Detroit Reborn

I was born in Detroit, a 1957 model.

While my family lived in suburban Detroit, my father’s parents lived in outer Detroit, and my grandfather often took his four grandchildren downtown on the weekends. I wrote about my vivid memories of these adventures, and this was published a few years ago.

My family left Michigan for Florida when I was fifteen, in 1970. It scares me how long ago this now seems.

I have never been back.

During the ensuing years and decades, Detroit became synonymous with urban decay. Indeed, the city became the poster child for urban decay.

However, recently, and against all odds, the city is making a comeback. Really, I am astonished, and would not have thought this possible.

Long empty skyscrapers have been restored/renovated and are now fully occupied.

The streets of downtown, which I had assumed to have tumbleweeds blowing down cracked asphalt, are maintained, lovely, and with flowers in median strips.

Really, I was astonished.



The Book Cadillac Hotel is to the right.



The Book Cadillac closed in 1984. It was soon a ruin. Today, after its 2008 restoration and reopening, the ballroom once again glitters.



A pop-up beach right downtown. An annual event.



Two years ago these were both long-empty skyscrapers. Each has been reborn and are fully occupied. The Broderick Tower is left; the David Whitney is right.


The mind-blowing

The mind-blowing lobby of the Whitney.



Adjacent to downtown is Brush Park. This was THE place to live in 1870, and its streets were lined with mansions.

As with all such first-generation neighborhoods, the advent of the automobile made being adjacent to downtown something which was no longer desirable. And families fled.

By 1910, first-generation neighborhoods were in decline across the country. This happened with my own 1894 house.



Brush Park in its heyday.



Quite the confection!



C. W. Moore House; just north of Brush Park. I stare at this home in abject wonder. Humans were once capable of creating such things? And humans then destroyed such things? I love it when buildings reach to kiss the heavens.



Another knock-out.


Brush Park today. See the house lower left? That is the Ransom Gillis House, the most famous ruin in the city.



1870s. The Ransom Gillis House when new.



1980s. The house looked beyond salvageable. In 1980, much of Brush Park was still intact, although the very definition of a slum. The city then decided to demolish almost all of it, rather than incrementally restore structures.


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1990s. After obliterating most of Brush Park, the city belatedly recognized that it could not demolish its way to renewal. Thus, rather then BULLDOZE structures the city decided to MOTHBALL them with the idea that old buildings really DID matter, and offered a much greater possibility of renewal than NO houses and NO history and NO character. Smart move by the city. So, the city purchased the Gillis House (and the few remaining other homes) and stabilized it.


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2015. And guess what? The mothball strategy worked. WHOEE!!!!!!!!!!! I stare in awe and wonder and joy. The house has been converted into two units. The front unit can be toured here. And the rear unit here. Enjoy!



The almost empty block which the Gillis House sits is under development. The Gillis House is at the upper right corner of the block. The three other long-empty houses on the block are also to be reborn.


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And there are more beauties in Brush Park. 82 Alfred, just south of the Gillis house. Wanna tour?


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And more beauties, just across the street from 82 Alfred, and immediately west of the Gillis House.


Fewer things bring as much joy to my heart and soul than architectural and urban renewal. I lived thorough the 1960s and 1970s when gorgeous creations were being knocked to the ground with nary a protest, and entire neighborhoods destroyed for highways and “urban renewal”.

I never thought the madness would end.

But it has. Not entirely. But way more than I ever thought possible. And today cities are even trying to reverse the damage.

You know, it is much nicer living in a world that is not totally insane.


  1. [email protected] on January 25, 2016 at 8:31 pm

    Here in Pittsburgh all the demos are done by collapsing the house into the basement and covering it with dirt and grass seed, which makes me intensely curious as to what treasures may be buried in those urban wastelands like Brush Park…

  2. Kelly on January 28, 2016 at 5:26 am

    I was watching Beverly Hills Cop this morning and recognized the Gillis House in one of the shots during the opening credits. Still had the roof but looked on the verge of collapse. Glad it was saved, the turret is amazing.

  3. Steve H on February 12, 2016 at 8:01 am

    I’m currently reading “Once a in Great City: A Detroit Story”, by David Maraniss. It’s a fascinating history of Detroit in the 1960’s during the glory days of Motown and the auto industry.

  4. Slawomir Shuty on March 20, 2018 at 6:44 am

    Are you living in Detroit nowdays? I want to write and article about Detroit now for a big Polish newspaper. I am from Poland, now visiting USA for 3 weeks (and also Detroit). I look for some heroes who can tell me some more about city.

  5. Cindy Belanger on August 10, 2019 at 7:10 pm

    Ross, thanks for the post about Detroit reborn. The houses that are still standing are amazing, if only I could go back in time and see the Brush Park neighborhood or any old neighborhood intact or better yet live in one of them. I’m so glad Detroit saw the light, so to speak. Milwaukee, Wisconsin tore down it’s architecturally significant train station in the 60’s. Such a beauty. Everyone was aghast that this beautiful train station was torn down and people vowed never again. For the next five decades historic buildings and preservation thrived, now it looks like the 1960’s are making a comeback. Beautiful houses are being torn down to make way for condos and high rises. Not at the rate of the 60’s, but still very sad.

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