J L Hudson’s in downtown Detroit: a collection of photographs & a little story

detroithudsonsfull hudsons When I was in grade school, my mother would take my little sister, my little brother, and me downtown to shop in the bargain basement of Hudson’s. It was the late 70s and the grand department store had seen better days. What was once celebrated as “the” place to shop was now faded in its glory. The building stood proud, defiant in its claim to fame. We entered the grand hallway and made our way downstairs. It was a bright place with bins full of clothes, shoes, coats, socks, and underwear. It was hot, crowded with women and children talking loudly. The subterranean room smelled of dust and the array of things to buy overwhelmed and confused me. After the ordeal of shopping was over, my mother would treat us to lunch on a floor with a broad view of the Detroit skyline. The old elevator had one of those metal gates that had to be manually pulled open and closed. Inside the restaurant was an aquarium with fish that was a wall between the dining rooms. It dominated the experience for me. There was also a wall of tiles with the design of ocean life and the rug was plush. (I just asked my mother about this memory of mine – she didn’t remember the fish. Was that somewhere else? Anyone know?) Hudson’s was known for its Maurice Salad. The dressing was top secret. (Years later, a lady who worked in the kitchen told me no one was allowed to take home any of the leftover food; it all had to be thrown away. She told me how frustrating and sad it was to see the waste, especially when the people who worked there would have been happy to take it home.) sideofhudsons100sidewithfence100 During Christmas time there was a Santa Claus, ready for his picture to be taken. graffitionhudsons100bookcadillacbuilding100

My mother would reminisce about the days when doorman wore sharp uniforms and would hold open the heavy door. Women ran the elevators. And the many floors were stocked full of quality goods. Hudson’s was known for its window displays and the artfully arranged glass counters.

I never knew that Detroit. Hudson’s closed in ’84. These photos were taken by me in 1988. Scrappers had broken in and stripped the building of all its value. After that there didn’t seem to be any reason for it to take up space, for it to be a blatant and constant reminder of a city fallen on hard times. The building was imploded and the rubble was cleared away, leaving an empty space like a scar upon the city’s landscape. hudsonsandcar100

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All the photographs were taken by Elizabeth Pilar These photographs were taken upon my arrival back in Detroit after being gone a year. In my book, A Blue Moon in China, there are 18 black and white photographs I took while there; an index; and recommended reading, movies, and music from the book lists. I hand-drew the map. Library Journal‘s verdict was that it’s a “nice addition to women’s studies readings as it chronicles the kind of travel undertaken with a tattered map and the recommendations of students met on trains.” Feel free to contact me: elizabeth@elizabethpilar.com  My website has lots of pictures: elizabethpilar.com If you want to read my story, I’d love for you to order it from your local bookstore and ask your library to add it to their collection. $18.99 softcover ISBN: 978-0-9904251-9-9

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Filed under A Blue Moon in China, Detroit, From My Archives, Photos by me, Writers

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