“We need to dream big dreams [and] propose grandiose means if we are to recapture the excitement, the vibrancy, and pride we once had.” – Coleman A. Young, Detroit’s first black mayor, serving from 1974-1993.
This video, made to promote Detroit’s Renaissance Center – a series of steel and glass skyscrapers along the Detroit River that General Motors and several other major businesses today call home. Built in the late 1970s, the Renaissance Center was a sort of last ditch effort by wealthy businessnmen like Henry Ford II to “save” the city from crippling disinvestment. It was precisely the “grandiose means” Mayor Young would call for, but it ultimately did little to stem the tide of decay sweeping the city and actually stole a lot of its tenants from other buildings downtown.
At the top of the main tower, you can eat at the Coach Insignia, an upscale bar and restaurant. It used to be known as The Sundial and had rotating dining rooms when the Renaissance Center first opened. From the video:
“The Detroit Plaza will host 11 restaurants, but none quite like The Sundial, which crowns the hotel 700 feet above the city. It is reached by way of a glass-enclosed high-speed elevator, again on the outside of the building. Two of The Sundial’s three levels revolve 360 degrees. You sit in your chair and watch the city, 70 stories below, turning, changing before your eyes. Each minute, a new, fresh perspective of Detroit, a city reborn.”
When the owners of Coach Insignia redesigned the dining area, they decided that rotating floors were too kitschy and removed them. Now the restaurant rests, stationary, frozen in time. You watch as the portion of downtown adjacent to your table is leveled to make way for parking lots and parking garages, and the fresh perpectives are all too few. Sure, tons of people are chipping into the current Detroit renaissance, but can they really save the city this time? Can enough fingers really plug the dam?
Watching the sunset from the top of the Renaissance Center with a gin and tonic in hand, I can’t help but believe in a better tomorrow. The sunlight diffuses its warmth on the sterile white geometric shapes in the dining room, and time becomes a figment of my imagination. It changes but stays the same. The ghost of Mayor Young appears, shakes my hand, and says: “We got to the point where all of the workers, or a whole lot of them, had boats and summer cottages. Who the hell had time to parade on Labor Day? But prune face made us remember!”
Prune face was Mayor Young’s nickname for Ronald Reagan. I couldn’t help but laugh. The white tulips on the tables wilted in the evening air.
Damn the prune faces!