Saturday, October 11, 2008

Before the Parking Lots

On a beautiful fall day in the fifties, Mary Fisher photographed the home of her grandfather, Frank D. Baker, who founded Baker Drugs in 1882 and also served as sheriff and postmaster at one time. The white house at 410 E. Third Street was in the heart of a leafy neighborhood near downtown. Jane Fisher, Mary's daughter, remembers her great-grandfather's house: "It had a massive front porch, and I remember a back staircase that had velvet curtains on either end so that it was completely dark in the stairwell. This house had a coal chute in the basement. It may have even had a Michigan basement, but I mostly remember the coal on the floor.

A view of tree-lined E. Third Street in the fifties.

The Baker house in 1973, shortly before it was torn down to make room for a parking lot.

View Larger Map

A satellite shot of E. Third Street today. The location of the Baker house is identified with a red marker. At least some of the trees are still there.


  1. Anyone know what year 475 was built? My guess from the photo is that it wasn't there in the 50's.

    It sort of cut Flint off from the cultural center. Could it be that the expanse of the car is what has torn vehicle city apart?

  2. Grumkin -- late Seventies extending into the early Eigthties, if memory serves. And Mary -- it's a "coal chute." (I'm old enough to remember when every house had one.)

  3. I lived on East St. in 1981, and the service road for 475 was built in front of my apartment. It wasn't operational, though. A lot of people were booted out of their homes to make way for that freeway. I moved to SF in March of that year, so I'm guessing that it was 1981 or '82 when the freeway opened.

  4. The coal chute mistake was my fault, not Mary's. (As readers may have already noticed, spelling is not my strong suit.) And my Grandparents had a coal chute on Illinois Ave.

  5. 475 was built from south to north. The portion you are talking about was excavated as early as 1976, but did not open to traffic until around 1980. The pit was filled with debris (chunks of road, broken sewers, former houses) for quite a few years in the interrim.

    The last portion to be completed was the east-west part through Beecher. I distinctly remember riding through there with my pops days after it opened. Not so distinctly, I don't recall the exact year... somewhere around 1981, but it could have been as late as 1983.

    Third St. looks beautiful, it is unfortunate that I-475 tore up, demolished, and divided so many neighborhoods. Irony upon irony, what was essentially a service road for General Motors was completed just in time for massive layoffs and the start of GMs long pullout of Flint.

    No surprise that the four stack interchange was built smack dab in the middle of Flint's oldest black neighborhood. This was a common occurence in other cities as well. As a result Clark School closed in 1974. 475 was also routed through the historic St. John St. neighborhood. Thousands displaced for a road used by so few.

    A number of cities like Portland, SF, Tucson have had varying degrees of success opposing interstate construction. Flint has a long history of protest (Sit-Down strike, Open Housing protests), but not this time.

    The silver lining on the cloud that is so many destroyed communities is the fact that Flint already has the world's largest dragstrip in 475. I used to drive back and forth to a friends house just off the Saginaw St. exit in Beecher to my place on the eastside. Regularly topped 100 mph, and I NEVER saw a cop.

  6. I was born at the end of '65 and - sad to say - have absolutely no recollection of the old St. John street neighborhood OR Clark School. Does anyone know about the St. John neighborhood's history, or who lived there? I actually never really saw the point of 475, then again the cars I had were not exactly drag strip material...)

  7. There is an awesome history of the Saint John Street Neighborhood titled "St. John Street: Through the melting pot : a historical and ethnic remembrance of the St. John St. Community, Flint, Michigan, 1874-1974" (long title) by Michael W. Evanoff, a former resident. It's out of print, but I've looked at it more than once at the Flint Public Library. It chronicles the neighborhood up to the 'urban renewal' efforts, and includes a lot of pictures taken through those final days. It's heartbreaking and interesting nonetheless, inspiring me to drive through the area and find traces of the old neighborhood, which there are very few.

  8. My dad was a pharmacist at Baker's for a while (as well as Welch Blvd. Pharmacy)... but more to the point, I totally agree that 475 cut most of the city off from the cultural center. Plus they tore down all those beautiful houses.

    All for naught.

  9. The map marker has the house shown at the wrong end of the block. It stood at the other end, right next door to the one on the corner that appears to have a red roof. The house was torn down because the YMCA wanted a parking lot...not 475That house on the corner is the only one who wouldn't sell. I remember after it was torn town noticing that the parking lot was ALWAYS empty--as it is today.

  10. I guess I never realized there was a Frank Baker that started Baker Drugs before there were three Bryan Bakers. I stumbled upon some musical recital programs from the 1960s that had Bryan III as a participant, one from an accordion competition in Detroit in 1967. He must be a cousin of Mary Fisher's, I assume. If the family reads this and is interested, I can make a copy.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at