Historic Detroit

Every building in Detroit has a story — we're here to share it

Newlab at Michigan Central Building

What began as a post office became one of the city's more infamous signs of decline and now is one of its greatest symbols of Detroit reclaiming its rightful place as a hub of innovation and design.

Originally called the Roosevelt Annex, and later the Roosevelt Warehouse, this building sits next door to Michigan Central Station. It was built as part of the New Deal for the United States Postal Service, and its cornerstone was laid May 16, 1936. The cornerstone-laying ceremony was kicked off by a parade of Post Office employees and led by the Detroit Letter Carriers Band. The parade started at the Grand River branch post office at 15th Street and West Forest Avenue and marched the mile-and-a-half to the new building.

The building entered service just a few months later, on Nov. 25, 1936. The Postal Service said it expected to handle more than 5 million pieces of mail a day during that first holiday season.

Its location allowed for mail coming in from trains at the depot to be transported via an underground tunnel where it was sorted and processed. At the time, 85 percent of all mail coming from and going to Detroit was handled by rail via Michigan Central Station next door. The building served 27 branch stations, and more than 1,000 people worked at the facility processing and sorting mail.

The building remained a post office until the George W. Young Post Office opened downtown on West Fort Street in 1961. The Detroit Public Schools bought the building to store their excess and future school supplies. It became known as the Detroit Public Schools Book Depository.

After a fire on March 4, 1987, the school district abandoned the building, leaving everything from sports equipment to crayons behind. Even school items that were undamaged were left behind. For the next three decades and change, photographers documented the charred textbooks, often using them as an illustration of the decline of both the city and the public education system. Meanwhile, the building was scrapped of metals and heavily vandalized to a point that in 2001 permits were taken out for demolition, but the demolition was never executed.

In 2018, the Ford Motor Co. bought the Book Depository along with Michigan Central Station and as part of its Michigan Central innovation district. The building was officially reopened on April 25, 2023, as a mixed-use space and Detroit headquarters for NewLab -- a research lab and thought leader in socially oriented tech manufacturing.

In the summer of 2023, the building's name was officially changed to the Newlab at Michigan Central Building in recognition of its main tenant.