Sunday, January 26, 2014

Flint Photos: Milner Arcade

Thomas Wirt (a.k.a. Jar With Most) is a photographer who captured the essence of Flint starting way back in the seventies. Here's a 1977 view of the corner of South Saginaw and First Street from the parking structure of Genesee Towers. Smith-Bridgman's looms in the background to the right, behind a wall of bricks. The Book Stall is visible in the lower right corner. For more of Wirt's photos, go here.

A close-up of Milner Arcade by photographer Gordon LaVere shortly before demolition.

A collection of Model B Buicks when in front of Milner Arcade in 1904, before it got a faux Tudor facelift, when Billy Durant took over the company. (Photo via Kevin Kirbitz)

The first Flint Buick returns to Vehicle City on July 12, 1904, after a test drive to Detroit with engineer Walter Marr (left) and Tom Buick, son of founder David Buick, behind the wheel. Milner Arcade, a few schoolboys, and the horse and buggy the Buick would replace are in the background. (Photo via Kevin Kirbitz)

Before you enjoy the warm, nostalgic glow too much, remember that this is Flint, and parking lots must be created. (Photo by Kevin Kirbitz)

Smith-Bridgman's and Milner Arcade face the wrecking ball. The Mott Foundation Building survives. (Photo by Kevin Kirbitz)

A more recent photo of South Saginaw near First Street, with the ghostly, enshrouded statue of G.M. founder Billy Durant awaiting its unveiling. And, of course, a parking lot in the background. (Photo via @RebeccaFedewa)

The statue of David Buick at its unveiling in front of the parking lot once home to Smith-Bridgman's and Milner Arcade. The recently demolished Genesee Towers is visible in the top right corner. 

A comment from GaryG offers some perspective on the fate of the buildings that once defined South Saginaw Street near First Street in Flint:
I’ll not forget the day these demolition photographs were taken. I was driving down Court street early that Sunday morning, glanced north, and noticed the crane in the middle of Saginaw street. It could mean only one thing; after starting from the river and tearing down everything in sight between Saginaw and Harrison streets for the proposed Water Street Pavilion and its giant surface parking lot, the demolition crew had finally gotten to the Smith-Bridgman building.

There was a group of preservationists, of which I was one, that had been trying hard to save the historic facades on this block. I had advocated for a modified version of a scheme used in other cities, where the building faces were kept, while new structures were constructed behind them. In this case, the plan would be to salvage the front thirty or so feet of all of the buildings on this block, essentially converting them into shallow lease spaces, similar in depth to the Milner Arcade building, which would also be saved. But it was just one of many creative ideas rejected by the powers that were, even though they would have still gotten their parking lot.

Few people seemed to know how magnificent the original front elevation of the Smith-Bridgeman building, in particular, had been, since acres of teal colored sheet metal had been placed over it decades before. It made sense that the contractors were demolishing the façade first, early on a Sunday morning, so as to reduce the chance that too many people might discover what they were losing. I turned and drove up to the site in time to find that the metal had been stripped away to indeed reveal what I had longed to save: the original, finely proportioned, cut stone and brick façade, none the worse for wear, with every wood framed plate glass window intact, each still complete with their wooden venetian blinds. I was struck by how pleasingly gracious and beautiful it was, a symbol of a more discerning time.

The shadows are a testament that it was late in the day when these pictures were taken; only hours after Flint’s finest architectural facade poignantly succumbed to yet another case of unmitigated short-sightedness. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Calling All Clueless Speculators


This is how the housing speculators help destroy Flint. Check out this property listing on eBay for 2322 Delmar Avenue in Civic Park, not far from Haskell Community Center. I spent a lot of time on this street as a kid and more recently while house hunting and writing Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. The New York owner describes it as a “great investment property!” It’s not. Delmar is one of the most abandoned and desolate streets in Civic Park these days. The setting is described as “suburban.” Also not true. The Zillow estimate is a testament to the flaws of online housing valuations and deceptive advertising: $40,000. Not even close. The condition: “Needs some repair.” That’s technically accurate but doesn’t reveal that the house has probably been stripped clean by scrappers. Some clueless “investor” looking to make a quick buck could buy this house without knowing just how troubled the neighborhood really is right now. Then walk away from it down the line. The county will be left to deal with it at taxpayer expense.

UPDATE: Here's the response I got from anwarproperties regarding this property:
"Thank you for your interest in the property. Please do not mind the wordings of my answer, these are investment properties which are going to sell in few hundred $, so this is buyer's responsibility to complete all due diligence needed to determine the condition or taxes. We are buying in bulk 15-20 properties and selling as is, and giving the information we have got from our selling investors or banks because we never visited these properties.

"I never been there, these investment properties are available for a limited time. As soon the economy in that area will get better who will sell these houses in these prices?. So the wise are collecting these lottery tickets now."
Great to know that Flint houses are nothing more than lottery tickets to these speculators, something to just throw away if they don't get lucky. 




Friday, January 10, 2014

Flint Photos: Winter on Maxine Street by Jan Worth-Nelson

Thanks to Jan Worth-Nelson for this portrait of Flint in winter.

The Definitive Genesee Towers Implosion Video


Flint Portraits: Peter Bourque

Peter Bourque on a visit to St. Agnes in August.

Author and educator Peter Bourque grew up in Flint and lived in the Vehicle City from 1954-1971. He attended St. Agnes School, where he also served as an altar boy.

After leaving Flint, Peter eventually joined the Peace Corps. His experiences are recounted in the book Tarnished Ivory: Reflections on Peace Corps and Beyond:
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ivory Coast (1973-75) and a Peace Corps trainer in Mali (1986), Peter Bourque kept a personal journal and wrote over 55 letters back to the States. In them, he described the satisfactions and frustrations of living, working and traveling in West Africa as well as his reactions to the people he encountered-Ivorian, French, Malian and American. Decades later, he reflects and elaborates on these writings with current-day observations and candid essays about idealism, world poverty, the Peace Corps, the French, and losing his religion.
He settled in Tuscon, where he is now a retired high school teacher and teaches English as a Second Language for Literacy Volunteers of Tucson. He reflected on life in Flint in a 2009 column for the Arizona Daily Star:
At family gatherings, talk among the men, to my disinterest, was invariably about "the shop," "the line" and "tool-and-die makers," a trade which I never understood. One brother-in-law, Art, had gotten a college degree and was white-collar at Buick. Another, Stan, worked for Oldsmobile in Lansing. My brother Jacques chose Ford in Detroit for his lifelong employment, but no one seemed to hold that against him.
Culturally, Flint was sophisticated for a factory town of its size and included the Cultural Center, a large community college named after local philanthropist Charles Stewart Mott (a former GM vice president) and a branch of the University of Michigan, which I attended.
In the '60s and '70s, the stability and continuity of GM families in Flint was remarkable. I went to the same Catholic school for 12 years, as did many of my classmates. College-bound juniors and seniors from the Catholic schools attended monthly presentations at General Motors Institute that covered a variety of topics.
Young adults who weren't going to college or who dropped out could easily get jobs on the assembly line that were well-paying and unionized with amazing benefits — those same benefits that contributed to GM becoming noncompetitive in the auto industry.
In my mind, working for GM was a trap that many 18- to 20-year-olds fell into. Nonskilled workers were lured by the security and financial incentives, which overshadowed what were often mind-numbingly tedious jobs "on the line." "Only 25 more years and I can retire," you too often heard them say.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Flint Postcards: Buick Offices in Flint

For a more comprehensive look, head over to Gerry Godin's All Things Buick blog.

Jim Baade Tells the Story of 105 FM "Flint's Best Rock"

Flint's Best Rock, The Movie from JIM BAADE on Vimeo.

"Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City" by Gordon Young Named a Michigan Notable Book for 2014



The Library of Michigan has announced the list of the 2014 Michigan Notable Books — 20 books highlighting Michigan people, places, and events. Books that showcase the range of experiences of Michigan's citizens and life in the Great Lakes by well-established and first-time authors can be found on the list. Winners include Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff, The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison, and Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young.

“The Michigan Notable Books Program helps to show what is ‘great’ about the Great Lakes State,” said State Librarian Nancy Robertson.

The 2014 list includes titles covering topics as diverse as a detailed discussion of Chief Pontiac’s Rebellion; a biography of Mark “The Bird” Fidrych; a memoir of Flint; a children’s graphic novel about Buster Keaton’s summers spent in Muskegon; an anthology of some of the best Michigan poetry; the deadly Great Lakes hurricane of 1913; a collection of articles studying the Great Lakes sturgeon to a book highlighting the joys of baking and eating pies.

2014 Michigan Notable Books 

Beyond Pontiac’s Shadow: Michilimackinac and the Anglo-Indian War of 1763 by Keith R. Widder (Michigan State University Press)
On June 2, 1763, the Ojibwa captured Michigan’s Fort Michilimackinac from their British allies. Widder examines the circumstances leading up to the attack and the course of events in the aftermath that resulted in the re-garrisoning of the fort and the restoration of the fur trade. At the heart of this discussion is an analysis of French-Canadian and Indian communities at the Straits of Mackinac and throughout the pays d’en haut. An accessible guide to this important period in Michigan, American, and Canadian history, Beyond Pontiac’s Shadow sheds invaluable light on a political and cultural crisis.

The Bird: The Life and Legacy of Mark Fidrych by Doug Wilson (Thomas Dunne Books)
The Bird is the first biography of 70s pop icon and Detroit Tigers pitcher, Mark Fidrych. As a rookie he stormed the baseball world by his antics of “talking” to the baseball and along the way became one of the most popular Tigers in history. Fidrych’s larger than life personality and killer slider resulted in his selection as the 1976 All Star game starter and landed him as the first athlete ever to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. Wilson details how an arm injury in 1977 limited his career. Fidrych’s love of the game and pure joy in playing helped to make the summer of 1976 magical in Detroit.

Birth Marks by Jim Daniels (BOA Editions Ltd.)
A poet of the working-class and city streets, Jim Daniels's 14th poetry collection travels from Detroit to Ohio to Pittsburgh, from one post-industrial city to another, across jobs and generations. Daniels focuses on the urban landscape and its effects on its inhabitants as they struggle to establish community on streets hissing with distrust and random violence.

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster by Matt Phelan (Candlewick Press)
Muskegon, Michigan, 1908, a visiting troupe of vaudeville performers is about the most exciting thing since baseball. They’re summering in nearby Bluffton, so Henry has a few months to ogle the elephant and the zebra, the tightrope walkers and a slapstick actor his own age named Buster Keaton. The show folk say Buster is indestructible; his father throws him around as part of the act and the audience roars, while Buster never cracks a smile. Henry longs to learn to take a fall like Buster, "the human mop," but Buster just wants to play ball with Henry and his friends. With signature nostalgia, Matt Phelan visualizes a bygone era with lustrous color, dynamic lines, and flawless dramatic pacing.

Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Farm by Mardi Jo Link, (Alfred A. Knopf)
Link’s memoir about survival and self-discovery documents the summer of 2005 when debt, self-doubt and a recent divorce forced her to refocus on what truly is important in life. Bootstrapper tells the story of her struggles to raise three sons as a single mother and the fight to hang on to her century-old farmhouse in northern Michigan. Her humorous accounts tackle the subjects of butchering a pig, grocery shopping on a budget, Zen divorce, raising chickens, and bargain cooking all in an effort to keep her farm out of foreclosure. Her difficult year is highlighted with the use of humor and optimistic storytelling and demonstrates how her struggles helped to strengthen her family bonds and led to findings necessary in order to save the farm she loved.

The Colored Car by Jean Alicia Elster (Wayne State University Press)
An engaging narrative illustrates the personal impact of segregation and discrimination and reveals powerful glimpses of everyday life in 1930s Detroit. After boarding the first-class train car at Michigan Central Station in Detroit and riding comfortably to Cincinnati, Patsy is shocked when her family is led from their seats to change cars. In the dirty, cramped "colored car," Patsy finds that the life she has known in Detroit is very different from life down south. Patsy must find a way to understand her experience in the colored car and also deal with the more subtle injustices that her family faces in Detroit.

Detroit: Race Riots, Racial Conflicts and Efforts to Bridge the Racial Divide by Joe T. Darden and Richard W. Thomas (Michigan State University Press)
Unique among books on the subject, Detroit pays special attention to post-1967 social and political developments in the city, and expands upon the much-explored black/white dynamic to address the influx of more recent populations to Detroit: Middle Eastern Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian Americans. Crucially, the book explores the role of place of residence, spatial mobility, and spatial inequality as key factors in determining access to opportunities such as housing, education, employment, and other amenities, both in the suburbs and in the city.

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff (The Penguin Press)
Veteran writer LeDuff set out to uncover what lead his city into decline. He embedded with a local fire brigade, investigated politicians of all stripes, and interviewed: union bosses, homeless squatters, powerful businessmen, struggling homeowners, and ordinary people holding the city together. LeDuff shares an unbelievable story of a hard town in a rough time filled with some of the strangest and strongest people our country has to offer.

The Great Lake Sturgeon Edited by Nancy Auer and Dave Dempsey (Michigan State University Press)
This collected volume captures many aspects of the remarkable Great Lakes sturgeon, from the mythical to the critically real. Lake sturgeon is sacred to some, impressive to many and endangered in the Great Lakes. A fish whose ancestry reaches back millions of years and that can live over a century and grow to six feet or more, the Great Lakes lake sturgeon was once considered useless, and then overfished nearly to extinction. Blending history, biology, folklore, environmental science, and policy, this accessible book seeks to reach a broad audience and tell the story of the Great Lakes lake sturgeon in a manner as diverse as its subject.

I Invented the Modern Age: The Rise of Henry Ford by Richard Snow (Scribner)
Henry Ford was born the same year as the battle of Gettysburg, died two years after the atomic bombs fell, and his life personified the tremendous technological changes achieved in that span. Growing up as a Michigan farm boy, Ford saw the advantages of internal combustion. He built his first gasoline engine out of scavenged industrial scraps. It was the size of a sewing machine. From there, scene by scene, Richard Snow vividly shows Ford using his innate mechanical abilities, hard work, and radical imagination as he transformed American industry.

In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell (Soho Press)
In this debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world. This novel is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.

November’s Fury: The Deadly Great Lakes Hurricane of 1913 by Michael Schumacher (University of Minnesota Press)
Set in the infancy of weather forecasting, November’s Fury recounts the dramatic events that unfolded over those four days in 1913, as captains eager—or at times forced—to finish the season tried to outrun the massive storm that sank, stranded, or demolished dozens of boats and claimed the lives of more than 250 sailors. This is an account of incredible seamanship under impossible conditions, of inexplicable blunders, heroic rescue efforts, and the sad aftermath of recovering bodies washed ashore and paying tribute to those lost at sea.

Poetry in… Michigan… in Poetry – Edited by William Olsen and Jack Ridl (New Issues Poetry & Prose)
Poems from Michigan’s most recognized poets are gathered in this beautiful single volume. The anthology gathers an intriguing range of poets and artists, their visions and voices, exploring the variances in Michigan landscape; shoreline; lives lived in the city, town, and countryside; our uncommon diversity of cultures, points of view, concerns, celebrations, losses, and histories.

The River Swimmer by Jim Harrison (Grove Press)
As one of America’s most recognized and critically acclaimed authors, Harrison’s new collection of novellas make Michigan’s natural environment central to each tale. “The Land of Unlikeness” portrays a failed artist’s return to Michigan to visit his ailing mother and the resulting rebirth in his love of painting. “The River Swimmer” ventures into the magical as a northern Michigan farm boy is drawn to swimming as an escape and his encounters with mythical “water babies” in the lakes and streams surrounding his northern Michigan home. The stories demonstrate how two men, young and old, actively confront inconvenient love and the encroachment of suburbia on Michigan’s lavish natural environment.

Something That Feels Like Truth by Donald Lystra (Northern Illinois University Press)
In 16 compelling stories, award-winning author Donald Lystra takes us on a page-turning journey through the cities and countryside of the Great Lakes heartland to as far away as Paris. In fierce but tender prose, Lystra writes about ordinary people navigating life's difficult boundaries---of age and love and family---and sometimes finding redemption in the face of searing regret. Although spanning half a century, these are timely stories that speak about the limits we place on ourselves, both from fear and for the sake of those we love, and of our willingness to confront change.

Sweetie-licious Pies: Eat Pie, Love Life by Linda Hundt, Photography by Clarissa Westmeyer (Guilford)
In this cookbook, the author has built upon her nostalgia-based bakery business to offer her recipes to a wider audience. A 16-time national pie-baking champion, Linda Hundt truly believes in the ability of pies to spread good will, one delicious bite at a time. In this sweet cookbook, she shares the heartwarming stories behind 52 of her signature pies. Illustrated, like her bakeries, in retro themed pink and red, the cookbook will be enjoyed by both lovers of pie and family to whom she has dedicated many a recipe.

Taken Alive: The Sight’s Rock and Roll Tour Diary by Eddie Baranek, Edited and Forward by Brian Smith (Hiros Rise Music)
In 2012, the Detroit area band “The Sights” criss-crossed America and Europe in support of Hollywood star Jack Black’s band Tenacious D. Barenek covers the highs and lows of the life on the road touring with a rock n’ roll band. Baranek’s diary shares stories that uniquely illustrate the power music has in our culture and inspires readers to support Michigan’s local music scenes.

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young (University of California Press)
Skillfully blending personal memoir, historical inquiry, and interviews with Flint residents, Young constructs a vibrant tale of a once-thriving city still fighting—despite overwhelming odds—to rise from the ashes. He befriends a rag-tag collection of urban homesteaders and die-hard locals who refuse to give up as they try to transform Flint into a smaller, greener town that offers lessons for cities all over the world.

Tuesdays With Todd and Brad Reed: A Michigan Tribute by Brad Reed and Todd Reed (Todd & Brad Reed Photography)
Beginning on January 3, 2012, photographers Todd and Brad Reed traveled throughout Michigan every Tuesday from sunrise to sunset capturing the beauty that Michigan has to offer. During the 52 weeks, the Reeds successfully captured and highlight stunning images depicting both the rural and urban landscape of the Great Lakes State. This book captures a year’s worth of their images in one gorgeous volume highlighting Michigan’s most beautiful place.

The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula Works Edited by Ron Riekki (Wayne State University Press)
In 49 poems and 20 stories – diverse in form, length, and content-readers are introduced to the unmistakable terrain and characters of the U.P. The book not only showcases the snow, small towns, and idiosyncratic characters that readers might expect but also introduces unexpected regions and voices. From the powerful powwow in Baraga of April Lindala's "For the Healing of All Women" to the sex-charged basement in Stambaugh of Chad Faries's "Hotel Stambaugh: Michigan, 1977" to the splendor found between Newberry and Paradise in Joseph D. Haske's "Tahquamenon," readers will delight in discovering the work of both new and established authors.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Scott Atkinson and the Rogue Sheep of Flint, Michigan

The rogue sheep of Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Scott "The Sheep Whisperer" Atkinson/The Flint Journal)


It appears even visiting sheep embrace the fiercely independent ethos of Flint. Scott Atkinson of The Flint Journal braves the wilds of Mott Park and the Glenwood Cemetery to commune with the wooly maverick who walked off the job at a nativity scene:
"The Christmas sheep of Mott Park is not a myth.

"I've seen it with my own eyes.
"Three days after the sheep made its escape from the West Court Street Church of God's annual Nativity scene Christmas Eve, I came face-to-face with the creature Friday, Dec. 27, as I wandered through Glenwood Cemetery in search of the beast.
"I have returned to tell the tale."
 Read the rest here.