Local News Report

Redevelopment - Artists' Rendering

A New Landmark for Detroit

    Hudson's Department Store

       By DAN AUSTIN of HistoricDetroit.org

The Big Store.

For generations, it was as synonymous with Christmas and fashion as it was Detroit. The store at Woodward and Gratiot avenues was absolutely massive, evolving with the Motor City until it became the tallest department store in the world. By the time it finished growing, the store’s size almost defied belief.

A quick list of facts, many courtesy of the Detroit Historical Museum:

The store was 2,124,316 square feet, making it second in size among department stores to only Macy’s in New York. Even then, Macy’s is only 26,000 square feet bigger.

The store was spread out over 32 floors: 25 floors, two half-floors, a mezzanine and four basements.
At 410 feet, Hudson’s was the tallest department store in the world.

The building had 51 passenger elevators, 17 freight elevators, eight employee elevators and 48 escalators. Its largest freight elevator could accommodate a semi trailer.

Hudson’s had to have three transformer centers in the store: They generated enough juice to power a city of about 20,000.

The store had 39 men’s restrooms, 50 for women and 10 private ones for executives. The largest was a women’s lounge on the fourth floor that had a whopping 85 stalls.

It had 705 fitting rooms, a world record.
The dining rooms and cafeterias served an average of 10,000 meals a day - not counting the 6,000 meals a day served in the employee cafeteria on the 14th floor. The 13th floor dining room was renowned for its Maurice salad and Canadian cheese soup.

There were 49 large display windows facing Woodward, Gratiot, Farmer and Grand River Avenues, and there were an additional 50 interior display windows in areas — such as the elevator corridors and in the Woodward Shops on the seventh floor.

The store featured more than 200 departments across an incredible 49 acres of floor space, and it featured about 600,000 items from 16,000 vendors from 40 countries. The building had 51 elevators serving its 17 floors of retail.

Joseph Lowthian Hudson and his father were running a men’s clothing store in the lumber town of Ionia, Mich., when the Panic of 1873 struck. When the sawmills were shuttered, their customers couldn’t pay their bills. Then Hudson’s father died. Three years later, Hudson went bankrupt, paying his creditors 60 cents on the dollar.

Hudson dusted himself off and started over in Detroit. On April 2, 1881, Hudson opened his first store on the ground floor of the old Detroit Opera House. In 1888, he was so successful, he looked up all the creditors he had shorted in the bankruptcy proceedings 12 years earlier and paid them in full - with compound interest.

In 1911, he opened what would become the first piece of the behemoth. Many people thought Hudson was a fool opening so far north of Jefferson Avenue, then the heart of the city’s commercial district.

Hudson himself was a legend. Easily one of the most successful businessmen in the city’s history, Hudson also was a benefactor. He would serve as chairman and organizer of Detroit’s Associated Charities, which laid the foundation for the United Way Foundation.

In 1954, Hudson’s had sales of more than $163 million (an astronomical $1.28 billion today).

In 1961, at age 29, Joseph L. Hudson Jr. - the founder’s grandnephew - became the business’ president. He had started out working on the docks of the downtown store in 1950. He emphasized fashion and special events and would grow the chain, expanding into the suburbs as the city’s population sprawled into the countryside.

In 1969, Hudson’s merged with Dayton Co. of Minneapolis, creating Dayton Hudson Corp. The merger led to growth not on in Michigan, but also Ohio and Indiana.

As the city’s decline in population, reputation and wealth continued, Hudson’s downtown store closed Jan. 17, 1983, after more than 90 years of business.

But the building was not abandoned at this point. The company’s corporate offices remained in the Big Store, and about 1,200 people still worked there. A new lobby and security entrance were added on the Farmer Street side for employees and visitors. Employees would stick around the building until 1990, when the store was sold by Dayton Hudson Corp. to Southwestern Associates of Windsor, Ontario.

“Various media sources wanted the public to believe that Hudson’s had been vacant for 15 years, when in actuality, it was eight years,” said historian Michael Hauser, “which, by Detroit standards, is a relatively short period of time, compared to many other large vacant structures in the city that have been idle for decades.”

The big blast at the Big Store

Despite several pitches to redevelop the enormous structure, the building was imploded at 5:45 p.m. (the store’s closing time) on Oct. 24, 1998.

“With a deafening roar that will echo in the hearts of Detroiters for decades, the Hudson’s building was blasted to the ground — ending one era and beginning another in 30 ground-shaking seconds,” The Detroit News wrote. “A symbol of glamor for three generations, a symbol of decay for another, the mammoth structure wobbled like a drunk, hesitated, then collapsed into a 60-foot-high pile of rubble — coating downtown streets with a fine gray dust.”

Thirteen years after the big bang at the Big Store, no development has occurred at the site other than an underground parking garage. Hope that someone might wish to build on the property has left Detroiters with nothing but a giant empty space in the heart of downtown dotted by steel girders poking above a concrete expanse.

By DAN AUSTIN of HistoricDetroit.org

J.L. Hudson History

Unity Community 



The J.L. Hudson store, generally known as Hudson’s, was a large retail department store chain that originated in Detroit. Joseph Lowthian Hudson, 35 years old at the time, founded the company in 1881. Then merely a clothing store for men and boys, it was first located in the old Detroit Opera House Building. The store directly competed with C.R. Mabley, where Hudson had previously worked.

In 1911, Hudson opened a larger location on Woodward Avenue, with confidence that the area would become the center of downtown Detroit. The store was housed in a 25-story structure that was the world’s tallest department store until 1961. At one point, Hudson’s claimed it was also the second largest store in the country in terms of square feet

(2 million), with the largest being Macy’s Herald Square location in New York City.

The Hudson family also had a hand in the city’s early auto industry. They created Hudson Motor Car Company, which later became part of the American Motors Corporation. At its most successful sales year in 1929, the company was ranked behind only Ford and Chevrolet.

Hudson’s will always be remembered for owning the world’s largest flag, which was draped across the building’s Woodward façade on Armistice Day and other patriotic holidays. The flag was first hung on Armistice Day in 1923 and was later shown off at the World’s Fair in 1939. At 3,700 square feet, the stars were a half-foot tall, and one mile of rope was needed to hang it. The original flag was last displayed in 1949, to be replaced a year later with a new seven-story flag that required 55 men to hang it. After being hung for the final time in 1976, the flag was donated to the Smithsonian Institution.

Hudson’s was also the host of Detroit’s first Thanksgiving Day Parade in 1924. At that time, Detroit’s festivities were comparable to the Macy’s Parade in New York City. The event, which marked the arrival of Santa Claus, would become one of Detroiters’ favorite local traditions.

Even for residents from farther suburbs, a visit to Hudson’s warranted a trip to Downtown Detroit. Older "Detroiters" fondly remember the mythical children’s toy floor. In addition to being a beloved local establishment, the sheer volume of workers and production at Hudson’s was astounding. Its famed delivery department included 300 trucks and 500 drivers. Together, its five restaurants served thousands of meals daily. By 1953, the downtown "hotspot" reportedly had 12,000 employees and racked up an average of 100,000 sales a day. The business boasted more than 700 fitting rooms, 51 passenger elevators and several basements.

Hudson’s gradually opened locations throughout the suburbs of Detroit. Its first expansion was to Southfield’s Northland Center, which, when it opened in March 1954, was the largest shopping mall in the nation. It housed 52 other stores and offered free parking for more than 10,000 cars.

The early sixties were exciting times for Hudson’s. They hired their first African American bus girl in 1960, a high school student named Diana Ross who would later make musical history with her voice. In the 1962, the business boasted two $1 million dollar sales days. Two years later, Hudson’s created a splendid holiday presentation of lights and decorations including a 125 foot tall Christmas tree on Woodward. For children throughout the Detroit area, holidays were marked by a visit to Hudson’s 12th floor, where the ‘real’ Santa awaited them.

Yet as the City of Detroit began to suffer from the economic downturns of the 1970s and 1980s, so did Hudson’s. In 1969, the Dayton Co. purchased Hudson’s and renamed the store the Dayton-Hudson Corporation, though the name never really stuck. Gradually, the comfort of suburban locations lured shoppers and the downtown Hudson’s began to slowly downsize. In 1983, the downtown Hudson’s store closed. The building was sold in December of 1989 and nearly one decade later, on October 24, 1998, the structure was imploded.

In 2000, Dayton-Hudson was purchased by Target, who then sold the Dayton-Hudson stores to Marshall Fields. Today these stores are controlled by Macy’s.

A New Vision for an Iconic Site 

In March 28, 2013, more than 1,000 people from around the globe registered, and nearly 200 of them submitted ideas. The enthusiasm from Detroiters  & Detroiters at-heart shows "Opportunity Detroit" is REAL. Many designs were submitted from southeast Michigan.  In total, 23 states and 22 other countries were represented.

After spending several hours observing and critiquing nearly 200 inspiring designs for the historic Hudson’s site, the judges and the community have spoken.

A panel of five distinguished architects and urban planning experts from across the country judged the entries. The “Redesigning Detroit” juried competition awarded $15,000 for first place, $5,000 for second place and $2,500 for third place. The winners are:

First Place: “MINICITY Detroit,” Davide Marchetti and Erin Pellegrino; Rome, Italy. 

Second Place: “Detroit Entrepreneurial Center (DEC),” Efrain Velez, Juan Nunez, Marko Kanceljak; Kalamazoo, Michigan

Third Place: “Highwave Detroit,” Team Rossetti/Metrogramma; Southfield (soon to be Detroit), Michigan.

In addition to the three top submissions, the jury also awarded 10 Honorable Mention awards as well as three prizes for the top Family of Company entries.

After the official judging ended on

June 7, the public was invited to view and vote on the submissions as part of a special exhibit; and community open house held on Saturday and Sunday June 8-9. The three submissions earning the most public votes won cash prizes of $2,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively for first, second and third places.