DETROIT – More than three decades after the last train left Michigan Central Station, the building’s ornate interior will soon look as its creators envisioned more than a century ago.
Ford Motor Company has brought on one of the largest specialty contractors in the U.S., one with a lengthy résumé of restoring historic buildings, to revive the grandest areas of the train depot, including the main waiting area, arcade, ticket lobby and restaurant.
New York City-based EverGreene Architectural Arts will replicate and restore approximately 56,000 square feet of decorative plasterwork. A distinguishing feature of the station’s Beaux Art architecture, plaster covers most of the building’s first floor and was made to look like stone, a cost-saving measure at the time of construction. EverGreene will preserve and clean what original plaster material can be saved and re-create new portions where needed.
The 18-month job will use three plaster techniques – traditional three-coat plastering, ornamental plastering and veneer plastering – and require replicating more than 3,000 cast plaster pieces, including the coffers, medallions and rosettes that adorn the waiting room’s walls and ceilings. The work will be choreographed in a way that creates a seamless transition of old and new in areas most visible to visitors.
Austin Giesey, project manager for Christman-Brinker, the construction team leading the Michigan Central Station restoration project, says the effect when it’s finished will be “jaw dropping.”
“The original architects used every plaster craft available to them to create the station’s impressive public spaces,” said Giesey. “People don’t realize just how much detail has been lost over the past 30 years. When we’re finished with these spaces, they will look phenomenal. You will walk in and see a grand expanse of stone like plaster that will look exactly like the original concept. It’s really going to be amazing.”
Craftsmanship and preservation
While ornamental plaster is far less common in new buildings than it was in the 1910s, the skilled tradespeople at Michigan Central Station will be able to preserve and re-create the faux stone appearance just as the original architects intended. While some digital tools will be used, a team of 15 to 20 craftspeople from EverGreene will do most of the plasterwork by hand using floor-to-ceiling scaffolding.
EverGreene has been part of Detroit’s comeback for more than two decades, having contributed to projects at Orchestra Hall, Detroit Public Library, Detroit Institute of Arts and the Fisher Building. The company has also performed plaster and decorative painting work on the Michigan State Capitol building. The firm is familiar with train station revivals, having worked on restoration projects for New York City’s Grand Central Station and Union Station in Los Angeles, as well as depots in Seattle, Cincinnati and Sacramento.
Jeff Greene, executive chairman and founder of EverGreene, said Michigan Central Station is an extraordinary, well-made building whose renovation will attract national attention when it reopens.
“To play even a small role in the transformation of this iconic building is incredible,” said Greene. “There’s a lot of gratification, not only in the craft and what we do with our hands, but the act of elegantly preserving something that means so much to this city. A project of this scale will reverberate on the national stage.”
Greene noted that buildings like Michigan Central Station contribute to the city’s collective source of memories and create a sense of place. “When we bring life back to these buildings, they can have a huge impact on the neighborhood and the community,” he said. “People identify with a physical environment, it’s a repository for memories. Michigan Central Station was and will be again a central place in what makes up the personality of Detroit.”
EverGreene will attempt to salvage and repurpose as much of the original building material as possible. The original plaster was created to simulate the stone found throughout the building, some of which still remains despite decades of weathering. The remnants will be used as a template for the new plaster.
Ford embarked on the years-long preservation project after purchasing Michigan Central Station in 2018. The plasterwork is taking place at the same time as extensive repairs to the Guastavino vaulted ceiling in the waiting room. The impressive ceiling features 22,000 square feet of clay tiles covering three self-supporting arches. The next phase of interior restoration will involve bringing new piping, floors, plumbing and electricals to the building and finishing structural repairs. Construction is on track to be complete by the end of 2022.
Michigan Central Station is set to become the centerpiece of Ford’s new 30-acre mobility innovation district in Corktown that will help define the way people and goods move around in the future. The station will be open to the public with locally inspired restaurants, shops, hospitality services and public amenities, in addition to modern office spaces for Ford employees and the company’s innovation partners.