Detroit: Abatement in the Mark Twain Library

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I didn’t get to see this Detroit library until the very end of its life, after the walls had been torn out to remove asbestos before demolition.  Before my 2012 visit, it had been left full of books and shelves.

It was built in the Arts and Crafts style by Wirt C. Rowland, one of Detroit’s most prolific architects who contributed massively to Detroit’s Art Deco skyline.  Larger than a traditional city library, Mark Twain was referred to as a “Regional Library,” and also contained space for social gatherings and events.
(Warning: upcoming nsfw-ish image of what appears to be blood, only a few scrolls away.)

General circulation room.

I got there long before it was decided that the building would be demolished.  There was an open window in a window well that was filled with dirty card catalog entries, and freshly splattered with (fake?) blood.  Is it?  Is it not?  I don’t know.  But I called the cops and the place was quickly boarded up.  It seemed less purposefully placed than the occasional hipster/vandal “art installations” that used fake blood as a medium, and it gathered at the edges of a tarp in the righthand corner of the frame.  Either way, it kept me away for quite a while.

By the time I did return, the asbestoes had been pulled from the walls so that it wouldn’t be a hazard during demolition.  Outlines of the lovely architecture were still visible, but the artifacts left behind had been piled into heaps of trash throughout some of the rooms, and the books were gone.  It was gone shortly after.


13 thoughts on “Detroit: Abatement in the Mark Twain Library

  1. Wow, it looked like a really nice building, shame it ended up getting torn down. Do you know why? Did it have structural issues or something?


    1. They were trying to renovate it, but the damage was too extensive and it never reopened. Half of its contents had been transfered to other branches during that renovation so they just gave up on the rest of it.


      1. That’s a shame. Surprised no-one bought it and re-purposed but I guess that’s down to the general status Detroit .


      2. Well, there have been quite a few buildings rescued as Detroit rises from the ashes, including David Whitney and the Broderick Tower. Even the train station’s been renovated, just hasn’t found a purpose yet, but I think there’s a pretty good effort being made. It is still very sad to think about some of the more beautiful buildings we’ve lost, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I used to go to the Mark Twain library as a child with my older siblings. Through my eyes as a child the building was spooky, but beautiful. The woodwork was remarkable. It was heartbreaking to watch the old girl closed and later hear of her demolition. The neighborhood was once a thriving African American community.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I truly love these photographs as well as the stories behind these amazing structures. Liz is able to capture the beauty and timelessness across the Midwest of these historical sites, and it is a shame to hear that they may undergo demolition. I especially find it ironic to see among memorial arches and decaying walls a simple orange construction cone. Liz is a talented photographer and I hope to continue being a supportive follower.
    Best of luck,
    Quinn Hollows from

    Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s so sad to see our American historical sites fade away. I tear up just looking at those photos , I love books and I’m sure some of those books are rare. Even if not I know I would have loved to have gotten my hands on as many as I could hold. Good job photographing the building so we can always look back.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a tradgy that this building is no longer a part of the skyline of Detroit. I wanted to cry when I say all the books laying in piles on the floor. That was a disgrace. The people in charge and running the everyday things dropped the ball is astounding. They did the people of Detroit a great service where this library is concerned. You don’t ask your constituents to vote for an abament for the library and then tell the people there is no money for the renovations. That is typical Michigan politics. We need more money for such and such this doesn’t happen. I would hope the people of Detroit use the demise of the library will think twice before giving them money.


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