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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.


Friday, January 28, 2005

The latest Photo of the Week features a faded mural on a brick wall on the West Side, photographed on some forgotten summer night when going outside wasn’t pure frozen hell as it is now. But I digress.

It's a bit of agitprop for the Detroit Police Department from the early 1980s that paints an idyllic, multicultural picture of law enforcement in Motown.

An elderly white lady sits on a bench, with her purse and her bag relatively unprotected, because this is a safe city, citizens, and you don't need to guard your valuables like there's crime or something. Everything's fine.

Behind the bench, overseeing the scene as it were, is a black cop, by no means a rare sight in Detroit, but he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence – he’s kinda skinny, his uniform is in a non-masculine pale blue, and his afro is going grey, suggesting he’s closer to being a desk-jockey nearing retirement than someone who’s got the energy to chase down perps. He's got his protective arm around a little white kid holding a balloon. In fact, balloons are plentiful. The underlying message seems to be that all sorts of frail things - old white ladies, little children, delicate balloons - are safe in the Motor City, 'cause the DPD is on the job.

The overall effect is one of early multiculturalism, before the term was actually coined. But they're still rather clumsy with the whole sensitivity thing, because they give the black kid a basketball, of all things, to hang onto. You can’t see it but under the bench the artist put a bucket of chicken and a watermelon as well.

Rounding out the group is a giant dog wearing a pervert-style trenchcoat, with a hand in his pocket, no less. But that’s not just any giant talking dog, it’s McGruff the Crime Dog, who used to advise us to “Take a Bite out of Crime," though I thought that was the cops' job. How the rest of us got recruited into fighting crime in conjunction with a giant peverted dog is anyone's guess.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I might normally use this space to review the weekly embarrassments caused by the mayor, but it’s been requested that everyone cease and desist, Lent-style.

Tired of what she calls "diabolical negativity" in city government, Detroit City Councilwoman JoAnn Watson is proposing a resolution that would call for a 40-day fast in the legislative branch.
During this "ecumenical fast" there would be no negative talk about the Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick among council members or any infighting.


In honor of this, I won’t mention the bizarre press conference Saturday with the mayor and police chief, in which the mayor said the Navigator actually was for his wife, until it wasn’t anymore, that he lied but the press made him look like he’s lying when he’s not, that this is all about racism and his earring, that even the police in a faraway city are in on the conspiracy against him, and that his wife sleeps well at night, not surprising considering he’s out clubbing and she’s got the whole bed to herself. But I won’t mention any of that.

I won't even bring up how clumsy, unprofessional and cheesy it is to allow a lame controversy to grow uncontrollably and become the focus of the media for weeks because of amateur damage-control efforts.

I'm not even going to refer to the sudden surge in negative national publicity caused by said lame controversy, greasing the wheels for more of the same a year from now during the Superbowl.

Nor will we touch on the City Council's own spendthrift ways, as described by the suddenly bullish Freep. Or the council's usual zoo-like antics:

The soap opera that is the Detroit City Council reached new heights Friday when the council president pro tem ordered Detroit police officers to round up three members who were needed for a crucial vote on the city's finances and deliver them to the council's chambers.

I swear, I shall mention none of this.

Monday, January 24, 2005

On Saturday we went to the Motown Winterblast, which was delayed by … winter. I’m not sure what, exactly, got delayed by the huge snowfall - the snowslide, the snowmaze, the dogsledding in snow, but I was too busy getting my car stuck in snowbanks all morning to get over there early enough and find out.

Apart from getting stuck, I love blizzard driving because you can drive like a drunken lunatic, drive on the wrong side of the road for a mile, swish madly around corners, and otherwise show yourself totally incapable of driving within the lines of a lane, and if a cop pulled you over you can always blame the snow and not your idiocy or the five hours spent on a barcrawl. Hypothetically speaking, of course!

Saturday was one of those days. The snowplows sort of cleared Woodward early on, but all that did was create two-foot berms blocking the sidestreets, which acted like flypaper, catching dozens of cars as people tried to turn from their streets onto Woodward.

For something taking place in in blizzard conditions and below-zero windchills, the Winterblast actually turned out pretty good. Though the crowd estimates seem inflated compared with what we actually saw on the ground, there was surprisingly high turnout. The wait for the snowslide was an hour. The warming tents were packed. Crowds ringed the ice rink during skating demonstrations. The greeters were friendly. And most of the people seemed to be non-Detroiters, mostly couples and families, which is exactly what the event was designed to attract. You can spot them because they have that telltale skyward gaze towards the skyscrapers, which they seem to be viewing for the first time.

But they came despite the city being on the verge of municipal collapse and receivership, chaos in the mayor's office and a storm of bad publicity, a pretty good sign, considering all that's happened lately. A decade ago you could've thrown a free cash giveaway at the same spot and nobody would've shown up. It means Detroit's nascent "comeback," at least perception-wise, now has a self-sustaining life of its own, independent of the usual idiots and clowns who always manage to screw things up in Detroit.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Lincoln Navigator controversy has grown into a huge symbol of everything that’s wrong with the Kwame Kilpatrick administration – the corruption, the use of taxpayer dollars for personal luxury, the thuggish climate, the shady answers, the whole imitation hip hop star lifestyle.

The Navigator, a relatively extravagant vehicle suspected to be purchased for First Lady Carlita Kilpatrick’s personal use for a cost of $24,995, at a time when the city is in financial crisis and is forced to make deep cuts in its budget, became an embarrassment as soon as it was discovered. Then the mayor’s staff claimed the navigator was purchased for undercover police work. Not that the police couldn't have used one of dozens of vehicles seized on raids for undercover work. But then it was discovered by WDIV that it was outfitted with very large flashing police lights, the kind obviously never found in an undercover vehicle. So that alibi began to tank.

At the same time, the dealer who leased the vehicle to the city said he was told it was for Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings. But then the police themselves even said it wasn't for her. Huh? Now, the Freep has discovered that the license plate on the vehicle once belonged to Carlita Kilpatrick. Just a coincidence, insists the deputy mayor.

And through all this, spokespeople from the police department and the mayor's office are sputtering and stammering, seemingly not sure what the current line of excuses is.

Another indication that the story keeps growing is the fact that people are beginning to ignore that it was Steve Wilson of WXYZ who broke the story. Wilson is a demagogue and exaggerator, and generally lacks reporting integrity, preferring to use selective editing and overwrought emotional overtones in place of solid fact-gathering and objective reporting. He’s like a broken clock, not only because he's round, but also because he’s vaguely accurate once in a while despite being terribly flawed. He's one of the worst TV reporters we've had in this town in a long while. Yet this time, he got Kwame to take the bait.

When the conventional wisdom is that you’re a thug mayor, allowing a member of your security detail to be videotaped shoving Wilson against a wall — no minor physical feat in itself — at a national meeting of mayors, no less, is probably the stupidest thing you can do. Wilson may be irritatingly belligerent, but he obviously wasn't trying to physically harm the mayor. So now that incident has become a story in itself, in addition attracting attention once again to the less-than-reputable people the mayor chooses to surround himself with. Meanwhile, the members of the media smell blood, and are suddenly and uncharacteristically hostile to the mayor.

All this over a vehicle whose purchase actually wasn't illegal, just poor judgement in a time of fiscal crisis. Had Kilpatrick handled Wilson's aggressiveness a bit more smoothly, none of this would be happening. Now because of his clumsy mismanagement of the situation, it's grown beyond WXYZ to include the other major local news stations and both dailies, all of which are giving additional life to this story. And that's entirely Kilpatrick's fault.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

We're not even three weeks into the new year and already I'm breaking resolutions left and right, including the promise to make the Photo of the Week an actually weekly phenomenon. But here's to second efforts!

Who among us hasn’t, in the midst of a busy day, been overcome by certain substances coursing through our systems and said "What the heck? I’m gonna lay down right where I am right now and take a nap." Such a dreamy scene, as exemplified by the latest Photo of the Week, also harks back to the wonderful warm days of mid-spring, when hope and promise fill the air, the kind of hope and promise that allow you to lay down on a dirty sidewalk in the Cass Corridor and get some quick midday shut-eye as equally intoxicated passersby try to avoid kicking you in the head. Ah, Detroit in bloom. Brings tears to the eye, especially on such a frigid cold day like today, when the arctic air would make such a scene perhaps slightly less bearable to the sleeper, but probably only slightly less likely to occur. Sweet dreams, my dear, stoned hobo. Sweet dreams.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Thanks to a budget crunch caused by incompetent city leaders, the century-old Belle Isle Aquarium, the oldest public aquarium in the country, is closing. This will apparently save a whopping half-million dollars, thereby addressing about 1/590th of the current budget deficit.

It’s certainly not the most impressive aquarium, nor is it even very large or particularly pretty design-wise, but it’s a holdover from an era when everything didn’t have to be supersized, when a short stop at a quaint little aquarium in an island park was part of a delightful afternoon stroll. There are many Wal-Mart-size zoos and aquariums around the country that require about three hours of your time to navigate and contain every fish known to man, but few with the charm and the history that the Belle Isle Aquarium has. Are they going to close the conservatory now too?

At the same time, though, there's no such thing as too much luxury for Kwame:

(A)fter the mayor has called for cutbacks, for all city workers to sacrifice and for residents to do with fewer services because the city is in such deep financial trouble, 7 Action News found out that just before Christmas, there was still enough taxpayer money to pay for the lease of a brand new Lincoln Navigator with a sticker price of more than $57,000, which is said to be (Kwame Kilpatrick's wife) Carlita’s new car.

The mayor's spokespeople said the car was actually for the police department. But then:

Detroit police are trying to figure out what to do with the luxury SUV they leased for about $25,000 after the truck became the subject of media reports.
Police spokesman James Tate said Friday that the 2005 Lincoln Navigator -- which is loaded with options and worth $57,000 -- was leased for use as an undercover vehicle.
The deal made headlines Friday, one day after Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said he would sell cars assigned to city officials to help avert a potential $230-million budget shortfall.
Bob Maxey, president of Bob Maxey Ford, said police leased the truck in December from his Lincoln-Mercury dealership on Detroit's east side for Police Chief Ella Bully-Cummings.
Tate said the Navigator was never intended for Bully-Cummings.
"She's never set foot in a Lincoln Navigator," he said Friday.


Nobody seems to know whose car this is for sure. Carlita's? The police chief's? The narc squad? And people wonder why the city's finances are in the tank. The Navigator itself isn't enough to break the bank, but the reality is that there are hundreds of similar perks, scams and deals in the city's budget that add up to the mess in which Detroit finds itself, i.e. ripe for a state takeover. Meanwhile, the budget problem is worsening:

The bad news just keeps coming for Detroit's finances.
First, Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's administration said the city is facing a $231-million shortfall for next year's budget. But on Friday, his finance team told the City Council that there is a $94-million deficit from last year's budget and the city is facing a $64-million projected shortfall in the current budget.
All told, the city has to find $389 million to deal with the gaps in the three years. And the city's auditor general Joseph Harris warned it may still get worse.


This certainly doesn't help:

The Detroit Water and Sewerage Department paid $9.45 million last year to settle two lawsuits stemming from accidents caused by department workers driving drunk while on the job.
In one case, teenager Gerald Cawthon was left paralyzed from the waist down and permanently brain damaged.
In the other instance, a 37-year-old Chicago woman was killed instantly when she was hit by a Water and Sewerage Department worker in a city van as she was walking in a crosswalk.
Meanwhile, the water department last Monday reached a tentative out-of-court settlement with a private security firm that lost its contract after one of its guards crashed and was charged with driving under the influence. Eventually those charges were dropped, and the company, JOWA Associates Inc. of Detroit, sued for breach of contract and defamation. Lawyers for JOWA, according to court records, were prepared to show a Wayne County jury that they were being held to a double standard because the water department had had problems with its own workers driving drunk.


World Class City on the go!

Thursday, January 13, 2005

In honor of yet another delay in the attempt to knock down the abandoned, 100-year-old Madison Lenox Hotel, the Scan of the Week features an item I found last year still taped to a wall in one of the Madison Lenox's rooms, yellowed by age and stained by mysterious fluids. It's a flyer promoting the Harmonie Park area circa 1983, a fact I deduced because someone was helpful enough to desecrate it by writing the year on it, and then underlining the sentence "Downtown Detroit's Art and Cultural Center," as if to remind themselves what Harmonie Park was - "Ahh yes, that Harmonie Park."

The design is pure late 70s/early 80s, and even without the wear and tear, it looks like crap. An attempt was made at highlighting the small tree-lined park that sits at the center of the area, but the drawing looks more like a bunch of green mushrooms corralled by a coat hanger. And apparently the only colored ink to be had in those days was green; not only is it the only color in the printing, but the person who wrote on it had access to the same supply of dull green pens.

Finding the flyer in the hotel was remarkable in itself, because after visiting every single room in the hotel the only things we found on the wall were a 1984 calendar in one room and this postcard-sized flyer in another. Anything else that had been on the walls was blown off by wind gusting through the wide-open windows throughout the building. The flyer was held onto the wall by a single tack, valiantly struggling to keep it suspended though year after year of changing weather. The room had belonged to a older woman, judging by the info on the prescription bottles and personal letters left scattered throughout her place.


The reverse side, once a map and letter key to the businesses in the area, is now nothing more than a chronicle of closed restaurants, failed bars and long-forgotten art galleries in the area.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Time for a blast of undiluted negativity:

It’s a new year – let the mayhem begin! Starting right away:

One New Year's reveler was arrested early Monday for allegedly firing a sawed-off shotgun into the air while on the porch of a house on the city's east side.
Shortly after midnight New Year's Day, Detroit police said patrol officers in the 19300 block of Runyon heard gunfire and saw a group of people at the house. Along with the 23-year-old Detroit man arrested Monday, police saw a second man loading a firearm. The group dispersed when officers approached the house, but police got enough information to seek warrants for two more arrests.


Wow, a handful of arrests, only 4,500 New Year’s shooters to go. Good work!

Then…

A man was fatally shot while filling up his sport utility vehicle at a Detroit gas station Monday night.
The 24-year-old man was at a Marathon gas station at West Warren and McCraw when the shooting occurred, Local 4 reported. Witnesses said the victim was coming out of the gas station when a gunman walked up to him and said, "What's up, dog?" and started firing shots.
Nearly a dozen shell casings were left on the ground as a result of the shooting, Local 4 reported.


Sometimes it’s the police doing the shooting:

A Detroit police officer shot and critically wounded an unarmed man early Tuesday when the man, who reportedly had been brandishing a pistol, suddenly pulled his hands out of his pockets as if he had a gun, police said.
The incident began about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday when two officers were dispatched to the area of Russell and Canfield on the city's east side after someone called police saying that a man was standing in a field next to a vehicle waving a handgun, McCalister said.
The officers found a man, who had no identification on him, standing in the field next to a Mercedes Benz vehicle that was stuck in the mud.
It appears that the man drove the truck over the curb and tried to drive it across the field, McCalister said. The officers ran a license plate check on the vehicle, and the police computer printout said the vehicle had been reported stolen in October 2004 in Eastpointe.
McCalister said the officers approached the man and vehicle and ordered the man to take his hands out of his pockets.
He refused several times.


One thing of note is the fact that the “victim” was driving around in a car that was stolen in October. That’s nearly three months on the street without being caught. Years ago I was carjacked and the same thing happened – the perpetrator was caught about five weeks later after joyriding in my car all that time. Great police work. What’s that you say? The police are busy? Yes, I know, busy not solving murders, busy accidentally releasing murderers (oops - sorry!), busy not finding stolen cars, busy not stopping simple street hustles like broad daylight parking scams that cause minimal real damage but untold PR damage.

I know, let's just shift people around in the office. That'll help. The murderers are now second-guessing themselves.

Meanwhile, the proportional sense of retribution and the balance of right and wrong continue to thrive in the city's mindset:

Enraged that a neighbor stiffed her for a $10 rock of crack cocaine, a 46-year-old Detroit woman left her apartment, bought gasoline, returned home and set fire to her building's stairwell, police said Monday.
That single piece of crack now has a body count: A 3-year-old boy and a 19-year-old woman, who died when the blaze raged through the complex, on Merton near Palmer Park.
The targeted drug debtor walked away unscathed.


Shuffling top brass in the police department won't address the fact that the criminal ethic in this city is basically a scorched earth mentality, whether it be torching whole apartment buildings over a rock, or killing four people because you're mad at your girlfriend, or shooting nine random people because someone took your sunglasses.

Now onto other types of mayhem:

Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick is expected to announce today a range of cost-cutting measures to help stabilize the city's finances, including more than 900 job cuts, reductions in appointee salaries, eliminating city cars and reducing hours of bus service.

Kilpatrick outlined his plans to representatives of five city unions Monday night. City officials confirmed the meeting but declined to confirm specifics. The mayor plans to address residents at 7 tonight in a speech expected to be broadcast on local television and radio.

Union leaders said the mayor outlined several areas in which he wanted to cut spending. He planned to send layoff notices Thursday to 686 employees, notifying them that the layoff is effective March 1, according to union officials. Another 237 positions would be left vacant. Non-union workers and city appointees would take a 10 percent pay cut, under the mayor's plan. The Detroit Department of Transportation also would reduce the hours of its now 24-hour bus service.
Also, on July 1 all city cars would be sold and there will be no more free gas.

Last week the mayor said he had plans to cut his salary after his two-day economic forum that bluntly addressed the city's dire financial situation. The projected shortfall for 2005-06 is $214 million, but this year's budget still may pose problems. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

On Monday, the Detroit City Council fiscal analyst, Irvin Corley Jr., delivered more bad news. Corley forecast a total deficit of as much as $350 million by the end of 2005-06. Among his predictions were a $90 million deficit for 2003-04 because of overspending and lower collections in taxes and other revenue and a $90 million deficit for 2004-05 -- including a $15 million deficit from the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Authority and a $4 million deficit in the parking department.


The problem is that city government for years was a way to give cronies, friends, relatives and other unqualifieds cushy jobs at which they had to do minimal work. I know – I used to have a city job, and it was without doubt the easiest job I had in my entire life, as it was for all my coworkers. A relative of mine has had a city job for years, and most of his day is spent drinking at his house with his work buddies while they're on the clock. The city needs massive layoffs, spending cuts and a considerable amount of privatization, and that's just for starters, because there is neither the need for, nor the funding for, the kind of EU-sized bureaucracy the city has. It's not a matter of ideology, it's simple reality. We've got a government created for a city of two million now serving a city of 900,000. Something has to give.

For years, the City of Detroit has been the city’s largest employer, a sure sign that the business climate is in the toilet. Even a destructive city income tax failed to close the gap. The only places in the world where the government is the largest employer are places like Havana, and those places aren't exactly models of economic sanity.

Officials have previously said that the health, public lighting and transportation departments were causing the biggest drains on the city. The general fund subsidizes those departments by $106.5 million a year. Those departments will be scrutinized under the mayor's plan, according to the accountants union. Kilpatrick also talked to the unions about asking Lansing for an increase in the utility user tax and to discuss with Lansing ways to increase city revenue via alcohol and sin taxes.

Let the bitching begin! I'm sure we'll hear how important the Health Department is, despite the fact that on its watch we have Third World rates of syphillis in the city and many children whose main breakfast staple is lead paint chips. The Lighting Department oversees vast swaths of the city that are chronically darkened because the streetlights don't work for a stretch of blocks at a time. There is no reason whatsoever for those departments to exist anymore.

The worst part is, the council and unions will throw a hissy fit over this plan, yet it's not even enough to begin addressing the problem. They think this hurts? Wait a year or two when there will need to be two and three times the number of layoffs. The math doesn't lie; the city is losing population and tax revenue, and when there's no money to pay for those jobs, those jobs have to go.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Showtime

This weekend marked the beginning of press days at the North American International Auto Show, and guess who got credentialed!

I had to arrive early, and alone, because the press passes are non-transferable, and you can't bring guests. The journalists had to stand in a very long line for about a half-hour very early in the morning, waiting to have their press credentials confirmed. That's a half-hour in a long line first thing in the morning, for me a mere six hours after sitting in a bar after playing a rough hockey game. It was not a happy time in my life. Bomb sniffing dogs combed the line to get into the show, but spent more time barking at each other than sniffing packages. Meanwhile, irritable foreign journalists started arguments with the credential people.

But this is the famed Auto Show, and it gives me a chance to look at this year’s new models, and compare the ones that are classy and refined to those that are fully loaded and built for adventure and speed. No, you sillies, I’m not talking about automobile models, I’m referring literally to the models, i.e. the beautiful women who stand next to the cars and smile as they look gorgeous. I found a small flock of them (pictured above), caught in mid-gaze, perhaps pondering the origins of existence or the nature of knowledge.


The fact is, I know nothing about automobiles, except how to drive them, and to a lesser extent how to steal them. Sending me to an auto show is like sending Sharon McPhail to a mental health seminar – neither of us has any acquaintance with the subject matter being discussed.

Really, as with most press days everywhere, the main appeal for people like me (press types) is the freebies – the cocktails, the appetizers, the free lunches and dinners, the gimmicky toy giveaways, and the lovely models – have I mentioned the models? Events like this are the one thing for journalists that almost makes up for the crappy pay, the bad hours, the large number of demented and emotionally disturbed coworkers drawn to this profession, and the utter lack of job security. So if it sounds privileged, it’s really basically a matter of “Well, you might not have a job next week, but here’s a free sandwich and a beer.”

And indeed, as soon as noon came and went, the booze started flowing freely, roughly correlating with a surge in postive reviews of the auto show and the cars being debuted. The American and Canadian journalists opted for beers, the Italians were mingling with red wine.

But the nicest thing about press days is the amount of personal space you have. You attend the public days at the Auto Show and it’s like being in a crowded nightclub, with everyone shoulder to shoulder, except everybody’s sober and nobody’s good looking. I've been to the public Auto Show many times, and it's horrifying. No room to move and everyone breathing on you. Disgusting.


The Auto Show people were kind enough to keep the room at a comfortable 87 degrees. Cameramen were sweating like they were in a sauna as they lugged all their equipment around. Everyone was wiping their brow and shedding their coats.

There were 6,000 journalists credentialed, 40 percent of whom were international reporters. You can easily spot the foreign press – they’re generally thinner, paler, and they have stranger haircuts and much better suits than their American counterparts. A lot of them, particularly at the Ferrari and Lamborghini exhibits, had that look that European soccer coaches have – hair longer than normal, beautiful Italian suits, and smug expressions on their faces.

The Euros sat at tables in the main concourse, laptops open, ready to send their sneering assessments of the city back to their chain-smoking editors on the continent. I saw a few strays, mostly Japanese journalists, roaming the streets near Cobo Hall, cameras pointed skyward at the buildings.


About once per hour, another press conference commenced, with the auto company’s CEO taking the stage to demonstrate that he is a terrible public speaker.

For some odd reason, no matter where I went, I kept encountering Dieter Zetsche, the mustached CEO of DaimlerChrysler. An array of chairs was lined up for a forthcoming press conference, and I helped myself to a restful seat. On the chair next to me was a card that read “Reserved for Dr. Dieter Zetsche” with a nice, shiny new program next to it, waiting for Zetsche. I basically tagged it, jotting a demented smiley face to greet him when he sat down. I'm not sure why - the hangover told me to do it.

Later, I physically bumped into him near the Chrysler exhibit while walking and writing at the same time. After his presentation, I somehow wound up in the throng of journalists gathered around him, and found myself suddenly in the front of the line for an interview. But I had nothing to ask, since I know nothing about cars, and I didn't really have to, since I'm not an auto journalist. I thought I might ask him about the DaimlerChrysler spokesmodels (have I mentioned the models yet?), but thought better of it. I didn’t want to be kicked out just yet.


Mixed in with the journalists were the corporate guests and their shaggy, underachieving children, goofing off with their friends. These you could easily spot; they’re the ones who thought it was good form to wear a Green Bay Packers jersey, for example, to a semi-formal affair, and are the kids who are used to misbehaving and then mentioning their dad's name to the police when they get in trouble.

Had lunch in the Michelin press room on the third floor, had brownies on the main floor, had about five Cokes to force myself awake, had a Dove bar near the Jeep exhibit, passed some cashew-coated pretzels, and sniffed a delicious looking steak lunch that I was 10 minutes late for (damn it!) at the Mazda exhibit. By then my legs were extremely tired and I bailed. But the good news is the press credentials are good for a couple more days. I sense a reduced food bill this week. And more "interviews" with the models - have I mentioned the models?

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Ooh, watch out! It's time for the first installment of the Scan of the Week, featuring this business card-sized item I found in an old wood cabinet in an upper floor of the David Broderick Tower. For languishing in a sometimes-open cabinet for 55 years, it's held up remarkably well, even escaping the attention of the dopey vandals who've run rampant in there recently, in addition to wave after wave of artifact hunters over the years. His expression is austere, his pinstripe suit crisp, his features sharp. He's not here to be likeable, damn it, he's here to balance the books.







The reverse side is an assortment of qualifications. Reaching back to Bull Moose-type lingo with this talk of "Square Deal," our hyphen-deprived candidate (Civic Minded Citizen) provides a mix of resume items, principles and catchphrases. "Eliminate all unnecessary red tape" he says, but don't fear, metropolis citizens, he isn't some bomb-throwing radical, he'll keep in place the necessary red tape we are accustomed to and comfortable with.

You get the idea that city government must already have been growing too big for some people's liking, what with mentions of lower taxes and businesslike efficiency in government. He ends his pitch by noting that he's "free from obligation to any individual or group." In other words, "I am not a Mason!"

Incidentally, he lost the election, and the job that year went to one Chas. N. Williams, who stayed at the post until 1968, getting out just as the going started getting really rough for a Detroit city treasurer.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Happy New Year, a little late. Quite a year ahead for Detroit in 2005, including the baseball All-Star Game, a Tuller-like hole where the Statler Hotel used to be, more lighted and occupied buildings on Woodward, the completion of all sorts of downtown roadwork, probably at least one Hart Plaza Fireworks-type shooting somewhere in the city, a lengthy mayoral election campaign, still no hockey goddammit, city government still trying to weasel its way out of fiscal insanity without really taking any of the necessary steps like layoffs, same for schools, and more of me nearly killing myself trying to take one decent photo while hanging out a window 22 stories up in some shuttered skyscraper so I have something to post.

Speaking of detroitblog, I’m going to try to incorporate some new features to avoid long lapses between posts. Besides making the Random Photo of the Week a regular feature, I’m going to add the Scan of the Week, featuring a scan of one of the dozens of interesting artifacts I’ve found in various abandoned buildings. Not sure if these things will be on regular days, but I’ll sort that out later.

I’ll also probably go back and provide thorough histories of some of the first dozen or so buildings we explored, since I never did so in the first place, and that will give me the opportunity to post some previously unpublished photos, as well as give me an excuse to recycle things from the warm comfort of an office. There’s even the radical thought of posting one of those “Contact Me” e-mail addresses for the first time on a trial basis, though I’m rather apprehensive of what sort of trouble that could result in. A decision to come on that one soon. If I do, it'll probably just pop up somewhere without any fanfare.

And of course, more accounts of boozing, doping, exploring, loitering, partying, staggering, freewheeling, clubbing, barhopping, concert going, event attending, breaking and entering, and fleeing and eluding. All in all, should be a good year. Let’s hope it’s not the year I go plummeting through some rotting floor to my death in some forgotten old building.

Monday, January 03, 2005

The Power and the Glory

On the east side of Detroit sits a huge old church that’s abandoned and boarded up, a haven for squatters and hookers, and an extravagant coop for pigeons, yet despite these troubles, it still retains almost all its former beauty within.

Though the sign currently on the property identifies it as Powerhouse Temple, it was for most of its life the Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church.

The church was built in the 1920s on the corner of Jefferson and Lakeview. It was actually a combination of the congregations of two churches that existed at the time, the Clinton Avenue Baptist Church and the old Jefferson Avenue Mission. A survey in the early 20th century by the Detroit Baptist Union showed that the neighborhood surrounding the Clinton Avenue Baptist Church, which was located at Clinton and Joseph Compau and was founded in 1879 and built in 1884, had become increasingly populated by blacks and non-English-speaking, foreign-born workers, at the same time that most of the original, white parishioners were moving east along Jefferson, and a decision was made to hightail it out of there and move eastward with the parishoners.


The survey also showed that there was a neighborhood roughly centered near Jefferson and Lakeview that had a predominantly Baptist population with no church of its own. Also, the Jefferson Avenue Mission, located at Jefferson and Engle, was in a neighborhood that already had another Baptist church, and both were attempting to draw congregants from the same pool of people. So the Clinton Avenue church and the Jefferson Avenue Mission combined forces and decided to move to a yet-to-be-built church.

Once plans were launched to create the new church, the old Clinton Avenue church became the Calvary Negro Baptist Church, and the old Jefferson Avenue Mission property was sold to developers.

The Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church was constructed in several parts. The school unit, dedicated in December 1921, was a three-story and basement structure with an auditorium. The building housed the church's bible school, which consisted of seven separate departments, with an average attendance of nearly 700 students.

Ground was broken and the cornerstone laid for the church itself in June 1927. It was financed by a $150,000 bond issue, $40,000 of which was used to pay off the mortgage on the property. The rest was put towards construction of the church


The church building was Gothic in design, with long, sweeping Gothic arches leading to a bright, sky-blue ceiling featuring wispy cloud images. Such attention was paid to the acoustics in the auditorium that oil paint was not used; instead the builders used a special stain to add color to the room.

The auditorium, which had a seating capacity of 825, was constructed of art brick and Indiana limestone decorated in red and blue, in harmony with the school building, which was remodeled at the time to house the pastor’s study, choir and music rooms, a gymnasium with lockers and showers on the top floor, kitchen, banquet hall, conference room seating 100, and additional classrooms. The narthex and prayer room adjacent to the auditorium could be opened, increasing the audience capacity to over 1,000.

Music was originally provided by a three-manual pipe organ with harp and chimes. The organ had 63 stops, 1,378 individually speaking pipes, and was elecro-pneumatic. It was a gift from an anonymous benefactor. Several pianos were scattered throughout the building in various rooms and in various stages of dilapidation.

Seals representing the Twelve Apostles and the suffering of Christ center around a large mural painting centered in the chancel, an adaptation of Holman Hunt’s 1851 portrait of Jesus called “The Light of the World.”

Seals of the various organizations cooperating in the Northern Baptist Convention were incorporated into the motif of the lower portion of the chancel.

The parishoners were nothing if not dedicated. For the church's 35th anniversary, a parishoner, Stella VanAcker of 1311 Newport, baked 580 cakes, one for each parishoner.


The church remained the Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church up through the seventies, when, like many old churches in the city, it underwent a series of name changes and congregation shifts, ending as the all-black Powerhouse Temple, the name it still holds in its abandonment.

It wasn't too hard to get inside. And apparently, we weren't the only ones letting ourselves in. One of the coolest finds was a faded note scrawled in marker on one of the red, outside doors:

"To thief: when I catch you in this church, and I will catch you, you are going to jail. P.O. Mullins, 5th Precinct."


We found a backpack that my fellow explorer surmised was a hooker bag; it had condoms and other sex-related items in it, and had been stashed in a small crawlspace. A storage room adjacent to the kitchen had cupboards full of cups and dishes that had been only somewhat vandalized, and were spilling off their shelves. In fact, the whole church was basically in an early stage of tampering and decay, somewhere between simply messy and destroyed.


The church is so vast that I kept losing my friends in there. And I didn't want to shout out their names, because we kept hearing all these rickety noises coming from various places in the church, suggesting we weren't alone and that maybe Sgt. Mullins' thief might be rooting around in there, or a backpackless hooker might be trying to retrieve her condoms.

There are dozens of small rooms in the non-church part of the building, many of which are around small corners and twists in the hallways, making it very easy to lose your companions even when they're only a room or two removed. Some of the upper floors are rotted and too suspect to walk on, but overall the building, especially the church, is in remarkably good condition. Though the wood pews are thrown around a bit here and there and are somewhat time-worn, the walls and ceiling of the church itself are in near-perfect condition, despite the open windows and uninvited visitiors.

A sign on one wall read simply “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”

I found my way to the tar roof, up a stairway and up a fire ladder, and stood in full sight of traffic on Jefferson, taking in the view of the battered, surrounding neighborhood on a cold, cloudy day.

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