Water, Water, Everywhere...and Not a Pot to Piss In

Photos from March 2006 and later.

One of the many raggedy buildings that populates the fringes of Detroit's Eastern Market is a fairly modern structure that used to serve as a depot for the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department (DWSD).

It's not far away from the silos of the Koenig Coal Co.:

According to the Sanborn map, this parcel of land at the corner of Orleans and Erskine was owned by the Detroit Board of Water Commissioners at least as far back as the 1920s, and started out as a complex of several smaller, older buildings that I imagine were demolished and replaced with this one at some point, probably the 1960s.

The Sanborn map shows the various buildings to be labeled as things like storage yard, garage / vehicle repair shop, lumber storage, carpenter shop, meter testing & storage, wagon shed, and an office. There was also a railroad spur coming right into the parcel from the Dequindre Cut, which I imagine is how they took their deliveries of bulk lumber and pipe.

As far as why the water department might need supplies of lumber, I can only speculate that they may have used it to build forms for pouring concrete when building new sewers or drains.

There isn't really jack #@$% in here other than a bunch of trash, but thankfully the walls being mostly coated in some pretty decent graffiti (in most cases) saves this building from being a total bore.

Something about Eastern Market seems to attract good graffiti...probably the fact that there has always been so many big, wide-open buildings with plenty of open wall space, as well as the Dequindre Cut for those who prefer to paint outdoors. The fact that CCS is close-by no doubt is a contributing factor as well.

It's gone now, but when I first walked into this building in 2005 or so, there was a partially disassembled old Detroit Fire Department rig parked in here:

It's a 1940s Seagrave I'd guess.

The Detroit Firemen's Fund subsequently restored a 1939 Seagrave for use as a hearse, and for a long time I assumed this one was the same vehicle because it disappeared not too long before I began seeing the restored one around, but now I am pretty sure that's not the case.

It could be however that they used this one to scavenge spare parts off of, hence its appearance of having been picked at. It is worth noting that the Detroit Fire Dept.'s repair shop is kitty-corner from this building, on Russell Street.

Yeah, not a lot else to say about this place, just a lot of graffiti. I feel pretty comfortable in asserting that nothing historical ever happened here.

Even the history of the DWSD itself seems rather prosaic, as outlined on the department's own webpage. They hearken back to the days when Detroit's water system consisted of a series of hollowed-out wooden logs buried under the streets (which still sometimes pop up during excavation projects from time to time), before fast-forwarding to the modern days of huge million-gallon pumps and massive million-dollar facilities.

According to another page on the website, The DWSD had its origins in 1836 and was put under a Board of Trustees in 1852. Just how big and bloated is Detroit's magnificent water system, crowning jewel of what all municipal water systems have aspired to since civilization began? Well, for starters, the Water Board had their own fancy skyscraper built to house their bureaucracy in 1928, which rises 23 stories above downtown.

Today the DWSD has more than 1,700 employees and provides water service to almost four million people in the region, including 127 neighboring cities in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, St. Clair, Lapeer, Genesee, Washtenaw and Monroe counties.

The DWSD is "the third-largest provider of high-quality drinking water and wastewater treatment services in the United States," according to the website. Despite all of the bad press the DWSD gets for being a bloated, gravely inefficient, bureaucratic monstrosity...despite the fact that half of the grid is leaking at any given time...despite the fact that rates are often grossly unfair...what comes out of our taps on the other end is still a superior product compared to most of the rest of the world, and for that we Metro-Detroiters should be thankful.

Just ask the residents of Flint...they used to be on the DWSD supply as a matter of fact, and recently changed over to an independent system to save money, but have experienced extremely unpleasant results, you might say.

There is also the recent outcry and protests against the water shutoffs happening to Detroit residents for nonpayment of past-due bills, on the grounds that "water is a human right." My personal opinion on this is that water is not in fact a "right," if it comes from a municipal tax-funded purification system. People seem to forget that clean water doesn't just knock on your door and say "drink me!" Since the dawn of time humans have had to go find and secure their own water for survival--the only time it has ever been handed out is when a city builds a treatment plant. Those plants cost money to run, and if the money doesn't come in when the bills go out, the system goes bankrupt.

But while I disagree with the terminology of treated water being considered a "right," I still believe it is a grave injustice that half the city is having their water cut off so easily. There is no reason why we can't figure out a way to provide good water at rates that are affordable to everyone living in the city. It's the usual legacy of corruption and incompetence in Detroit, Wayne County, and state government that has caused the situation we are in now, and that has resulted in a bloated water department bureaucracy, in decrepit infrastructure, and in sky-high rates--not the citizens. Yet the citizens, as usual, are the ones being punished while the corrupt officials walk free. 

The fact that this very building is still sitting here like a bomb went off on it is yet another symbol of the gross failure and ineffectiveness of the DWSD. I wouldn't be surprised if they were still sending past-due water bill notices to this address like they have done to other businesses and homes in the city, threatening fines and shutoffs, completely unaware that the property is vacant. One hand doesn't know what the other's doing...

Anyway, enough political griping.

A more complete history of the DWSD is available in .pdf format. It indicates that there used to be a nine-million-gallon reservoir built on or adjacent to this very parcel in 1854 (it was bounded by Wilkins, Calhoun, Riopelle, and Dequindre), which at the time was considered the "extreme outskirts" of the city. I imagine that was demolished long, long ago, probably before the turn of the century. 

Lots of bay doors for the DWSD's big utility trucks and heavy equipment in this new building, and wooden-block floors:

Still not sure why they would have had these patterns of (what looked to be) acoustic tiles glued to the wall:

Lots more pretty graffiti...

Boiler room.

Metal was stolen from here...imagine that.

Old newspaper machines, no doubt brought here to be looted of their nickels and dimes:

The letters on the wall here say "Holding Area":

In a darkened area we found a complete front clip to a 1990-ish Chevy Caprice...

Kinda reminds me of that scene in the movie Tremors where the station wagon gets swallowed up in the sand, heh...

Okay, somebody even graffitied the snow...

...we might be in Detroit, Toto.

Here, in what I imagine to be the boardroom of the complex you can see Roma Cafe, Detroit's most famous Italian eatery, through the nonexistent windows:

To the south sits the Thorn Apple Valley slaughterhouse, which I covered in another post.

A view out a window with Roma Cafe, and the Detroit Fire Dept.'s Russell Yard repair shop visible:

Sanborn map, Detroit Vol. 3, Sheet 39 (1921)


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  2. Came by here, and the place's completely empty, looks like they installed some new loading doors too and covered those massive window holes. There is also a lot more graffiti inside now. Some more official guys came in a few minutes after I came out.


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