June 22, 2015

Steve Thompson in Detroit: The Design Guy Does the Motor City, Part IV of V

Not for $1.00

Detroit is full of beautiful homes and neighborhoods, and we’ve all heard the stories of people buying a mansion for $1.00, and on, and on. While that may have been true, you can expect to pay a bit more for a house with great bones in a great neighborhood today. I toured most every neighborhood of any renown in Detroit, and came away very excited about the possibility of being a part of Detroit’s renaissance. “I could save Detroit”, I told myself “One house at a time!”

As one would logically expect, with so much urban flight out of the city in the days of segregation, the suburbs flourished and the city’s urban core began its downward spiral. What I want to share with you in this article is the beauty of these inner city neighborhoods, and let you see what I saw, a city on the brink of a true renaissance. There is so much opportunity here to develop and restore existing vacant homes and land. “Is it too early?” I asked that question and was told more than once that, “It’s already happening”. Is there still an opportunity? Yes indeed, but the time is now… it’s here for the taking.

Boston Edison- Berry Gordy House

Boston Edison- Charles T. Fisher House

Boston Edison- Henry Ford House

Boston Edison- S.S. Kresge House

Boston-Edison Historic District (shown above) is a historic neighborhood located in the north side of the city center. It consists of over 900 homes, and street after street of beautiful, specimen traditional American and European architecture styles are represented. Boston-Edison is one of the largest residential historic districts in the nation, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975. Once home to Henry Ford, Charles Fisher, William Briggs, Barry Gordy, Joe Louis, Sebastian Kresge, and Ty Cobb to name a few notables.


Corktown- The restaurant Gold Cash Gold

Corktown- The historic train station

Corktown: The Great Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s caused heavy Irish migration to the United States in droves, and by the middle of the 19th century, they were the largest ethnic group settling in Detroit. They were primarily from County Cork, and thus the neighborhood came to be known as Corktown. The area is quickly becoming gentrified with old red brick factory buildings being converted to lofts. I tried to eat at Gold Cash Gold, a former jewelry and loan pawn shop that is now one of the hottest restaurants in the city, the wait at 4:00 in the afternoon was 2-1/2 hours!

Easter Market- Flower Market

Eastern Market- Farmers Market

Eastern Market: A historic commercial district also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Eastern Market is the largest historic public market district in the United States, and the Eastern Market farmer's distribution center is the largest open-air flowerbed market in the United States. On Saturdays, about 45,000 people shop the city's historic Eastern Market. Factory and warehouse buildings are rapidly being converted to lofts.

Indian Village

Indian Village- Edwin Nelson House

Indian Village- James Burgess Book Jr. House

Indian Village- Mary S. Smith House

Indian Village: The district has a number of architecturally-significant homes built in the early 20th century. A number of the houses have been substantially restored, and many others well kept up. Many of the homes were built by prominent architects, such as Albert Kahn for some of the area's most prominent citizens, such as Edsel Ford.

Lafayette Park - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Townhomes

Lafayette Park - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Townhomes

Lafayette Park - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe Townhomes

Lafayette Park is a high rise, International Style, residential neighborhood east of Downtown Detroit. The area is part of the Mies van der Rohe Residential District listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Built between 1958-60, the 78-acre, 186 unit, development by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, is a collection of one and two-story townhomes, a small neighborhood shopping center, and two high-rises set adjacent to a 19-acre municipally-operated park.

Midtown- The David Whitney, Jr, House

Midtown: The David Whitney House was built between 1890 and 1894 by the lumber baron David Whitney Jr., who was considered not only one of Detroit's wealthiest personalities, but also one of Michigan's wealthiest citizens. The house is estimated to have cost $400,000 (approx. $10,500,000 today). Constructed using pink Jasper, it has 21,000sq.ft, 52 rooms, 20 fireplaces, and numerous Tiffany glass windows. The Tiffany glass windows have been estimated to be worth more than the house itself. The grand staircase features a massive stained glass window portraying a knight, paying homage to the various members of the Whitney family who were knighted, as well as their lineage to Royal blood line in England. The house was the first residential home in Detroit to have an elevator. 

Midtown- Home of the  new Red wings Stadium (under construction)

Midtown- New construction in the "Loft style" with materials not in keeping with old Detroit 

Midtown- Interesting adaption of contemporary architecture atop a classic old Detroit building

Midtown is the future home of the new Detroit Red Wings Stadium and has the most significant amount of newly vacant land for development- a good and bad thing!

Palmer Woods estate

Palmer Woods estate

Palmer Woods- The Bishop Gallagher house

Palmer Woods: One of the most significant and largest homes (at 40,000sq.ft.) in all of Detroit is located here, the 62-room Bishop Gallagher residence. The home was built for the Fisher Brothers (Body by Fisher) in 1925, who hired the Boston firm of McGinnis and Walsh, specialists in ecclesiastical architecture, to design the Tudor Revival mansion. Upon completion, the Fishers gave the mansion to Bishop Michael Gallagher, of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit.

West Canfield Historic District

West canfield is also adjacent to the Detroit based, Shinola

West Canfield Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 (the listing of these homes is something the city has been very good at doing!). The revitalized 1870s era neighborhood is one of the residential areas near the Detroit Institute of Art in Midtown

The Nain Rouge, with arms up in victory rides atop his flaming and smoking, Cockroach-mobile

The Nain Rouge Parade was filled with thousands of participants, mostly in costume in hopes of being unrecognized by the Nain Rouge 

I was invited to a pre-“Nain Rouge” party at one of the restored homes which was located just a block off the parade route. The Nain Rouge, French for "red dwarf", is a mythical creature whose appearance is said to presage terrible events for the city, with sightings that began as far back as 1701. Called the Marche du Nain Rouge, this event is a revival of an early tradition in the legend of the Nain Rouge. At the conclusion of the parade, an effigy of the imp was destroyed, thus banishing the evil spirit from the city for another year.

The Albert Capitol Park

The Albert Capitol Park- The site of Detroit's Underground Railway 

The Albert Capitol Park- Entrance 

The Albert Capitol Park- A lift Living room

The Albert Capitol Park- Room with a view

The Albert Capitol Park- The Social Room

The Albert Capitol Park- Multi-media Laundry Room

The Albert Capitol Park- Residents Dog Wash Station

And lastly but not least, Downtown: Residentially speaking, downtown is 100% leased up, and there is a waiting list for one of the newly converted lofts that have been made from former office towers. Forget about buying a condo downtown because the buildings were sold with incentives so rich that it is worth it for the developer to hold it for the required 8 years before reselling the building or units. The incentives set off a a race among developers who can’t buy them fast enough, covert them, and lease them. There isn’t a single condo for sale in downtown Detroit under $1,000,000. The neatest loft building we toured was The Albert on Capital Park, a building whose history includes having been built on the site of Detroit’s historic Underground Railroad which helped slaves gain their freedom. The Albert has every amenity a young college recruit could want: A Doorman, Social Room with Billiards and Bar, a community Dog Wash room, a Laundry room with multi-media, and the coolest view of the city from every room of your apartment.

In conclusion, Detroit is a fun place to be. Real estate is a play, and the time is now. My one concern for development is that with the city in its current state of disrepair is that the city leaders may feel compelled to approve real estate development and projects that aren't up to par as far as the city’s rich architectural heritage is concerned. Please, please, please, dear city leaders of Detroit, don’t do what so many other cities have done of late -- approving second rate projects filled with second rate design and materials just to get something going. remember: Too many rental apartment buildings are your next slum.

There is real opportunity in both jobs and in housing. If I were a recent college graduate, Detroit would be high on my list of places to consider living and working. Have a look.

Stay tuned for DETROIT Part V of V.

Goodnight Moon.

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