History repeats itself in Midtown vs. Cass Corridor debate

click to enlarge The view on Canfield Street, which has seen an influx of new businesses in recent years. - Sarah Rahal
Sarah Rahal
The view on Canfield Street, which has seen an influx of new businesses in recent years.

We've written about Detroit's Midtown vs. Cass Corridor name wars before (OK, actually it's kind of our beat). But while some continue to worry that the newer Midtown "brand" is threatening to eclipse the Cass Corridor's artistic legacy, it's important to be reminded that the Cass Corridor wasn't always called that name.

In fact — in an amusing case of history repeating itself — it was some of the artists of the original Cass Corridor movement who rejected referring to it by that name in the first place.

Deadline Detroit has pieced together the decades-long drama. Citing a Feb. 6, 1972 article by art critic Joy Hakanson Colby for The Detroit News' Sunday magazine, Deadline points to a quote that should give you déjà vu. (The excerpt, from an article titled "Exploring Detroit's New Art Colony — Cass Corridor," surfaced in a tweet by writer Drew Philp, who was doing his own independent research.)

In discussing the neighborhood's burgeoning art movement, Colby writes:

It has a name … Cass Corridor … though its artistic residents don’t call it that. "It's a city planner's label," says painter John Egner, a WSU professor. "Catchy and upbeat. But it has nothing to do with us and what goes on here. Who names their own neighborhood?"

This reticence, Egner admits, stems from the fact that a place known as Cass Corridor might attract tourists like the ill-fated Plum Street. Sightseers looking for gift shops run by freaked-out “arty” types won’t find them along Cass.

The irony, of course, is that today the Cass Corridor (or Midtown, or Midtown's Cass Corridor, or however you want to refer to it) has become known as a destination for arty gift retail. City Bird has has established a reputation for hawking locally made gifts, boutique Nora celebrates Detroit's history of design, and rocker Jack White toasted to the Cass Corridor when he opened his Detroit branch of his Third Man Records last year. 

Read more at Deadline Detroit, or revisit our 2015 story on rebranding Detroit neighborhoods.

About The Author

Lee DeVito

Leyland "Lee" DeVito grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, where he read Metro Times religiously due to teenaged-induced boredom. He became a contributing writer for Metro Times in 2009, and Editor in Chief in 2016. In addition to writing, he also supplies occasional illustrations. His writing has been published...
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