Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Flint Photos: Downtown, 1979

Sure glad they tore down all these great old buildings to make room for the wild success that was Water Street Pavilion and the Hyatt Regency. Thanks to David Mata for the photo.


  1. Is it just me or is there sort of a weird fisheye thing going on in that photo. Seems images at the top are slightly merging.

    The tree on the left has to be one of the saddest saplings that ever sapped.

    While the 'rete work on the bridge was and is outstanding, that area remains one of Flint's least sexy places.

    1. I was wondering if the odd perspective was caused by the light poles, barely visible, framing the right and left side of the image?

    2. Could be just an optical illusion or it might be actual photographic evidence of Flint's slow implosion.

  2. Hey Gordo- Howzabout a Google Maps Flint Scavenger Hunt? Search for the tiniest house in Flint. My entry is 1989 Jarvis St.,+mi&hl=en&sll=39.739318,-89.266507&sspn=8.427566,19.753418&t=h&hnear=1989+Jarvis+St,+Flint,+Michigan+48507&z=16&layer=c&cbll=43.000937,-83.692266&panoid=I72QrEcUlLm5tpR62mr5KQ&cbp=12,0,,0,0

    First place prize- a free copy of Teardown... maybe...

  3. The approximately 10 story building on the extreme right of the picture was at one time known as the Kobacker Building. It once housed Kobacker Furniture. I don't know what the building was used for in later years, but I suspect it wasn't anywhere near fully occupied. Anyone know more about it?

    The rarified occupancy and height reminds me of a ghost story I read by Mark Twain. The main character in the short story, who I guess was supposed to be Mark Twain, had rented a room in such a building.

  4. Here are my thoughts, worth maybe 2 cents (in 1970's pennies)...

    I'm going on a limb here and say "at least 'they' tried" to revitalize a decaying downtown with a marquee hotel and an interesting retail structure. That these ideas didn't work is testament to the inability of developers and planners to attack a systemic economic decay with piecemeal projects.

    What Flint needed then and continues to need now, is time. In time, UM Flint has grown and will continue to do so, with the latest addition of a Medical Residency program. As interesting self-starters are drawn to the city for its cheap housing and relative space, new business will arise as Flint becomes yet another example of revitalization a la Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Brooklyn.

    These resurgences cannot be planned, and city officials should refrain from looking at single commercial developments as the savior of a doomed economic model (Autoworld, Water Street, Hyatt, IMA Sports Arena to name a few). The best that city governance can do is to ensure that there are reliable city services and that the city's fiscal platform is well managed at what ever resource level is available.

    As I said, my $0.02...

    1. You certainly can't blame folks for trying. Flint was facing a desperate situation, although we probably didn't realize just how desperate at the time. And some movers and shakers took action. They tried.

      And the same time, I remember many conversations with my mom and her friends, as well as other adults, discussing just how insane it was to try and turn Flint into a tourist attraction. It wasn't as if rational people around Flint didn't realize this was a plan that was doomed to fail from the start.

      It's easy to say it now, of course, but all that money would have been better spent supporting neighborhoods and small businesses. The sense that neighborhoods were going nowhere but down helped speed their collapse. It also could have been used to convince (bribe?) UM-Flint to build dorms and expand the campus much sooner. Steps like these wouldn't have "saved" Flint, but they would have slowed the freefall the city experienced.

      Having said all that, I can envision Flint as a smaller, greener, more stable place built around the schools and hospitals and something that comes later. But cities with deep pockets of multi-generational poverty often face a long, long battle to recover. And statistically, Flint has most per-capita poverty in the nation. (We're tied with Reading, PA.) So this will be a long process. And Flint might have 50,000 residents before it's over.

    2. > all that money would have been better spent supporting neighborhoods and small businesses.

      Governments and foundations can't "support small business" via expenditures of public or foundation funds, other than by directly giving them checks...but that is economically inefficient and typically results in their failure as soon as the checks stop. Ditto regarding neighborhoods.

      The best thing that governments and foundations can do to support neighborhoods and small businesses is to support the creation of regional-export jobs, so that funds come into the local economy from outside.

      The goal of AutoWorld, of course, was to be such an economic engine. It didn't work, but it was a valid economic concept.

      > I can envision Flint as a smaller, greener, more stable place built around the schools and hospitals (...)

      The killer problem for a future Flint that contracted around its healthcare and educational institutions would be jobs and tax base. Hospitals and universities don't pay much in taxes, and create limited numbers of good-middle-class-income jobs. It'd be impossible to provide the services that a modern city thinks it needs with only tax revenue from residential real estate that's depressed in value because it's old and there's a very considerable surplus of land and old buildings.

      >(...) and something that comes later.

      Yes. Either manufacturing, or AutoWorld II, or something else that will provide value to customers outside Genesee County, so as to bring in revenue.

    3. Brooklyn? Probably not. Vast tracts of Baltimore and Pittsburgh remain burnt out. Flint has to reach the status of say Battle Creek or Pontiac before we start comparing ourselves to 1/2 blighted cities that seem like utopia.

    4. JWilly, you're right, but I'm approaching this with the assumption that it was next to impossible for Flint to attract regional export industries, then or now. I guess it could happen someday, but most likely it won't happen anytime soon. Too many other places with less baggage hunting for the same thing.

      I should have clarified that the money could have been better spent making things less bad in Flint. If the Land Bank would have been in place in 1970, bolstered by some federal and state funding, Flint could have managed and, therefore, slowed the decline of its neighborhoods. Many sections would have declined, but not as rapidly. Civic Park might look more like Mott Park today than Dresden. That might have kept some folks who had jobs from fleeing. Flint's decline might have been less rapid.

      I know I'm jumping around here, but think if every former Flint resident who has a decent job/retirement income who now lives in the near suburbs moved back to Flint. It would help the city. Now think if most of them had never left. Again, Flint would still be hurting, but it wouldn't be on life support like it is now.

      So I do think that Flint could have avoided the fate it is suffering now by thwarting speculators, maintaining police and fire and neighborhood amenities, and somehow keeping some people from fleeing. Even in the absence of an export economy.

      Again, I'm not talking about it being a thriving city. I'm talking about it being less bad.

      Jumping around again, the rapid population loss seems likely to continue. Flint's losing 5 people a day. That's almost 20,000/decade. It's going to be a small town soon. The question is what kind of small town.

    5. Yep, it's pretty sad that Civic Park is on the National Register of Historic Places and noone wants to do anything with it besides let it deteriorate. If you look past the decay some of the houses must have looked pretty cute at one time with their slate roofs and front porches. I've been around the country and don't think other cities are physically in any better condition than Flint is. However, I think the people in other areas don't talk as badly about their central city as do people in this area. Have you noticed this Gordie?

    6. I'll give you a penny for your thoughts. Then you have doubled your money and can give half to Flint.

  5. I found the Kobacker Building on a skyscraper site. Though a little over 100 feet tall, the building is shown as only 8 stories. I always used to hear that each story of a building adds about 10 feet. Most of the ones I looked at had about 12 to 15 feet per story.

    Here is the link for the Kobacker Building.

    I also found Mark Twain's short story. It is actually called "A Ghost Story", and is available in its entirety on several websites.

  6. General website address, Flint Area Buildings Past and Present. Also includes some, but not all, area towers, including taller ones than the ones shown. There is a website with tower information, but it is probably beyond the scope of this thread. I was surprised at the number of 100+ foot buildings.

    1. Definitely an interesting site. Thanks for posting it.

      Their database gets a little weak at the far end, though. They show the 48th tallest building as one story and 16.6 feet, with First Presbyterian as 50th tallest though they don't list a height for it. Obviously that's wrong.

      Churches in general, especially those with traditional steeples and/or bell towers, seem to be mostly missing. Historical multi-story schools, too.

    2. Another cool skyscraper link, though it is incomplete and often misses elevator and physical plant housing and towers in height calculations. Seven pages for Michigan.

  7. What has made Pontiac a little better is that it is close to areas like Bloomfield Hills, and surrounded by townships that are better off and growing. In an era of cheap gas and commute friendly jobs, Flint would probably eventually have been surrounded by new growth. As recently as six years ago, think tanks were predicting such growth. Then came the artificial run up of oil prices on the false theory of Peak Oil, and the resulting collapse of the US Auto Industry and the housing price collapse. The Bakken Oil Fields show the folly of such theories.

    We can and should become independent of Foreign Oil, and we should be selfish with Domestic Oil until our country recovers economically. Should we continue to research alternative energy? Of course we should. But we must soon come to the realization that solar and windmills are respectively inefficient and costly compared to carbon based and nuclear sources of energy with current technology. The rest of the world has opened their eyes to this reality. Banning incandescent light bulbs and replacing them with short lived expensive poor quality light producing alternatives is not the answer. Well placed low power incandescent bulbs are a better alternative. The old Tensor lamps are an example of this. If a 100 watt incandescent is 6 feet away, it produces the same intensity as a 10 watt bulb about 22 inches away. This is called the inverse square law. Those Tensor lamps demonstrate this well. Get out your old light meters if you don't believe your eyes.

  8. > I'm approaching this with the assumption that it was next to impossible for Flint to attract regional export industries, then or now.

    A disproportionate share of technology-related startups evolve near where a technology doctoral student does his/her thesis. That's been the case since before WWII.

    If a locale wants jobs and regional revenue from manufacturing, it should have doctoral programs in engineering, the hard sciences and related fields, built on top of a full-time undergraduate engineering and sciences college, with the faculty strongly encouraged to be economically involved in spun-out business activities.

  9. > Flint's losing 5 people a day. That's almost 20,000/decade. It's going to be a small town soon. The question is what kind of small town.

    According to a comparison table published by the federal Census Bureau, the legal incorporation requirements for a City in Michigan are:

    Minimum population requirement of 750, except home-rule cities, which require a minimum population of 2,000 and a population density ≥ 500 people per square mile.

    So, it'll be a while before Flint isn't eligible to be governed as a City, and the charter and form of government become invalid.

  10. Bernard "Barney" Mann-HallFebruary 17, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    I often wonder what the Population of Grand Rapids would be if they had not annexed more than 20 square miles around 1960. I'm sure it would not look as good on paper. The area of Grand Rapids has more than five more square miles than Paris, France, so the new area may account for almost all of it. I wonder what New Flint would be like today if they had incorporated 162 square miles in 1958. I wonder when some state appointed manager will order consolidation of Michigan cities and counties to solve financial problems. Not that it would solve anything except just on paper. But isn't that what outsiders look at?

    1. I think legally, consolidation of two incorporated bodies other than on a mutually voluntary basis would require changes to state law.

    2. It was in the 50's that the city planners of Flint had looked to create a "Super-Metro Area." It would have incorporated Flint, Mundy, Flint, Mt. Morris townships, as well as the cities of Grand Blanc, Mt Morris, what is now Burton, and I believe a few other areas. i had read about the planning several times. The information is out there. If someone could provide a link. I will try to find it myself too. The planners wanted to create a rival to Detroit with Downtown Flint as the focal point. Needless to say, not many outside the city were thrilled with the idea. Imagine what it would have been like.


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