the Library of Congress says circa 1880-1899.

But I think this might be 1902. Because the sale signs say, "A BUSINESS REVOLUTION Change of Ownership-Management".

Which jibes with this, from 1902:

Pardridge & Walsh, dry goods merchants, for many years at the corner of Woodward avenue and Congress street, purchased the immense stock and fixtures of C. A. Shafer in the Majestic building for about $140,000, and continued the management of both stores until the end of the year.

[Finish reading the signs and you'll see that the photo shows C.A. Shafer moving into the building, not out of it. This negative is listed in the 1899 Detroit Publishing catalog. - Dave]

Sword carrying lady

The lady is on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, dedicated in 1872 to honor Michigan's Civil War veterans. The monument was moved about 100 feet a few years ago.

Check the Plaque Dave

Looks like they bought them new in Austin.

[Hello? The plaque doesn't have a thing to say about new or used. There are, however, plenty of references describing how the city of Austin bought 31 used towers from Detroit in 1894. - Dave]

Aglow in Austin

I live about two miles from one of the "moon towers" in Austin. It's very high up, and shines brightly every night. Of course, there's lots of other light around, so it's hard to tell just how much it's casting. I've often wondered what it would look like if it were the only light source.

Peninsular Electric

There's another tower at the next intersection. It must have been successful because I can't see any remains of the gaslights that must have preceded it. The Peninsular Electric Light Company was founded in 1891 to run Detroit's street lights. It seems there were 142 of them (but probably not 142 towers).

Snap, Crackle and Pop!

The early carbon arc street lamps were not necessarily as popular an innovation as one might assume. I don't know what Detroit residents thought of theirs, but a similar system was installed in San Diego in 1886, and earned many bitter complaints from the residents. The lamps were too bright for one thing, and people who had grown up with candles and kerosene lantern lights were appalled by the harsh, blue-white arc lights that cast shadows deeper than the noonday sun. The company's solution was to raise the masts to as tall as 125 feet (below, in an 1887 photo), but it scarcely helped. And the heavy carbon rods were exposed to the moist and often foggy night air from the adjacent bay, resulting in an all-night racket of pops and small explosions that kept everyone awake. San Diego's carbon arc lamps lasted only to 1889, when the lighting company failed in a local economic collapse, but their removal was unlamented by the long-suffering residents.

All gone...nearly

Corner of Woodward and Michigan Avenue. That's the old city hall at the left side of the photo. As in the previous photo of the old post office, nothing in this photo remains today.

Well, almost. You can see this cannon at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle, as it was removed there when the city hall was razed in 1960.

The lady carries a sword

I am intrigued by the statue in the lower right. Does she still stand? And what is her story?

Public Transportation

It looks like you don't have to wait long for a streetcar.

 
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