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The '68 Games: Detroit's Unrealized Olympic Dreams

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This post was authored by Christian Salcedo and Paul Beshouri


As the Winter Olympics fire up in Sochi, it's worth remembering that Detroit was once an aspiring Olympic host. "Aspiring" might even be an undersell. Detroit's bid for the '68 games was its sixth olympic bid, and it was almost assumed Detroit would finally win the games. Detroit lost the games to Mexico City, falling short by several votes.

This story tends to pop up on local news channels every few years, but we wanted to figure out the details. If Detroit was really that close, there must have been a plan. A plan for stadiums, transit, and housing—all the stuff Sochi is struggling with. As it turns out, there was. Deep inside the Burton Collection at the Detroit Public Library, the city's original proposal to host the games is still intact, wax seal and all. Behold: Detroit's 1968 Olympics, the games that never happened.

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Detroit Naval Armory

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The Brodhead Naval Armory's huge drill floor was to ideal for basketball, fencing, boxing, gymnastics, and judo. Now vacant, the building's architectural features were targeted by scrappers last year. (see link). Much of its WPA-funded art from the Great Depression still remains.

Michigan State Fairgrounds

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The State Fairgrounds would've hosted the main Olympic complex, though most of it (aside from the Coliseum ) was unbuilt at the time of the bid. The massive Olympic stadium and a new velodrome were planned along with a monorail.

Masonic Temple

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The Masonic Temple sounds like a legendary Olympic Venue, but its relatively small capacity (5,000 people) had it relegated to unpopular events, like weightlifting.

Olympia Stadium

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Before Joe Louis Arena, there was Olympia, known affectionately as "the big red barn."With seating for 15,000, the old arena was to be one of the main venues, likely hosting some of the championship rounds. Sadly, it was demolished in 1987.

Cobo Center

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Cobo was suggested as a venue for a number of indoor events, with the arena area touted as an ideal spot for wrestling. It also had a delightfully large parking garage.

Detroit Light Guard Armory

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The Light Guard Armory was capable of hosting a wide range of sports, from basketball to judo. Instead of the '68 Olympics, it served as a staging area for troops arriving to quell the '67 riots.

University of Detroit

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University of Detroit Stadium (now demolished) and Calihan Hall were conveniently close to the State Fairgrounds. The stadium would've been capable of seating 21,000 people.

Tiger Stadium

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Tiger stadium would have hosted early matches in the soccer tournament. Despite losing the Olympic bid, the stadium did end up hosting some soccer when the Detroit Cougars called the field home in 1967.

Wayne State University

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WSU would be an indoor practice space for the athletes living in the nearby Olympic Village. The university would have seen construction of a new, full sized gym along with two auxiliary gyms.

Lake St. Clair

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Yachting (sailing) events where to be held around lake St.Clair, with a chain of clubs, (such as the Grosse Pointe Yacht club) hosting teams. Team USA went on to win two gold metals in Acapulco Bay on Mexico's Pacific coast.

Belle Isle Park

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Belle isle would have provided a picturesque setting for cycling events and long distance running. New construction on the island would have included a new water polo court at the Aqua Follies site, and a rowing track built within the island itself.

River Rouge Park

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After the Brennan Pools at River Rouge Park hosted the 1960 Olympic trials, they were "claimed by many authorities to be the finest pool arrangement in the world today." Never ones to rest on their laurels, the Olympic Committee also planned for the construction of a new pool "somewhere on the east side" with space for 25,000 spectators, calling it "... absolutely, without question the most outstanding competitive pool constructed anyplace in the world."

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Detroit Naval Armory

The Brodhead Naval Armory's huge drill floor was to ideal for basketball, fencing, boxing, gymnastics, and judo. Now vacant, the building's architectural features were targeted by scrappers last year. (see link). Much of its WPA-funded art from the Great Depression still remains.

Michigan State Fairgrounds

The State Fairgrounds would've hosted the main Olympic complex, though most of it (aside from the Coliseum ) was unbuilt at the time of the bid. The massive Olympic stadium and a new velodrome were planned along with a monorail.

Masonic Temple

The Masonic Temple sounds like a legendary Olympic Venue, but its relatively small capacity (5,000 people) had it relegated to unpopular events, like weightlifting.

Olympia Stadium

Before Joe Louis Arena, there was Olympia, known affectionately as "the big red barn."With seating for 15,000, the old arena was to be one of the main venues, likely hosting some of the championship rounds. Sadly, it was demolished in 1987.

Cobo Center

Cobo was suggested as a venue for a number of indoor events, with the arena area touted as an ideal spot for wrestling. It also had a delightfully large parking garage.

Detroit Light Guard Armory

The Light Guard Armory was capable of hosting a wide range of sports, from basketball to judo. Instead of the '68 Olympics, it served as a staging area for troops arriving to quell the '67 riots.

University of Detroit

University of Detroit Stadium (now demolished) and Calihan Hall were conveniently close to the State Fairgrounds. The stadium would've been capable of seating 21,000 people.

Tiger Stadium

Tiger stadium would have hosted early matches in the soccer tournament. Despite losing the Olympic bid, the stadium did end up hosting some soccer when the Detroit Cougars called the field home in 1967.

Wayne State University

WSU would be an indoor practice space for the athletes living in the nearby Olympic Village. The university would have seen construction of a new, full sized gym along with two auxiliary gyms.

Lake St. Clair

Yachting (sailing) events where to be held around lake St.Clair, with a chain of clubs, (such as the Grosse Pointe Yacht club) hosting teams. Team USA went on to win two gold metals in Acapulco Bay on Mexico's Pacific coast.

Belle Isle Park

Belle isle would have provided a picturesque setting for cycling events and long distance running. New construction on the island would have included a new water polo court at the Aqua Follies site, and a rowing track built within the island itself.

River Rouge Park

After the Brennan Pools at River Rouge Park hosted the 1960 Olympic trials, they were "claimed by many authorities to be the finest pool arrangement in the world today." Never ones to rest on their laurels, the Olympic Committee also planned for the construction of a new pool "somewhere on the east side" with space for 25,000 spectators, calling it "... absolutely, without question the most outstanding competitive pool constructed anyplace in the world."