Sunday, December 21, 2008

Beautiful homes in the big bad city

If you can block out the bad bits, Detroit is pretty much gorgeous. One of the city's finest assets is the seemingly endless collection of appealing residential neighborhoods - 56 percent of the city's current housing stock went up before the end of 1949, in an era where homes were built with some serious flair. (Just 10 percent of the current housing stock in Detroit was constructed after 1969, on account of, uh, nobody wanting to live here anymore.)

Anyway: The apartment building up top is one of the many in the Palmer Park district (near Woodward and McNichols) that are on the National Register of Historic Places. PP dates back to the roaring '20s, the decade which gave the country some of its most exuberant architecture, whether residential or commercial (think downtown's Guardian Building, much of Los Angeles.) If you haven't been by lately and want to know why the neighborhood isn't famous/expensive, just look at the rotten-to-the-core southern end of things, around McNichols. Menjo's is still there to remind visitors of a time when lots of Gays lived around here.

Detroit is so hard, it had urban decay back in the 1800's, back before lots of cities in the United States even existed. That's right -- Brush Park ceased being a desirable address as early as 1895. The neighborhood of mansions tucked off of Woodward between Downtown and the Cultural Center went up in the mid 1800's, but fell out of fashion once bigger mansions became available in places like Indian Village and the Boston-Edison district. More than 100 years later, you have a bunch of nice remodels, some apartment complexes and a lot of rubble/moonscape. At this rate, in 2100, things should be back to normal. If there are cities in 2100, instead of just hugs.

Detroit may be a tough town, but its homes are often downright whimsical in style. A good place to find the sort of Hansel + Gretel architecture most people associate with the older Los Angeles neighborhoods is the city's University District. The former home of the likes of Elaine Stritch and riots-era mayor Jerry Cavanagh, you'll find the UD between Livernois, McNichols, Seven Mile and the Detroit Golf Club. The foreclosure crisis that has battered the city has not spared the district -- well, it hasn't really spared any part of town -- but buckets of 1920's-1930's charm make the neighborhood an easy sell, if you're looking: How does a 5BR, 3BA for $46K sound? Tempting, no doubt. Tragic, also.


N said...

Before there was Palmer Park, there was the Boston/Edison apartment neighborhood between Linwood and Dexter, for the most part, directly across from Sacred Heart Seminary. These buildings were mostly from the 20's and contained large apartments. Both started out as predominately Jewish, then as the Jews (and their synagogs) moved northward, gays moved in. When gays left the (apartment) neighborhood, the landlords began to rent to blacks.

Gays and blacks were not really welcome in Palmer Park as long as the landlords could rent to Jews and other straight people. The sleek, 1950's era apartment buildings were built to accommodate middle class/wealthy Jews who no longer wanted to maintain their large NW Detroit homes yet wanted to stay close to the fine shopping on Livernois and 6/7 Mile Rds. Temple Israel stayed in PP until the 70's IIRC. Notice particularly 333 Covington which was built as a coop. It had an indoor garage and a large on-site service staff.

Another factor in the decline of these apartment neighborhoods is that until the time of the riots it was quite respectable for middle class folks to ride the bus so extensive parking was not needed.

As the Jews left PP. gays were then welcomed, as the gays left, blacks moved in. The landlords then started to defer upkeep and the decline accelerated at an even faster rate.

As I see it, crime, parking, the opening of the PP pool and renting to single mothers were also factors that have led us to this place.

Let me be clear: when I refer to Boston/Edison, I am NOT referring to the single family area between Woodward and Linwood; but the area WEST of Linwwod. It's mostly leveled ground now. Not even surface parking lots are needed there now. I find it all so sad.

Pappawtom said...

Too bad that such a historic city has been left to the dogs. I lived in a burb just south in 1969 and back then was told by a co-worker from the city that you did not hear everything in the news that happened in the city. Was over a million in population then. A trememdous amount of potential with so little kinetic energy to revive it but it must happen from the residents there first.