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 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.

Sanborn maps for Detroit, Vol. 3, Sheet 95

Don't Give Up the Ship

Photos date from December, 2012.

This church on Grand River Avenue in Detroit's struggling Petoskey-Otsego neighborhood is always easily spotted at the side of the Jeffries Freeway, standing in the same vicinity as the famous Grande Ballroom.

Calvary Presbyterian Church was built exactly 100 years ago according to an old article in the Detroit Free Press, starting in late 1916. Ironically, the headline next to this article on the same page talking about sending aid to Syrian refugees left homeless and starving by the ravages of World War I could have been a headline ripped from the pages of 2016.

Anyway, this new church was the result of the "tireless efforts" of Reverend D.I. Sutherland, who had been pastor of the congregation since 1900, and was designed by architect William B. Millar. The congregation's previous church was located at the corner of Michigan Avenue & Maybury Grand (now buried underneath the I-75 / I-96 interchange), which is a considerable distance from where this new edifice was built. That original church was built in 1887 and had been sold in the spring of the previous year, hence the rush to build at a new location.

The earliest mention of Calvary Church's existence that I could find in the Free Press via Newspapers.com dated to the year 1869, which seems to confirm that it was established the previous year as the non-sectarian "Calvary Mission School," at "Mayberry Avenue," under the auspices of the Westminster Church. The superintendent of the school was Dr. W.P. Kellogg (perhaps related to W.K. Kellogg, the Michigander who invented Corn Flakes?). The church's first minister was Rev. John G. Atterbury, who was the father of Gen. W.W. Atterbury, the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad, according to another article.

A Sunday school addition was built onto this church in summer of 1932, facing Vicksburg Street, named after Rev. D.I. Sutherland, D.D., who was pastor of the church for 30 years (unfortunately I didn't get a good photo of it). The school's second floor was not added until 1939, however. Andrew R. Morrison was listed as the architect, who at the time was based in the Fox Theater Building. The current pastor in the 1930s was Rev. Leslie A. Bechtel.

An unusual—almost shocking—and yet inspiring editorial column appeared in a January 1963 issue of the Detroit Free Press, describing a little churchly drama between Calvary Presbyterian and the nearby Nardin Park Methodist Church. The headline reads "Calvary Church Stayed: Presbyterians Rap Fleeing Churches," and goes on to explain how the leaders of Calvary Presbyterian recently issued a letter to the Nardin Park Church (which was planning on moving to the suburbs) that "denounced flight of any church from any racially changing neighborhood...attacking the idea that a church should move out to catch up with a congregation that is leaving for the suburbs."

It was at this point that I admittedly glanced back up to the top of the newspaper to see whether the date of the article was pre- or post-1967 Riot, but to the Calvary church's credit they toughed it out in this neighborhood for almost 30 years after the Riots, which was the catalyst that triggered the greatest wave of "white flight" from Detroit.

The Nardin Park Church had recently announced that it was leaving the city, and would be selling to "a Negro congregation." This was hardly uncommon in Detroit in the 1960s, but it was highly irregular for a church to call out another church for doing this, especially across denominational lines.  They even sent a copy of the letter to the Free Press so that other churches across the city could consider and learn from its message.

At the time the Methodist and Presbyterian leadership of Detroit held differing philosophies on how to best handle "the problem of...churches caught in the shift of population," the article stated. The columnist speaks of the times politely, although in retrospect it sometimes nearly seems as if it were the Exodus, with Moses leading the way through parted 8 Mile traffic into the promised land of Ferndale.

Methodist leaders, the writer said, espoused the notion that while racial integration of the churches was the ideal, if a church does not "solve its problem early enough," then relocation "becomes an alternative." The Presbytery of Detroit was apparently not having any of that nonsense however, at least from the tone of the Calvary Church's letter, which in part asserted that,
The role of the institutional church, especially a church with a long tradition, is most important in the stabilization of a neighborhood. During periods of transition, powerful institutions can serve to calm panic and allay fear. They can affect genuine reconciliation by becoming 'stages' whereon dialog can take place. They can help a community meet and deal with the problems which accompany change. This is not easy. It takes dedicated work. But the alternative is to contribute to panic, fear, and distrust. There comes a time when the Christian Church must realistically face change.
Amen to that! Is not the church supposed to be the immovable rock of stability in the life of the faithful follower, and the firmly-rooted foundation of a community? This concept goes back to antiquity.

Photo from Newspapers.com
Rev. Raymond H. Swartzback, Calvary's pastor who drew this line in the sand, said that he meant no offense to Nardin Park, but believed that the "time had come" for churches of a similar stand-and-fight philosophy to "declare themselves."

The columnist then went on to shoot off a few statistics that were relevant to Detroit in 1963. From 1946 to 1961 he writes, "55 churches abandoned the center of Detroit," while 40 out of 44 Lutheran churches in a two-mile radius of the inner city fled over a 40 year period. Fifteen Methodist churches and three Presbyterian churches had also left of their own accord (not forced by right-of-way claims for planned expressways). All of the different religious denominations in the city by this point had been forced to reckon with the question of relocation, and all of them had been on record as officially advocating interracial congregations. But that is easier said than done, since any attempt to integrate a white Detroit church with blacks usually resulted in most of the whites moving out, regardless of whether the church followed.

The argument that many churches made in deciding to follow their members to the suburbs was that a church is not merely brick and stone, but people, and therefore "sometimes it is better stewardship for the church to keep up with its congregation," and that once relocated, a church can always come back if there is demand. Theoretically. Rev. Swartzback said that he believed in a church extending its reach to other communities, but first and foremost "the church has an obligation to reflect the essence of its community" at every stage of change, "so we don't run into the problem of isolation in the community."

In case you're wondering what he means by that, it's the exact situation we have now, where neighborhoods are totally segregated by race or class and the advantaged are not concerned or aware of the plight of the disadvantaged—which goes against Christian dogma of helping the less fortunate, of course.

At the end of the article Rev. Swartzback addressed the mindset that some believed no church in Detroit or any big city for that matter could ever be truly integrated, that "it will go racially one way or another eventually." This is a reflection of the idea that no matter how hard its idealistic ministers try to create racial harmony amongst their congregants, if the members themselves are innately prejudiced, they will avoid mixing and will seek out churches of their own color elsewhere. To this Rev. Swartzback says, "We will still be here. It will be the church in the transition, and even after a transition...to serve the people who are there."

This article is also interesting in light of the fact that I subsequently uncovered another one from eleven years earlier where it seemed in 1952 that Calvary may have been tinkering with the idea of moving north to the 19000 block of Greenview, near Seven Mile Road & Southfield Freeway, directly across the street from the Arnold Home.

The Detroit Presbytery announced in spring of 1952 that the Monteith Memorial Presbyterian Church at 19125 Greenview would be merging its 450 members with Calvary Presbyterian, which had 1,600 members at the time. Rev. Dr. O. Frank Storch, Jr. was minister here at the time. Both buildings would be kept open under a combined administration, as it was expected that the Monteith Chapel "would be kept open to accommodate the congregation of both churches," with "population shifts" being cited as dictating the merger.

On an interesting side note, University of Detroit Jesuit recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of their decision to stay in the city despite the immense pressures to move out.

Also, so as not to totally pile on the Methodists here, it is worth considering that in 1961 the East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church became the first all-white Methodist church in Detroit to appoint a black minister, as I discussed in an older post.

When African Presbyterians sent their first-ever missionary to the U.S., he was assigned to work here at Calvary Church, another Free Press article explained.

Rev. Ebenezer Abboa-Offei came from the nation of Ghana in September of 1960, and would work under Rev. Swartzback as an associate pastor for about three years. At the time, the article suggests, Calvary's membership had shrunk to 400, and was about evenly split between black and white. It was supposedly the first Presbyterian church in Detroit to have an "interracial" ministry, and the hosting of Rev. Abboa-Offei was part of the current ecumenical (unity) movement among Detroit's Protestants.

According to Calvary Presbyterian's website, and Facebook page, they are still active and practicing their faith in the much smaller aforementioned Monteith Chapel on Greenview Street. On their website they offer their own version of their church's history, which corroborates what I have found and details how they ended up transitioning out of this old building on Grand River:
In 1990, and at about the same time that Calvary was experiencing great financial difficulty, Monteith Memorial at 7 Mile and Greenview announced its intent to shut its doors when its pastor of over twenty years, Ray Lumley, decided to retire. Rev. James Mitcham who had been the Pastor at Calvary for ten years also retired, and with Rev. Raphael Francis as first pulpit supply and later as interim Pastor, Calvary began the task of completing a “self study” in anticipation of calling a full time Pastor. Some members of the Presbytery Committee on Strategy suggested that we look seriously at relocation rather than continue in a building that was too large and too expensive for our congregation. After considerable discussion and review of the facts with all of our members, the congregation agreed to the relocation only if we could continue as Calvary. The building on Grand River and Vicksburg has since been sold and is now occupied by another congregation. 
Since moving September 29, 1991 to the old Montieth Memorial building on 7 Mile and Greenview, we have acquired a new Pastor, Rev. Kevin R. Johnson, and both membership and church giving have increased. Just as past moves by past Calvary congregations were inspired by God and resulted in success, we feel that our move will also result in great success.
The last mention I could find of Calvary using the Grand River address was for a funeral here in December, 1990.

Another funeral listing from 1999 shows this church's 8240 Grand River address as being the "Abundant Life Christian Center," an organization which still exists, albeit at 25210 Grand River, in the suburb of Redford. Some time after that this church changed owners again, becoming the "Greater Faith for Deliverance Church." I haven't been able to find much else about either period of occupation by these two final tenants of the church but one thing is certain, it was vacated sometime during the depths of the "Great Recession," and has been abandoned ever since. As usual it was probably in dire need of repairs they could not afford.

The tiny inscription on this window says, "Behold, I stand at the door & knock." Below it there was another medallion that read, "A Tribute to the Memory of Rev. George W. Barlow, D.D., something something," which is now broken out but can still be seen in a photo on a c.2011 blog post at housesofworship.wordpress.com. Rev. Barlow died in 1907, having been pastor of Calvary from 1879 to 1896. He was the pastor who oversaw the building of the previous church on Michigan Avenue.

Out the largest windows facing northwest, a gaping hole where the stained glass used to be showed a depressing view of an abandoned bank and apartment building on Virginia Park, at the corner of Grand River:

Flanking the altar, I was surprised to find two stained glass / colored glass windows almost fully intact:

...I guess they were too high up for the scrappers to reach yet? These windows were still in remarkable shape, given the appearance of the rest of the building.

The inscription at the bottom of this one reads, "In Memoriam: Clarence T(?)eckie Bee":

Here's a closeup of the detail at the top:

Back to the other one...

The inscription in this next photo says "God buildeth His holy temple," while at the bottoms of the panels two dedications read, "In Memoriam: David Reid, Margaret Reid, Charter Members / Donated by Mr. & Mrs. Adam M.Y.M. Kendrick and Family":

It is actually quite common for older churches to have individual window panels commissioned by wealthier members of the congregation, who then are memorialized for their contribution by having their names inscribed on the windows. Stained glass windows are not cheap!

Interestingly enough, during the Great Depression this church was the recipient of the old pipe organ removed from Orchestra Hall when the Detroit Symphony Orchestra lost their hall to foreclosure. The organ was later removed again and eventually bought back by the DSO in 2011, but it remains in storage, according to historian Mark Stryker.

Honestly, the future doesn't look good for this old church. Most likely it will be torn down, but that might take several years. The condition of the building has worsened quite a bit since I took these photos in 2012, graffiti has increased, and it's a candidate for arson.

I have to say that the fiery words of Rev. Swartzback in 1963 really struck a chord with me, since I too made my own fateful decision to double-down on Detroit and nail my feet to the rapidly slanting deck of the sinking ship in 2009 when everyone else I knew was bailing out and leaving Michigan. Since then I have seen big ups and severe downs in my fortunes, but I am still here and still fighting, regardless of the outcome. Hopefully I will be luckier than Calvary Presbyterian Church.

Sanborn maps for Detroit, Vol. 15, Sheet 82 (1926)
"Dedication of the Calvary Mission School," Detroit Free Press, December 14, 1869, p. 1
"Sayings and Doings," Detroit Free Press, May 30, 1887, p. 2
"Persevering Presbyterians," Detroit Free Press, May 31, 1887, p. 5
"Span Calvary Church History," Detroit Free Press, June 11, 1932, p. 10
"Calvary Presbyterian School to Rise a Story," Detroit Free Press, May 6, 1939, p. 4
"In A Flourishing Condition," Detroit Free Press, January 10, 1896, p. 6
"Will Break Ground for New Church on Sunday," Detroit Free Press, October 4, 1916, p. 8
"Calvary Presbyterian Wing Will Honor Former Minister," Detroit Free Press, July 18, 1931, p. 8
"Span Calvary Church History," Detroit Free Press, June 11, 1932, p. 10
"Calvary Presbyterian School to Rise a Story," Detroit Free Press, May 6, 1939, p. 4
"Calvalry and Monteith Churches to Merge," Detroit Free Press, May 17, 1952, p. 9
"Africans Send Missionary to U.S.," Detroit Free Press, September 10, 1960, p. 8
"Calvary Church Stayed: Presbyterians Rap Fleeing Churches," Detroit Free Press, January 12, 1963, p. 6
Obituary for Donna I. Carpenter, Detroit Free Press, December 26, 1990, p. 56
"Stories, Songs Shows, Salute Roots," Detroit Free Press, February 15, 1996, p. 19
"Death Notices," Detroit Free Press, August 9, 1999, p. 15
"Worthy Pastor is Gone," Detroit Free Press, January 25, 1907, p. 5
"New Presbyterian Church Within the Limits of Detroit," Detroit Free Press, April 14, 1905, p. 2
Destiny: 100 Years of Music, Magic, and Community at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, by Mark Stryker, p. 60