Scavengers have been fleecing Detroit homes for a great portion of the 2000s, but police said it will no longer be tolerated. The trade in stolen architectural salvage is facing a major crackdown.
Abandoned properties in Baltimore’s Oliver neighbourhood
Where to build a freeway became not only an economic decision, but also a moral one – a chance to uplift and sweep clean America’s ghettos. But were they ghettos?
The Packard Plant’s south water tower stands above the crumbling complex in November 2010, only a few months before it, too, was brought down by scrappers. (Photo: Brian Kaufman, Detroit Free Press)
“Many of these buildings abut residential neighborhoods in some of the city’s most disadvantaged areas,” the report says. “Without a strategic approach to repurposing these properties, they will remain fallow for years to come, posing threats to public health and safety, and undermining Detroit’s recovery.”
Mark Wallace of Wallace Detroit Guitars
The reclaimed wood used to build Wallace Detroit Guitars — salvaged from buildings in the Motor City — dates as far back as the early 1800s. The handmade guitars are therefore being built with the same vintage, slow-growth wood as instruments made in the golden era of the 1920s, said Wallace Detroit Guitars founder Mark Wallace. “That wood went into guitars, and my wood went into houses,” Wallace said during an interview at Architectural Salvage Warehouse, the nonprofit where he sources maple, ash, walnut and pine. “There’s something fundamentally different about the wood that went into those [vintage] guitars, and that’s what I’m tapping into.”
Patricia Kobylski has been trying to get the City of Detroit to remove a pile of debris left from an illegal demolition in her east-side neighborhood. On Tuesday, she holds an envelope filled with notes on her calls to city officials. (Photo: Jennifer Dixon, Detroit Free Press)
The property is owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority, but spokesman Craig Fahle said city officials don’t know who tore it down in January 2015. Fahle said no one pulled a demolition permit, and the Free Press could not find any demolition or asbestos abatement notices on file with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for the property on Westphalia between Gratiot and McNichols.
A rendering of the planned exterior of the Detroit Foundation Hotel inside Detroit’s former Fire Department headquarters. (Vista (Beijing) Digital Technology Co., Ltd. )
“So many places are the same that people crave difference,” Poris says. “New York is like a mall now with the same stores you find at Somerset Collection [in Troy, Mich.], Milan or Hong Kong.”
This is a row of four townhouses on East Grand Boulevard, three blocks from East Jefferson. If you stand on the sidewalk you can see the Detroit River – right where cars turn to reach Belle Isle. That’s what gives the area its name: Islandview. Paula Gardner | PaulaGardner@mlive.com
Detroit is still a city balancing rapid redevelopment downtown with slowly rebounding real estate market – and 90,000 vacant houses.
A pair of surviving rowhomes surrounded by vacant lots at dusk in Baltimore. The city has some 17,000 vacant buildings. (Patrick Semansky/AP)
Budavari and Phil Garboden, a doctoral student in sociology and applied math, are working on a statistical tool to predict abandonment. They’re combining publicly available data with GIS technology to create a database of the city’s housing stock. This will serve as a base to do high-level statistical analyses that can help officials make better, data-driven evaluations of current and future interventions. It could help Baltimore study, among other things, when and why homes are abandoned, and at what point a vacant home starts affecting nearby properties.
Mark Wallace, owner of Wallace Detroit Guitars, makes his instruments from reclaimed wood salvaged from Detroit buildings. Musician Stewart Francke vouches for their quality.
“It’s a beautiful guitar. It makes you feel good to hold it. It makes you feel good to play it,” says Francke, 58, who’s recorded with Bruce Springsteen, toured with Bob Seger and opened with the guitar for Joan Jett at this year’s Arts, Beats and Eats festival. “I’ve got 25 guitars, but this one is the one that I play the most live, and it sounds probably the cleanest.”
The interactive, regularly updated map plots more than 9,500 demolitions since 2014 as blue dots, and about 700 scheduled jobs as orange dots. Click on them to reveal details like the date of leveling, the price of demolition, and the contractor that performed it.
“You know, and one of the most important ones is creating jobs, especially here in Detroit, and deconstruction puts ten times as many people to work and that is just on the physical act of deconstructing,” Willer said. “Once we get our hands on it, we create more jobs by adding value to the materials by turning it into furniture.” “We put a stamp on the bottom of each table and it identifies the house in Detroit where the lumber was reclaimed from, so in a sense when you are buying a table, you are getting a piece of Detroit history,” Borsay said.
Will, together with his daughter Shane, designed the store in partnership with Birmingham-based McIntosh Poris Associates, the lead architect of the store, and Micco Construction in Pontiac and Architectural Salvage Warehouse Detroit completed the build out.
The painstaking attention to detail in its design was met with a commitment to maintaining some of the original look of the space, and an effort to utilize locally sourced building materials.
“The design was inspired by the original elements of the building – tile, terrazzo floor, exposing the ceiling,” says Shane.
RecoveryPark Farms Detroit – rendering
Under the $15 million project, a 22-block area around the former Chene-Ferry Market will be transformed into a center of urban agriculture and hope for marginalized residents with significant barriers to employment. According to Duggan, 35 acres of city-owned land will be leased to the nonprofit organization from the Detroit Land Bank Authority for $105 per acre per year. In exchange, RecoveryPark will secure or demolish all vacant, blighted structures and replace them with massive greenhouses and hoop houses to grow produce.
Stone Soap Building – Detroit
In a continuing effort to save or repurpose a long list of blighted buildings across Detroit, the City and the Detroit Brownfield Redevelopment Authority (DBRA) are looking for proposals for the adaptive reuse of a crumbling industrial property in the East Riverfront District.
We are a social entrepreneurship that focuses on using materials gathered from illegal dumping sites throughout Detroit. Our city has many problems facing it, and illegal dumping is one that hasn’t seen much action. We comb the city by bike in search of illegal dumping sites.
via Woodward Throwbacks.
To many, Detroit is defined by decaying, derelict homes. The city aims to raze a majority of the over 70,000 forsaken properties. (Photo: Danielle Walquist Lynch/flickr)
Bloomberg also crunches numbers to share some staggering statistics: given that the average home and basement produces 400 tons of debris when razed, all of Detroit’s derelict properties combined would yield around 28 million tons of demolition waste. That’s enough to fill 280 of America’s largest aircraft carriers.
Spearheaded by the administration of newly instated Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the pilot deconstruction program will take place in southwest Detroit’s historic Corktown neighborhood with several local deconstruction firms vying for the job. The winning bid will be announced early this summer.
Meagan Nowicki was shopping at Habitat for Humanity’s Habitat Metro Restore on Greenfield in Detroit when a painting caught her eye. She says she thought it looked familiar and for a price tag of $12, she couldn’t pass it up.
Turns out the piece of art is worth an astonishing $900. Detroit artist, the late Max Shaye painted the piece before he died in 2004.
Reclaim Detroit workers salvage wood from an abandoned house on Elmhurst Street in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, March 11, 2015. Bryan Mitchell/BloombergReclaim
“It’s like a treasure hunt,” said Craig Varterian, executive director of Reclaim Detroit, a nonprofit group that’s stripped and sold materials from almost 70 demolished homes. Floorboards and joists of early 20th century maple, walnut, hickory, fir and even chestnut are prized for their density and fine grain.
As Detroit ramps up demolitions of vacant dwellings, Mayor Mike Duggan plans a reclamation center in a city-owned building to keep tons of rubble out of landfills and create jobs and merchandise. Recycling would become a centerpiece of the city’s blight-removal effort, which is struggling to maintain funding.
Craig Varterian, executive director of Reclaim Detroit, walks down a hall lined with reclaimed doors at the organization’s office and warehouse in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., on Wednesday, March 11, 2015.
Laura Scaccia of Eclecticasa at one of her stained glass tables at a show in Pennsylvania in February. “The show was a great success. We sold three pieces and people were crazy about the pattern of the wood and the feel,” said Scaccia
“I was recently introduced to a group of people that deconstruct homes. This is different than demolition because the material is saved and repurposed or reused, thus not filling our landfills,” Scaccia said.
“I saw a small sample of one of the repurposed pieces they had and I knew right away that I had to make tables,” she said.
“The house up the street has stuff coming out of it. It keeps piling up. Where is the ticket for that? It just doesn’t make sense.” Devlin said.
In November, 7 Action News Reporter Ronnie Dahl exposed dozens of blighted properties owned by Perfecting Church. Some are vacant lots with illegally dumped debris. Others are abandoned homes, sitting wide open. One house, close to a school, was being used as a drug den.
Antonio “Shades” Agee holding up a student’s artwork STEPHANIE BATTAGLIA
Shades acknowledges what might be considered a unique situation, given his commercial success in the urban art: “I’m blessed. I’m an artist. People are paying me for what I do with a God-given talent. So there’s no problem with me giving back,” the graffiti artist said, chuckling. “Any child that gets to see anyone of success doing art … is awesome. Kids love that.”
The Leland Lofts, formerly the Nellie Leland School for the Blind
Many of Detroit’s schools are structures worthy of redevelopment, irrespective of preservationist concerns. “They really are brilliantly designed,” says Landy. “These buildings were constructed with reinforced concrete and have a high fire rating. I can turn off the heat in dead of winter it’ll practically stay the same temperature for a week.”
Two-tiered loft living in the Leland Lofts
Detroit has been demolishing vacant and dilapidated structures for decades. But the effort could never keep pace with the need, with derelict factories, burned-out houses and trash-heaped lots becoming the subject of “ruin porn” viewed around the world.
But the effort to rid itself of blight ramped up earlier this year thanks to several related efforts.
The news that Cadillac is moving its Detroit headquarters to New York City delivered quite a blow to Detroit’s ongoing rebirth. Especially considering Cadillac’s advertising agency is a shining example of that rebirth: It’s housed in a gorgeous new office in a salvaged 100-year-old building, proof that sticking it out in Detroit and can be beautiful and smart.
In 2011, Kid Rock had words for a video on his song title, ‘Care,’ painted on the empty Grand Circus Park building that once housed the offices of AAA of Michigan. (Daniel Mears / The Detroit News)
Detroit has a rich history and that can be seen in the housing materials we are trying to save. Bricks and wood particularly are incredibly valuable in these homes and it would be awful to see them end up in landfills.
Site selection is key to the success of deconstruction. It is important to select areas in neighborhoods where community members will remain engaged and will keep an eye on properties. This will reduce vandalism and burned materials, which can make this process challenging.
The good people at the nonprofit Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit do more than save great architectural details in buildings they painstakingly deconstruct, though they’re well-known for that. According to Chris Rutherford, executive director of ASW, explains that the group’s mission also includes waste diversion: Without Rutherford and his teams, every item for sale in the warehouse would have gone in a landfill.
Detroit’s Great Lakes Coffee used salvaged materials to pay homage to a bygone era.
Last week, Duggan announced a new pilot salvage program for the city’s North Corktown neighborhood. It’s starting small. The city will solicit bids from local salvaging outfits to find reusable materials in 10 houses set to be demolished. The city’s Building Authority is in charge of the effort.
The initiative, which they hope will launch next month, is part of the Mayor’s broader blight strategy, now with an eye on preservation as opposed to straight-up demolition.
Architectural Salvage Warehouse field supervisor Renard Culp pulls up oak flooring from a home in Grosse Pointe. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
“That’s why deconstruction needs to be part of a building removal package,” said Rutherford, who heads the nonprofit focused on keeping building materials out of landfills. “If deconstruction isn’t included, then we’re just throwing literally millions and millions of dollars worth of material into a landfill.”
Rutherford pointed to his own economic impact study that assumes the city would dedicate $2.8 million to the effort, with an average of 24 homes being removed each month for one year. He projected at least half of the 288 homes would produce usable building materials, resulting in $6.5 million in economic activity supporting 160 jobs.
The study, Rutherford said, measures the initial workers needed to deconstruct homes and the resulting wholesale, manufacturing and retail sales from the salvaged materials and lumber.
“There’s a brand new lumber industry in the city that everyone is going to benefit from,” he said.
Groups have been doing deconstruction work and training in and around Detroit for the last decade, but this project would integrate the practice with demolition for the city.
The shelters are made out of old doors salvaged from the plethora of local houses that the city is tearing down. “We’re making a statement about what we can do with this material,” Wilkins says. “Maybe we can use these buildings in different ways.”
I have traveled extensively throughout North and South America; and having seen countless cities in varying states of dilapidation, I thought I had a good idea of what to expect in Detroit. I was wrong.
Exiting the interstate was like entering another country. The sheer magnitude of decay and devastation in Detroit is overwhelming. The number of derelict buildings literally falling apart, the piles of rubble and litter all over the streets and sidewalks, the fact that there was so little police presence in some areas, or so little human presence at all, was eerily unsettling.
“Some of these cities waited for somebody to come and solve their problems for them. That day is no longer with us,” Uwe Brandes, executive director of the Masters Program in Urban and regional Planning at Georgetown University, said.
Since 2010, eight cities and towns have filed for bankruptcy. The economic crisis has led residents to join forces to find creative ways to rescue and rebuild their communities.
“My friend and I had this idea, well, why don’t we just grow food in the city. Seems like a really easy plan right?” Cheryl Carmona, in Baltimore, Md., said.
From that idea grew Boone Street Farm, an urban garden in a rundown East Baltimore neighborhood.
YOU DECIDE: Championship Round: 2013 Re-Use Bowl
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In a statement issued by the United States District Court for Eastern Michigan, mediators called the foundations’ agreement “an extraordinary and unprecedented effort to help resolve two very challenging sets of issues — the underfunding of Detroit’s two pension systems and the preservation” of the Detroit Institute “and its iconic art collection.”
A Haven for Squatters—The back-alley view of Terina Davis’ apartment complex on Whittier Street in Detroit.
What makes the Detroit Blight Task Force different from past, half-hearted attempts at blight removal is the sheer number of resources involved. Last fall, the Obama administration announced that $300 million in federal and private funding would go toward Detroit for blight removal, transit and public safety improvements, and business development.
But perhaps most encouraging from an innovation standpoint is that nonprofit organization Data Driven Detroit and local startup Loveland Technologies are leading the $1.5 million Motor City Mapping effort to survey the city’s entire 139 square miles—some 400,000 parcels of land—to identify blighted properties in need of demolition.
Photographers have flocked to the city to capture the decline; two French photographers even produced a book, “The Ruins of Detroit.” But since the city declared bankruptcy in July, hotels say they’ve seen an uptick in visitors inquiring about the ruins. So have restaurants in the up-and-coming district of Corktown, near the abandoned train station.
Poor Boyz Productions takes street skiing to Detroit, Jib City.
Featuring the skiing of Karl Fostvedt, Khai Krepela, and Max Morello.
Filmed by Cody Carter, Jonny Durst, and Japser Newton.
An Alexander Calder sculpture, ‘Young Woman and Her Suitors,’ at the Detroit Institute of Arts. (Paul Sancya / Associated Press)
At the moment, the Detroit mess pits the museum, which has vowed to take legal action if necessary to defend its art, against city creditors who include current and former municipal workers, who fear seeing their pensions shaved in bankruptcy proceedings.
Also in the mix are the region’s voters, who in 2012 approved a special ten-year property tax increase intended to generate $23 million a year for the DIA to make it financially secure. Officials in Oakland County have made it clear that selling art to satisfy the city’s debts will violate the terms of the tax vote, ending its participation in financing the museum.
“Oakland County and the entire region have a vested interest in protecting our art,” county treasurer Andy Meisner told the Detroit News. “Judge Rhodes’ statement is a clear indication that the sale of this world-class art collection has no long-term financial benefit for the city.”
A private company is snapping up 150 acres on the Motor City’s East End — property where more than 1,000 homes once formed a gritty neighborhood — and turning it into what is being billed as the world’s largest urban farm. Hantz Woodlands plans to start by planting trees, but hopes to raise crops and even livestock in the future, right in the midst of the once-proud city.
Hantz needed approval from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to buy up the 1,500 parcels for approximately $450,000, or $300 per parcel. Many of the parcels held dilapidated and abandoned homes and buildings and were condemned by the city. Others were rubble-strewn or weed-choked lots. The company intends to spend $3 million to clean out the areas.
“Your eyes would have a hard time absorbing the blight,” Score said. “A third of every neighborhood in Detroit has been devalued by blight on public property.
Over a 10-week period, Detroit Future City — a Kresge Foundation-funded nonprofit that devised a 50-year planning framework for the city and now works to implement the plan— is teaming with NextEnergy, EcoWorks and an array of other partners to use vacant houses as a laboratory for reusing materials in a process called partial deconstruction.
Instead of just knocking houses down, crews are prying them apart, removing floorboards, unhinging doors and windows, salvaging hardware.
“This is blazing trails we haven’t gotten to before,” Kinkead said Wednesday, at a site in southwest Detroit, where a hard-hat crew was stripping a Pearl Street house down to its frame.
Erin Kelly, a NextEnergy program manager, is overseeing the project, systematically testing different approaches to salvaging building materials in a cost-effective way. The team has tried everything from a meticulous five-day deconstruction — likely to be too expensive for most sites — to a one-day “skimming” process that may prove practical.
Dumped trash and roofing shingles litter the grounds of Harry B. Hutchins Middle School in Detroit on Friday, October 18, 2013. / Brian Kaufman/Detroit Free Press
Detroit Public Schools is looking to beat scrappers at their own game.
The district is seeking companies to brick-in or demolish as many as 62 schools in exchange for the salvage materials inside them, according to a request for information DPS released Thursday.
DPS has 87 buildings for lease or sale, many of which are blighted or suffering from varying degrees of vandalism. But with a budget of only $150,000 to secure vacant buildings, the district can’t stay ahead of scrappers who break in and steal everything from lockers to windows.
And with bond money spent and a deficit of about $82 million, demolishing blighted schools is no longer in the budget.
Detroit, which filed an $18 billion bankruptcy July 18, is reeling from the loss of more than 435,000 jobs in its metro area from 2000 to 2010, according to federal data.
Greg Willerer is embracing urban agriculture in Detroit. By selling at farmers markets, local restaurants and a community-supported agriculture project that sells his goods directly to consumers, Willerer said he can make $20,000 to $30,000 per acre in a year.
This has left it with an abundance of underused property. The city is spread over 139 square miles and has an estimated 150,000 vacant and abandoned parcels, according to a report this year by Detroit Future City, a planning project created by community leaders.
Converting some of that land to farming could clean up blight and grow jobs, regional officials say. With sufficient consumer demand and the emergence of a local food-processing industry, 4,700 jobs and $20 million in business taxes could be generated, according to a 2009 study.
“It will help,” said Mike DiBernardo, an economic development specialist with Michigan’s agriculture department. “We have so much blighted land that we can create opportunities for entrepreneurs, and we can give people in the community something to be excited about.”
Jim Schulman of Community Forklift and The Building Material Reuse Association recently wrote a beautiful review of the new book Tear Down: A love poem to arson-prone, deindustrialized Flint, Mich. by Gordon Young.
When a book inspires a review that is this poignant and thoughtful, do not hesitate – go out and get it! But first read the entire review on Washington Independent Review of Books.
A love poem to arson-prone, deindustrialized Flint, Mich.
I was halfway through Gordon Young’s absorbing yet wrenching portrait of Flint, Mich., while on a red-eye flight from Seattle to Baltimore with a stopover in Detroit. After I had put the book down to sleep, I awoke in the dark over southern Wisconsin. Perhaps it was the optics of the airplane window or my vantage point above the clouds, but I observed the most delicate new moon I had ever seen. I took it as a portent of hope for the sustainability of communities all over the world, including down-and-out Flint. As the light grew from the incipient sunrise, I made out the outlines of Lake Michigan. In a few minutes, much to my surprise, the whole mitten thumb of eastern Michigan, framed by Saginaw Bay and Lake Huron, laid out before me.
“I can’t confirm that it was the Malice Green building, but everything points to that,” Neely said Wednesday. City officials were unaware when they scheduled the demolition that the building had any significance, he said.
“It is part of Detroit’s history, and I regret that there was no advance notice of this,” he said.
Larry Nevers, one of the two officers convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Green’s death, died in February at 72. The other officer, Walter Budzyn, served nearly four years in prison when he was released in 1998.
Artist Bennie White Jr. Ethiopia Israel, 75, of Detroit says he painted the picture in 1992. / Regina H. Boone/Detroit Free Press
[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/66839079 w=400&h=300]
In their statement, the artists said: “Our goal is to make everyone look at not only these houses, but all the buildings rooted in decay and corrosion. If we can get people to look for our orange while driving through the city, then they will, at the same time, be looking at all the decaying buildings they come across. This brings awareness. And as we have already seen, awareness brings action.”
First Container, paid for with the more than $41K Kimen raised on Kickstarter, is a prototype for a grander, crowd-funded hotel and made of local, reused materials; besides the container itself, the wood paneling was scrap leftover from another construction site. “We basically reused someone’s trash,” Kimen told Curbed Detroit.
In a news release announcing that White was the donor, Masonic Temple officials say he stepped forward because he had played numerous shows at the theater and because his mother was employed at the Masonic Temple as an usher while he was growing up.
The news release also says that both White and his mother share a “profound love for the gothic structure.”
“Jack’s donation could not have come at a better time and we are eternally grateful to him for it. Jack’s magnanimous generosity and unflinching loyalty to this historic building and his Detroit roots is appreciated beyond words,” said Detroit Masonic Temple Association President Roger Sobran in the news release announcing that it was White who donated the money that was used to pay off the tax bill.
The story of the wall has been largely lost in larger narratives, such as the 1943 and 1967 race riots and Eight Mile Road. The wall ends, almost invisible, just shy of the thoroughfare that serves as the boundary between Detroit and its suburbs and symbolically represents the divide between black and white.
Race remains a flashpoint in a city beset by an interrelated stew of crime, corruption and high unemployment. And some accuse the state of further disenfranchising Detroit’s majority black population as Michigan’s governor recently declared a financial emergency in the city and the state took financial control.
Still, the wall is not forgotten. An artist descended on it several years ago with an army of about 100 fellow artists and community volunteers to create a vast, eye-popping mural with images and messages of equality and justice on a section overlooking a playground. And now, a faith-based nonprofit is giving work to men who have struggled to keep a job or a home, having them make sets of coasters that incorporate images from the wall and use materials from abandoned homes that were razed in the city. Every sale of a $20 set of coasters helps to make something good out of something bad.
“It’s recycling, giving jobs to people who are having a tough time with unemployment and, at the same time, creating a very nice piece of art that could and should lead to some great discussions about race in the city of Detroit and in our country,” says Faith Fowler, director of Cass Community Social Services and its Green Industries program.
More than 350 volunteers gathered in the snow and cold to board up 13 abandoned homes and apartment buildings on Detroit’s north side. They cut brush and dragged mattresses and garbage out of the homes as part of the project, carried out by Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Studies and Americorps.
“This is how we build community; this is how we build community cohesion,” said Lyke Thompson, a WSU professor of political science and the Center’s director, as he worked alongside the other volunteers.
Zach Fairchild, an Americorps worker and main organizer of the project, said they chose to clean up parts of the north side to help create a safe passage for the girls of the Detroit International Academy for Young Women as they walked to school. Monday’s effort was their first large-scale attempt at boarding up houses.
“We’re trying stabilize the neighborhoods, and boarding up the vacant and open properties is the first step,” he said. “It’s getting (them) taken care of so people in the neighborhood can deal with the other issues they have going on.”