1980 Promo Video: ‘Where will you be the picture of success? Where else but Detroit!’

Play episode

Promotional videos aim to capture their subject in the best light, but it’s hard to feel that way in hindsight about this attempt to market Detroit to convention planners in 1980.

Complete with cheesy period music, the film, which was recently converted by the Detroit Historical Society to digital format, portrays the usual list of attractions — though heavy on those in the suburbs.

The 80s were a time when attention drifted from city downtowns and toward indoor shopping malls. So outside of a shot of a couple walking in a now-unrecognizable Greektown, the emphasis is clearly being steered away from the then-moribund downtown. “The Renaissance Center is like a city within a city,” a male voice intones. “It’s got everything under one roof,” a woman adds.

There’s also a pitch for Cobo Center as a convention space (“We haven’t had a work stoppage here since our landmark agreement in 1971”) and views of soon-to-close curios like the Book Cadillac Hotel, which shuttered in 1984 before its vaunted 2008 reopening; the Richelieu, about which I could find nothing; and Stouffer’s, an outpost restaurant of the corporate parent.

The 1980s wasn’t a particularly good decade for Detroit, bringing with it accelerated white flight, a deep recession, Devil’s Night arsons, the crack epidemic and violent crime. Despite talk of “a renewed spirit here in Detroit,” the desperation that is so easily apparent in hindsight is simmering just beneath the surface.

More from this show