- Jun 15, 2009
VIDEO: Vintage promo film made for Detroit's 1968 Olympic bid reveals city's precipitous decline
Click above to watch the video after the jump
We often think of the 1950's as being the heyday for Detroit's fortunes, but even in the early-to-mid Sixties, it remained something of a modern marvel, thanks largely to its world-leading auto industry. This archival video was apparently commissioned as part of a failed bid for the 1968 Summer Olympics (which went to Mexico City instead). Reportedly filmed in 1965, Detroit – City on the Move shows the area in full bloom – a startling contrast to the shell of an empire that remains just 44 years later.
With the harmonies of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra as a backdrop, Mayor Jerome Cavanagh takes us through footage of downtown streets bustling with some of the city's two million residents, shots of a startlingly clean and new Cobo Hall (including scenes of the Detroit Auto Show itself), the crisp campuses of the (then) Big Three, and of the city's once-mighty cultural draws. It even has footage of the late John F. Kennedy talking up its virtues as part of the Olympic bid.
Interestingly (and perhaps tellingly), this sanitized look at Detroit all but glosses over mounting troubles with blustery talks of 'rebirth,' it utterly omits mention of the hitmakers at Motown Records, and in retrospect, it fails to adequately address growing racial tensions in the city (Detroit's infamous riots would lay siege just two years later in 1967).
Admittedly, such promotional films show a city in its best light by design, but even still, there's no getting around the fact that the World's Automotive Capitol ain't what it used to be. This video, part of the Prelinger Archives, gives us a glimpse into what Detroit used to be, and perhaps more than anything, what it sought to be. It's an amazing yet sobering look into mid-Sixties America, and it's worth a look. Take a trip back in time by clicking on the jump.