Hold My Beer

Photos from 2010.

This post isn't really about ruins, or anything scholarly or historical. There was some stuff that needed to be climbed, so that's what we did. It relieved the symptoms of ennui for a couple hours. 

"Hey, do you think you can reach that?"
"Yeah, I think so."
[looks over shoulder while putting on gloves]
"Let's do it..."


I may put on the airs of a respectable "blue collar intellectual" / guerrilla historian / Detroit cheerleader for most of my posts, but the fact is that I started out doing this sort of thing for cheap meaningless thrills, not the lofty ideals I dote on in my FAQ section. The enlightened, high-brow posturing came later.


Although in my defense I was not in it for the so-called "ruin porn" fix, for me it was always about a private, carpe diem sort of aesthetic experience rather than cyber bragging rights (which seems to be the unconscious object of "urban exploring," no?).


But I had a moment in 2010 or so where I looked back and realized that I had been doing this shit for over a decade already, and had taken thousands of pictures of these places I'd visited that were just filed away. I realized that I wasn't an "urban explorer," I was actually a serial trespasser. In other words, I didn't know why I was repeatedly doing this thing, and I had been doing it for so long that I had ceased to question my motives, other than to say it was just "because I like it, and it's what I've always done."


There you go folks, a genu-ine glimpse into the criminal mind, heh.


Anyway, this particular adventure occurred during the height of the Joumana Kayrouz craze, when she was getting up on every single billboard and bus ad in town.


As if Detroit wasn't already well known enough for cheesy ads featuring ambulance-chaser attorneys, Joumana ramped the game up a notch by being an unabashed bleach-blonde Arabic woman with larger than life Barbie-doll cosmetic surgery, crossing her arms at you from her towering billboards above the freeways and other major roads, and jumping out at you unawares every time a bus came around a corner. 


Part of you was shocked, like "OMG, did that Arabic woman just do that to her hair and lips?", while the other part of you was like "Go girl!"


What made things even more bizarre was the fact that her original billboard on Ford Road in Dearborn was right next to another longstanding one for a male Arabic gynecologist who also had a creepy picture of himself featured prominently on his ad. You can't make this stuff up. My out-of-town friends took great amusement in all of it when visiting.


Climbing a billboard was something I'd always wanted to do...here we go.


I once actually applied for a job at Lamar Advertising, one of the main billboard companies in the region. It would have been a great job, and during my interview I found myself mentally wrestling with the fact that I could tell them that I was extraordinarily qualified for the position, because I had in fact already been on one of their billboards, but I decided it best to keep that quiet for the moment, heh.

One of their big things they wanted from prospective employees was that they must not be afraid of heights...so badly I yearned to spill the full breadth of reasons to this monkeysuit why I was not only not afraid of heights, but that I loved heights and have performed extraordinary feats of climbing on a regular basis. Finally I settled on fake-admitting to having "once climbed an old watertower when I was in high school," but I don't think I gained many more points with the guy from it (I didn't get the job either).


"Hey...there's somebody up there...!"


"Who is that person?!"


It was a hell of a feeling being up there in front of traffic from two freeways, with about a million watts of lighting aimed right on you...


It was like being on stage at Carnegie Hall or something, with a whole audience staring right at you, but we just sat up there and relaxed, sippin' our 40s, basking in the moment like one of those old movie scenes where people hang out on the iconic "HOLLYWOOD" letters in Los Angeles.

Sadly, the bright spotlights pointing directly at me also screwed with the sensors in my camera, making it impossible to get a properly balanced photo with the downtown skyline in the background.


The views and lighting down below were excellent however.


This was the Ford Freeway / Chrysler Freeway interchange:


The moon shone over the garbage incinerator...how picturesque:


Down below me, parts of the plant looked long-abandoned or dismantled. I wished that I could go down and explore the rest of the buildings below us, but I had a strong suspicion that they were alarmed, so we didn't mess around. From the brief peek that we took inside, there was a lot of stuff stored in here.


Until recent years, this three-story concrete building still had all its steel and glass window sashes intact, which admittedly were in ugly shape, but they made it a very Detroit-esque sight along the traveler's route through the core of the city, until they were replaced with these cinder blocks (and then painted):


If I recall correctly, the name "Service Envelope Mfg. Co. Inc." used to be visible on that side of the building in faded letters, now gone (still visible on Google Streetview, c.2007).

New Center Stamping, also known as Fisher Body #37, the last of the former Fisher Body plants in this area to remain in operation:


Because I know you're still curious, here is some historical background on this plant, the former headquarters of the American Blower Corporation.


According to their now-defunct corporate history webpage,
It all started back in 1881, when an organization called the Huyett & Smith Manufacturing Company was founded by a pair of Detroit natives, M.C. Huyett, a mill owner and W.D. Smith, a millwright who invented a "double-discharge" exhaust fan while employed at Huyett's mill. Mr. Smith fought in the Civil War, rising to the rank of Captain in a Michigan regiment. He survived internment at several prison camps, including the infamous Andersonville, before escaping toward the war's conclusion. 
Located at 6000 Russell St., Detroit (also referenced as 1400), they created a successful business around the Smith Fan, used for carrying off shavings in wood-working shops, on the believed premise that it greatly reduced the horsepower required to do a given amount of work. It was only many years later that this claim was proven false and the fans discontinued. Rounding out their sales were heating apparatus consisting of fans and steam coils, and ventilating fans. 
When Smith departed in 1895, the company was renamed the American Blower Company.


They were also briefly allied with Inglis.
In the days when the industrial era in our country was just gaining momentum, American Blower was among the first to manufacture ventilating fans, blowers for pneumatic conveying systems in sawmills, vertical steam engines, and hot blast heating equipment. 
One of the company's two best known product names was introduced in 1909 with the arrival of the first forwardly curved centrifugal fan, the Sirocco, through a trade agreement with its inventor, Samuel Davidson, Davidson & Co., Belfast. For a time, Davidson had probed the possibility of opening another works to cater to the American market but abandoned the idea when he decided that it would occupy to much of his time. 
After two years of unsuccessfully attempting to disprove the Sirocco's effectiveness, American Blower changed tactics and entered into negotiations to purchase Davidson's sole American outpost, Sirocco Engineering of Troy, NY. Its primary asset was the right to manufacture Sirocco Fans under Davidson patents. 
Although it was only half the size of the paddle wheel type popular at that time, it could handle the same volume of air at greatly reduced speed, and - it was quiet. This desirable combination resulted in quick acceptance of the unit.
American Blower still exists in some form today, headquartered in the suburb of Warren if I'm not mistaken.


This building, at 6060 Rivard, was later occupied by Square D Electric, which was founded in Detroit in 1902 as Detroit Fuse & Manufacturing. Volunteers of America used the building as a sort of homeless shelter in later years. Service Envelope used the building at 6001 Russell until the 1990s. Now the various parts of this complex are used for storage, dumpster rental, and heavy truck parts salvage.


A catwalk led out to where the floodlights were mounted, seemingly floating in space, but I felt comfortable right where I was for the moment, heh.


After a while I realized that the access ladder kept going up from where we were, to the very top of the sign! Of course I had to check this out.

Upon reaching the very top, I was surprised to find that there was another catwalk up here between the two sides of the sign, no doubt to facilitate workers changing out the banners:


It was not a breezy night, but every once in awhile I could feel the whole structure beneath us moving like a mast on a sailing ship—hence the blurriness of a couple of these photos...tripod or not, my camera was moving.


A ghostly emptiness on I-75:


Piquette Avenue, with the abandoned Fisher Body Plant #21 seen prominently to the left, another of my most popular haunts:


Can you tell which one of these is the Kwame Tree?


...My friends took magic mushrooms once while hanging out at Fisher Body 21, and since I wasn't there that time I missed out on the experience of interacting with the Kwame Tree, sadly.



References:
Sanborn maps for Detroit, Vol. 3, Sheet 95
http://americanblowercorp.com/History.html
http://www.atdetroit.net/forum/messages/91697/101212.html?1179410812
http://www.atdetroit.net/forum/messages/125438/164714.html?1229027714
http://www.schneider-electric.us/sites/us/en/company/profile/history/squared-history-legacy.page
http://www.detroits-great-rebellion.com/Urban-Renewal.html

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