Put a quarter in the wayback machine once again and let’s travel back to Detroit in the mid-70s.
Here’s another installment in the Detroit Historical Society’s ongoing efforts to digitize old films in its collection; I wrote about “Detroit Means Business,” a 1985 promotional video, last week.
“Take Another Look At Detroit” was a 16-millimeter film produced in 1975 by the Metropolitan Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau. Fittingly, it spends a lot of time discussing things relevant to business-convention groups, such as Cobo Hall (“you can come right off the expressway right into the Cobo Hall up onto the roof!”), hotels and restaurants, and our proximity to Canada.
What you don’t see much of are the city’s neighborhoods — or much of anything in the city beyond the central business district, which was then still hanging onto retail destinations like Hudson’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, barely.
Detroit in 1975 was a city struggling to recover from the physical and psychological scars of the 1967 riots. It was also dealing with the Supreme Court’s rejection of a controversial ruling ordering Detroit’s schools to be desegregated.
It was still a white-majority city, but not for much longer. White people and jobs were leaving for the suburbs in droves, and drugs, crime and blight were laying waste to many neighborhoods. So you’ll hear non-subtle reminders that “you can stay in Troy, Dearborn, Southfield. There are great places to stay all over!” and plugs for plenty other places well outside city limits.
“It’s a great place for activity,” says one apparently well-to-do older white woman, in a pretty lukewarm endorsement. “Well, I’m a single lady,” adds a younger, coiffed blonde woman. “I think there’s a lot of places in Detroit. There’s always something new. It never remains the same place.”
“Take Another Look” is punctuated with weird attempts at sex appeal and innuendo (dig the cork-popping sound at :23), and pretty incredible period music. But there’s a certain underlying sadness that’s made more poignant through hindsight and the knowledge that things would get far, far worse over the coming decades.