Brush Park, Detroit

Vergara, Camilo J, photographer. View of Brush Park from Edmund Pl. along John R St., Detroit. United States Michigan Detroit, 1998. Photograph.

Perhaps there is no better place to start our examination of Detroit than the Brush Park neighborhood, just northwest of the downtown area, separated by one of many interstates, in this case, the Fisher Freeway, or Interstate 75. The aerial photograph captures the neighborhood in 1998.

It is certainly not 1998 anymore! The whole area has been completely transformed, in what might be best described in a surreal manner. While for decades Brush Park has been associated with images of a scattering of lone houses amongst urban prairie (Here’s a great article about the history of the neighborhood), today it is the complete opposite, with those same dwellings renovated and surrounded by long “luxury” condo/apartment buildings.

Is it for the better? Well, I doubt anyone can argue, except for the most devoted ruin pornographers, that it is a good thing that these stately mansions of the pre-automotive era barons of Detroit’s industry is a good thing, I wonder about the wisdom of the in-fill.

While the city government of Detroit has passed what is known as a “form-based” code for the Brush Park neighborhood (read what form-based codes are), I have to admit it’s a little weird to have single-family houses sitting next to long, low-rise apartment-style buildings.

One thing I do support is that many of the renovations have simplified the ornamentation (we know what they looked like originally from historic photographs), rather than replicating every last detail. I want these houses to be saved, and if it means that the rehabbers don’t have the budget to recreate the house back to 1885, that is still better than it being torn down. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The house below obviously once had Italianate stone detailing around its windows, but sadly they are gone for good. Here is the house today, occupied, generating life on its street and tax dollars for its community, in 2023.

The house below clearly needed massive rebuilding of its front wall, which probably ate up a huge portion of the rehabbers’ budget, so they had to simplify some off the other details. Fine by me.

I’ll have to admit it was a bit surreal looking around this neighborhood that has been famous for “urban prairie” and vacant lots for so long.

Bad choice of brick color below; I will compliment St. Louis for requiring in-fill to choosing more complementary brick tones.

There are still plenty of vacant lots left, but as far as I could tell, very few of the iconic vacant houses left to snatch up.

Really, some of these houses are just spectacular, and are a great preview of what I believe to be some of the best architecture in the United States.

Read about the Harry B. Parker House here.

You can read about the Ecumenical Theological Seminary below here.

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