We suspected that the Dumpster outside 2036 11th St. in Corktown might be a sign something good was happening here. After all, when we first featured the property, it was one of the few vacant homes in the historic neighborhood. With only about 300 residences in a tight-knit enclave, Corktown has typically avoided the kind of blight that has spread like cancer through other parts of the city. Our suspicions were confirmed by Kelli Kavanaugh, director of the Corktown Citizens District Council, who told us that the property was indeed being renovated by its owners. Now, if something could just be done with all those vacant lots once used for parking at Tiger Stadium.
A May 2002 ASS visit to the house at 12720 Joann on the East Side near McNichols revealed a lonely home, the only vacant place on the block. Her only friends were the family of pigeons dwelling inside. Well, don’t look now. The house found love just next door. Yep, another house sacrificed human inhabitants, upkeep and freedom from trespass to be with her. They are side by side, sharing the trash between them, nestling in blissful dilapidation. Love for 12720, however, will be short-lived. She has been placed on the city’s demolition list and, though the Dangerous Buildings section of Detroit’s Building and Safety Engineering Department has yet to assign a contractor, 12720 should soon be torn down.
Despite its boarded-up exterior, the storefront at 14721 Kercheval isn’t actually abandoned, as ASS reported in 2002. It looks like the property’s owner was the victim of an inept ASS smear. Our bad. When ASS returned to check on the building recently, we found a guy inside the storefront. Retired businessman Dennis Holman says he has owned the commercial property since 1975. He says he uses it primarily for dry storage. Holman says he wasn’t even aware of ASS’s first write-up. “I didn’t know a thing about it,” he says. ASS has taken to heart the lesson that just because a storefront has “Welcome to Compton” and “Fuck the police” spray-painted across its boarded-up exterior, it isn’t necessarily abandoned.
Not so grand
ASS ventured outside of Detroit for this gem. The Granwood Hotel at 18 W. Grand St. in Highland Park is open to all dangerous lodging enthusiasts. Chief amenities include a collapsed roof, courtesy of a 2000 fire that left inhabitants of the 80-unit residential hotel homeless. Highland Park has no plan to tear it down, and vagrants are not complaining about that. Every entrance is just as wide open as when ASS visited in 2002, and plenty of hazards await anyone who ventures inside. A dirty baby doll’s leg lies atop a pair of soiled blue jeans. Chilling. All the windows are broken. An alley door opening to a descending staircase has us hoping that a basement, and not hell, is at the bottom.
According to a nearby property owner, the building that appears to be 1963 W. Fort is actually two separate structures with different owners. Our source, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal by the city, says attempts to purchase the properties have been made, but the owners are “just sitting on them” as they play the speculation game — a game that makes losers of everyone who has to look at these eyesores. Our source also says attempts have been made to enlist the city’s help in getting these structures torn down. You can see how far that has gone.
We love what they’ve done with the place. Stripping the bricks from the south side of this four-family flat at 2158 Field and busting out the wall was ingenious. This makeshift entrance is a great alternative to the front door, clearly barricaded by the collapsed porch roof. Unfortunately for the squatters who have taken up residency, the 94-year-old structure is coming down. A permit was issued in February, according to Armu Meah, city Building, Safety and Engineering director and demolition czar. When a wrecking crew showed last week, they found the humble tenants. “One is on crutches,” says Meah, who has no plans to kick them to the curb, at least not yet. He plans to have health workers evaluate them and find appropriate housing. It is just one of many steps in ridding the city of another decaying abode.
We thought the house at 17580 Marx was slated for demolition. It did, after all, have the mark of the “D.” Turns out demo plans have been put on hold, and the Detroit Neighborhood Development Corp., a nonprofit that once received properties from the now-defunct Rogers Investment and Management Company (RIMCO), is trying to sell it. DNDC is closing down itself, and the company is accepting bids on all of its properties. The city has assessed the value of the Marx house at $7,600. Anyone looking for a hovel littered with trash and in desperate need of rehab, call DNDC.
When ASS first visited Ferdinand Street just off West Fort, both sides of one block and an adjacent block were nothing but boarded-up houses, all decorated with the letter “D”, which stands for “demolition” right here in Motor City. They are all gone now, cleared away for a $15.5 million emergency services center that will provide southwest Detroit with a brand-spanking-new police precinct and fire station. One resident told ASS that the houses that were once there weren’t all that bad. Maybe. But Mitch Mitchell, who lives just a block from the project, says he knows a good thing when he sees it. “It’s kind of an eyesore right now,” he admits, “but when it’s done, things are going to be safer around here.” He’s also looking forward to a spike in property values.
Saved by the bell
The “This Old House” co-hosts might be giddy with excitement over this 1908 beauty at 2473 Helen. Not that it would take expert craftsmen to refurbish it. In fact, the two-story abode appears to be in darn good shape since it is currently getting a facelift, says one neighbor. When ASS was here in April 2002, the house had been vacant for about a year and the windows were missing. But in June 2002, it was purchased for $6,000, according to the Wayne County deed. (Not a bad price considering the city assessed it for $18,750.) It appears that the new owner has had the windows replaced, the porch repaired and painted, which we applaud, though brown would not have been our first choice.
Missing tree alert
ASS found the tree that was growing out of the front porch at 266 Melbourne in June 2002 had vanished. Apparently someone bought the abode and chopped the sucker down. After the second visit, ASS returned to Melbourne to try to catch the new owners fixing up the place but to no avail. But ASS was nonetheless astonished to find a new porch had been built since the last visit. Maybe Rome was built in a day. Neighbors say it’s good to see someone doing something with the place. The neighborhood teems with children riding bikes, neighbors chatting on their porches, and kids roller-blading down the sidewalks. Neighbors said they would love to see 266 fall in line with the other well-groomed houses on the block. The new owners have a lot of work ahead of them.
It’s the little crack house that could, if only its owners would pay property taxes. Two years ago, Wayne County’s Drug House Abatement program sold the house at 2592 Drexel via Internet auction for $3,600, according to Don Fresard, chief of staff at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office. Now the property has been identified for foreclosure by the Wayne County Treasurer’s Office, and its new owners are listed as tax delinquent, according to the treasurer’s Web site, which shows that the owners have until May 31 to pay their taxes. If the new owners do not resolve the tax debt, the house may re-appear on the auction block. In the meantime, the house sits with securely boarded-up doors and first-floor windows, while a toilet awaits its fate in the side yard. Fresard stresses that it’s not over yet for the house. “It may well be that somebody else comes along and breathes new life into it,” he says.
Squat no more
The historic neighborhood is home to well-groomed houses, so ASS was surprised to find 500 Arden Park boarded up and filled with discarded clothing in July 2002. ASS described the house as a missed opportunity and suggested weekend projects of clearing the yard and three-car garage of shoes, underwear and chimneys. We suggested removal of a fallen tree from the roof of said garage. When ASS recently revisited, we were pleasantly surprised someone had taken our suggestions to heart. Leslie Ferguson bought the place last year and filled eight Dumpsters. “We totally gutted the inside,” says Ferguson. “This is truly a wonderful neighborhood.” She says she and her brother are renovating the house. City records put the 2002 true cash value of the house at $54,100; Ferguson would not disclose what she and her brother paid for the seven-bedroom place. She says it had been stripped of all copper wire, pipes and pretty much anything else of value. “It was a squatters den,” says Ferguson. “It is a gem in the rough.” She estimates the project will be complete by the end of the year.
This former office of Fireside Home Improvements is still there, quietly rotting away at 4869 Chene on the corner of East Warren. A nearby business owner says he’s complained to the city numerous times, but to no avail. An employee says the company moved to a new location on the city’s West Side after the Chene office caught fire. The employee didn’t know if the Fireside’s owner still owned the crumbling property. The owner did not return ASS’s phone calls.
A Dumpster doesn’t normally evoke a feeling of hope. But when one sits beside an abandoned Detroit home, it’s a good sign. ASS was pleased to see such a sight at this partly boarded domicile at 5203 Bedford. When we first checked it out in March 2002, the vacant property had been set ablaze twice in four months. But neighbors now say it’s getting a makeover, which is apparent from the new glass block basement windows and other repairs. According to the Wayne County deed, it was purchased last year for a dollar. For a home that sits just outside the lovely East English Village, that is more than a bargain. It’s a steal.
It’s no Buckingham Palace, but could be a commoner’s castle. The worst of this two-family flat at 5709-5711 Buckingham is the crumbling front porch. A city official says the property is on the city’s dangerous building list, though it is not yet scheduled for demolition. Seems a shame to take a wrecking ball to the brick Tudor, nestled in a solid East Side neighborhood. In 2002, its assessed value was $31,700, according to city records. But the Wayne County deed says the owner, Alfred Harris, who lives in Detroit and could not be reached for comment, bought it for $6,000 last year. So what gives, Harris? Are you going to let this treasure fall into complete ruin or turn it into a pauper’s paradise?
Just for kicks
Someone cleared away the overgrown shrubbery, trees and tall grass since ASS first discovered 619 W. Willis in September 2002. Even so, much work remains. The two-story Victorian still comes complete with boarded-up windows and rotting wood. It has a lovely assortment of empty beer bottles, cans, a purse, clothes, dishware and shoes decorating the front and back yard. ASS repeatedly called the owner of the house, Katherine Jackson, and left messages, but she never returned our calls. Upon visiting the lovely dwelling, ASS ran into Richard McMillan, a homeless man who was ecstatic to have found a decent pair of new shoes. McMillan said he lives in the neighboring alley and was waiting for a guy named Hank. He said Hank pays him to clean up the yard but Hank has not been by the place in a week. City records show the precious abode has a 2002 true cash value of $71,800 up from 2001 cash value of $10,400. ASS wondered why McMillan doesn’t take up residence in the spacious 512-square-foot Victorian. “It wouldn’t be safe to go inside the place,” he said. “I might get in there and couldn’t get out. The place is shabby. It needs to be gutted and remodeled before it can be safe to live in.” ASS didn’t find a fine pair of kicks like McMillan, but ASS is always hopeful of finding a pair in the near future.
Aptly known as the James Scott Mansion, the towering stone facade seems befitting of grand adventures. One can imagine old James throwing a wild ox roast with barrels of wine. Oh, well, devoted ASS readers, those days and old James are distant history. Since being turned into apartments, the structure at 81 Peterboro declined. The roof is falling down in the front, some of the windows are boarded up and the floors are rotted out.
The good news is that Joel Landy owns James’ mansion and plans to renovate it into eight lofts. Landy says he expects to dump $3.5 million into the project. “A building with three walls standing and no roof can be renovated,” says Landy, owner of Landy Cass Ave. Development. “There is practically no building that can’t be renovated. There is nothing that isn’t feasible for renovation.” Landy has renovated the old Addison Hotel into lofts and apartments and is in the process of renovating seven or eight other buildings. He has dropped or is in the process of dropping $24.5 million into buildings in the Cass Corridor area. Landy estimates the James Scott Mansion will be completed by 2007.
Known by locals as “the castle,” the grandiose, turreted GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) Building is still there at 1942 Grand River on the corner of Cass, still boarded up, still owned by the city and still occupied solely by pigeons. Built at the end of the 19th century, the castle has been vacant since 1973. ASS is most displeased by this.
ASS featured 9440 Woodward in July 2002. Today the building sports a for-sale sign. ASS left a message at Schwartz Commercial Properties, whose name appears on the sign, but got no response. The structure does have a few new boards to hide the strange smell wafting from the building and rusty automobile housed within. Government records show a 2002 true-cash value of $81,000 and indicate the building is still owned by E. Simpson of Northville, who didn’t return calls. Glen Franklin, who manages the property for Simpson, offered little insight into the future of the Woodward building. “This building is a headache,” says neighbor George Mapp. “The police have been good about cleaning up the prostitution problem. I have no problem with them.” In 2002, Simpson told ASS he had owned the building for 25 years, and that it has been vacant for most of that time.