Sunday, January 30, 2011

Flint Photos: What's Left Behind

I've been through a lot of abandoned Flint homes in the past two years. It's always worse when there's some remnant left behind, some reminder of happier times.






Flint Photos: O'Toole's Family Restaurant

All I remember about O'Toole's on Clio Road is entering through the back door from the parking lot, a cloud of cigarette smoke engulfing the dining area, and the fascinating drinking bird on the tables.

UPDATE: This photo is not the Clio Road location.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Durant Hotel's Comeback


For all the bad news coming out of Flint for the last 30 years, it's easy to overlook some of the successes. With that in mind, I present...the Durant Hotel.

Kris Turner of The Flint Journal reports:
The former Durant Hotel is filling up faster than anticipated and its developer is eyeing other downtown buildings for future housing projects.

Since reopening last fall following a nearly $30 million renovation, the Durant’s 93 apartments are already at 75 percent occupancy.

That’s ahead of schedule and vastly exceeded the expectations of Richard Karp, the Lansing-based developer behind the building’s overhaul.

“We didn’t expect to be this far until spring 2011,” he said. “We’re quite pleased with the robust activity.”


Jack Wolbert and Alejandra Arceo flew in from California to get married at the newly restored Durant last summer. (Photo courtesy of Ryan Garza/The Flint Journal)




Given Flint's lack of interest in historic preservation, it's hard to believe the Durant survived, especially when you watch these videos illustrating just how far it had deteriorated.




Let's close with a few shots of the Durant from the days when Flint kids attended etiquette lessons before dining at the hotel.




Thursday, January 27, 2011

Flint Artifacts: The Farm Motel



A postcard of the Farm Motel (above) at 3615 Clio Road in better days. The more-recent shots below, supplied by Jimmy Rutherford, capture the motel and restaurant in its death spiral.





Monday, January 24, 2011

Is Flint Shameless?


A Flint Expatriates reader checks in with the latest unflattering Flint reference on television...
A recent episode of the Showtime cable TV show Shameless had a Flint reference. The show stars Willliam H. Macy as the drunken patriarch of a highly dysfunctional Chicago family. In the most recent episode, Macy’s character is kidnapped with good intentions by the boyfriend of one of his children. The boyfriend explains he wanted to get the abusive dad away from the family to help them out. So the boyfriend put the highly intoxicated dad in the trunk of his car with plans to dump him in some “weird” place in Michigan ... like "Flint." Instead he ends up smuggling him across the border and drops him in Toronto. Too bad he didn’t dump him in Flint then maybe they would have filmed in the Vehicle City for a couple days and helped out the local economy. Although I will say, Flint has been called much worse than “weird.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Flint Photos: Brooks Apartments


Another great shot of Flint in the fifties from the Mary Fisher Collection.

UPDATE: The location is E. Kearsley and Stevens, now part of UM-Flint. Go here to see a another shot by Tom Wirt of the Brooks with the UM-Flint campus encroaching in the seventies.

Another shot of the Brooks by Gary Custer from the venerable East Village Magazine. It's really worth checking out a great collection of the magazine's photos here.

Flint Expatriates Redesign

I'm engaged in a comedy of errors as I attempt to spruce up the design of Flint Expats. The current look is a temporary stopgap while I work some things out. So please be patient with the somewhat depressing gray and misty blue color scheme. Everything should be worked out in a couple weeks. I hope.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Can an Entire State Declare Bankruptcy?

Is bankruptcy the answer to budget and public pension woes of Michigan and other troubled states? It might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Policymakers are working behind the scenes to make it possible.

Mary Williams Walsh of The New York Times reports:

Bankruptcy could permit a state to alter its contractual promises to retirees, which are often protected by state constitutions, and it could provide an alternative to a no-strings bailout. Along with retirees, however, investors in a state’s bonds could suffer, possibly ending up at the back of the line as unsecured creditors.

“All of a sudden, there’s a whole new risk factor,” said Paul S. Maco, a partner at the firm Vinson & Elkins who was head of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Office of Municipal Securities during the Clinton administration.

For now, the fear of destabilizing the municipal bond market with the words “state bankruptcy” has proponents in Congress going about their work on tiptoe. No draft bill is in circulation yet, and no member of Congress has come forward as a sponsor, although Senator John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, asked the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, about the possibility in a hearing this month.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Shop Rats Unite

Had one of those awkward California conversational moments today when I used the term "shop rat" with someone unschooled in the nuances of Flintoid lingo. I then spent ten minutes unsuccessfully trying to illustrate the various uses of the term. I felt like a Brit trying to explain "bollocks" to an American.

But it got me wondering...is shop rat a Flint-only term? A Michigan term? An auto industry term? And where did it come from? When did it start being used?

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vintage Flint Expatriates: The Bikers of Flint


This was originally posted on 6/15/2009. I just ran across it while updating the site and figured it was worth another round for anyone who missed it the first time. Here's the original post:

Monday was one of those beautiful Michigan days in the low seventies with no humidity and a light breeze blowing white Cotton Wood puffs through the air like summer snow flurries. For some reason, I drove over to the massive acreage of cement and weeds that was once Buick City at dusk. I was just about to take some photos when a crew of Eastside kids who live near Lewis and Delaware Streets rolled by on their bikes, apparently having the time of their lives. They were a much more inspiring sight than the ultimate symbol of deindustrialization in America. For someone who covered most of Flint on his bike, it brought back a lot of memories.











Obscure Observations Proving How Different Flint Is from When You Lived There

How much has Flint changed over the years? Powers Catholic apparently has the best boys basketball team in the state. What? That's got to be hard for anyone over 30 to fathom, but they're undefeated. They blew out Northwestern. And the Powers football team was one of the worst last fall with just a single win. That just seems weird to me. Can someone explain?

Flint Photos: Gun Range

A winter afternoon at Advanced Ranges on Center Road in Burton near Flint.

Flint Photos: Bessie and Earl



A few readers have asked about Bessie, a legendary Flintoid known for her height and her wanderings around the city. Audrey "Bunny" Paris Karlosky provided this shot via the Flint Expatriates Facebook page.

She writes: "This is a photo that my dad took of Bessie and her 'friend' Earl about 1954. They were fixtures in the South End of Flint when I was growing up. Bessie was a big woman but I don't know if she was 7 ft tall. She was a regular at my dad's cleaners which was across from Fisher Body near Saginaw and Hemphill because he would give her unclaimed clothes to augment her wardrobe, especially during our cold winters."

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Declining Popularity of Unions

Just how low has organized labor — a movement that shapes Flint's past, present and future — sunk in the court of public opinion?

James Surowiecki of The New Yorker reports that "more than seventy percent of those surveyed in a 1937 Gallup poll said they favored unions." My, how times have changed: "A 2010 Pew Research poll offered even worse numbers, with just forty-one percent of respondents saying they had a favorable view of unions, the lowest level of support in the history of that poll."

Surowiecki succinctly lays out the reasons for the decline, showing that many now view unions as "just another interest group," and paints a dire picture of the labor movement in the United States: "Labor, in other words, may be caught in a vicious cycle, becoming progressively less influential and more unpopular. The Great Depression invigorated the modern American labor movement. The Great Recession has crippled it."

UPDATE: Because this topic resonates with a lot of readers, I'll try to post some of the comments here as well as in the comment section:


William Weber writes:

I am from Flint. I will always believe in the positive outcomes that the union has achieved for workers (including the world famous sit down strike in 1936-1937). We are all better today because of what unions have accomplished. However, I do believe that what started out as a necessary grass roots movement to protect workers and ensure fair working conditions, has now transformed into a way for union leadership to make outrageous wages and screw the people they represent, the companies they operate in, and the general public. It's no longer about what is fair and just. It's now about how much can I get, how can I sue for breach of contract, and what's in it for me. Most of the people I know and speak with are very anti-union, and I live in California. If the current trend continues, and the leadership continues to operate in this way, well, let's just say that unions will mostly disappear. I feel sad about that because the workers will no longer have a voice or representation. I certainly don't buy into the theory that the recession has anything to do with it. I hope that all unions throw out their current leadership and align themselves with the reasons that unions were established. Regardless, I will always look for the "Union Label."

JWilly writes:

The general public's view of unions has been influenced by two patterns of behavior. These may be more common in recent decades than in earlier times, or maybe are just better publicized now:

1. Some unions have been more focused on the near-term gains of their current members than the ability of the companies with whom they're associated to compete effectively. Among other effects, this results in companies failing, and the US becoming uncompetitive internationally.

2. Some unions in sole-provider roles, such as those associated with essential governmental services, regulated utilities, sole commercial providers of essential quasi-governmental services, and socially essential commercial services have been willing to use their social leverage to extract increases in total compensation that are much greater than the average rate of inflation, thereby increasing their compensation relative to the rest of society while increasing the tax or cost burden on the rest of society.

Some of the general public see these behaviors as an abandonment of the original union concept of protect-the-workers-from-uncaring-management, and its replacement with raise-up-our-members-screw-everyone-else. Naturally, this perception results in pushback on the part of the screwees, who see such unionism as greedy and anti-patriotic.

In parts of the country where social duty and patriotism are regarded especially highly, i.e. southern and western states, it's become quite difficult to get workers to unionize even though the national union makes a strong argument that it would be able to achieve an increase in their compensation. My guess is that this problem for the union movement will continue until unions internalize that it's more important for the US and its individual companies to be economically competitive than for their members to have compensation increases, and that compensation increases at a rate greater than inflation in fact result in social harm.

Unclebuck writes:

My father was an organizer for John L. Lewis's coal miners union in the twenties when it was a very hazardous undertaking. The company goons made it difficult to hold meetings in church basements,civic halls or anywhere you could gather the workers to discuss the merits of unionizing. This was in Penn. and W.Virginia. I recall him once saying that one of their tactics was slipping a pistol cartridge into your coat pocket as a warning or causing some disruption to break up those meetings. He was young and mean and stuck with it because he was a believer in the union movement.

He came to Michigan and worked in the auto factories in Detroit when jobs were easy to get. Moved to Flint and became an employee of Consumers Power Co. after working at local auto factories. He used his organizing ability to unite the workers at the utility company, and to form the first union there under the "UAW" banner with the approval of the President of the CIO (Congress of Industrial Workers), which later became the UWUA (Utility Workers Union of America) this was in 1939-40.

He and four other organizers became regional directors and organized the rest of the United States. Region five included the state of Michigan which was his patch. Besides Consumers Powers, the rest of this state, including private utility companies was organized with the exception of Detroit Edison which was IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). After almost forty years of being local 101 President he retired from Consumers Power Company with thirteen years active seniority!

The many justified reasons for which unionism was based upon, and I can name a bunch, have morphed into some unreasonable demands and lack of leadership quality-elitism being one of them. My father was dismayed by the manner in which things had deteriorated before he passed on in the late eighties after being a pillar in this movement. He did his part for the betterment of the worker rights when his efforts were more appreciated. He is a member of "Who's Who in American Labor" and I'm very proud of his tenacity and achievement.

Flint: In the Details


Designer Johnny Mason, born and raised in Flint, has a book of photos called Flint: In the Details. Check it out here.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Flint Artifacts: Civic Park Architectural Styles

Joni Mitchell and the East Side




Believe it or not, Joni Mitchell performed at a place called the Sippin' Lizzard Coffee House in the heart of what is now arson territory at the corner of Lewis and Bennett Sts. There's a nice history of the place by Jim McTiernan on the Flint Folk Music Society webpage:

It grew out of the gatherings that Don and Jackie Bowles hosted in the basement of their home where their son, Paul, and his friends gathered to play guitar and sing. When attendance became too large for the basement, Jackie, with Don's support, rented the old building on Lewis St. and established a coffeehouse in 1965.

The name for the coffeehouse came from an incident at Paul's high school. Paul and his friends were constantly being harassed by school officials for their hair and dress. One day Jackie was called to school and found Paul in the counselor's office. In the course of the discussion that followed the counselor referred to Paul and his friends as nothing but a bunch of "no good, long-haired, guitar-playing, coffee-sipping lizards." And the "Sippin' Lizzard" was born.

The building that housed the Sippin' Lizzard was rented by Don and Jackie Bowles in 1965 because it was the only one they could afford at the time. It proved to be an adequate location despite some business women who practiced their profession in the apartments upstairs and an unsecured basement door which allowed the cellar to serve as a restroom for "street people". The building was demolished a few years ago.

At this location, folk music fans heard Joni Mitchell as she began her career, as well as Cedric Smith, Phil Marcus Esser and others while sitting on the floor and drinking coffee.

The Infamous Pig Incident

Flint Expatriate Michael D. Perry remembers a time when a pig added a little excitement to the 1962 Northern-Central Thanksgiving Day game at Atwood Stadium:

Here’s what I’ve been able to piece together, both from my memories of it, as well as from various email exchanges and conversations I’ve had people who were there. The idea was to release a greased pig onto the field during the Central band’s halftime performance. Of course there could be no expectation that the pig would go anywhere near the band, but the caper succeeded beyond the perpetrators’ wildest imagination.


During the week before the game, the main perps, seniors Ray Giguere, Larry Moyle and Frank Morse took up a collection among a number of Northern students for the caper. The morning of the game the perps went out into the country northeast of Flint to buy a young pig from a farmer for $27.


They brought the pig to Ray Giguere’s garage and began to prepare the pig for its performance with a festoon of red and black ribbons around the pig’s neck, which happened to be Central’s colors. While the perps were quietly at work in the garage, Ray’s dad became suspicious and came out to investigate and he startled the boys by bursting in the garage. After the boys explained what they were up to, Ray’s dad made some very helpful suggestions and actually fashioned a sort of harness to ensure that the ribbons and bows showed up to their best advantage.



Click to Enlarge


Just before game time Larry Moyle, a member of the band, persuaded Phil Fox to smuggle the pig into the stadium in his sousaphone case, where the pig peacefully spent the first half of the game.


Then at halftime Larry released the pig. The pig, anxious to escape its confines, at first ran down the sideline, but soon found its way onto the field. Hard as it is to believe from the perspective of 2009, the Central band was formed up in the shape of a cross, and was playing “Faith of Our Fathers.” The pig proceeded to run to and fro throughout the band formation, and the people in the stands, rather than listening reverently, were in an uproar and began chanting “Go pig go!”


Al Walters, Northern’s band director, reports that he didn’t quite comprehend what was going on at the time. “I was wondering why the Central cheerleaders would pick that moment to release a pig.” “After all,” he said somewhat defensively, “it did have Central’s colors draped around its neck, and I couldn’t figure out why they would want to disturb the solemnity of their band’s presentation.” In the aftermath the next week, however, Guy Houston, Northern’s Principal, called Mr. Walters on the carpet and only then did he begin to realize that members of his own band might have been involved.


At band practice that day, Mr. Walters simply announced that there were rumors that some of the band members might have participated in the prank, and if so, the decent thing to do would be to write a letter of apology. Later that week a letter was delivered to Bruce Robart, Central’s band director. Mr. Robart, by the way, was not known for his sense of humor. In fact, a Central band member reports that the letter made no difference, and that Mr. Robart was in a foul mood for quite awhile thereafter.


Alas, nobody seems to remember what happened to the pig. It was last seen on the field being pursued by field security personnel, who finally chased it out of one of the back doors of the stadium that faced the river. Ray somehow reclaimed the pig and later that day returned it to the farmer, but let him keep the $27 for his trouble. Perhaps that pig eventually graced some family’s dinner table. If so, little did that family know what a notorious animal they were about to feast on that day.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

My friend Barbara Kelley has just published a book with her daughter called Undecided: How to Ditch the Endless Quest for Perfect and Find the Career — and Life — That's Right for You. While it's not specifically about Flint, it has a lot of advice on dealing with reality, which is always helpful for Flint Expatriates.

Fast Cars in SoCal

Check out some of the rare Buicks that passed through a single dealership in Southern California.
From the late 50's through the mid-seventies, Reynolds Buick-GMC of West Covina, CA was literally the "Fastest Buick Dealer on Earth."

In the early postwar years in Southern California, the drag strip was the place to be. Young men with octane in their veins broke away from their weekday jobs to race on the weekends.

As it happened, a chance conversation with a Buick Factory Representative inspired what ultimately became a very successful partnership between Buick dealer Pete Reynolds, engine builder James Bell, and legendary racing driver Lennie "Pop" Kennedy, Together, and with the cooperation of the factory, they created a series of Buick drag racing cars that won many races, set records, and not only became part of the racing lore of Southern California, but also helped Buick to create some of its finest cars of all time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Drink Up


A wine bar? In Flint?

Marc Jacobson at ABC 12 reports:

Renovations have been moving along quickly at Cork on Saginaw, and the owners are ready to hire.

A new bistro and wine bar is just about ready to pop the cork in downtown Flint. Marge Murphy is the owner and chef. "I'm very excited, and all I want to do is get in that kitchen and cook."

Cork on Saginaw expects to open its doors at 635 South Saginaw Street by the end of this month. Right now, applications are being accepted on the restaurant's Facebook page for 12 jobs.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Flint and Public Pensions

A reader has a question related to the pension issues facing Flint and other cities and states across the country. Anyone able to fill us in on the details?
It’s a shame that incomes and property values have fallen so much that we can’t meet our promises to retirees. Add the demographic shift, and the situation stinks!

On a local level, Flint City Council recently rolled the defined contribution plan into the defined benefit plan. The argument from Council was this action would save the General Fund $4m this year because the defined benefit plan was dangerously underfunded. All this was on the third add-on resolution, i.e. a resolution not on the official agenda, at the 11/8/2010 meeting.

What I don’t know is whether the city simply pooled the money together in an accounting arrangement or whether the city functionally eliminated the defined contribution plan. Does anyone know more of the details?

Flint Artifacts: AC Spark Plug Tie Clips

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

King Kong Versus Dayne Walling

As if Mayor Dayne Walling doesn't have enough to worry about, now he's battling King Kong...in the latest Sarah Reed photograph based on classic movie posters.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Flint Photos: Corner of Garland Street and Third Avenue


This empty block was home to the planned Urban Alternatives House and the restored Jackson Hardy House before an arson fire in October. The empty lot next to the brick house in the background to the right is the former site of Third Avenue Fish & Chips.


The Urban Alternatives House (left) and the Jackson Hardy House (right) before the fire.


The Urban Alternatives House at 519 Garland Street around 1900.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

One More Thing To Worry About: Flint's Looming Pension Crisis

The city of Flint faces a looming public employee pension crisis — a totally separate issue from the ongoing budget battle with police and firefighters — and it's not alone.

Michael Powell of The New York Times reports:

Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy. In California, New York, Michigan and New Jersey, states where public unions wield much power and the culture historically tends to be pro-labor, even longtime liberal political leaders have demanded concessions — wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules.

It is an angry conversation. Union chiefs, who sometimes persuaded members to take pension sweeteners in lieu of raises, are loath to surrender ground. Taxpayers are split between those who want cuts and those who hope that rising tax receipts might bring easier choices.

And a growing cadre of political leaders and municipal finance experts argue that much of the edifice of municipal and state finance is jury-rigged and, without new revenue, perhaps unsustainable. Too many political leaders, they argue, acted too irresponsibly, failing to either raise taxes or cut spending.