Detroit: 113 Alfred Street

This is Part III of a series. Part I is here. Part II is here. Part IV is here. Part V is here.


Brush Park, Alfred Street, 2019. The house at the right is 113 Alfred (now renumbered as 295), built in 1874, and known as the Vail / Chandler House. As part of a massive redevelopment of Brush Park, the above three late 19th-century houses, long abandoned, were reborn. But, as with the James Campbell House (far left), 113 Alfred was done on the cheap.


113 Alfred in 2014, after being purchased by Detroit and mothballed.


2019. Reborn, but on the cheap. One wonders what it looked like originally.


But one need not wonder long. This drawing is by Briguyinla, who writes: “This is a conjectural rendering of what the house might have looked like with its front porch and cornice intact. No evidence of what these elements looked like exists so what is drawn is just based on period designs and what was found on other houses in the neighborhood.”


The three on-the-cheap historic houses now face $1.3M townhouses and apartments, and will soon be bracketed by more development.


From my previous posts:

The city of Detroit, which owned these three houses and the surrounding land, offered all for redevelopment, stipulating that the historic houses had to be retained. And this, this, was the mistake. The city should have also demanded that the facades be restored to their original appearance.

It is no coincidence that great cities are also normally beautiful cities. Humans respond to beauty, be it a beautiful flower, face, or building. Yet somebody, at some high level working for the development company, made the decision that cheapness should prevail. Somebody decided that people and the city did not deserve beauty.

With such a decision in place, what happened was inevitable. Had a more enlightened soul been in charge the results would have been striking.

Today, with laser technology, intricate brackets and ornamentation can be created with surprising affordability. But, on Alfred Street, the will to do things right did not exist.

The development company clearly did not think it necessary to retain a preservation-trained architect, instead relying on, no doubt, an underpaid and inexperienced draftsperson who did not even understand the value of scale. Because the will to do things right did not exist.

The development company clearly did not think it mattered to the buyers of their new townhouses that their windows would overlook banal brick boxes instead of gloriously restored historic houses. Because the desire for beauty did not exist. Because the knowledge that beauty has value did not exist.

Soon, the shiny new modernist townhouses will become less shiny. In, say, two decades, they will look dated and suffer from maintenance issues. Across the street, the cheaply done porches and details on the historic brick homes will have also suffered from the ravages of time. Newer projects will draw people away from Alfred Street and the cycle of decline will repeat itself.

However, had the three historic houses on Alfred Street been restored to a high level, they would pass through the coming decades as valued landmarks. The modernist townhouses, too, would retain value due to their great views of the historic houses, the Fabergé eggs of Alfred Street.

In short, the three old houses on Alfred Street are today banal brick boxes not due to cost.

No, they are banal brick boxes due to a lack of vision. And because somebody lacked a spirit of generosity.

I am curious how the citizens of Detroit feel at being treated so…shabbily?




  1. Aaron W. on December 26, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    Detroit breaks my heart. I am all for reusing and restoring but part of me would almost have rather seen the derelict buildings razed than suffer the further indignities of a big box store rebuild. They now look like modern interpretations of “Victorian” houses as opposed to the magnificent architectural gems they once were.

    • Ross on December 26, 2019 at 2:11 pm

      Agreed, Aaron.

      However, their survival means that perhaps one day, perhaps, their exteriors might be properly restored.

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