Bubble brigade

Sep 15, 2004 at 12:00 am

When we at News Hits heard that bubble-blowing protesters planned to descend on Grand Circus Park in downtown Detroit this past weekend, we thought somebody might just be full of hot air. But sure enough, on Sunday, Sept. 12, a throng of about 30 upbeat folks gathered near the Pingree statue, joyfully sending sprays of bubbles into the air, making the intersection of Woodward Avenue and Adams Street look something like “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

Billed as “a senseless act of beauty,” this stunt was the brainchild of SPANK, the same pranksters who orchestrated a similarly quixotic “group hug” of the Madison-Lenox Hotel this January.

According to the organizers, the downtown bubble bath was organized to urge Detroiters to blow bubbles instead of blowing up buildings. Bubblistas offered a flier reading “Bubbles not rubble” and bearing the image of the Statler-Hilton Hotel, one of the landmarks of Grand Circus Park.

The Statler is a potent and precarious symbol for preservationists these days. The city of Detroit recently slated the venerable building for demolition, and Friends of the Book-Cadillac cried foul, charging that the city violated critical review and evaluation of the project (See “Demolition daze,” Metro Times, Aug. 18).

Detroit resident and SPANK organizer Jordan Medeiros says the group purposely staged the event at a crossroads where suburbanites trek from parking spots to nearby attractions. Medeiros hopes to challenge these visitors’ perceptions about Detroit’s historic building stock.

“People come downtown and see these buildings as eyesores, but they make false assumptions that the city hasn’t gotten rid of them because they’re too poor. These buildings are here because people care about them. They’re valued, they’re assets. They’re not obstacles to development.”

Organizers are especially concerned by the city’s “demolish it and they will come” strategy that flattens historic structures before a new developer is even secured. These young city-dwellers ask why the city is rushing to demolish an irreplaceable structure when it will probably become just another downtown parking lot in time for the Super Bowl. They point to the fate of the once-grand Hotel Tuller across the street, razed by the city and now a parking lot for more than 10 years. They describe various sites that were demolished in haste only to linger undeveloped.

What’s more, preservationists are concerned that a Statler demolition will change the feeling of enclosure one gets in the park, surrounded by grand buildings. Speaking of the brick curtain walls that embrace the park, SPANKster Steve Haag says, “That’s how Grand Circus Park is defined. If you remove the buildings around it, you change the space. It’s like tearing down the walls to your living room.”

What would SPANK do with the Statler? Medeiros says, “Quite frankly, I think a lot of us would rather see it empty than see another gravel parking lot.”

SPANK’s Francis Grunow, vice president of Friends of the Book-Cadillac, proposes several alternatives to demolition, such as cheaply mothballing the massive structure until a developer is secured, or instituting a “phased development” that would open several floors at a time while preserving the building, or at least preserving the building’s facade.

“These are assets,” Grunow insists. “We understand the value of these things, how they make cities great places to live.”

Contact News Hits at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]