The Hudson’s Implosion, 1998
Today, construction equipment line the area near the People Mover’s Cadillac Center Station as crews work steadily on what will be downtown’s tallest building. For the Detroit People Mover, the location has come full circle from the catalyst 20 years ago that made way for the new structure rising in the former Hudson’s Department Store space.
Nearly 14 months after marking 10 years of serving the community, the Detroit People Mover encountered one of the biggest challenges the system had ever faced. October, 24, 1998 was a day that held significance for many across the state as the beloved Hudson’s building was imploded after being long vacant. At 2.2 million square feet, Hudson’s was the tallest department store in the country with 33 levels and was second only to Macy’s New York anchor store in terms of square footage. Hudson’s dominated the retail market in Detroit through the 1970’s before closing its doors in 1983.
Hudson’s rose 410 ft. above the People Mover, which ran parallel to the east face. Nostalgic memories elevated the venerable landmark to symbolize a bygone era and an uncertain future. The razing would make way for revitalization long overdue.
When the Mayor Dennis Archer pressed the button at 5:45 PM, assembled officials, contractors and an estimated crowd of 20,000 spectators watched the store begin to fall at its southwest corner. The controlled, progressive collapse moved northeasterly through the structure, literally pulling the perimeter walls inward.
After the dust cleared, a debris pile averaging 35 ft. tall, and as high as 60 ft. where the tower had stood, were all that remained of 2,728 pounds of explosives. Woodward, Farmer and Gratiot Streets were cleared of light debris immediately. It would take an additional couple of days to clear the pile of debris closest to the narrow Grand River Avenue side to ensure vehicular and pedestrian safety.
Six columns collapsed across the People Mover track. The steel beams sheared of portions of the track’s concrete walls and damaged the system’s power rails. Cables were severed and a section of the rail had simply disappeared. The shutdown came as the People Mover moved into its busiest time of year, the Red Wings hockey season.
The People Mover was about 50 feet from the old 28-floor store. In Detroit, the city sued Controlled Demolition’s insurer for causing $4 million in damage to recover the cost of repairing the 400-foot section. The closure caused hardships for restaurants and small shops along the decimated stretch. As debris was cleared from the People Mover guideway, advertising contracts were cancelled and a new plan was created. The decision to operate partial service, known as the Red Line and the Green Line – would allow train movement around the track in two directions, avoiding the demolished area completely. The Detroit Transportation Corporation reopened the People Mover with this option on November 15, 1998. Construction would take more than a year to restore the system.