Jan 25, 2006

Motown History, Under the Wrecker's Ball

The following two items were sent by a friend of mine via e-mail today:

The Detroit office building that housed the business offices of Motown Records from 1967-1972 was demolished this week.

The excellent Web site Detroit Funk has posted photos of the destruction and a rather astonishing collection of photo scans of Motown documents salvaged from the wreckage.

I've also included (below) a related Detroit News story about the demolition, written by former CREEM Magazine staffer Susan Whitall.

From http://www.detnews.com:


Donovan Building, former home to Motown offices, to be razed, but project leader holds out hope

Susan Whitall / The Detroit News January 14, 2006

As the wrecking ball tears into the old Donovan Building on Woodward Avenue next week, the question remains: Is there nothing in the old Motown Center's future but a gravel parking lot?

The Donovan Building, which sported distinctive blue panels in its later years, and an attached building, an old Sanders shop, were headquarters for Motown's business offices from 1967 to '72, before the company moved to Los Angeles. Both buildings are being razed and will be used as parking during the Super Bowl. Does that kill the much-vaunted Motown Center project, which would create an expanded, additional Motown Museum (apart from Hitsville, the Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Boulevard) and give Motown Records a presence downtown as a reminder of an earlier golden age of Detroit music?

Tanya Heidelberg-Yopp, who has helmed the Motown Center project for Berry Gordy Jr. and other investors, has said in the past that they could proceed either with the renovation of the existing buildings, or with new construction.

About the teardown, Heidelberg-Yopp says, "I think that everyone is interested in seeing Detroit in the best possible shape in time for the Super Bowl, moving Detroit forward in every way."

If nostalgia for the Donovan is muted, it may be because, despite some press reports, no recording was ever done there. Motown used Studio A at 2648 W. Grand Blvd. and Studio B, up on Davison, for hits from "Baby Love" by the Supremes to "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye. When he bought the Donovan, Gordy dubbed it "Motown Center," and it was a big step forward for the growing company, which had sprawled between several houses for years. With the Motown Center, most business operations could be in one building, with separate offices easily accessible by elevator. Until then, to do business, Motown staffers had to walk in snow, rain or sleet between the numerous houses on West Grand Boulevard that Gordy eventually bought.

Even after moving into the Donovan, Motown's holdings were still far-flung. In the middle of the night, a recording engineer might have to drive a tape from Studio A 4 miles away to Studio B, which Gordy bought from Golden World Records.

Although the Donovan Building doesn't have the same history as Hitsville, there were many Motown artifacts still in the building, and the building was not difficult to get into, as spelunkers (people who explore abandoned buildings) found over the years. One blogger (at detroitblog.org) posted a photo of what appears to be Marvin Gaye's Blue Cross book from the late '60s, complete with a note from a secretary to Gaye.

In 1999, Gordy announced that he wanted to renovate the Donovan Building into a "Motown Center," comprising a space for the many Motown artifacts that wouldn't fit in the cramped, original Hitsville Building. There are warehouses full of Motown memorabilia left over from the late '90s Henry Ford Museum Motown exhibit as, well. The new Motown Center would be in addition to, not a replacement for, the historically preserved Hitsville, where so many hits were recorded and where Gordy himself lived for several years.

As for Motown Center's future, it hasn't been turned into gravel -- yet. "We remain committed to preserving and celebrating Detroit's Motown legacy," Heidelberg-Yopp says.

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