In Depth The Mustang. The Four Tops. The Focus. The Supremes. When you're talking about Detroit, it often comes down to two things: cars and music.
In 1701 a fort and missionary outpost was built by the French and given the rather unwieldy name Fort Pontchartrain du Détroit, or the “city of straits,” a reference to the Detroit River connecting lakes Erie and St. Clair. This 32-mile-long waterway forms part of the border between the United States and Canada.
A strategic location made the remote settlement a focus of several major tactical campaigns during the seesaw struggle for supremacy between the French and the British. During the French and Indian War British troops not only gained control but shortened the name. The Jay Treaty finalized the transfer of Detroit to the United States, a process begun by the Treaty of Paris in 1783. And when the first steam vessel was launched on the Great Lakes in 1816, it sparked an expansion of industry (shipbuilding in particular).
Flash forward to 1899, when the yet-to-be Motor City was still primarily manufacturing stoves and carriages. Industrialist Henry Ford built the city's first automobile factory, and business rivals General Motors, Chrysler and American Motors soon followed suit. In 1903 the Ford Motor Company was established, and in 1908 Ford introduced the Model T. A practical vehicle propelled under its own power, it was simple to drive and easy to repair. Sales skyrocketed, which led to the development of mass-production assembly lines and a revolution in both American industry and transportation.
The growth of the automobile industry busted the town right out of its river-hugging confines. European immigrants—as well as Southern whites and African-Americans—flooded into the city, looking for work. Auto manufacturing plants sprang up. Labor unions proliferated. Mansions were built. Skyscrapers rose. By 1950 Detroit was the nation's fifth most populous city.
It was an auto-worker-turned-professional-songwriter who was directly responsible for Detroit's second momentous 20th-century contribution. Founded by Berry Gordy Jr. in 1959 with a small family loan and the urging of friend and fellow songwriter Smokey Robinson, Motown Records, aka “Hitsville U.S.A.,” was a black-owned business that produced hit after hit and introduced a nation to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and other artists—many of them locals.
The Motor City's fortunes have bounced up and down since then. Ford lost millions of dollars when American car buyers failed to warm to the Edsel. Riots in 1967 wreaked inner-city havoc. Gordy left town, relocating Motown to Los Angeles in 1972. The construction of freeways facilitated an exodus from the city to the suburbs; by 2009 Detroit's population had shrunk to half of what it had been six decades earlier.
In recent years even the seemingly recession-proof auto industry has struggled, with a sluggish economy forcing both Chrysler and General Motors to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009. That crisis was short-lived, however, and the annual North American International Auto Show, where automakers unveil their new models, is a reminder that Detroit is still the auto industry's headquarters.
One delightful result of downtown's revitalization is the Detroit RiverWalk, a waterfront promenade extending for more than 3 miles that features parks and green spaces. You can stroll, jog, bike and fish. There are lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Windsor skyline across the water in neighboring Ontario. Kids love the old-fashioned carousel. Cruise ships depart from the passenger terminal at Hart Plaza, which is also the scene of summertime festivals. Detroiters know that there's more to this city than factory assembly lines.
In-person hotel evaluations are unscheduled to ensure the inspector has an experience similar to that of members. All hotels must meet the same basic requirements for cleanliness, comfort and hospitality to be AAA Approved. A rating of one to five AAA Diamonds tells members what type of experience to expect, from no-frills to highly personalized.
A 6 percent tax is levied on lodging and automobile rentals.
Detroit Receiving Hospital/University Health Center, (313) 745-3000; Harper University Hospital, (313) 745-8040; Henry Ford Hospital, (313) 916-2600; St. John Hospital and Medical Center, (313) 343-4000; and Sinai-Grace Hospital, (313) 966-3300.
211 W. Fort St. Suite 1000 Detroit, MI 48226. Phone:(313)202-1800 or (800)338-7648
The major Midwestern hub for Delta,
Car rental companies may be found at the airport. Hertz, (800) 654-3080, offers discounts to AAA members.
Amtrak stations are at 11 W. Baltimore Ave. in the New Center area and in Dearborn at 21201 Michigan Ave. in the John D. Dingell Transit Center. Train service to various parts of the country is provided; phone (800) 872-7245.
Greyhound Lines Inc. serves Detroit. The terminal is at 1001 Howard St.; for information about fares and schedules phone (800) 231-2222.
Taxis operate on a meter system. The basic charge is $2.50, plus $2 per mile (no extra charge for additional riders). The largest companies are Checker Cab, (313) 963-7000; City Cab, (313) 833-7060; and Metro Cab, (734) 997-6500.