Detroit’s next hot neighborhood is hiding in plain sight

by Bill McGraw, Bridge Magazine

On East Milwaukee Avenue in central Detroit, Logan Siegel lives in a 116-year-old building with rust-colored brick that has been rehabbed and converted into nine condos owned by a diverse group of professionals. The value of the property has tripled in the past five years.

The surrounding landscape is foreboding, though: Structures that are collapsing upon themselves, wildly overgrown vacant lots, illegal dumping, glass-strewn roads and ubiquitous graffiti. The two-story building across from Siegel’s home is boarded up; to the east is a DTE Energy facility surrounded by an 18-foot cement wall topped with razor wire. It looks like a maximum security prison.

Despite the raw surroundings, Siegel has met many people in the past three years who are impatient to move in.

“Just about every time that I’m working outside my building, people stop by, sometimes a couple times a day, just asking if units are available to rent or buy,” he said.

“When you tell them there’s nothing available, they get very upset because there is nothing in the area.”

Siegel’s neighborhood is named Milwaukee Junction, once one of the world’s most productive industrial zones, the place where Henry Ford began experimenting with the Model T and the assembly line. It’s a sprawling area around the I-75/I-94 interchange that is old and beat up and exists mostly off the radar of local media and metro area residents.

While its dynamic past is gradually forgotten, Milwaukee Junction’s immediate future seems increasingly clear: It appears to be Detroit’s next hot neighborhood.

[You can read the rest of this exciting, in depth article on Bridge’s website.]

Veteran Tough!

Veteran Tough!
Veterans Park at Piquette is a celebration of all the community

Detroit continues to make its way back from financial chaos. As it does so, the community of Detroit is leading the way. It isn’t just the decision makers in City Hall or the state legislature who are bringing back Detroit to its former glory. As a matter of fact, some people who would be thought of as needy and dependent are in the forefront. A textbook example of this can be found in Piquette Square for Veterans Park.

Piquette Square for Veterans is a Detroit program provided by Southwest Solutions ( and its partners. The residential building was opened up in 2010, and seeks to help homeless veterans return to normal civilian life. A permanent facility with 150 residents, counseling staff is meeting with the residents on a routine basis to help them map out a plans of action and develop highly positive goals. The veterans are survivors of America’s wars from the Vietnam Conflict all the way to the recent battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The state of Michigan pays 70% of the living expenses of the residents, and the remainder comes from the residents themselves. The contribution of these veterans to the new Renaissance in Detroit is across the street in Veterans Park at Piquette Square.

Formerly the grounds of the Studebaker Plant, the original idea for the park came from the veterans themselves. They were hoping to clean up the urban blight in the vacant lot and create a small park that would include flowers and vegetables. Overcoming initial obstacles to the idea, the veterans and South West Solutions reached out to the Detroit community at large. Their contacts included approaching foundations, corporations, community groups in the area, and neighborhood youth. It became a collaborative effort of people in Detroit who simply refuse to see this great city crumble.

Raising money for something like this is always a major challenge. Grants from foundations were secured, but the veterans and Southwest Solutions decided on something else to increase the number of stakeholders in Veterans Park. They offered naming rights to various parts of the park. For example, a corporation donating a certain amount of money would have naming rights to a flagpole, or perhaps a basketball hoop. So that ordinary members of the Detroit community could be part of the fundraising, personalized paver bricks were made available. For a given amount of money an individual could purchase a paver brick with a personal message on it. As of this writing, approximately $500,000 have been raised.

Veterans Park will be officially opened to the public on September 11, 2014. It will include raised vegetable gardens, recreational space, picnic sites, and areas for special events. The park will also have green spaces, a flag court, a wall for the art of the veterans, horse shoe pits and a basketball court. It will be a place where the community can go and celebrate the contributions of the veterans.

The park is meant to help the homeless veterans better heal, but there is more to it. This park is a project that serves to assist the people of Detroit in their healing process as Motown gets back on its feet. Veteran’s Park at Piquette Square shows what the Detroit community itself is capable of doing. This is not the result of one generous donor. Everyone joined together in the effort and the result is a green space where once there was only shrubbery and loud graffiti. Veteran’s Park is an effort of the people working for the common good. This positive scene of hope can be repeated everywhere folks are willing to collaborate to rejuvenate Detroit.

Anyone who is interested in being part of this continuing story of urban success should contact Ms. Cheryl Allen, Veterans and Volunteer Resource Facilitator, at 313-297-1377 (or email at The veterans proudly gave their best in the service of their country. The park is symbolic of the great pride Detroit residents have in their community, and their willingness to be of service for the betterment of Detroit.

Railroads and Dreamers

Pioneer Building, Milwaukee Junction, Detroit

Milwaukee Junction was where it was at. Ford, Dodge, Packard, Studebaker, and Oakland all had auto factories there. Hupp, Anderson Electric, Brush, and Everitt-Metzger-Flanders, too. For a brief time, from about 1908 to the Great Depression, it was perhaps the single most important location in the auto industry, a grand intersection of railroads and dreamers.

Then, almost overnight, people moved on. And like much of what had made Detroit great, Milwaukee Junction was left to rot. Iconic buildings, crumbling and vacant, stubbornly waited in vain for the next generation of dreamers.

Or so the story goes.

Psst. You wanna know a secret? Some dreamers are there, right now, breathing new life into the same walls men like Henry Ford once leaned against.

“Paul always likes to tell people, ‘Henry Ford could’ve stood right here,'” Anne Fracassa says in her studio in the Pioneer Building on Detroit’s East Grand Boulevard, right in the heart of Milwaukee Junction and spitting distance from the towering, art deco Fisher Building.

Anne’s children, including Paul, bought the three-story red brick Pioneer Building back in 1994. They converted the serpentine industrial space into dozens of art studios years before the larger Russell Industrial Center down the street took a similar route under new owner Dennis Kefallinos.

pioneer2Pioneer Building from East Grand Boulevard.


orrery1An example of an orrery. Photo by Politikaner.

Luckily, it didn’t take long for the building to attract tenants, including one decidedly not famous Jack White.

“Jack White’s upholstery shop, Third Man Upholstery, was in this building,” Paul says. “So the White Stripes actually kind of started in here. They used to practice really terribly here when Jack was, like, 18 or 19 years old.”

You can still find traces of White’s dried blood on a consecrated pillar in his old, dimly lit studio. He eventually left to pursue music full-time, and the world got hits like “Seven Nation Army”.

Anne has a respect and admiration for Detroit and its potential that shows in the company she cultivates and the finished paintings she hangs on her walls. Her artwork, a moody mix of neutral tones and lurid reds and oranges, often riffs on common Motor City themes in poignant, unexpected ways.

In one series, she paints on bricks salvaged from throughout the city. Anne explains:

“I was thinking one day about Pompeii and how when the city was uncovered, we learned about the civilization and what life was like in that town because of the frescoes. And I started wondering, what if Detroit was buried by some cataclysmic event? What might be preserved in the walls? That’s when I began painting on bricks.”

anne1Red Dream, by Anne Fracassa.

The creativity of Anne and many of the other artists at the Pioneer Building is nurtured, in some part, by the sense of community it provides. It’s close-knit and dedicated, ranging in age from roughly 40 to over 80, a real hangout for dyed-in-the-wool creative types with a few gray hairs to go around.

John Hegarty, a retired Wayne State University art professor, taught quite a few of the people at the Pioneer Building, including Anne. Now, he too rents a studio there. He sees humor in his unofficial status as a sort of godfather of Detroit art.

john1John Hegarty relaxing in his studio.

One work on his studio wall, which he says he’d probably call Grief if he ever gave it a title, sums up his opinion on the matter.

“See, my beard is short now. It used to be down here for years,” Haggerty says, pointing to a spot halfway down his chest. “One day, my wife said I looked too old with my long beard. So I trimmed it, and for the first time in 30 years, I could see all the wrinkles on my neck!”

In the resulting self-portrait, a bare-chested Hegarty tugs mournfully at his neck, his farmer’s tan in full view.

I like to think that if the Pioneer Building were a person, it’d feel just like Hegarty.

Check out the artists at the Pioneer Building at, and read more George Vieira at


FMJ and Summer in the City finish first of many murals

With community support, a movement gets its footing in one of Detroit’s well-known historical neighborhoods.

At a convergence of railroad steel and currently out-of-commission viaducts sits an area so steeped in history, it’s still soggy with faint memories of busy streets and booming business. The first ever factory owned and operated for Ford production looms overhead in an eerily quiet neighborhood, behind which stand buildings crawling with cracks that give birth to more greenery than actual stone and mortar.

Round the corner of Brush and Piquette Streets and you’ll stumble across part of Detroit’s playground for graffiti artists. What seems like an endless stream of spray paint, wimpy black thin strokes and a bold array of colors unite to lead passersby down a tunnel of tags or, essentially, artist’s signatures – that tell a story of those who have been through before them.

In the past three years the 710-acre span of Milwaukee Junction has experienced an explosion of graffiti; it has become a hotspot for artists from all over Metro Detroit.

A bridge breaks up the stretch of Beaubien from Piquette to Milwaukee. Under that bridge you can find the first example of what Friends of Milwaukee Junction (FMJ) strives to do within over a square mile of neighborhood in need, in an area that deserves so much more.

Let’s face it, Detroit has experienced mass emigration within the past decade that has left most of its neighborhoods frozen in a state of disrepair. But under that bridge the first completed project of FMJ, partnered this time with Summer in the City, shines a blue-and-white-striped hope that maybe a decline in tagging is on the way.

The art mural project is inspired by the Grand River Creative Corridor. Maybe if we create something beautiful and hopeful that local artists can have pride in, it won’t get tagged over. At least that’s the goal. Under that bridge is years of dreaming, weeks of hard work, planning and community involvement. Who can’t respect that?

We can’t do it alone

“This is cool, who did this?”, said an impressed local, Quiana Long-McCrory, while biking through the area with a friend just after the project was completed in July. Summer in the City got the credit for the art, and the word was spread that easily. The next time people admire one of the murals in Milwaukee Junction, we want them to be saying the name of another artist looking to make a difference.

Now we’re extending the invitation to local graffiti artists, groups and individuals who want to experience Detroit the way we do: thriving, approachable, succeeding. We want your help to spread the word and the spray paint. As Mike Gidley, Program Manager for FMJ’s multi-year mural program puts it, “People aren’t going to change their perception of Detroit if this (tagging) is what they’re seeing. We’ll give you this wall, you can create a beautiful mural instead.”

The next project will be on a door-wall on the Beaubien side of the Piquette Plant, a mural looking in on the plant in its heyday. As far as the future? We are quickly gaining space thanks to local businesses donating walls. In the works are big goals. With capable hands and experienced friends, a limit to what we can do has yet to be seen.

“Everyone at FMJ is really excited about the mural program. It will give us the opportunity to turn these graffiti liabilities into assets, and engage Milwaukee Junction’s art community in an innovative way and on a huge scale,” said Dave Biskner who heads up FMJ.

Join the team or find out more about opportunities to create art in the area! Interested in creating a mural or freestanding outdoor art installation? Contact Mike Gidley via email or call (313) 556-2073.

Summer in the City Brings Color, Community Involvement to Beaubien Viaduct

Summer In The City, a Detroit-based nonprofit organization, has partnered with Friends of Milwaukee Junction to help beautify and revitalize the viaduct on Beaubien Street, located between Piquette and Milwaukee, by painting artistic murals on the embankments.

While SITC has been a part of many other mural projects in the city (check out the mural they did last year on 5766 Trumbull St., below), it’s now looking to add its volunteer efforts towards sprucing up the Beaubien Street viaduct, an area—as mentioned in a previous post—that many residents of Piquette Square, a modern facility for formerly homeless veterans, walk through to run errands.

Art project on Trumbull, Detroit, Michigan street art Art project on Trumbull, Detroit, Michigan street art

Having received the green light on July 1 from railroad representatives, the mural-painting process began with priming and design placement on July 9, according to SITC Murals and Painting Director, Bob Spence.

The Beaubien Street viaduct project mural was designed by Detroit restoration and preservation specialist Andrea Sevonty and events coordinator Kathryn Fedorko.

The two women came together to create a design that includes wheels, trains and Model-Ts, all symbols that are characteristic of the neighborhood in which the viaduct is located, Sevonty said.

Through the Beaubien Street viaduct project, Sevonty said she hopes to see the viaduct become a “better focal point than it has been in the past.”

According to Spence, mural painting kicked off on July 10. Approximately 100 volunteers showed up to help add hues of color to the Beaubien Street viaduct, helping make the area more appealing and welcoming for those who walk along the path each day.

The installation of murals, however, is only a portion of the efforts that are designed to improve the Beaubien Street viaduct just north of Piquette Square. Future projects will include 24-hour solar lights through the viaduct, vegetation and bush clean-up and sand blasting to remove old graffiti and dirt.

The residents who regularly walk through the Beaubien Street viaduct aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the project, however. SITC volunteers got a neat take-away for their service, as well. (You know, in addition to being a part of an awesome community project.)

Each volunteer got a tour of the Piquette Plant, which gave participants an opportunity to “learn a little about the history of the neighborhood,” Spence said.

Street art on Beaubien, Detroit, Michigan Street art on Beaubien, Detroit, Michigan

For lots more photos of the project, check out our Facebook page.

We are always looking for ideas, input or help from the community. If you’re interested in getting involved, contact us! 

A Century of Pastor Wyatt

Milwaukee Junction is a part of Detroit whose history goes back deep into the decades. The neighborhood is a tale of people coming and going with a number of pillars, though a bit aged, remaining to buttress a community of sensitive and caring people. One of these is approaching the century mark and he is Pastor Eddie Wyatt of the Soul Saving Holy Church at 442 Piquette Street.

Pastor Wyatt has lived a life full of experiences that any urban historian would love to be able to record. In his early years Eddie Wyatt was a chauffeur for the president of the Stroh Brewery, the Detroit beer icon which is now part of The Pabst Brewing Company. His connection to Detroit’s history didn’t stop there, because Wyatt also worked as a bartender at the London Chop House and no doubt served up more than one glass of Stroh’s for the thirsty patrons. Somewhere along the way Eddie Wyatt turned from the rivers of Babylon to the healing waters of the Church and became a minister. He has been the pastor of Soul Saving Holy Church for as long as anyone can remember.

The church has been part of the Milwaukee Junction neighborhood for almost as many years as Pastor Wyatt has been on earth. It has a congregation of approximately 150 souls, many of whom have been members all their lives and consider the church to be one of their roots. Pastor Wyatt has served these people for decades in a building that ought to be as revered as any national monument. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. A number of would-be artists with a few cans of spray paint defaced the outside of this urban place of worship, giving a sad cartoon like feature to the building. That has happened to so many inner-city institutions but the neighborhood found the condition to be unacceptable. Milwaukee Junction decided to do something about this.

The Friends of Milwaukee Junction are coming together as a group to address the vandalism with coats of paint. The crazy quilt shapes and forms will soon be covered over, as well as the misspelled words and rough language that defaced the outside of this religious landmark. It isn’t just an act of kindness; it was something the community felt had to be done. The painting was necessary because the church and its pastor are so much a part of the history of Milwaukee Junction, and so great a part of its ongoing revival and improvement. Both church and pastor have earned respect.

Ann's before pic

[Rubens pic] Soul_Saving_Church_Painting    photo 79

Pastor Eddie Wyatt continues to be of service to those who are residents of the Milwaukee Junction community. As resident, Dick Rubens put it, pastor Eddie Wyatt is the “pastor extraordinaire.” Interestingly, Fred’s Key Shop of Midtown Detroit is donating to the renovation effort. The store has a special connection to the pastor because back in the day Eddie Wyatt was the first customer Fred’s Key Shop ever had.

It is part of the soul of the Milwaukee Junction community that people like Pastor Eddie Wyatt continue to be held in high regard as cornerstones of the neighborhood. This kindhearted man of God is as much a part of the story of the Milwaukee Junction area of Detroit as the building where he preaches to the faithful.

Ford Piquette Avenue plant now open for tours

1909 Model T at Ford Piquette plant

1909 Model T at Ford Piquette plant

The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant National Historic Landmark, the first factory built for and owned by the Ford Motor Company, will open for another season of public tours and events on April 3, 2013. This non-profit museum is the only “Brass Era” automobile assembly plant in Detroit that is open to the public. A small army of volunteers are painstakingly preserving this 1904 brick and timber structure. It was designed as a fire safe building by Detroit architects Field, Hinchman and Smith, now the Smith Group, the oldest architectural firm in the United States.

On the tour, see where Mr. Ford and his associates built Models B, C, F, K, N, R, S and then the Model T; the car that put the world on wheels. Each model was a technological leap over the previous. The Ford Model T would revolutionize the way automobiles are designed and built. After only six years, in 1910, The Piquette Plant had grown from thirty employees to 1,661 and was superseded by Mr. Ford’s giant Highland Park Plant.

During the nineteen years that the plant was operational, the time required to assemble a Ford automobile dropped from twelve hours to twelve minutes. The price of a Ford automobile dropped from $850.00 for a Piquette T, to $260.00. The Ford Motor Company created the greatest world marketing system in the automobile industry. Mr. Ford reduced the work day from ten hours to eight hours. Wages for a Ford employee grew from thirty cents an hour to $5.00 per day—the largest wage paid to a manufacturing employee anywhere in the world at the time. The “American Dream” of owning land and your own home, and sending your children to college drew immigrants to Detroit, from all over the world.

Out of Piquette, and Mr. Ford’s battle with the Selden Trust, grew the largest engineering society in America. Out of Piquette grew the Arsenal of Democracy that would dominate World War II military arms production. Yes, and out of Detroit’s automobile industry further grew the unions, assuring living wages, job safety and a comfortable retirement for factory workers.

2013 is the 150th birthday of Henry Ford, Automotive Pioneer. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant will participate in a year-long celebration of everything Ford sponsored by The Ford Motor Company, The Henry Ford, The MotorCities National Automotive Heritage Area, The Woodward Avenue Action Association and The Henry Ford Heritage Association. Celebrate Detroit’s automotive heritage and spirit of innovation. For information call 313-872-8759 or visit and

Visit The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant National Historic Landmark right in heart of Industrial Detroit, in Milwaukee Junction, April 3 through October. Hours are Wednesday through Friday 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM, Saturday 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, and Sunday 12 Noon to 4:00 PM.

The museum is located at 461 Piquette Avenue, three blocks east of Woodward and three blocks south of East Grand Boulevard. From I-94 you can take the Woodward Avenue exit..

The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, Inc. owns and operates The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant. The Model T Automotive Heritage Complex, Inc. is an independent 501 (C) (3) non-profit corporation preserving The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant and is not affiliated with The Ford Motor Company. All donations are Tax Deductible.

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.

The role of street art in Milwaukee Junction

The traditional notion of street art is changing. Candy Chang is creating paintings and installations in New Orleans that shift the public’s involvement in under-utilized space. Stephen Powers is getting paid by the city of Philadelphia to make enormous message-based paintings that are highly visible from the city’s elevated train line. And all throughout, Richard Florida has been on his soap box talking about place making and the re-growth of cities by this “creative class“.

With these three ingredients, my company DETROIT LIVES! worked with a building owner in the Milwaukee Junction area to take a historically blighted structure and turn it in to an asset to the community. We painted a very simple message on a building roughly 38 feet tall by 25 feet wide—a nod to the history of that physical place—and it was meant to make people feel good. The result:

Detroit LIVES We KAHN do it


In the mid and late 1920’s, Albert Kahn, heralded architect of Detroit, finished three iconic buildings in what is now New Center—Cadillac Place, the Fisher Building and the Argonaut Building. All three stand as monuments to progress in the city and the efforts of one man and his firm that largely re-defined the beauty and image of Detroit. It seemed a natural fit for the messaging of the mural to reflect the historical progress and tenacity of one of the city’s most significant designers—not to mention that as you stood in front of the wall looking at it, all three buildings were in plain view off to the side. It seemed too strange a coincidence, and begged a play on words.

The Process

We started painting in the fall of 2010, with the cold weather putting a stall on the completion until spring 2012, when the paint was able to adhere to the wall. The progress was a fun journey—with regular passersby declaring their appreciation for the work, others inquiring about the message, and many just wanting to have a casual chat.

Today the mural stands as a statement piece to the city’s progress and forward movements. Commuters pass by it every day. Residents enjoy the pleasant splash to their day as they walk their dog. It’s hard to measure the affect of such a work in terms of tangible resources, but surely you can’t argue its significance—even if only for the simple smile it begs day in and day out.