More than 100 years ago, the Ford Piquette Avenue Plant was on the cutting edge of innovation—the first 12,000 Model Ts were made on its premises. But over the years, the building became neglected, and in 1997, afraid that the bulldozers were lurking around the corner, ready to raze the premises, a committee was formed to investigate saving the plant. The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex purchased the New England–mill-style structure two years later, transforming it into an auto museum and National Historic Landmark that still has its original red bricks. Today, the museum is one of the oldest automotive plants open to the public in the city of Detroit.
The venue’s exhibits chronicle not only Ford’s rise to the forefront of the automotive industry, but also lesser known tales. Visitors can learn about other car models built there, such as the Model N, and about other automakers, such as Wayne and Brush. They can also learn about the lives of 20th-century auto-factory workers, who—with six-day workweeks composed of 10-hour days—built cars assembly-line style or, before cars, horses.
On November 19, 1928, the Detroit Historical Society opened the Detroit Historical Museum in a one-room suite on the 23rd floor of the Barlum Tower, earning it the nickname of highest museum in the world. These days, Detroit’s Cultural Center accommodates the museum in an 80,000-square-foot space, where interactive exhibits preserve more than 300 years of city history. Frontiers to Factories traces Detroit's transformation from French-frontier outpost to industrial city, while America's Motor City celebrates its automotive dominance with a changing display of classic vehicles and a 1903 Model T that guests can sit in. Streets of Old Detroit brings the 19th century to life with recreated cobblestone streets that wind past stores of the era such as a five-and-dime, a soda shop, and a barbershop for powdered wigs.
Thanks to recent renovations, the society has expanded its chronicle of Detroit with three new permanent exhibitions. Detroit: The Arsenal of Democracy covers the ways the city's industrial infrastructure adapted to demands of World War II, and The Gallery of Innovation includes videos about renown innovators and hands-on activities of trial-and-error. As The Allesee Gallery of Culture examines the city's cultural history, its Kid Rock Music Lab lets visitors create and share their own music using interactive displays. Outside, the Detroit Legends Plaza honors the city's sports, entertainment, and media legends with cemented handprints and signatures from stars such as Lily Tomlin and Martha Reeves.
The Detroit Science Center lets aspiring engineers and scientists get their tiny hands on more than 200 exhibits that explore space, biology, and physical science. Glimpse the mysteries of space travel or learn the fundamentals of electricity and magnetism that fuel online dating logarithms. A virtual universe of swirling stars and planets awaits inside the Dassault Systèmes Planetarium, where live presenters lead you on an intergalactic adventure followed by earthbound questions and answers. The Chrysler IMAX Dome theatre brings state-of-the-art technology and cinematronics to the 67-foot wide, four-story tall screen. The theatre immerses visitors in a rotating schedule of shows; currently, guests can explore Arabia, visit the Hubble, or allow the adrenalin-pumping excitement of NASCAR in digital surround to vroom off the screen and into unlicensed eyeballs.
Described by the Wall Street Journal as "probably America's most visitor-friendly art museum," the Detroit Institute of Arts has been building one of the top six collections in the country since it was founded in 1885. Along the way, the institute acquired standout pieces such as Vincent Van Gogh's Self Portrait, the first Van Gogh painting to enter a public museum's collection in the United States. Former director William Valentiner commissioned Diego Rivera to paint the world-renowned Detroit Industry mural cycle in an indoor courtyard—a more lasting tribute to the beauty of labor. In total, more than 60,000 works of prehistoric, modern, contemporary, and multinational art have found a home within the museum's more than 100 galleries.
The institute’s broad range of art comprises not only American and European works but also significant pieces of African, Asian, and Native American origin. An auditorium and recital hall also make the institute a haven for film and live music on Friday and Sunday. Guests can even attend free-with-admission drop-in workshops to make their own unique works of art.
Standing in the shadow of Hitsville USA—the original home of Motown Records' offices and the studio that launched the careers of Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson—Motown Museum preserves the legacy of the startup that turned an $800 loan into soul’s most successful label. Founded in 1985, the museum's immersive exhibits trace the roots and eventual impact of Motown on popular culture, demonstrating how Gordy achieved the signature sound or how James Jamerson challenged and beat the devil in a bass-playing contest. Visitors get a chance to sing into the innovative Echo Chamber—a hole cut into the ceiling that created the reverb sound synonymous with hit recordings such as "Dancing in the Street." A steady stream of photographs and other rhythm-and-blues memorabilia leads amblers into “Studio A,” which contains the original instruments and equipment used to record The Jackson Five and Gladys Knight during Motown’s Detroit era. Crowds gather around Michael Jackson’s signature glove-and-hat ensemble, which he himself donated to the museum.
The Burton Theatre is a new independent cinema in the Heart of Detroit that features classic art house, independent, LGBT, foreign and cult films. Responding to the shortage of art house venues in the city, the Burton Theatre aims to help Detroit rival Chicago and New York as a center for independent film.
As planes come and go from nearby Windsor International Airport, grounded racers engage in their own form of high-speed action at Warp Drive Race Park. Strapped safely into one of four different 9-horsepower Honda-engine go-karts, helmet-clad passengers grab their steering wheels, don their racing nose plugs, and put their feet to pedals as they test the limits of speed. Up to 20 karts can take to the large 1,800-foot concrete track, currently organized into several straightaways, curves, and hairpins that drivers can take at up to 45 km/h. Little racers aged 4–10 can jump into child-sized single-pedal cars and roam around a smaller oval track, or parents and children together can strap into two-passenger cars capable of reaching 40 km/h. After the racing is over—or for quick breaks between speedy bouts—passengers can retire to one of the picnic area's 10 tables, partaking in sustenance or tall tales about close finishes.