6 things to look for while touring the Michigan Central Depot

More than 20,000 people have signed up for free tours of Michigan Central Depot this weekend — so many, in fact, that Ford Motor Co. has stopped taking reservations ahead of its planned renovations to the iconic Corktown building.

Ford does not plan to extend tours beyond the weekend because of the company's construction plan schedule, spokeswoman Marisa Bradley said. However, there could be future opportunities as Ford explores its broader plans, she added.

The lobby of the Michigan Central Depot is seen during a Detroit Homecoming event in September of 2017. (file photo)

For those who've made reservations, the former train station is open from 1-6 p.m. Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The building is located at 2001 15th St. in Detroit.

"I think what’s been really exciting is to see how much passion and love for what this symbolizes for the city and the future," Bradley said. "We’ve heard from dozens of people who have shared their stories of traveling through the station or meeting family there. It's inspiring to see the response."

The Dearborn automaker plans to turn the former train station into the center of its Corktown campus devoted to development of self-driving and electric cars.

Ford plans to refurbish the building by 2022 and use the building for offices for 5,000 people — 2,500 of whom will be Ford employees. 

Here are six things you must make sure to see if you are touring the depot:

1. The Grand Hall: Ford and the Detroit Historical Society will have a curated exhibit inside the 18-story, 500,000-square-foot building, where thousands of passengers a day entered to board trains when the building was still operating at its peak. Artifacts on display in the Grand Hall include the recently returned train station clock. Visitors can also watch a trailer providing an early look at "Detroit: Comeback City," a documentary featuring the train station airing July 1 on the History Channel. 

The entrance to the train ramp off the Central Concourse in 1980 and now.

2. Central concourse: The entrance to the train ramp off the central concourse has been open to the elements for years. But even though the interior is crumbling and plants are growing in the concrete cracks, the steel beams above are still strong. Catch a breath of fresh air and a glimpse of sunlight while you imagine what this area looked like in its heyday. 

The ticket counter at the Michigan Central Depot in 1980 and now.

3. The ticket counter: It looks eerily alive with its windows clearly visible, although the glass is gone and the frames are falling apart. According to an article in the Detroit Tribune, the first ticket sold at the new terminal was paid for with “a bright new $20 gold piece” from a passenger from Bay City. 

From the archives: Searching for R. Kelley

The Arcade cigar shop in 1983 and now.

4. The ghosts of storefronts: In 1976, ridership had fallen to 1,000 people a day, and the station closed its grand waiting room and front entrance, forcing a flower shop and other amenities to leave. The space became a storage room. Its mahogany benches, once always occupied, sold for $25 apiece.

Those storefronts could live again. Ford has said it envisions the first floor of the Central Depot as a public space with retail and restaurants, coffee shops and perhaps a market.

The general waiting area 1973 and now.

5. Waiting room: In the 1940s, 4,000 passengers a day walked across marble floors of the Roman bathhouse-inspired waiting room. Long gone are the marble floors as well as the chandeliers that once hung from the 54-foot ceilings. Weather and scavengers have so thoroughly degraded the massive building that it's been the backdrop for apocalyptic films such as “Transformers” and “The Island.”

From the archives: Frozen in indifference

View from just inside the main entrance to the abandoned, but recently cleaned up Michigan Central Train Station in Detroit.

6. The graffiti: We're not just talking about the colorful assortment of tagging on the walls and ceilings of the depot. Ford is bringing in local graffiti artists FEL3000ft and Shades for live mural making inside the waiting room for all three days. There will also be a STEAM lab, or maker space, featuring Rebel Nell Jewelry, Dr. Nitro Dessert Lab and Asia Newson Candle Making.

Here is a complete schedule of events.