Saturday, July 27, 2013

Flint Icons: The Durant-Dort Office Building

The news that General Motors had pledged to financially support the historic Durant-Dort Office Building on Water Street, which is owned by the Genesee County Historical Society, was a reminder of how close Flint came to losing this Vehicle City icon.

Like much of Carriage Town, the building where Billy Durant and J. Dallas Dort created G.M. and helped transform America had seen better days before it was restored as part of the ill-fated push to transform Flint into a tourist destination, proving that even bad ideas like AutoWorld can yield something positive for a community.

A brief history of the building on Wikipedia reads:
In 1895–96, the company built this building near their factories to house offices and, on the second floor, a carriage showroom. A contemporaneous account describes it as "an elegant office in connection with [the] main factory, where a small army of clerks, stenographers and typewriters are engaged in the clerical part of the company's business. The office building was originally built as a two-story Italianate structure with a flat roof. Around 1900, the flat roof was replaced with a hipped roof, and an entrance portico was added, giving the structure a Georgian appearance. In 1906, a fire damaged the roof, and rather than repairing it, the company added an extra story and capped the building with a flat roof; the portico was also removed at the time. The building remained in this configuration until the 1980s.

Durant left the Durant-Dort Carriage Company in 1913, and J. Dallas Dort used the office building and nearby factory for the production of automobiles by his Dort Motor Company. The building was used by Dort until 1924, after which it provided office space for various service organizations such as the Red Cross and the local Chamber of Commerce. In 1947, the Arrowhead Veteran's Club obtained the building for use as its headquarters. The club owned the building until 1977, when the city of Flint purchased the building with the help of an anonymous $55,000 donation. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. Using the designation and the deteriorating condition of the building as an impetus, the Genesee County Historical Society undertook the task of restoring the building. Funds were raised, and the building was restored to its early 1900s condition, replacing the hipped roof and portico that had been in place at that time. The restoration was completed by 1986.
I can't help wishing many other buildings could have had the same luck. A restored Sill Building, with its slender profile, would be a nice addition to the UM-Flint campus if it hadn't been demolished. The houses on Manning Court would be a greater asset to the city than the parking lot that replaced them.

But rather than dwell on the historic structures the city has lost, let's be thankful for the one that didn't get away. Here's a selection of photos of the Durant-Dort Office Building over the years. For more photos and information, Gerry Godin's personal take on the building at his All Things Buick blog is a must. And the Durant-Dort Carriage Company Facebook page is another worthwhile source.


The original two-story exterior in 1898.

 
By 1901, a third story had been added to the building.
 

Despite the external decay, much of the ornate interior details were still intact in 1975 when Flint was beginning its downward slide.


Workers reconstruct the third floor in 1982 with the doomed Hyatt-Regency in the background.
 

The finished product.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

G.M. Closes Deal on Factory 1 in Flint


G.M. has finalized the deal to purchase the birthplace of the auto company — Factory 1 on Water Street — in Flint's Carriage Town neighborhood. Jeremy Allen of mLive reports:
Initial plans for the factory on Water Street include repairing the roof and walls and making structural improvements throughout the 25,000-square-foot building. Work on the facility is expected to start in late 2013. Parts of the factory date back to 1880 when it was constructed as part of the Flint Cotton & Woolen Mills.

Future plans for the site are the subject of ongoing meetings within GM. No date has been set for publicly outlining how the Durant-Dort facility will be used.

Reuss said that he'd like to see the site used as a museum to potentially showcase some of General Motors' historic vehicles and classic pieces, but plans are still in the works.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City" West Coast Launch Party at Badger Books in San Francisco


Saturday, July 27, 2013
3:00-5:00pm


West Coast Launch Party
Badger Books
401 Cortland Ave.
San Francisco, California


Check out Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, the book Michael Moore calls "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." Meet author Gordon Young. Have a drink. Support Badger Books. Explore Bernal Heights. Open to the public. Books available for purchase and signing.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Flintoids Gather at Charles Chocolates in San Francisco


Traci and I were lucky enough to spend Sunday at a Flint-themed party at Charles Chocolates in San Francisco. Chocolatier and Flint Expatriate Chuck Siegel supplied Faygo, Vernor's, Coney's with Angelo's sauce, a deluxe with olives, and PX-style boneless ribs, not to mention chocolate cake reminiscent of Bill Knapp's. It was amazing. It brought out a great crowd of Flintoids on Florida Street, just around the corner from the office where I wrote "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City." As with most Flint gatherings, we all had a lot in common and quickly discovered that everyone had about a dozen mutual friends from the Vehicle City. A great day with great people with a Flint connection.
 
Erica Firment (a.k.a. The Librarian Avenger), Gordon Young, and Chuck Siegel.
 
 This is a lunch any Flintoid could appreciate.
 


Two-fisted drinkers: Vernor's and Faygo.
 

The various Siegels of Flint and beyond in San Francisco. From left to right, Hannah, Gloria, Chuck, Milt, Susie, Jake, Leah, Shabana, and Ed.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Karl Pohrt, R.I.P.

Karl Pohrt, a kind, intelligent soul and a true Flintoid who grew in the Civic Park neighborhood, died Wednesday at his home in Ann Arbor. Karl was the longtime owner of Shaman Drum Bookshop, an iconic place for great books and intelligent conversation in Ann Arbor for many years.

Janet Miller of AnnArbor.com writes
He also was a man with a big heart, said Susan Pollay, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. Pohrt, a DDA member for eight years, was running a meeting when a member who had just returned from maternity leave came with her baby. “The baby sat on Karl’s lap for the whole time,” Pollay said. “That was a Karl moment: leadership and humanity.”

While he was a kind man, he had a wicked sense of humor, Pollay said. He ran a highbrow bookstore, but he also loved bad movies, she said. “The worse the movie, the better.”
Pohrt also had a deep intellect and was a scholar on literature from the Beat Generation and a friend of Beat poet Gary Snyder. That’s what helped bring them together, said Arthur Nusbaum, a close friend and sometimes business partner. They traveled to the European Beat Studies Network conference in the Netherlands last fall. “Two dharma bums, finger poppin’ angels of desolation, real cool daddys, materialize out of the void into the harsh Amsterdam morning," Pohrt wrote on his blog. "Ahh, not really. Who am I trying to kid? It would be more accurate to describe us as two late middle-aged Americans, blurry-eyed and disheveled, stumbling into Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.”
Karl was the brother of Tom and Dick Pohrt. They shared many happy memories of growing up at 1407 W. Paterson Street in Flint. His father, Richard A. Pohrt, was an early and enthusiastic collector of Native American art. His mother, Marion Dena Pohrt, taught at Civic Park School for many years.

Karl will be missed.

Karl (left), Tom (middle), and Dick Pohrt on W. Paterson Street in Flint in the fifties.

Flint Artifacts: Lucille's Chatterbox Liquor Bar



Monday, July 15, 2013

A Wildcat Loose in the City

I was driving down Park Presidio Blvd. in San Francisco on Sunday with some friends when we pulled up behind this reminder of dear old Michigan.

Shattering Glass: A Flint Writer Draws on the Vehicle City for Inspiration


My friend Connor Coyne is one of those rare birds who left our hometown of Flint for not one, but two big cites, before returning to buy a home in the place where General Motors was born. Connor graciously offered invaluable feedback and support while I was writing and editing Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. His friendship was a reminder that Flintoids help out other Flintoids.
 
As a writer, Flint is a recurring theme in Connor's work. Given the vicissitudes of book publishing these days, Connor has started a kickstarter campaign to fund the digital and print publication of his compelling experimental novel Shattering Glass. I've already made a donation. It's a great way to support an artist, husband, and father who returned to Flint to raise a family with his wife, who is a nurse at Hurley Hospital. I hope Flint Expatriate readers can help as well.

Here's some more information on Connor from the kickstarter page:
By the time 2011 rolled around I had written several novels and was just settling into a beautiful new house in my hometown of Flint, Michigan, to which I had returned after fourteen years in the Big Apple and the City of Big Shoulders. I was also coming off of publishing Hungry Rats, a grim and gritty noir novel that had taken seven years to develop and which was also the subject of my MFA thesis and self-published via Kickstarter.  These adventures had been successful, but I was looking for something fun and easy and a little bit stupid, and Shattering Glass was supposed to be the answer.
 
Shattering Glass was intended to be a short, pulpy novella in which I could indulge in allusion, rhythms, and thematic sledge hammers.  The setting would be the fictitious Arkaic University, based upon the University of Chicago where I had gone to college. If you don't know, the U of C is a cult of learning afflicted with both insularity and a fever of intensity. Everyone there is -- admirably, perversely -- obsessed with something.To paraphrase the first chapter of Shattering Glass, "visitors are novitiates; here tread experts."  The city of Arkaic, Michigan has featured in other stories I've written and it, itself, is a much exaggerated version of Flint, which is an odd town, poor but inventive, cold but romantic, religious but radicalized, frustrated and frustrating.  
And here's an excerpt from Shattering Glass:
Faced with the prospect of walking back to [her dorm] and having to either ignore or make up with Ezzie, Dunya shakes her head. She puts on her coat and heads out into the feral October. Tonight the wind tumbles through the leaves making the branches gape wide, like fanged jaws. She stares them down all the way to South Street, gets on the bus and rides it downtown. Then, still not knowing Arkaic very well but wanting to get as far as she can from campus, she gets onto another bus that takes her deep into the North Side. She gets off the bus at Ash Highway. Vacant lots and ragged signs shivering in the chill range away to the west. To the east, things look a bit more promising and she sets off along the highway. Even here, most of the buildings are vacant, with huge, stone-scattered parking lots. But then again... Dunya sees the traces of secret life among the desolations. Hidden treasures that have ridden out the blizzard. She passes a used bookstore, a hole-in-the-wall bakery, a laundromat, a trophy factory, a used car dealership, a Tiki-themed bar. They all hum with life, even though it’s well past business hours. It warms her heart to know that some of Arkaic is alive, even on the edge of oblivion. It reminds her of home, of Richmond. Okay, so the differences are huge: culture, climate, health, and appearance. Michigan is no California. But two down-and-out towns can share a common conversation across a few thousand miles, and Dunya hears it. She hears Richmond in the air. She recognizes its gravelly-staccato rusted language.
 Go here to support Shattering Glass.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young

From Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young:
Delarie was the only one of six children still living in Flint. “I’ll stay here as long as my mom stays,” she said. “I see this block as the soul of the neighborhood. Every night you hear shots from the other streets, but not on our street. But I still don’t leave home without my gun. I just feel better carrying it.”

She showed me her nine-millimeter handgun, a black Taurus Ultra Slim she kept loaded with hollow-point bullets. She carried it in a small holster on her waist. The gun shattered the reassuring sense of normalcy that had enveloped me, the feeling that Civic Park wasn’t that far removed from the place where I grew up, a neighborhood where three people could spend a pleasant afternoon sitting on the porch and talking without the need for firearms. She left the gun on the table, and it was distracting. I kept glancing at it.

“She’s concerned about my safety,” Betsy explained, sensing my
discomfort.

“I’m concerned about my safety, too,” Delarie added.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Flint Artifacts: Flint Spirits Hockey Jersey

Matthew Mersch writes:
I just read your book Teardown, and as a result checked out your Flint Expats blog.  I thoroughly enjoyed both.  I have a loose connection to Flint.  I was born and raised in Chicago. But, from 1987-1989 my older brother played hockey for the Flint Spirits. I was around 9-10 at the time and I thought driving to Flint from Chicago when my dad got off work on a Friday to catch a game was the coolest thing.  The rink and the team had the feel of "Slapshot," a great movie.  
I can vividly remember skating with the team at practice.  I remember getting an autograph in the locker room after a game from a career minor leaguer named Mel Hewitt.  He was wearing cowboy boots and bright blue underwear — and nothing else. I was just in awe and I kept asking my dad how he would get his pants on. I also got an autograph from Keith Gretzky — the younger and much-less famous brother of Wayne Gretzky
I attached a picture of a practice jersey I still have from the 1989 team. I believe my brother stole it from the goalie and gave it to me. I occasionally wear it in some old men's hockey leagues around Chicago. About ten years ago I was wearing it and made a friend with a Flint expat. He was extremely excited to talk to anyone who knew anything about Flint.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

A Chevy Apache on the Streets of San Francisco





CounterPunch Weighs In on "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City"

Flint Expatriate Michael Donnelly has a compelling and very personal take on Flint and Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing city at CounterPunch:
"My closer-to-downtown Flint neighborhood around now-shuttered Cook Elementary School was one of the first to succumb to White Flight and shift in a matter of years from white to mostly black back in the 60s. Like its larger shrinking city neighbor Detroit, America’s most segregated city, Flint had been and still is one of the most segregated communities in the land. As the Cook School environs changed overnight, it became a very dangerous place for a teenage male – black or white. I, my siblings and friends – black and white – all carry scars – physical and internal – from the many ever-escalating brawls, assaults and attacks that were based solely on the color of our skins.

"The first African-American family to move in down the block was the Johnson’s. Jimmy and his brother Anthony (Cleo) were the same age (11 and 8) as me and my brother Mark. We became quick friends, sharing interests in sports, music and, not-so-oddly really, injustices towards Native Americans. Jimmy and I played on a very good basketball team that had five white guys and five black guys from the neighborhood. It was so unusual that someone from the city did a slideshow documentary on us. Cleo is a family hero as he single-handedly saved my sister from a serious assault.

"I, like Young, had a family that believed/believes in Integration and the collective prosperity that would come from it. My uncle Dr. William Donnelly was instrumental in the Open Housing movement which outlawed “redlining” in Michigan – the segregationist practice of providing or denying mortgages in areas solely based on race. Uncle Bill lost a lot of his suburban pediatric clientele over it. He responded by opening an Inner City office and becoming the head of pediatrics at Pontiac’s public hospital. He helped many young black students, many he attended the births of, to get into his Alma mater: University of Michigan."

Friday, July 5, 2013

Defections from the Flint Farmers' Market

Is this a sign of things to come? Two big defections from the Flint Farmers' Market and its new downtown location. Jeremy Allen of mLive reports:
Two of the biggest vendors at the Flint Farmers' Market say they won't follow the market when it moves to downtown Flint in 2014, instead opting to join a proposed new market set to open in Davison in May 2014.
 

Coykendall Produce owner Sandy Coykendall and the owner of Knob Hill Meats, Tom Alex, said that they won’t make the move from the Flint Market’s location at 420 E. Boulevard Drive to downtown because it’s not in the businesses' or their customers' best interests.

Sticking Around in Flint

It's heartening to read that there's one UM student willing to leave Ann Arbor and come to Flint after graduation. Harsha Nahata describes her decision in The Michigan Daily:
The experience I have been able to get has been unmatched anywhere else. Within the first week, I was able to meet with the mayor, Flint’s emergency manager, the Chamber of Commerce and top leaders from four major universities. Throughout my time in Flint, I have constantly been reminded how much my time, skills and work are being valued. And it’s a great feeling to know that the work you are doing is not only effective, but also much appreciated.
 
Not only that, but I’ve been able to witness all aspects of city management. Being interested in economic development, this experience has been a blessing for me. I have seen statistics on every factor ranging from local city services to education to public safety to city finances. I have also been able to sit in meetings, listening to the top minds in the city come together and brainstorm ways to turn things around. And beyond that I have made amazing connections with some incredibly inspiring and determined individuals.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Flint Paintings: Birth of an A.C. Spark Plug

Some eBay auctions are more compelling than others. Right now you can bid on this original oil, painted by one Bill Bowman in 1964, entitled "Birth of an A.C. Spark Plug." FYI, the minimum bid is $45,000. The painting immediately brought to mind Crowbar Charlie Koziol, the grandfather of media artist and cinematographer  Eric Koziol. In an earlier profile of Eric, I wrote:
Eric traces his interest in film and video back to Flint. His grandfather, Charlie Koziol, was a master mechanic at AC Spark Plug known as “Crowbar Charlie” for his ability to fix the massive machinery at the plant. But Charlie also loved shooting film, starting with a Super 8 before moving on to 16 mm and, eventually, video. Charlie used to show 16mm films outdoors in Ballenger Park, and he set up the P.A. and lighting system for the polka bands at the Polish Legion of American Veterans summer fests. He introduced his grandson to the equipment, and Eric quickly put it to use in a project for an American history class at Power’s High School.