You have found the detroitblog. This is about my wanderings and debaucheries in Detroit, as well as observations, news, commentary and ramblings about the city itself. I love Detroit, even the old Detroit of blight, waste and emptiness. Hockeytown. Motown. I grew up here, had my best times here. It's my town.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Let us Pray

Somewhat removed from downtown sits a lovely red brick church, at the corner of McGraw and Grand River, its windows boarded up, its entrances sealed, and its walls and doors covered in graffiti.

The Scovel Memorial Presbyterian Church, built in 1898, was originally a mission on McArthur Place founded by a trio of elders of the Trumball Avenue Presbyterian church, whose members met in small homes on the outskirts of the city. One of those elders was Charles Scovel, who donated the land and money for the chapel in order to give children in the still somewhat rural Grand River outskirts of town a place to attend Sunday School.

When the church was built, Grand River was a plank road and an old toll gate still stood where it intersected the Boulevard, four blocks away.

Scovel Memorial was the church that Henry Ford and his wife attended in the early 1900s. In the entranceway was a plaque and Pewabic tile donated by Ford, whose teacher in the Greenfield Township school he attended, Mrs. Abbie Woods Scovel, married into the Scovel family that donated the land and money to build the church.

The church was remodeled in the early 1920s, adding a long corridor that stretched the entire depth of the church and into a newly built auditorium, which could seat 1,000 people in its pews and balcony. The interior was bowled, and done in Byzantine style. It featured fragrant, carved oak pews and radiant stained glass windows dedicated in memory of families with Scottish names like James A. Rennie, David Stewart and Thomas McDowell.The Free Press at the time called the new structure “pleasing to the eye and perfect in taste.”

The church became known for keeping a record of all the prayers offered week to week, with 2,000 entries recorded within three years in the early 20s. The first year’s requests were placed in the cornerstone of the newly built church addition. Once the church had paid the renovation debts, it held a ceremony called “Burning of the Church Mortgage," in the mid-1920s. The church became a familiar sight to hockey fans who saw it across Grand River as they left Olympia Stadium.

The congregation peaked at about 2,500 in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and was predominantly families of Scottish descent. From the 1920s through the 1940s the church athletic teams – men’s, boys’, and girls’ – were known throughout the region for winning basketball, baseball, and softball trophies as city and divisional champions.

In 1936, the Men’s Bible Class produced the men’s choir, two male quartets and an orchestra of 17 players, some of whom played with John Philip Sousa’s band and the Detroit Symphony.

An Iona cross, cast from brass doorknobs and keys donated by the congregation during World War II when metal was scarce, hung over the altar.

The church was served by only two ministers in its history – The Rev. James D. Jeffrey from 1898 to 1929, and his son, the Rev. George D. Jeffrey, who served from 1929 until his death in 1975.

Surrounded in its latter days by bars and barbershops and a deteriorating neighborhood, the church held its last service in 1977 for parishoners who had mostly moved out of the city. The building had a brief rebirth as the Prayer Tabernacle Church, and was later chosen by the group Blight Busters as the future site of a battered women's shelter, but for the most part it remained shuttered and unused since its demise.

We actually visited the church back in February on a cold, cloudy day, but for some reason long forgotten, I neglected to post about it, until now, when the opportunity to explore several churches came about, launching the idea for the Sober Daytimes with Jesus Series, as a marked contrast to the Summer Drinking Series, which featured us drinking on the roof of abandoned skyscrapers. In other words, more church explorations to come.

The interior of Scovel Memorial Presbyterian is still in very good condition, with surprisingly little damage despite being relatively open to the elements due to haphazard mothballing. The church contains 10 bedrooms, a kitchen and a gymnasium, complete with a basement basketball court. The original, century-old wood staircases remain in place and in remarkably good condition. The old wood floors creak when walked upon but remain straight and unbuckled, and sturdy.

The personal belongings of a squatter - dirty blankets, food wrappers, and old jackets and pants - lay scattered across the floor of a large, empty room, causing us to nervously check around every corner of the many-roomed building for someone hiding in the shadows. Every little noise made us pause in our tracks, because it was hard to tell how fresh the belongings were, and whether someone was moving from room to room as we explored. Luckily, we didn't come across anyone.

One upper floor was devoted, improbably enough, to a Baha'i meeting group, with eclectic 1970s posters that preached religious tolerance and contained vague platitudes plastered on the walls. Faded posters of presumably Iranian landscapes jockeyed for position among the aphorisms.

In several rooms were LPs that had been painted in thick red and blue paint and tacked to the walls in random order of placement, along with album covers of singers like Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. A ground-floor stairway featured inlaid Pewabic tiles, including several that included pre-World War II swastikas. Several tiles that had been in the entranceway had been chipped out by scavengers.

The uppermost floor, an attic, contained dusty wood rafters through which sunlight streamed, split by the parallel lines into small shafts, filling the dark emptiness with hints of the light shining outside.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

My recent infrequent posting is starting to annoy even me. But right now is election crunch time, and because I work for the news industry, this time for us is like Christmas for retail workers - pure busy hell. It's been a bunch of 12-hour days and overrun deadlines and lunatic candidates and crises all around. Democracy right now is ruining my days. So is this strange Detroit trend of gloomy, overcast skies for something like 17 days in a row. The clouds deigned to allow a brief sunlit interlude yesterday afternoon, but that was apparently enough and today it's more of the same, weather-induced melancholy that's destroying the autumn experience for me. Is it obvious that I'm a bit cranky right now?

Anyway, I should have some exploration stuff tomorrow or the next day, as soon as I get the background info to flesh it out a bit. And when the election is over, watch out - detroitblog will have, well, more of the same. But there will be more of it!

Meanwhile, in a stunning story by the Freep, "Shootings concern taxi drivers."

The drivers, most members of the Detroit Cab Drivers Association, an advocacy group, wondered why there has been no public outcry about the attacks.

I too wondered why there's no public outcry.People are being shot in day care houses, kids are being gunned down on the street, people are firing wildly into holiday crowds at Hart Plaza. Yeah, whatever. But cab drivers?! Now they've gone too far! Something must be done! This is an outrage!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

OK, here's the Random Photo of the Day, which lately is replacing new material produced by actual effort. In the spirit of the election season, here's an example of political expression found in the Continental Plant on the east side. I particularly like the joining of the pro-Bush sentiment with the pro-pot sentiment. "I partied with Bush" is one of the more effective campaign slogans I've heard all year.

Now, more news in place of me leaving the apartment and photographing things, a trend which I promise will end soon:

The City Council has finally backtracked on its controversial African Town proposal, weeding out the more offensive (not to mention illegal) aspects of it.

This after two rather illuminating op-ed pieces appeared in the Detroit News, one by JoAnn Watson in favor of African Town, and one by Kay Everett, in a rare moment of semi-lucidity, in opposition to it.

There's so much to dissect in these two, but something of note in Watson's editorial jumped out, because it seems to be the foundation of the pro-African Town arguments:

The African Town proposal is an important cultural and retail alternative that will benefit all Detroiters and the city’s economy. While Detroit does have a majority black population, there is not a manufacturing/retail/business center owned and operated by the majority of Detroit’s residents and taxpayers.

There is no such thing as a business owned and operated by the majority of residents anywhere, unless you lived in the Soviet Union, and that worked very well, as we all know. Businesses are owned by a handful of people. African Town will not benefit "all Detroiters," it will benefit the handful of owners and their employees. It's not as if there's some sort of a "black refund" out there that will redistribute profits from African Town businesses to the rest of the black residents of the city. In that sense, residents will be no better off than if the businesses were owned by members of other ethnic groups. The ones who will benefit will be the small number of individuals directly involved in the businesses. It may be a source of pride to say the businesses are black-owned, but it's silly to imply that some how the rest of the residents of the city will benefit economically.

Folks who favored the original council idea said they were disappointed.
"From where I stand, I don't understand what all the hoopla is about," said Rukiya Shabazz, a Detroit resident and employee who attended the council meeting during her lunch break.
"We support every ethnic group there is. We had Black Bottom, Paradise Valley. We had our own stores. What's wrong with getting that back?"

What is so hard for some people to understand about government not being allowed to distribute grant money to benefit one race based solely on them being a particular race? Black Bottom, Greektown, Mexicantown, etc., were developed from the ground up, i.e. from residents in those areas starting their own businesses, supporting each other, slogging through hard times and achieving degrees of success that spilled over onto their neighbors, creating a snowball effect. And although a handful of projects in areas like Mexicantown got tax credits in recent years for being within an Enterprise Zone, the areas themselves came into place organically, without any government planning.

All right, enough already about this freakin' nonsense.

In other news, members of council have bigger worries to deal with right now:

City Councilwoman Kay Everett has been charged in a sealed federal criminal indictment, stemming from gifts and loans she received from a city contractor, her lawyer said Tuesday. The indictment is expected to accuse Everett of accepting gifts — including a trip to a spa and about $145,000 in loans from Vallecorsa — made in at least 10 separate checks to Everett obtained by the FBI.


Get ready for suburbs like the City of Warren, itself running neck and neck in a contest with Detroit for the most idiotic, corrupt City Council, to flip out again:

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department announced an average rate increase of 3.5 percent Tuesday for the Metro Detroit communities it serves, the smallest in 12 years.


In absolutely shocking news, the police department has not improved its status as abysmal:

The independent monitor overseeing the Detroit Police Department says the city made little progress in the first year on two agreements to radically improve the department.
In a report filed Monday, court-appointed monitor Sheryl Robinson said the city had complied with just two requirements, and failed to comply with 96.
The city had made proper repairs to toilets and sinks in holding cells and had proper air purification. But it failed to meet the standards in all other categories.
Robinson acknowledged that in the last three months, the city had made the most progress since the oversight began.
In June 2003, the Justice Department and the city settled two federal lawsuits that accused the city of repeatedly violating the constitutional rights of suspects, prisoners and witnesses. Following a 30-month federal investigation, the city pledged to make significant reforms in how it uses force, detains prisoners and questions witnesses.

Who cares about civil rights when you can get the can to work properly?


Finally, Comcast, the crappiest of cable systems, has decided to bring Detroit cable subscribers into the 1990s with an upgrade that provides Detroiters with the same channels the surrounding cities have enjoyed for 10 years, as Comcast tries to overcome its reputation of half-assed service:

Ravaged by complaints of slow response times, widespread outages and far fewer product options than neighboring communities, Comcast developed a poor reputation for customer service and system stability. A Free Press review of the system's records in 1999 found that close to 30,000 customers lost service on a monthly basis between December 1998 and September 1999.


I've spoken with other explorers recently, and none of them have left the house lately either, so I don't feel so guilty after all. But I actually did make an effort at exploring last night. I went out in the cold, dark drizzle and did some scouting, and in fact at one point began scaling a rather public stone wall of a sealed building just as a bus full of gamblers pulled up, parked and stared. So I foolishly had to claw my way back down as they watched intently. But now that I know it's possible to get in there, that building is mine.

Monday, October 18, 2004

A good tip for bloggers feeling lazy is to post links to news articles elsewhere so you don't have to leave the comfort of your computer and break into buildings or go on photo tours or some other such substantive thing. And the past week or two has been just that - pure detroitblog lameness. Believe me, I know. But the weather has been crap lately, with constant drizzles and unusually cold temps, so the outdoors have hardly been beckoning. And I've been attending lots of events and parties and functions that eat up good exploring time. So obviously there haven't been many accounts of explorations lately.

I couldn't help but feel somewhat proud, however, when I read that the mayor and I share very similar lifestyles:

Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick admitted this week in a lawsuit deposition that he sometimes ditches his bodyguards for late-night solo drives through "the city that gave me so much," but denied several allegations that he cheated on his wife.
"I roll down the windows and have time with Kwame in Detroit," Kilpatrick testified Monday, according to a transcript the Free Press obtained Friday. "I see some of the projects that we need to get done.... ... I see some of the things that my directors tell me they've gotten done, and I go by those different things.
"But I like being with the city by myself, because this is the city that gave me so much."

I have my own similar "time with Kwame," though I call it "time with John." Well, at least now I will start calling it "time with John." I used to call it "driving around aimlessly in lieu of real activities at a given moment," but the mayor puts such a homespun angle on it, what with the city giving him (and me!) so much, that I now can see it in a whole new light. And considering his oft-publicized penchant for late-night clubbing and clandestine meetings with women in various stages of undress, it's only a matter of time before our parallel lives hook up and I can live my lifestyle on the mayor's (oops, taxpayers'!) dime. Just you wait - detroitblog will be off the hook then, with many bodyguards and official sanction.

I'll try to get into something, somewhere, and take pictures of it this week, perhaps tonight. In the meantime, just to break up the all-text appearance the blog has taken on lately, here's a photo I found in a desk in Lee Plaza sometime last winter. Don't have any idea who she is, but she's got a good mid-70s Detroit smile goin' on, with an intact, functioning Lee Plaza interior in the background.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Me so horny, at least until I saw this, which makes unprotected, anonymous sex with local filthy strangers seem somehow much less thrilling:

Detroit called sex disease capital.
The Motor City is supposedly the metropolis most infested with sexually transmitted diseases.
Here's how the October issue of Men's Health magazine put it: "In fact, if it were possible to hold a microscope up to Detroit, you'd see that it's literally crawling with the critters. The Motor City is now the easiest place for an STD to hitch a ride."
The magazine primarily based its story on gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia data gathered in 2002 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Detroit hit the bottom of the heap with a grade of F, followed by Newark, N.J., and Baltimore, Md.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Detroit News had more interesting news about City Council antics yesterday, but for whatever reason the article was not posted online. Here it is:

Council to discuss post-slavery issue
The Detroit City Council will publicly discuss post-slavery disorder syndrome on Monday.
Councilwoman JoAnn Watson is initiating the talk at 11:30 a.m. She did not return several phone calls from The Detroit News about the purpose of bringing the issue to the council table.
At a previous council meeting, Watson had said the syndrome is a dangerous condition for African-Americans who deny racism and are filled with self-hatred.
Post-slavery disorder, or post-traumatic slave syndrome, is argued by some psychologists who say African-Americans are affected by past centuries of slavery in the United States. The rationale is that the original slaves were never treated for the trauma of losing their homes, seeing relatives whipped or falling prey to white racism. One expert, Joy DeGruy-Leary, an assistant professor at Portland State University, has said self-destructive behavior can be the result.
Watson had also said she wanted Florida State Professor Na'im Akbar to come to the table to discuss the psychological damage of slavery. Akbar told The News that he had not been invited and will not be attending.
His Web site says: "The 300-year captivity of Africans in America is an indisputable fact, which too many have sought to deny as relevant to anything more than an event of the past. Our formulation suggested that the blemish of these inhumane conditions persists as a kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome on the collective mind of the Africans in America, and though its original cause cannot be altered, the genesis can be understood.
The discussion will be at the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center, 2 Woodward, 13th floor.

This, by the way, occurs on the same day as the council discusses whether to declare black Detroiters, who make up 86 percent of the city, as a "majority-minority," to facilitate the controversial African Town project. In other words, a very constructive day for the council. Incidentally, nowhere on the agenda is discussion of how to bring jobs to the city, remedial education for the tens of thousands of illiterate adults in the city, strategies to reduce crime, ideas on how to improve the ailing police department, ways to improve neighborhoods or how to attract a better class of people to serve as public officials.

Speaking of which, if you disagree with you local elected officials, expect to be punished:

The day after Latino, Arab and Asian community leaders protested against the Detroit City Council for embracing an economic development plan that the groups say is anti-immigrant and divisive, the plan's chief backer on the council withheld approval of city contracts with two Hispanic groups.
The contracts -- worth more than $300,000 -- are slated for neighborhood improvements and education and job-training programs for youths and former prison inmates.
On Sept. 29, Councilwoman JoAnn Watson withheld approval for two contracts with the Detroit Hispanic Development Corp. and one with the Mexicantown Community Development Corp.
"It does seem rather coincidental our contract was held the day after our protest," said Angela Reyes, who led the protest and heads the Hispanic Development Corp. "It seems not only do we not have representation there, we can't even speak out if we disagree with our elected leaders."
Reyes said the agency has not had problems with its contracts in the past.

Are there any rational, non-corrupt, serious adults in city government? Any?

Update: The contracts have now gone through, after JoAnn Watson dropped the whole petulance thing. For now.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Continental Drift

The Continental Aluminum plant on Algonquin between Jefferson and Kercheval on Detroit’s east side is a classic abandoned and polluted dump.

When it still operated on the site, Continental Aluminum Corp. processed more than 6 million pounds of scrap aluminum each month. The scrap was heated to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit, and the molten metal was poured into molds. Paints, oils and other additives burned off in the process, and the vapors are supposed to be passed through an air filtration system, but neighbors of the plant routinely complained that unfiltered emissions were escaping the plant and drifting into the surrounding residential area, causing a variety of health problems.

The melting of aluminum generally produces chlorine, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride, all of which pose considerable health hazards and are supposed to be strictly regulated.

Continental was cited dozens of times for emissions violations by Wayne County, and the Detroit Fire Department made routine visits to the plant, culminating in a 1992 fire that sent four firemen to the hospital for exposure to ammonia gas.

The plant is now barren and empty, but is still owned by the company, which moved to Lyon Township in the late 90s and generated similar complaints and lawsuits from surrounding residents there.

We paid a visit on a sunny autumn afternoon, entering the property through a gaping hole in a fence and poking around the buildings until we found a small hole to squeeze through, got inside and noticed the gaping door-sized hole not six feet from where we contorted our way in.

There’s not much to see there, apart from steel beams making parallel lines across the ceiling and pockmarked brick walls. The place was pretty well cleaned out after its demise. Graffiti, some rather complex and pretty, lines the concrete walls.The plant is surrounded by concrete lots, now overgrown with weeds and brush straining through the cracks between the cement slabs.

Basically, we were exploring a site so polluted that nothing can be developed without massive cleanup. Of course, as seems to be common now, my batteries died after taking one photograph with the digital camera, and I had to spend the rest of the time rearranging batteries in the camera in the hopes of squeezing out a last charge or two. The cheap batteries I bought didn't even have enough juice to power the zoom lens. And of course, in my hangover stupidity I forgot to bring a dust mask or respirator to what was essentially a toxic waste dump. Smart!

We could hear the echo of voices from the neighborhood residents out in their yards, and stamping metal noises from the nearby Chrysler Plant. Cool breezed wafted in through holes in the walls and ceiling, through which poured thick beams of light that shone in the dim lighting inside the plant.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

A rather large and clearly deranged guy got to the roof of the Metropolitan Building yesterday and began chucking pieces of the building down 15 stories onto John R, drawing many, many cop cars until he later came out, dopey and bewildered, wielding a large pipe. He was shouting something about how he was running for president or some such thing. Now that's a campaign stunt!

Monday, October 04, 2004

Friday night's activities looked less like an itinerary and more like part of the bar listings in Real Detroit. Stops included, but might not have been limited to, Tigers on TV at Harry's, bizarre karaoke at the Comet, desolation at the Park Henry, Irishness at the Gaelic League, liquor at the Secret Bar (twice), hipsters at the Majestic (twice) and others establishments that seem to have escaped my memory. In between, we stood near Park and Henry early in the evening watching the last Friday night fireworks from Comerica Park for the season, literally standing in the shadows of Motown, i.e. the Donovan Building, as the downtown sky lit up one last time.

Saturday's hangover shot up in rankings to number one for the year. I had tried Chaser, those pills that "guarantee" no hangover, and yet I wound up sicker than I had been all year, despite not even coming close to a 2004 drinking record. I could've taken whiskey pills and had better results. Verdict: Chaser sux. And Saturday's hangover got an extra day of life after post-hockey beers on Saturday night.

Got some exploring done, which will be posted relatively soon, whenever I can get the research done and get my head to work again.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?