“I had one guy arrested about two weeks ago — caught him with a crowbar in his hand doing it,” says Bert Dearing, owner of the liquor store he’s reopening on the corner of Concord and East Jefferson. Dearing caught a man stealing bricks, not from his store, but from the historic house next door at 420 Concord. Known as the Lee Burt House, this stately Italianate brick building was once a real treasure with tall, arched windows and a storied past.
The Burt family played a prominent role in Detroit industry, manufacturing car wheels and mineral paint as well as owning an ironworks company and the Detroit Iron Furnace Co.
“The Burt family and their industrial developments were very important for introducing modern methods of steel production in the area,” Bill Worden, director of the city’s Historical Designation Advisory Board, tells Metro Times’ Abandoned Structure Squad (otherwise known as ASS). According to information posted on the city’s Planning and Development Department Web site, the U.S. Rubber Co. (which eventually became Uniroyal) acquired the home when it bought the furnace company in 1920.
The building changed hands several times over the years, says Worden, and was eventually purchased by the Rubber Workers Recreation Association. After that, the house also served as the union hall for the United Rubber Workers. The Ladies Auxiliary of Rubber Workers and the Uniroyal division of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees hosted parties and meetings there into the 1980s. The groups were still using the house in 1985 when the building was designated a historic site by the city Historical Designation Advisory Board. It is also on the national historic register.
With the Uniroyal plant long gone, the house is now boarded up and in shambles. Gaping holes in each corner of the facade provide evidence of brick looters. After turning in one man for stealing bricks, Dearing says he chased someone else away a few days later.
Myra Salters, who owns a home on the street, says she has complained to several agencies, including the Historical Designation Advisory Board, to try to get help for the house.
“They have been helpful, but I don’t know how much they can do,” she says. “My hope for it, if it’s not too late and doesn’t fall, is for someone to do something to that lovely building before it just crumbles. It’s sad that a historical building like that is going to waste.”
Planning and Development Department spokeswoman Sylvia Crawford says the situation is under control. “We expect that within three to four months, we will have a clean title and be ready to sell the property,” says Crawford. She adds that the city has received a commitment to monitor the house from the Police Department and the property management section of Detroit’s Real Estate division.
“We invested funds to repair the roof,” she says. “We expect that it is a property that is valuable to the city.”
Dearing, who also owns Bert’s Jazz Marketplace, has his own hope for the property. Dearing says he would like to buy the house, though he has not yet contacted the city with an offer. In the meantime, he admits to using the yard at 420 to dump debris while he restores his own building. “I’ll put [the debris] in a Dumpster when I’m done to clean up,” he says. “I have an interest in the house.”Send comments to [email protected]