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A long, hard path to renewal

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Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

(Read caption) Detroit Central Station was once a thriving transportation center.

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Abandoned buildings have a curious afterlife. Where once they hummed with a thousand daily dramas, they turn creepy when the occupants are gone. Paint flakes, windows break, weeds intrude. Then come graffiti, vagrants, vandals, and small, furry animals.

In time, however, a vacant structure can reclaim its nobility. Throughout the American Midwest, the skeletons of old barns have inspired artists and sightseers, as have ramshackle piers along the New England coast and wisteria-choked mansions in the Deep South.

From Machu Picchu to Athens, Great Zimbabwe to Angkor Wat, the bleached bones of lost civilizations are magnets for exploration and tourism.Detroit has had the sad distinction in recent years as the American city with the most abandoned buildings. Many of its once-grand edifices, some with Art Deco flourishes from the 1910s and ’20s, are falling in.

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