Candid camaraderie

Last year, on a Sunday morning in August, I exited my West Village apartment only to be painfully blinded by the shocking brilliance of the sun, which was amplified as it reflected off … wait a second … is that a disco ball?

I retreated under my shades, then went to investigate. Spread across my neighbor’s yard, I found the offending prop from Saturday Night Fever, in addition to a vintage accordion, some Chinese antiques and a plethora of fascinating junk. I had literally stumbled across the annual West Village Garage Sale.

For hours I wandered the streets bordered by Parker, Seyburn, Kercheval and Jefferson — chatting with my neighbors, haggling over prices, discussing local politics, and soaking up the sunny vibes. Several shopping bags and only $20 later, I returned to my apartment with an ear-to-ear grin and a surprising rush of neighborly camaraderie.

West Village is one of Detroit’s most eclectic neighborhoods and is continuing to prosper with each year. The dwellings include modest and inexpensive apartments, sophisticated historic single-family homes and million-dollar mansions built at the turn of the century. It’s filled with quirky juxtapositions — a rather ramshackle party store sits only a few doors down from a top-drawer French restaurant, the Harlequin Café; just off Van Dyke two of the largest and most indulgent mansions are directly across from a grimy gas station

West Village was named for its immediate proximity to Indian Village, one of Detroit’s most elegant and affluent historic areas. While West Village has its share of mansions, the neighborhood is distinctly younger, spunkier and more affordable than Indian Village. Because of the range in housing prices, West Village residents run the gamut in terms of age, race and class.

“We’re a city within a city,” says Carla Haska, the effervescent treasurer of the West Village Association. “We maintain this entire 12-block neighborhood, as far as cleaning, planting flowers, cutting the grass and picking up garbage.”

Haska has lived in West Village for 15 years, in three different homes on Parker. Her husband coordinates volunteer cleanup efforts with neighborhood children.

“We really take pride in our neighborhood,” continues Haska, whose boundless enthusiasm epitomizes the endearing neighborhood cheerleader. “It really makes you happy to know you’re part of the renaissance that’s happening in Detroit.”

Most home dwellers stay for years. Those who are lucky enough to score a prime pad in the neighborhood hang onto it with tenacity.

West Village resident Sheryl Huff owns the graceful Colonial apartment building on Parker. “I bought that building three years ago,” says Huff, “and no one has moved out of there yet.”

John Slater is the president of the West Village Association, and has lived in the neighborhood for more than 20 years. He says it was the eclecticism that initially attracted him.

“The incredible diversity of the people here, it’s what the American dream is all about,” says Slater. “It’s both beautiful and fun here. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

However, West Village wasn’t always such a pretty place to live. Slater says in the 1970s and ’80s the area was infiltrated by some not-so-friendly neighbors.

“We had drug dealers that wanted to control the neighborhood, and the residents wanted to make it livable,” recalls Slater. “We’d plant flowers, and they would dig them up; we’d plant trees, and they’d hack them down. But we just kept going back and replanting until they finally got tired and went somewhere else.”

Today, West Village still has occasional problems with crime, but Slater says it remains a relatively safe area where neighbors continue to look out for one another.

“Car thefts are probably our biggest problem, but that’s the same with any big city,” Slater says.

West Village truly comes alive in the summer. Residents toil on their front yards, throw block parties and organize group efforts to beautify the area. The Harlequin Café offers outdoor seating, a hopelessly romantic treat on a steamy summer night. Then, of course, there’s that annual West Village Garage Sale, held in August and drawing thrift-seekers from all over the city. Some discover they don’t want to leave.

Return to the introduction of this special Metro Times Summerguide 2002 neighborhood profile. Sarah Klein is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail her at [email protected]

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