Urban Exploration: Packard Plant

When I began writing Soul Avenged, I wasn’t quite sure where to set this cast of characters.  For a long time, I’d wanted to write about Detroit.  But let’s face it, Detroit isn’t a romantic town boasting a brighter shade of overcast, surrounded by lush greenery with half naked Native Americans and their bulging chests running around, fighting a coven of sparkly vampires—er, unless one of the homeless guys managed to score a good, strong liquor.  It’s a multiple personality disorder without meds:  culture, art, decay, pride, history, scandal, rebirth.  Not to mention it’s ranked in the top ten most dangerous cities in the U.S.

It’s also where I was born though.

I grew up going to concerts with my parents in Hart Plaza, musicals at the Fox Theater, the Auto Show at Cobo, boating on the Detroit River, St. Andrews Hall with friends, my beloved Detroit Science Center and those small hole-in-the-wall (literally) restaurants in the heart of the city that you'd never think to set foot inside.  In high school, I participated in a research internship at the Mott Medical Center on the campus of Wayne State--my very first experience working in a real lab.  And so began my love for science...  My prom was held at the Atheneum in Greek town and I had dinner with my date on the top floor, The Summit, of the RenCen.  Up until I left for college, I lived in the same house about two or so blocks from the 8 mile (no, I've never met Eminem).

So why wouldn’t I set this dark urban fantasy in a location that's been an integral part of my life?

The opening scene of Soul Avenged takes place in the Packard Plant.  I’ve always been somewhat fascinated by the ruins of Detroit, particularly when I’ve had the opportunity to stumble across pictures taken decades ago while the city was booming with business.  So odd to see fancy storefronts in a time long since passed transformed into boarded up broken glass, sprayed with graffiti.

My sister Lisa and her man, Glenn, are both photographers.  So when I was scouring inspiration to write this scene, I really didn’t have to go far.  Lisa, Glenn and their fellow photographer friends have done some urban exploration in the city’s most shattered landmarks.  I asked her to give her perspective—to write how she sees what some might call an unsalvageable wreck--through the eyes of an artist.

There are those who come to Detroit from all over the world to photograph these buildings as if they're walking through cemeteries, mourning the dead.  My sister is one who, like me, has lived here all her life.  She sees beyond the exterior, into the soul of what once was and what could someday be again.

 The Soul Within

One of my favorite places to shoot is The Packard Plant, East Side Detroit.  The hustle and bustle of the city can be heard from outside the walls, while inside, an eerie silence lingers amidst the ruins and debris.  It’s a modern day ghost town.  With 3.5 million square feet sprawled across thirty-five acres, the Packard Plant is the largest abandoned factory in the world.

It is surreal, to say the least.

I’m fascinated by it’s destruction.  Twisted metal swings from the ceiling like a contemporary sculpture.  The cracks and crumbles of deteriorating concrete seem to draw a picture. And the infinite angles to shoot beckon a return trip.

Perhaps you’re thinking … what’s so intriguing about that?

If you’ve ever looked into a grandmother’s eyes and witnessed the beauty of her soul—how her past paints a masterpiece of what once was—the same can be said for urban decay.  As I walk around, I see the plant as a hub of production and prosperity; the assembly of thousands of cars, and workers sitting in the cafeteria eating their lunches.   Like the scene from Titanic that morphs a rotting ship at the bottom of the sea into a breathtaking vessel ready for a voyage.   A story reads in my head with the passing of each corridor.  I see the soul of the building through the decay … and to me, it’s beautiful.  -Lisa

“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph. “– Matt Hardy