"A CHANCE FOR A FRESH START" is how the Detroit Free Press blasted the news that the city had filed for bankruptcy on its front page Friday. Detroit Mayor David Bing said much the same Thursday: "This is very difficult for all of us, but if it's going to make services better off, then this is a new start for us."
That difficulty is immediately obvious. When Detroit filed for bankruptcy Thursday, it joined just over 60 municipalities to do so since the mid-1950s. Detroit, with as much as $20 billion in debt, is by far the largest city to ever do so. It's not at all clear where the city goes from here, and what kind of precedent the bankruptcy proceedings will set for the nation's other struggling cities.
For Detroit though, it wasn't always this way. Search through photos of the city throughout the 20th century, and you see a grand arc of urban exuberance to urban decay. Today, Detroit is a city of contrasts. Great structures of a bygone age, such as the baroque Michigan Theatre, are now vacant or re-purposed. The Theatre, once adorned by crystal chandeliers and constructed on the site of Henry Ford's first factory, is now a parking garage. How's that for symbolism.
Here's a look back at what Detroit once was, and what many hope it now has the chance to become again.
In March, 1963, this headline graced The New York Times:
The story's lede: "There is no singing the blues in Detroit these days, even though a gray, chilling winter has tried to linger in spring's lap." High hopes for the city under "Michigan's dynamic new chief executive," Gov. George Romney.
From an EPA photo, new cars are loaded onto railroad cars at Lasher and I-75 in July 1973.
Detroit Pistons center and future Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Lanier rides a trolley outside Detroit's Cobo Hall in 1977:
Ronal Reagan officially became the GOP nominee for president at the Republican National Convention in Detroit in July 1980. This AP photo features Reagan, his running mate George H.W. Bush, former President Ford, and their wives.
Of course, life in Detroit wasn't always great for everybody. Racial issues have spilled over into violence in the city for decades. Here, in June 1943, the Michigan governor called in troops to stop fighting:
And more recently, massive riots took place over five days in 1967; the riots broke out over police brutality toward Detroit's black citizens and the economic stagnation of the black population:
And even in the seemingly good times, as The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf writes today, some saw the city's fall coming.