A few weeks ago I wrote about my bicycle journey across McNichols Street (6-mile) from the eastside of Detroit to Linwood Street. At the end of that cross-town ride, I decided to pedal south on Linwood to downtown for my trip home. Linwood from McNichols to Grand River is a little over five-miles in length. It encompasses a cross-section of well-kept residential neighborhoods, a somewhat viable commercial strip and some outstanding early 20th Century commercial architecture.
Heading south on Linwood, I immediately entered the Martin Park Community; a well-kept neighborhood of brick homes constructed in various architectural styles. I saw meticulously restored English Tudors, large colonials, a few small ranches and two-family flats with remarkable porches. I cut down a couple of the tree-lined side streets in the community and was surprised at the park-like setting where beautiful, mature trees, created a tunnel of green.
A little further south, I crossed Puritan Street and entered the Pilgrim Village community, an area made up of smaller brick and frame homes. The neighborhood felt and looked a little more “urban” to me. I saw dogs chained to a front porch, homes with steel grate security doors, and a few places were boarded up with overgrown lawns. But I was encouraged to see by the well-designed Pilgrim Village Association signs that the neighborhood was organized, and residents seemed to care about their community.
As I crossed over the John C Lodge expressway, Linwood changed from residential to mostly commercial. There were the usual fast food outlets, gas stations, convenient stores and a few small manufacturing and storage facilities. Like many of Detroit’s commercial strips, abandonment was common. In looking at some of the commercial structures, I was struck by some of the Art Deco highlights, brightly painted buildings and unusual businesses like a pest control company that “kills all insects that fly, wiggle or crawl”.
At the corner of Linwood and Fenkell Street is a stunning four-story building, home to the Paul Robeson Academy, a Detroit Public School. After a brief Internet search, I found that the gorgeous structure was built in 1910 by the Diocese of Detroit, for use as a home for orphan boys. What struck me as I approached the building was its sheer size and country-like setting, similar to a European country estate.
I came across a string of large community gardens on Linwood in an area stretching between Oakman Boulevard and Davidson and beyond. Although they weren’t marked, I assumed many of them were somehow affiliated with Focus Hope (located near Oakman), an organization dedicated to improving the surrounding community and the lives of the people living there.
Approaching the historic Boston-Edison and LaSalle Gardens neighborhoods, Linwood gradually changed back to residential with a few convenience stores scattered throughout. At the corner of Linwood and Chicago Boulevard is the Sacred Heart Major Seminary. The buildings on their large campus were constructed in the Gothic style, like those found in Oxford, England.
When I reached West Grand Boulevard, I could see one of my favorite Detroit buildings, the long abandoned Lee Plaza Residential Hotel a few blocks to the west. I took a quick detour to check out the once magnificent 17-story Art Deco building that at one time was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As I rolled up, I could see that some of the original stonework found at the entrance was still in place, and the brick appeared to be solid as far up as I could see. But unfortunately, the building has been ravaged over the years with most, if not all of the original architectural features having been stripped and sold by scavengers. In fact, several years ago, 50 terra-cotta lion heads from the Lee showed up on a Chicago condo development causing an outrage in the preservation community. A few years ago the building was once again in the news because vandals somehow stripped its solid copper roof without being seen. What a shame to see this skeleton of a once magnificent building.
Back on southbound Linwood, I crossed over I-94 and the street became quite narrow. Many empty lots lined the street and several had turned into fields of tall grass like other city neighborhoods. A few blocks further, Linwood jogged right as it approached Grand River where it ended. I took a left on Grand River and headed downtown. I basically had the six-lane road all to myself.