A community bands together to save the Dalgleish water tower

Detroit is a city in flux.

Signs of decay and neglect are everywhere; a city built for millions now languishes with seven hundred thousand. A city rich in history and flush with gorgeous architecture constantly reminisces about herself. She looks in the mirror, remembering when she was young and full of vitality. The mirror is harsh. Time has been cruel. Reality sets in.

As with any grand old dame, however, there are so many stories. There is also that rare chance, that opportunity, that moment where she can shine one more time.

There are so many people here that are working to make Detroit beautiful again. There is a new group of people emerging out of the turmoil; those who want to be here. Those who choose to stay. Those who desire to see the grand old dame take center stage again. Those who remember, even if they weren’t even born yet.

The Tower

Dalgleish Water Tower, Detroit, MI old locationOn top of the 1927-built Dalgleish Cadillac building, there was an iconic water tower. It defined a bit of skyline in this area. The building, like so many others around it, fell in to decay and neglect when the area worsened, but those days have passed. Wayne State University is turning it into a 200,000 square foot, $93 million biomedical research center.

The plan, however, didn’t (and couldn’t) include the historic water tower.

Various groups raised their voices, but it was just words without weight. Would anyone… could anyone actually handle the logistics of saving the water tower?

We’re talking about a steel structure of unknown structural integrity, weighing approximately 25,000 pounds, that sits forty feet and more in the air. When faced with the reality of the scope of the project, the voices settled down. Groups that were interested in supporting the project dropped out. It didn’t seem possible to save it.

It seemed destined for the scrap heap. Doubtless some enterprising scrapper would have a field day shredding the tower and selling it for pennies per pound, dragging it bit-by-bit in the back of a rusty old pickup truck to the wink-and-nod scrapyards that Detroit is home to so many of.

It seemed a sad and unfair end for such a beautiful structure. The cross-hatched steel supports and the craftsmanship of the dome are things that required a lot of manual labor hours back in the days when that was affordable in America. They don’t make ’em like they used to.

The Move

Dalgleish water tower - coming downTom and Peggy Brennan from Detroit’s Green Garage were contacted, and they came through just when things looked bleakest for the tower. They agreed to take the water tower, disassemble and move it, and ensconce what they could of it at their sustainable apartment development on Second, the El Moore.

In keeping with the Green Garage’s sustainability and re-use ethics, they wanted to repurpose as much of the structure as they could, and keep it as intact as possible.

When deconstruction began, it was discovered that nearly a ton of pigeon droppings had been sitting in the bottom of the dome for who-knows-how-long… and pigeon droppings being acidic, the 1/4″ steel of the bottom had been eaten away to the point where you could see sunlight through it. It would never hold water again, that was clear.

Dalgleish water tower - heading down Cass

Moving the massive structure had its own logistical and engineering challenges. It couldn’t be moved down Second because of something with the bridge over I-94. It had to come down Cass. It needed a police escort. It was very heavy.

The Wayne State Police graciously stepped up to the challenge, with very little advance notice, and provided the “Wide Load” truck with a path down Cass… during the middle of the school day at Wayne State. It made it. People marveled at the sight.

Dalgleish water tower - at El MooreA new place to gather

Afterwards, in discussing the move, the Green Garage’s Jason Peet told a group assembled for their weekly Friday community lunch, “It would never be used as an actual water tower again, but we had some ideas. We wanted it to anchor a community. We had an empty corner lot and now we have something. People have already started gathering under it and saying things like ‘Meet me under the water tower'”. It is now a destination. It is now a landmark.

A community can come together to achieve all kinds of amazing things; sometimes, that amazing thing is moving a big ol’ chunky water tower just because a few people cared enough to save it.

Help us light up the Brush Street viaduct

Piquette Square veteran housing in Detroit
Piquette Square is a “150-unit apartment project in Detroit to house and care for homeless veterans”. Developed by Southwest Solutions, it is a modern, efficient housing solution that our beloved veterans can utilize to get back on their feet.

There is a viaduct on Brush just north of Piquette Square. Residents of Piquette Square use Brush street to do things like get groceries and go to the bus stop. While their housing is safe and adequate, the route they must take to do their daily errands is decidedly not.

Muggers have been taking advantage of the dark, trash-strewn, unlit corridor along Brush between Piquette and Milwaukee—the kind of people that see easy pickings in vulnerable older people with some money in their pockets.

Brush street viaduct between Milwaukee and Piquette streets

The Friends of Milwaukee Junction want to improve this corridor and the safety of the residents, and need help. The ideal solution is going off the City grid and going green while at the same time providing bright, well-lit areas for the residents of Piquette Square to safely traverse at night.

AJ O’Neil, a Highland Park businessman, is about to complete a successful Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to fund a single solar-powered streetlight for Highland Park after DTE repossessed street lighting in the city for unpaid electrical bills. The technology exists to make self-sufficient, safe lighting (and it’s from a Michigan-based company, to boot!). We wouldn’t need nearly as many as the City of Highland Park—we only need to light a small stretch of a single block.

We’re open to ideas. We’re a community organization that relies on the power of collaboration to get things done.

If you are someone (or know someone) who is able to help us out with a viable plan for lighting this one-block stretch of Brush Street without interfacing with the City electrical grid, we’d love to hear from you!