Friday, April 26, 2013

Our Last Day in Detroit

And so we arose on our last day in Detroit. We found a superb little diner, the Clique restaurant, which we wished we'd found at the beginning of the trip, and then drove around to catch a few last sites before heading to the airport.
East Grand Boulevard Methodist Church constructed in 1908 used to be known as Fisher Memorial. There is no information on the internet that I could find.
Although heavily trashed I liked the feel of this place, it felt like it had held a warm community. We weren't too successful at finding other acessible abandonments so decided to opt for a Coney Island dog. These fast food restaurants are all over the place, more prolific even than McDonalds. They held no appeal for me, not being a hotdog fan, but nevertheless I felt I should not return home without at least trying this very popular food. It was horrendous. I absolutely never want one again. It was simply a tinned dog on a cheap bread roll with pig swill (chilli?) poured over the top. But at least now I have an opinion instead of saying I have no idea. I think on reflection the latter may have been preferable...
We drove to an industry we'd passed a couple of days previously called Ivan Doverspike, thinking they were abandoned but not totally sure, so we pulled up at the gate and Richard went inside for information. They remanufacture, rebuild or recondition multiple spindle automatic screw machines, and I had to look at their website to see what that meant.
Many of the buildings unfortunately are empty and sadly, the company isn't sure if it can hang on. They often have explorers checking them out and the guy said if we wanted to walk along the railway line then we could do that but he couldn't permit access.
So we went for a saunter and took some shots then headed back to the car for a visit to one last art project, Hamtramck, Disneyland.
On a residential street, you can walk down an alley at the backs of houses and come across one man's interpretation of Disneyland, built in his back yard over the past 12 years since he retired from his job at General Motors.
This view is from the back of his two garages that a lot of the structure is built upon. It spills into the rest of his yard and comprises of plastic animals, wooden structures and people, a carousel, pictures, lights, wind mills and Christmas lights, to name a few. It's mostly painted in primary colors and I couldn't make up my mind it it was a carnival theme or a tongue in cheek war theme since there are quite a few soldiers and missiles about.
If you click on this photo to enlarge it, you can see the missile is directed towards North America. Oops! I'm sure it isn't intentional as Dmytro Szylak, a Ukrainian immigrant really is the sweetest and most accommodating old man. And there were also many American flags.
He posed here for us amongst his creation which has many visitors each year, and even each day, as we arrived while a group of schoolkids were there, and others turned up immediately after us.
After leaving Dmytro we then went to American Jewelry and Loan, the pawn shop which is the star of the reality show Hardcore Pawn.
We arrived in the middle of filming so weren't allowed to take photos until they were done but I was content to watch while excitedly hopping from foot to foot.
I got my photo taken with Les Gold!
Lots of cool stuff for sale here but I bet that ghetto pheasant didn't think he'd end up here!
This was the item being haggled over when we arrived, A Harley Davidson bicycle. The price was finally agreed on $1000 so we can assume it was worth at least double that.
More photos with the team.
This was the guy who sold the HD bicycle. He seemed quite happy with the sale and had apparently held out for two days.
So after that excitement it was time to slowly head towards the airport and stop if we saw anything interesting along the way.
Goodbye abandoned houses,...
...goodbye cool fence sign,...
...and goodbye GASM.
This had been a very cool 5 days and we'd seen a lot of new things, met a lot of wonderful people and got to know a city pretty well in such a short time. A lot of that was thanks to Richard who did all the driving, and we did a lot of that. Detroit is a city that I could never live in, not the areas we focused on. These were covered in trash that's never picked up because the city can't afford to collect it and driving down street after street of abandoned, burned, collapsing and ravaged buildings was starting to get me down. My initial assumption had been that I would be leaving feeling impressed and awed by the multitude of abandonments that we'd had the opportunity to explore and adore, but instead it was the people who made the bigger impression on me. I'm in awe of these survivors who as Eric described, live in a post apocalyptic Mad Max world, yet stand proud of their city and refuse to be bowed. They are surrounded by trash and ruin on a seemingly eternal daily basis, yet are the friendliest and most welcoming folks I've met in a long time, despite many having lost jobs, homes or loved ones. In a city filled with grey drab crumbling walls and black burned out buildings, these people have individually or in groups splashed color in the darkest corners and erected vibrant art pieces in unexpected places. Their spirit is incredible and so many that we spoke to had no intention of leaving their city, they would not be broken. Detroiters, I salute you.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Oddities and Deites and Antiquities

We had a really bad breakfast at this place. OK, not inedible, but a buffet that had a very limited choice and where the meat had to be ordered separately, no help yourself with the bacon or sausage. But once again, the people were so nice that you really didn't mind.
A very cool mural we came across.
This guy was sitting on the side of the road selling oils and stuff on the table. He had his shoes off and looked very comfy. No idea what was brewing in the kettle.
More houses and a beautiful advertisement wall discovered when the building next to it was razed.
Detroit has a lot of old signage. I wasn't familar with the Little Caesars sign but was told there are very few about.
We spent a while looking for some orange houses that were part of an art project, the reason is here.
We managed to find two of them but up close I was disappointed as I'd thought the whole house would be orange but really it was only the 1 or 2 sides that could be viewed from the road that had been decorated. But while walking around the neighborhood we chatted with some residents who again didn't believe that we were there on vacation, and that we must be from the government because of our cameras. Yet they were very friendly and told us of how few lived on the streets now compared to a couple of decades previously when it was a thriving community where everyone knew eachother.
I wonder how much in cash would be paid for this house...
Our next stop was St Agnes church. It's history can be read here.
This is a church with a school directly next to it.
The inside of the church was forlorn with virtually everything stripped from it. Ther are a few small pottery tiles set into the walls but a lot of these have been chiseled out. The pews and stained glass windows were removed years ago and replaced with clear plastic panes, so at least those survived.
Parts of the beautiful tiled floor still remain. There are photos at the bottom of the page in the above link that show how badly the church has been ravaged in the past 3 years. I hope the new owner can prevent such a dramatic increase of damage in the next 3.
We had a look around the school and that too had been vandalized badly.
Books strewn around and smashed blackboards hanging from walls with some broken furniture were in most rooms. We wandered up and down the corridors then left to drive onto a hospital we'd been interested in seeing.
The United Community Hospital looked like a futuristic building, almost like a huge spaceship as it loomed over us. The outside was appealing until we went around the back and saw the delivery ramp and yard was completely flooded. There was an unpleasant smell wafting up from the water and I lost all interest in going inside. We found a way in but the others' interest seemed to have waned also so we decided to not bother. Built in the early 70's and closed in 2006, the hospital spent most of its existence in debt.It's under new ownership but will require extensive funds to restore the damage caused by scrappers and vandals as well as the mold from the flooding in the basement.
A brick puddytat funded by Kickstarter. The how and why is here.
More cool signage and a police car, not something we saw a lot of. We were told by a local that 300 more cops were going to be laid off in the next couple of weeks and he laughed, commenting that he didn't even realize that there were 300 cops left.
One of my favorite shots of Detroit, the modern GM Center as a backdrop to abandoned warehouses.
In the evening we drove to a bar called Cadieux Cafe which has the only feather bowling alley in the U.S. The game originated in Belgium where there are about 60 or more alleys. It's very similar to bowling but the object of the game is not to knock skittles down but to leave your ball positioned on top of a pigeon feather that sticks up out of the compressed earth alley/trough.
Richard having a go and then Eric, the league's president, judging a game. Eric was very interested in our urbexing exploits and insisted on us meeting one of his friends, whom I shan't identify because he was going to appear on American Pickers but decided at the very last minute to back out as he didn't want people seeing his collection of antiques and oddities in his home which could possibly prompt a robbery. He apparently knows everywhere in the city, and nearly everyone, was promptly called up on the phone and asked to come down to the bar immediately, which he did. He chatted with us for a while about exploring and then asked if we'd like to see his home. We all piled outside and were treated to a volley of gunfire, which I was really impressed with. It seems we were parked in what the locals refer to as Crack Alley. We drove to his house which was crammed full of antiquities, old furniture, lamps, an amazing vinyl record collection, knickknacks, bicycles, pictures and even an old scooter. Everything had a story behind it and as he pushed beers into our hands we were treated to a few of them while we listened to music. We were introduced to Leadbelly who first sang Black Betty in 1927. A link to the song is here but it's not as cool as listening to it on the original 78.
We eventually had to leave in the early hours of the morning and drove back through a very quiet Detroit to our hotel, not passing a single patrol car.