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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.


Monday, August 30, 2004

Slow weekend. Went to Pumpstock Friday, caught the Dollfaces from outside the fence at Town Pump, then committed drunken misdemeanors around town as we killed time while waiting for Nathaniel Mayer, the only act I really wanted to see. Came back, the schedule was lagging. We hung out with street people for a while, who became unpretentious and talkative once they realized we were penniless freeloaders. Lingered with them as they pestered Pumpstock-goers for money. We became tempted to watch the concert from one of the surrounding buildings’ roofs, but found ourselves far too lazy and drunk to climb buildings. Then time and heavy downpours became a factor, and I had to be somewhere else at 12:30 a.m., so no Nathaniel Mayer, damn it!

No exploring Sunday, either. When I wake up with a blistering hangover from two nights of drinking, and everything outside is damp and grey, it acts as a meteorological opiate, making me reluctant to leave the couch, let alone the apartment. But there’s another Summer Drinking Series installment from last week that I’ll post when work lets up, so something of substance should appear here soon.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

North by Norwest

Talk about just in the nick of time. I was driving on Grand River last week and discovered that they finally were about to tear down the old Norwest Theater, as had been threatened for a long time. I went back there on what happened to be the day before demolition began, and got a chance to explore it.

The small, Art Deco Norwest Theater opened on Grand River, near Greenfield, in 1936. Designed by architect Hector Payne, who also designed the Varsity Theater on Livernois the same year, it was a first-run movie house that could seat almost 1,400 people.

By late-1978 the theater had downgraded to showing what owner Robert Sloan referred to as “ethnic pictures – pictures that appeal to a black audience.” One of the last double features at the theater before it closed was “Disco Fever” and “Monkey Hu$tle.” Prior to that the feature had been “The Devil Times Five” and “Creature from the Black Lake.” But increasing crime in the area kept moviegoers away. The Coney Oneys gang kept spray-painting their tags all over the outside of the theater, not a welcome sight for jittery movie fans. Citing declining ticket sales, Sloan, who operated a number of theaters in the metro area, including the Ren Cen in the Renaissance Center, the Abbey in Madison Heights, the Beacon East in Harper Woods and the Maple in Birmingham, closed the Norwest early in 1979.


Residents, businesses, and churches in surrounding neighborhoods like Rosedale Park, Grandmont, and Crary-St. Mary’s protested the closure, and three months of pressure resulted in Sloan reopening the theater as a second-run movie house, showing stale movies a couple years after their debut. It charged $1 admission, less than the standard $1.25 or $1.50 at other similar second-run area theaters in the suburbs.

The 1,400-seat theater was far larger than the typical theater of the day, which seated, on average, about 400 patrons. By the mid-80s the Norwest was split into two separate screening rooms, showing first-run movies again at a bargain price for that time - children, students and seniors paid $3 dollars. The price for all others was $5 after 7:30 p.m. Features were shown seven days a week, 365 days a year. The theater had an advertising budget as large as any major movie theater.


The Norwest was the center of more trouble in 1997, when it was sued for banning children under 6 years old in the evenings. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission ruled in favor of the parents who sued, but a Wayne County Circuit Court judge decided that the theater was within its rights to do so.

But the end was near, hastened by persistent crime in the neighborhood. The parking lot for moviegoers was dark, tucked away behind the theater, forcing patrons to walk some distance across an alley to get to the ticket office. Razor wire and plexi-glass began appearing on businesses along Grand River. A nearby Rally's restaurant had become a constant robbery target. Patrons began expressing fears to theater staff about leaving the theater and walking to their cars at night. Though nobody was ever harmed inside the theater, employees tried to keep the doors locked during business hours, admitting people only after they knocked. Sloan consistently refused to install metal detectors as some nearby suburban theaters had been forced to do in the wake of violent incidents.

By 2000, the theater closed its doors for good, the last Detroit neighborhood theater to have shown first-run movies at a bargain price.

On Sunday morning, I headed over to see what I could find. I saw an open back door, with a hose running out to a nearby parking lot, pumping the seven feet of water out of the basement, and an iron wall ladder inside the door, leading up somewhere into the building. As I was fiddling with my tripod and camera someone began trying to bang their way out of one of the closed metal doors on the side of the theater. After several attempts at busting out of the rusty door, a demolition worker burst out, right in front of me.

I figured I'd try the friendly, direct approach before I tried breaking in, so I introduced myself and told him why I was there, and he said go right ahead, go in. Then he pointed to his respirator. "You might want something like this - there's mold all over the place in there. There's mushrooms growing on the walls." I had a dust mask - better than nothing, I guess - and put it on and headed in.


The doors were all propped open now, allowing a degree of natural light into the building. I had tried to get in there a long time ago, when it was sealed like a fortress, and I'm glad I didn't. The daylight revealed all sorts of frightening things inside. The demo worker wasn't kidding about the mold - it was everywhere, as was giant brown fungi growing out of some walls and door frames in one-inch clumps, stretched out in colonies seven feet long.

The odor in there was extremely dense and strong - it smelled like a concentrated fungus-mold potpourri. Over the past four years, the Norwest, basically a windowless box with water infiltration and no ventilation or light, became a super-fungus farm. The floor of one of the theaters was covered in a quarter-inch of some mysterious russet-colored powder mixed with water to create a paste, remnants of which are still all over my car rugs and apartment floors now. Various things I'd touch were coated with some kind of sticky, mystery goo.

Upstairs, reels of film lay wrapped tightly on shelves, and old projectors remained pointed down towards the movie screens, as the light blue wall curtain of the theater shimmered in the slight breeze coming in through the open door. The concession stands still had employee rules posted, along with hundreds of plastic drink tops and cups. A couple of souvenir magnets from the movie "Office Space" remained on a door. Rolls of movie tickets sat in the front ticket booth. Not much Art Deco detailing remained in the interior, if there ever was much, except a pattern on the ceiling, some detailing on the walls and the lettering above the restrooms.

A day later, the demo crew made short work of it, knocking most of the Norwest down in a day, replacing the 68-year-old Art Deco theater with a spot for a future fast-food restaurant.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Sunny

Just as the life of summer seemed to ebb, and as night breezes hinted at impending autumn, summer took a deep breath and sprang to life once again here in Detroit, providing a spectacular mid-August weekend with sun and warmth and outdoorsiness all around.

Went on a directionless stroll around Belle Isle with someone early Saturday afternoon. Geese honked, ducks paddled across ponds, and deer stared from behind fences. Belle Isle isn’t the same without the free-roaming deer in the woods. Now they have them penned in, for a variety of reasons, some sound, some silly. They used to roam the woods freely, as God and nature intended, or, rather, as the people who released them there 50 years ago intended. People would come to the island with big bags full of bread, and the deer would come right up and eat out of your hand. No more.

A horde of family reunions clogged the island, making some roads almost impassable due to parking-induced gridlock. Barbecues flared up on grills that dotted the fields all around us, the smell of lighter fluid drifting by. A bride and groom were with a camera crew, filming themselves embracing in front of various landmarks, such as the fountain. The usual weekend island-goers suddenly swelled in number. At one point, I hopped over the fence and the moat surrounding the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon and took some photos of the crumbling steps while my companion watched, utterly unamused. In the nearby parking lot, a Jesus-themed hip hop concert was happening.


To give ourselves an excuse to remain outside in the sunshine, we headed over to the State Fair.

The State Fair is one of those things one can’t fully appreciate unless one has kids, I suppose. I do remember being a little kid and enjoying for its own sake, not for the freak factor. Corndogs, cotton candy, sugar drinks, these things just don’t appeal to single adults, unless they’re laced with vodka or something. Nevertheless, it is amusing to see the carnies grow dirtier by the day, to watch the kids to whom everything is invisible except candy, rides and the man on stilts, and to go look at the sad, fuzzy animals brought down from up north. The rides looked like kitsch itself, with "Lost in Space"-type decorative effects.

Unfortunately, there were no particularly great free concerts this year. Alice Cooper was an interesting booking, but not quite my thing. Last year featured The Reverend Al Green, who put on one of the best concerts I’d ever seen in my life, let alone for free. It almost singlehandedly gave me a buzz. This year, there wasn’t much from which to pick.


The farmy stench of manure drifted on the wind throughout the fair. Farmers hawked their wares, including vegetables that had withered and discolored considerably after a couple weeks out on a table in the warm Detroit air. Rams with ridiculously oversized balls stood motionless in their pens, as embarrassed parents strolled by with their curious children transfixed at the sight of these huge, swinging ram balls. It seemed not a single child walked by without asking their parents about it, much to the parents' chagrin. After a while we just stood in one spot and watched the inevitable grimace on the parents' faces when the obscene sight entered their vision. I couldn't stop laughing. Yes, I am indeed 12 years old. Despite this awkwardness, the kids approached the animals with wide-eyed wonder, petting them and sometimes naming them even as the animals' owners marketed them as potentially our next delicious meal.



Friday, August 20, 2004

What's in a Name?

While admiring the fine work done by the weekly fires that someone keeps setting at an apartment building near the Masonic Temple, I took a stroll through another old apartment complex nearby that, while not yet gutted by a Midtown serial pyro, has also seen better days.

The William Apartments, a 64-unit, U-shaped building, was built in 1917 on what is now Temple Avenue but was then called Bagg Avenue. The building's name was commemorated above the main door with a large “W” carved in stone. Despite this seemingly permanent designation, less than a year later it changed its name to Prince Rupert Apartments. Latching onto the excitement surrounding the soon-to-be-built Masonic Temple, the building again changed its name to Temple Court Apartments in 1920, but then to Pringle Hall in 1926.

It then went almost entirely vacant in the late 20s, changed hands and again changed names, this time becoming the Almeda Apartment Hotel. It changed names again in the early 60s to the Temple Tower Apartments, then changed to Temple Towers when it became government-subsidized housing. By the early 90s the city basically said to hell with it and closed it up, a state it remained in for about a day or so. It then served as public housing again, this time rent-free, as Cass Corridor denizens helped themselves to the apartments in there. Despite having the name William Apartments for only one year of its 87-year history, the stone "W" remains firmly in place.


In 1998, the City Council voted to sell the entire complex for $1 to the Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corp., which announced plans to turn it into a shelter for homeless AIDS victims. This proposal went over like a lead balloon at the Masonic Temple, whose management envisioned the place as a launching pad from which a gaunt army of diseased derelicts could prey on the well-to-do, older suburbanites who frequent Masonic Temple shows.

The Masonic Temple filed a lawsuit against the proposed shelter, and for good measure the Shriners, who provide a third of the temple’s income, threatened to abandon the temple if the deal went through, which would force the Masons to shutter the building. Evenutally, HUD withdrew its promise of $2.4 million in rental subsidies when the group backing the plan failed to come up with its own financing, the city withdrew its support, and the plan collapsed. Now the building sits empty, used off and on as a haven for squatters, junkies and the embodied fears of Masonic Temple patrons, depending how boarded up it is at any given time.

The inside of Temple Towers was as nasty as the inside of any abandoned apartment buildings in Detroit. Rooms were filled with the filth left behind by squatters. It's in these places it becomes apparent that some squatters have serious substance abuse and mental problems - you or I, if living in a confined space, would likely designate one spot as the trash, and segregate that from the rest of your space. But in these rooms the trash is on the bed, rotten food is on the floor mixed with the feces, the clothes are mixed with the garbage, and everything is in a disgusting, blended swirl of debris. And each room, despite having been occupied by different people, is exactly the same.


Walking around on each floor was spooky, because it's the kind of place where you'd expect someone to be waiting right around a corner, shiv in hand. A few floors up I heard a rustling noise outside by the closed front door, looked out and saw a wobbly hobo poking through the piss-covered trash on the ground. Watched him stumble around for a bit, then I headed up.

The south wall suffered considerable damage from the repeated fires next door at the former Westchester Apartments, a 38-unit structure that lies adjacent to and perpendicular to it. The Westchester, also built in 1917 along with the Adams, was then apparently caught up in the same 1920s name-changing mania that seems to have gripped the William Apartments, and changed its name to the Ballagh in the early 20s, then to the Westchester in 1929. The now-frequent blazes there have scorched the rooms on the south end of Temple Towers, but so far fire hasn't really gotten going in there yet. Yet.

Kept going on up to the upper floors, where at the top there was a small, low-ceilinged observation level with an iron railing that allowed a view straight down to the front door, through the stray trees that have cropped up. Went on the roof, where there's a great, up-close view of the upper-level detail on the Masonic Temple and the Hotel American.

Sat in the warm afternoon sun, peered over the edge at the devastation next door at what remains of the Westchester, and watched the sunny-day activity in Cass Park, which, due to its location, has over the years been basically a big hobo park. Though occasionally a Midtown hipster will walk his or her way through here, on any given day most of the park's inhabitants are hobos. There's a large statue of poet Robert Burns at the edge of the park standing guard, strangely enough, over the mostly illiterate homeless who congregate there.


Headed down the stairs and explored some of the unilluminated lower levels, but started to get a little freaked out in the confined daytime darkness and the pungent smell, and left rather than explore yet more piles of potato chip wrappers, empty beer bottles, porno magazines and drug paraphernalia.






Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Seeing Things

The Summer Drinking Series plowed forward last week, this time with a visit to the Iodent Building on Park Avenue, right next to the Town Pump bar.

I know, I know, this one was like shooting a wounded bird - the ground-floor walls had been torn off, and the building was one big gaping hole. It wasn’t much of a challenge. Nevertheless, I had always wanted to check out the inside and the roof, and now seemed as good a time as any, before they yuppie the place up. Current plans are to convert it into an "Parisian" and "Art Deco" -style pool hall, with lofts above the first couple floors.

The Iodent Building, built in 1923, was originally called the Wormer & Moore Building. The Wormer & Moore Investment Company moved from its offices on the corner of Griswold and Jefferson and took over the building when it was finished. In addition to its namesake company, the eight-story structure originally housed a number of real estate and insurance companies with names like Pointe, Mohawk, and the Maumee and Notre Dame Real Estate Company, though mixed in with those was the occasional oddity, such as the Russian-American-French Art Industries, which, despite the lofty name was nothing more than a dressmaking business. The Mayfair restaurant was located on the ground floor for years.

By World War Two the building, like many in the city, was largely vacant, but it rebounded and was purchased after the war by the Iodent Chemical Company, toothpaste manufacturers, which operated out of the building for years. By the 1970s, the building became vacant.

Unfortunately for us, the place had been stripped clean long ago, apart from some antique doors and window frames that were saved and remained stacked against poles. We arrived just as the sun was going down, casting a faint reddish glow on the upper levels of the buildings on Park Avenue.

We got to the roof pretty fast, being careful not to stray too close to the side where the occupied Park Avenue Hotel and the fire station stood, at least until it got darker.

I was taking some close-up photos of the Park Avenue Hotel, which just happened to have some open windows on a late summer's night with clear views into a few of the rooms. We could see some people going about their business in there. I didn’t want to stare too long, lest I cross the line between bemused drinker and weirdo pervert Peeping Tom, but one scene was too compelling.

As I was taking pictures of the Park Avenue Hotel cornice I saw a pretty girl moving around her apartment, fiddling with something. She then sat right in full view of the window and lit a crack pipe. I stopped taking pictures of the roof and watched, entranced. I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, so I gave her the benefit of the doubt and assumed it was something more benign, like hash. But the way she was turning it, the type of pipe it was, the way the smoke appeared and the way it yielded one white smoky hit and one hit only, it did seem to be a crack pipe. She then sat and enjoyed her buzz while watching TV. I stopped watching.

Everything was fine, we were relaxing as darkness fell, the air grew crisp, the yellow glow of streetlights was cast upward on the Detroit Building. Then I let my paranoia get the best of me. I am extremely cautious on these adventures, but there's a fine line between mindful caution and runaway paranoia, and I often hit the tipping point between the two.

We were calmly drinking beers, looking towards the Statler Hotel in the semi-darkness of twilight, not really paying attention to anything in particular but merely staring blankly ahead, when I noticed two police cars next to the Kales, and the cops outside their cars looking our way and pointing at our building as they spoke. Can’t be looking at us, I thought. But they kept doing it, looking straight up, and pointing straight to our roof.

I began imagining that someone, perhaps the Kales workers, spotted us and called the cops. We immediately checked the streets below to see if there were waiting police cars, but there were none. Jeez, I wondered, am I seeing things? Went back to the edge of the roof, and of course the police were still there. I could actually see their badges gleaming in the few streetlights that were working. We didn't want to take chances, and quickly wrapped things up and got the hell out of there.

But now it was night, and the wide-open first floor was totally illuminated by work lamps, permitting a clear view of the ground floor to all the passersby heading to the Town Pump in the darkness, not to mention the Town Pump employees, who happen to work for the owner of the Iodent. After much flitting between poles, we made our way out onto quiet Park Avenue. And there wasn't a cop in sight. In other words, a we bade a frantic retreat for absolutely no reason. I sheepishly bought the next round of beers.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Down by the Riverside

The Riverfront area of Detroit was the first part of the city settled after Antoine Cadillac landed in 1701, and has always been at the center of the city's history. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, factories and warehouses sprang up on the river's shore, turning it into one of the major centers of commerce and industry in the nation at the turn of the century. Several plans were floated over the years to beautify the area, but despite optimistic efforts, none took hold, and the area remained a gritty industrial zone.

The area roughly between the Renaissance Center and Belle Isle has also been known as the Warehouse District, because it containes several, turn-of-the-century warehouses that stand in the late stages of abandonment and decay, and has been used in modern times mostly for kids to gain practice at graffiti.

The Detroit Screw Works warehouse (seen above) has been abandoned since the early 1960s. The company was established in 1877, and began with a factory on Lafayette before moving to the location at Atwater and Riopelle in 1893. An advertisement from the time described the company as "manufacturers of set and cap screws, nuts, automobile parts, special turned pieces of metal, etc." The company erected a new building on the site in 1912, which remains in place now.


The Detroit Screw Works company went out of business before World War II, and the building became the warehouse for Allen Industries Inc. By 1957 it belonged to the Ainsworth Manufacturing Corp., maker of auto parts, and after a few more years of vacancy the Coil Steel Company operated out of part of the building. Soon after, it became permanently vacant. The only sign on the building dates from the building's beginning, and simply says "Industrial Public Warehouse."

The most unusual find in there was midway up, on a floor littered with the empty shells of 30-year old cars that had been hollowed out, battered, spray-painted and otherwise knocked around. A floor below was filled with old, rusted hospital beds scattered around. The beds and the cars were each confined to a single floor. No other floors had beds on them except one. No other floors had cars on them except one.

Another floor contained a skateboard ramp. It was somewhat old, but still intact. That meant that someone hauled a bunch of 2-by-4s and plywood up there, cut them to specifications, bent them and nailed them together. It gives an idea of how utterly abandoned and desolate the area is that someone can embark on their own freelance construction project inside a 100-year-old factory without anybody noticing.


The whole warehouse was covered with tags by someone named Yeggo, who noted in paint on one wall that he lives in Pittsburgh and was here on a short visit. It was very nice of him to come all that way to deface Detroit's buildings. On one floor though, someone had spray-painted a very unusual yet relatively charming collection of squids and an underwater squid-man in mid-swim.

Climbed the roof and the water tower, but it was too rickety, and since I wasn't up there to tag the thing, I really had no incentive to be there and got the hell down.

Small trees and foot-high weeds have layered the perimeters of the Detroit Screw Works' floors, while brush has enveloped the lower levels of the buildings. In fact, the entire area is basically overgrowth dotted with giant warehouses. Apart from the sight of a tourist or two taking photos, and the occasional whirring engine sound of a boat on the river, the surrounding area was dead silent in the middle of the afternoon.


Right next door sits a shell of a building, the Detroit United Railway Company powerhouse, formerly known as the Detroit Citizens' Street Railway Company (seen at right). The site, built in 1895, consisted of a powerhouse, warehouse and dock. The company originally had its main offices at 12 Woodward, near the river, before moving all its operations to the riverfront site. By 1930 it had been taken over by the city and had been absorbed as the Department of Street Railways, though by the mid-1930s it had become vacant, a condition it reverted to repeatedly for most of the rest of the 20th century, being last occupied by Ambassador Steel through the 80s.

A huge hole has been blasted in on one side, big enough to drive a large truck through. The wall directly opposite is in a state of total collapse, so if you stand in the blasted hole at one end you get a clear view of the Renaissance Center through the other wall.

Nestled between it and the Detroit Screw Works building is the former offices of Ambassador Steel, which were in operation less than a decade ago. Paperwork spills out from shelves and upended file cabinets onto floors, which were water-soaked and stinky, creating a gooey mush beneath our feet.


Just down the street sits the Globe Trading Company warehouse, a site that has a rich and complex history.

Built in 1892 at Orleans and Atwater, it was originally the Dry Dock Engine Works. An 1881 advertisment describes the company as "manufacturers of steam engines, propeller wheels and machinery of all kinds." A young Henry Ford worked there as a machinist from 1880-1892 in the original building, before the Dry Dock Engine Works company moved into the larger building now standing at the site. Thomas Edison also served a stint as an apprentice there.

Dry Dock Engine Works was preceded by the Detroit Dry Dock Company, one of the largest shipbuilders on the Great Lakes. The engine works company, founded in 1872, had several dry docks and a yard at the site on Atwater for more than 20 years before moving into its present location. The building was later occupied by Detroit Edison Reconditioning and Appliance Shop before The Globe Trading Company, formerly located on Franklin Street, moved into the giant warehouse in the late 1950s. Globe sold a variety of products, including steel equipment, cabinets, lockers, folding chairs, benches, tubing, tool and die steels, and factory equipment and motors, among other offerings.

There's been on-and-off talk of renovating it, though considering the list of possible renovation projects, this one is among the least likely, considering the extensive decay it has undergone.



Ivy climbs the broken windows and rust-colored brick walls outside. Puddles sit on the ground floor. Dozens of old-time fuseboxes, a modern electrician's nightmare, line a wall.

On the fourth floor, someone had made a home for themselves. A virtual sea of liquor pint bottles lay scattered on an old wood floor. There were hundreds of them in a few square yards. The stairs leading to that floor were the ashtray, as thousands of ashy cigarette butts covered each step in mounds. A few magazines and blankets remained behind, as did an old empty fusebox used as a cupboard. It contained Bisquick, Kelloggs All-Bran cereal and some ramen noodles. Holes burned in the wood-plank floor demonstrated the squatter's cooking method. No sterno, no grill, just light a floor fire and away you go.

I wanted to go on the roof, but it was nothing more than a sloping wood roof that really doesn't exist in parts anymore. Likewise, the wood plank floors of the upper levels are largely rotted, and gaping holes with wet edges reveal a precarious drop to floors below.


I heard people-type noises in there while I explored, and later found to my relief that it was some guy and his girlfriend giving themselves a tour. Nearby, middle-aged suburbanites in nice cars pulled up and looked around the area with awe. In fact, every time I'm in the area, some tourists, usually with cameras, are roaming the ruins freely, with a mixture of fear and astonishment on their faces at the beauty mingling with the decay.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Spent most of the weekend doing girl-related stuff, and since detroitblog's rules of self-preservation begin with the adage that I never post about any of that, there's not much to share about this weekend. Got some good exploring in though, which will soon be posted. In the meantime, I've been meaning to update the links list, but haven't gotten around to it. But for now, here are a few Detroit-based blogs worth perusing.

* Forgotten Michigan has become one of the better Detroit exploration sites, and the guys who run it seem to be good explorers in that they don't vandalize the buildings they break into and have a sense of respect for the history of the places they explore. The photography has also gotten very good.

* Ghetropolitan Journal features well-written, hilarious stories of encounters with the many demented people that inhabit the city, accompanied by great photographs from around town. Though the place names are thinly disguised, it's not too hard to figure out what the writer refers to.

* idiot blog is mostly photos, but the photographer who runs the site has a knack for finding and taking pictures of the coolest stuff on the street. Not only is the subject matter good, but the photos are really great. Browse the archives.

* International Metropolis features architecture of both Detroit and Windsor, and offers a "photo du jour" worth checking on every day.

I'll add more links later.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Home Sweet Home

Tucked away along the shore of the Detroit River, on the border between Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park, sits a small plot of land that for nearly 80 years has housed the Lakeside Trailer Court, a collection of busted-down trailers sitting on one of the best pieces of real estate in the area.

We first discovered it in the late 80s, when we'd take sneak-missions over the border into Grosse Pointe to pick up our girlfriends and hightail it the hell out of there back into Detroit before the police spotted us (black people aren't the only ones that Grosse Pointe cops harass; poor-looking white kids like us, driving beat-up cars, got hounded by them constantly.) We got to know the Alter Road border area well back then, and that's how we discovered the strange park with its even stranger tenants.

Even when it was occupied (as seen above), many of the trailers were abandoned, though the only difference between an occupied trailer and one that was not was often only the presence of a car parked right up against it.

I hadn't been by there in years, until recently, after I read that the park might soon disappear.

It didn't take long for that to happen. The owner of the property announced that he'd sold the land to a developer, and that meant that all the tenants, even the few who actually still paid some form of rent, had to go. In no time at all, "mysterious" trailer fires began breaking out all over the court, no doubt hastening the process of eviction. And in a matter of months, 60-year-old trailers that had sat relatively intact were stripped down to a layer of wood and insulation. Many trailers still had people's belongings inside, scattered across floors and countertops.


The trailer court now is spooky as all hell. A fallen tree blocked one of the roads leading into the court, reminding me of an old 1980s Detroit trick where carjackers would lay a large branch across a road and hide, and when you'd get out of the car to move it, they'd emerge and acquire a new car for themselves. We didn't take that particular road, opting instead to park at the thoroughly weird, mostly empty store across the street and walk over.

Fireworks remnants lay strewn in the dust from someone's lakeside celebration. Rose bushes, now slightly wild and unanchored, arched gracefully in different directions. Cats left behind popped out of various overgrowth here and there, but they didn't seem too startled by us. Little gardens that had once been carefully tended had surrendered to the encroaching weeds that now threatened to smother what remained of them. Random pieces of pipe and metal lay in the curving roadway that cuts paths through the court.

You get the uncomfortable sense while walking through the trailer court that someone's going to pop out of the weeds or from inside a hollowed-out trailer carcass. We could hear the rat-tat-tat sounds of several hammers and chisels working away in various parts of the trailer court. It was hard to pinpoint their locations because the sound of the hammers echoed and reverberated off the trailers, making it seem as if they were coming from everywhere. We watched one dirty, skinny derelict crouched low on top of a trailer, hammering slowly at a small strip of metal remaining on the roof. He didn't seem to be very energetic or in much of a hurry.

But apart from those noises, and the steady chirp of crickets, the area is eerily quiet.


Explored some interiors, but there wasn't much to see except scattered belongings that the former residents didn't bother to take with them when they abruptly left their homes.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Really, I swear, I'm trying to get some decent posts going, but work is obliterating my free time right now. All sorts of tedious work backed up while I was on my vacation, and the poisons still coursing through my system from the bad fish are slowing me down.

But for now, two quick things of note:

First, if you're in Detroit, smoke 'em if you got 'em!

In a victory some consider more symbolic than substantive, Detroit voters approved legalizing {marijuana} for medical purposes, 59 percent to 41 percent, or 38,604 votes to 26,497.

This vote could've gone this big either way. I'm relatively surprised it went this way, though. A lot of Detroit voters are seniors, a lot are organized by their churches, and that voting bloc is generally very much against drugs, even for supposed medical reasons.

Second, here's some more love for the D:

{Republican congressional candidate James L. Hart of Tennessee} is an unapologetic supporter of eugenics, the phony science that resulted in thousands of sterilizations in an attempt to purify the white race. He believes the country will look "like one big Detroit" if it doesn't eliminate welfare and immigration.

Lovely!


Monday, August 02, 2004

Look who’s back – why, it’s me! I took a true vacation last week, no blogging, no e-mail, no Internet even. I spent much of the time up north where the only abandoned buildings were barns. Even then I couldn’t help wander through a few of them. And just when I want to slowly ease my way back into things I got severe food poisoning last night from some bad fish, which is right now causing me all sorts of gastrointestinal horror while I struggle to work. So it may take a day or two to get things back on track, blog-wise. But many things to come soon.

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