Mario di Fiore played the cello in the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for half a century. His father was an Italian immigrant, who arrived in America in 1922, and secured work at US Rubber, making tyres for the rapidly expanding motor industry. “I saw a golden age,” says Di Fiore, who retired last month. “It’s very painful to see what Detroit has gone through. I feel a sense of mourning for what the city and the orchestra used to be.”
As Henry Ford changed American life with his Model T, Detroit grew, its population reaching nearly 2m. Automobile money built ornately finished skyscrapers, supported gentlemen’s clubs and vast department stores, and helped fund great cultural institutions, such as the orchestra. Now the city’s industrial decline makes it a benchmark for US urban failure, its population almost halved in a decade, whole streets of houses standing empty and abandoned.