One hole among many 

Along a stretch of Chene between Garfield and Warren, the 19th Hole’s name is truly a sign of this place and this time. The fabric of this street on Detroit’s East Side is in tatters, riddled with abandoned businesses and vacant lots.

John Johnson remembers a different, better time when this neighborhood, which he grew up in, bustled with business and activity.

The Abandoned Structure Squad found him outside the New Friendly Missionary Baptist Church on a recent night, just a few blocks from the 19th Hole, which he says has been closed for about 20 years.

“When I was a kid, there used to be six bakeries along here,” says Johnson, 57, moving his arm in an arc as he points along Chene. “Lord knows how many little-bitty shops there were.”

There are still a few, like the shooting range across the street. There’s a bar or two and a neighborhood market and a beauty shop, but mostly there are holes, empty spaces where all those thriving shops once were.

Places like the 19th Hole, open to the elements, filled with discarded tires, covered
with graffiti.

Even more vexing is a vacant building adjacent to the church. There’s stagnant water in the basement, crumbling brickwork and rats “the size of cats.”

Chikeita Johnson, the church’s administrative assistant, has a worn notebook detailing her attempts to get the city to tear the hazard down. She’s called the mayor’s office and City Council members and the department in charge of dangerous buildings and … her list goes on and on. And that’s just from the past year, when she assumed the task. Her predecessors had done the same thing for years.

During the summer, she says, the stagnant water in the basement creates an unbearable stench. And falling bricks, along with a half-covered opening in the sidewalk leading to the basement, are such a hazard that children attending church functions aren’t allowed out to play.

“This isn’t an affluent neighborhood,” says the Rev. Robert E. Millhouse Sr., explaining that his church, which has a congregation of about 500, has an important mission here.

“We’re trying to reach out. Somebody’s got to be on this side of town, to be a beacon of light. But we need some help from the city.”

He says the church has been trying to buy vacant parcels from the city, as well as another vacant building that sits to the south, but those attempts have been no more fruitful than the entreaties for demolition.

Back in front of the 19th Hole, Bobby Sherman drives slowly past in his pickup truck, eyeing the former nightclub. He, too, grew up in this neighborhood. At 48, he can recall a time when the property was home to a tire dealership. He’s a carpenter, and is interested in acquiring the place and renovating it so that he can store trucks and equipment there. It’s owned by the city, he says, but so far attempts to obtain it haven’t panned out. But he plans to keep trying.

“I could really do something good with this place,” he says before driving off.

Curt Guyette is the news editor of Metro Times. E-mail cguyette@metrotimes.com

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