My Basketball-Mitzvah

November, 2008.

On Blaine Street, not far from Linwood, sits the old Mishkan Yisroel Synagogue, sometimes also spelled "Miskin Israel" or "Mishgan Israel."

It is tradition to give a more familiar name to small synagogues like this, usually after the street where they were located. Hence, Blain Shul. The Yiddish word "shul" translates to "school," which is a term used mostly by Orthodox Jews to describe a synagogue as a place of study. Conservative Jews generally just use the word "synagogue," while Reformed Jews use the word "temple." Shul has mostly fallen out of usage today.

I explored the Taylor Shul in a different post.

The book Harmony & Dissonance: Voices of Jewish Identity in Detroit, 1914-1967, by Sidney Bolkosky says that Mishkan Yisroel was founded at Benton & St. Antoine, but moved here to Blaine Street in 1925, with Rabbi Isaac Stollman in charge. According to some c.1912 proceedings, it seems as though their first building was shared with or leased from the Board of Education.

Of course the Jewish population of Detroit, which had been mostly concentrated on the city's west side, began migrating north of 8 Mile Road by the 1950s and this building was sold to an African-American Baptist church group. It was home to the congregation of "God's Inspirational Kingdom," which closed around 2003:

The book Echoes of Detroit's Jewish Communities: A History, by Irwin Cohen notes that the new Mishkan Israel was built on Nine Mile Road in the suburb of Oak Park in 1958. After the 1967 Riot the migration had turned into a full-fledged exodus, just like when Moses parted the Red Sea.

In a strange column by Danny Raskin in the Detroit Jewish News, August 12, 2010, I dug up a very interesting tidbit. It seems that one last final act of abandonment of this neighborhood came not long after I visited this holy sanctuary. The cornerstones (seen three photos above) were chiseled out recently, and now repose under a tree near the parking lot of Adat Shalom Synagogue in Farmington Hills.

Marvin Yagoda, owner of the famous Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum (also in Farmington Hills) had them chiseled out and brought to Adat Shalom. The article states that should the Jewish Historical Society ever move from the Jewish Community Center in the suburb of West Bloomfield, the cornerstones are among the items to be displayed in it.

Marvin also owns Sam's Drugs in Detroit, presumably started by his father, Sam. His parents and grandparents were members of congregation Mishkan Yisroel. Though it was hard to see any hope in this area of the city—one of the worst in terms of crime and decline—the act still seems callous.

The article says that the cornerstones were taken as mementos of the Yagoda family, and blithely states that they were "cut out from the ruins," as if it were describing some war-torn area somewhere overseas, and the stones were taken to save them from further destruction during rocket attacks. The way the article reads, it seems implicit that the reader is to presume that Detroit is in a war-torn state.

One of the cornerstones is dated 1911 and was moved from the original synagogue, but this article contradicts the "Benton & St. Antoine" location mentioned earlier, saying that the original Mishkan Yisroel was founded on Hastings Street. The corner of Benton & St. Antoine no longer exists, and became part of the Brewster Homes projects. I wrote about the Brewster Projects in another post.

In any case, one of the two cornerstones came from the original building and was moved here in 1925, sort of like how Ste. Anne's Church has a cornerstone from their c.1818 building mortared in with the present one. So I suppose it is only natural that this temple's cornerstones follow the congregation to its present home.

In this next photo, a Star of David has probably been replaced by a Christian cross here:

According to his obituary in 1980, Rabbi Isaac Stollman was born in Russia in 1893, and came to Detroit in 1924, conveniently right before this building on Blaine was consecrated. Stollman also later served other posts in Detroit, as rabbi of Stoliner Synagogue, founder of Yeshiva Beth, Yehuda and founder of the Council of Orthodox Rabbis. He was the dean of Orthodox rabbis of Detroit for 40 years, and was the first president of the Religious Zionists of America. Rabbi Stollman immigrated to Israel in 1965.

Stollman published several philosophical essays on the Torah, was the author of many articles in the Yiddish and Hebrew press, and was a "noted orator" in both languages. He was 86 years old when he passed away.

Yes, that is a basketball in there. Any other questions? The Hebrews in the D do things a little differently than you're used to.

Actually this is a Christian altar left over from the God's Inspirational Kingdom congregation.

At time of writing in 2014, the Blaine Shul is in even worse shape than when these pictures were taken.

Harmony & Dissonance: Voices of Jewish Identity in Detroit, 1914-1967, by Sidney M. Bolkosky, pg. 30
Proceedings of the Board of Education, Detroit, July, 1912
Echoes of Detroit's Jewish Communities: A History, by Irwin J. Cohen, pg. 253
Detroit Jewish News, August 12, 2010, pg. 48

This Present 'State' of Grace

You'd be amazed what the proper credentials, and a sternly, businesslike visage can achieve. In such a "state of grace," shall we say, much that is typically forbidden may be accessed. Read on...

The State Theater is perhaps tied with the Masonic Temple for Detroit's second-most magnificent entertainment palace. This hall originally seated around 3,000 according to the Detroit Historical Society, and was named the Palms Theater when it was built in 1925. Of course it was recently renamed the Fillmore Theater, but for most of its life it was simply the State.

As you probably already knew, famed Detroit theater architect C. Howard Crane was responsible for designing this glamorous Renaissance Revival style palace.

It was erected by the family of Francis Palms, on the site of the former Grand Circus Theater according to the book Detroit's Downtown Movie Palaces by Michael Hauser and Marianne Weldon. Francis Palms was a real estate mogul in the Midwest during the 1800s, and this theater was his family's tribute to him. John Kunsky operated the Palms with a 12-story office building attached, as was the style in the early days of cinema.

There was of course a Wurlitzer organ installed in the State Theater, but it was removed long ago and now resides in the Castro Theater in San Francisco, where it is probably better appreciated. The theater also had its own orchestra according to Hauser and Weldon, named the State Symphony Orchestra.

Okay, showtime.

I looked up to the upper balcony and realized with shock that it was actually moving up and down with the beat of the music, with the help of all 1,500 or so fans who were up there jumping up and down to it:

Down below were some crazy moontanned motherf@#%rs getting a little moshy, as is only appropriate in Detroit.

My associate and I were partaking liberally in the juice of the barley, aye, that we were.

To the point where I was having trouble holding me camera steady...

Okay, now that everyone is sufficiently distracted, it's time to slip away from the crowd to go do something dastardly. "EXIT 17"...I like it:

There are at least two basement levels under the State...

At the bottom of the backstage stair is what I had figured to be an old generator room, with what looks like an old Corliss engine:

A friend who used to work at the State tells me that "these large York engines and monster flywheels in the sub-basement were for the old air-conditioning system." He explained that the Yorks were "the '50s version" of air-conditioning, and used Freon. The engine with the big flywheel he says was a compressor for carbon-dioxide, a gas that becomes chilled upon compression. The State also used the "acid system" of cooling for a short time.

Dismantling the beast and carting it back up to the daylight world would have been costly and quite a hassle, so here it sits, 90 years later.

It was a fairly small area, and we shortly moved back up one level.

This is the band lounge, which as a matter of fact is situated directly beaneath the stage, hence the wooden beams. We could hear the band stomping around above us:

As you can see, the beverage cooler is already depleted of Guinesses...FM is a thirsty band, laddy! Up!

There are other "secret" areas on this level, recesses that span underneath the seating area of the theater, where presently a couple thousand screaming drunken fans were madly jumping and stomping above us, to the deep throbbing of celtic punk rock we could still hear (and feel) vibrating the very foundations of this grand hall.

Which of course dictates the strangely upwardly-arching shape to it, and naturally facilitates the running of wires and cables:

With the close of the set, we made our way back up to the main floor so as not to be missed. Also, time for more beer.

A hell of a lot of famous mf's have performed on this very stage that we were standing on...but I'll name just one.

Ozzy Osbourne.

"Annnnd, always look on the briiiiight side of life..."

The Palms Building is the 11-story office tower attached to the theater. It contains the office of the Manning Brothers Historic Photographic Collection, which I had occasion to visit one day while researching something. Naturally since it was located on the 9th floor I did some snooping around while I was there.

Here we are looking over the roof of the theater's auditorium from the fire escape, and you can see the side of the Fox Theater as well as the Detroit Life Building:

From the 9th floor office window, a view towards Brush Park and former Poletown:

Detroit's Downtown Movie Palaces, by Michael Hauser, Marianne Weldon, pg. 39-44

Trespassers Afloat

Because the "next level" of hobby trespassing is to get a boat, I procured a small tin can for tooling around the Detroit River. On a hot summer's day I put my vessel into the swirling foam of Neptune's watery bosom, via the Delray boat launch. We figured that a short trip up the Rouge River would be advisable to safely test the SS Jane's little 15hp motor, seeing as it hadn't been on the water in several years. Once we had rounded the back of Zug Island and passed the swing bridge, we saw this juicy little morsel that none of us had ever noticed before:

It lies way far back from the nearest road, Jefferson Avenue, so most landlubbers have probably never even seen this building before.

Swinging our craft around behind a bend in the seawall, we moored up to an old cleat and climbed up onto land, carefully looking around for any signs of security. Seeing none, we made our way into the old powerplant.

This building appears to have been the powerhouse to the Detroit Sulphite Pulp & Paper Co. plant. According to Detroit historian Clarence Burton, Detroit Sulphite Pulp & Paper was incorporated in the year 1905 at 9131 West Jefferson Avenue, and he says that the state labor bureau reported in 1919 that the number of their employees was 428.

I have also seen the address of this plant listed as 9125 West Jefferson Avenue. Up until very recently, if you looked at Bing Bird's-Eye or Google Maps, it still showed imagery of the rest of the plant prior to being torn down.

Historic photos in the Detroit Public Library's Burton Collection indicate that the company was operating as early as 1899. A paper by Marygrove College historian Tom Klug also explains that the company employed many Hungarians, who began immigrating to Detroit (especially the Delray area) around 1896.

In 1954, Scott Paper acquired Detroit Sulphite Pulp & Paper Co. At that time, they made waxing stock and other papers.

Though Michigan's (and indeed a great portion of the nation's) paper industry was centered in Kalamazoo, there were still a handful of paper-related companies in southwestern Detroit, such as Chope-Sievens, and Detroit Tullar Envelope.

This building was actually fairly hard to get around in...a lot of the metal (including all staircases and steps) had been torn out of the lower level of the structure, making going upward virtually impossible except by climbing a couple sketchy ladders that had apparently been left by scrappers. But again, since this site is essentially impossible to access from the road, the scrappers must have come by....boat?

Amphibious scrapping: only in Detroit. I guarantee you this.

Anyway, even the ladders only gave access to the second level or so of boiler catwalks, so beyond that it was a game of shimmying up stair-less staircases and balance-beaming on supports where steel platform grates had been removed.

There was still a hell of a lot of metal left in this place, and you can tell by the complete lack of graffiti just how off the beaten path it is:

Sorry, I don't do HDR photos:

Making it to the roof was an accomplishment in itself, rewarded by a fairly unique view of the city.

This roof would've been great for nighttime chilling and slinging back the brewskis, but the hassle of having to come and go by water would make it almost prohibitive. Not to mention the circus climbing act to get up here. 

This building wasn't going to be around much longer anyway. It was demolished sometime prior to June 2014.

Once, the Zug Island area was populated by Indian burial mounds. Now it is populated by coal mounds:

Contrary to what one might think, Zug Island is actually mostly empty space:

I explored that small structure on Zug Island in the second half of a different post.

Be right back...gotta go make a Gonella's run...

The City of Detroit Michigan 1701-1922, by Clarence M. Burton, pg. 609
Railway Cars, Bricks, and Salt: The Industrial History of Southwest Detroit before the Auto, by Tom Klug