As an eastsider, I haven’t spent much time west of Woodward Avenue on my bike, so I decided I’d ride out to Fenkell to see what life is like on that side of town. My two-wheel journey took me from West Warren Avenue north on Rosa Parks Boulevard to Fenkell. On Fenkell I headed west to Grand River Avenue and once there headed southeast to Downtown Detroit.
Rosa Parks is a great street for bicycling. Although a little rough in spots, it’s one way from West Warren to just past West Grand Boulevard where it turns into a wide, nicely paved, chuckhole free boulevard. At Clairmount Street, where the 1967 riots started, it once again becomes a one-way street and stays that way to Oakman Boulevard, where it shrinks to a two-way street for the rest of the way to Fenkell.
Similar to countless other edgy streets and roads I’ve ridden in this vast city, Rosa Parks is lined with open fields, boarded-up, abandoned graffiti-tagged commercial structures, and numerous derelict homes. The exception was the area around Clairmount. This section has been rebuilt since the riots, and the Boulevard is lined with new homes and apartments and a nicely maintained shopping area. It was an interesting, sudden contrast.
The five-mile stretch of Fenkell I rode was vibrant. It’s lined with cell phone stores, café and Coney Island restaurants, national food chains and small businesses such as auto repair places, barbershops, pharmacies and nightclubs. I especially liked some of the colorful buildings I saw along the way.
Near Livernois sits the Campus Ballroom, a vintage 1920’s era building that has fallen into disrepair. Surprisingly, the building has not lost much of its architectural features and still retains its arched windows, highly detailed roofline and intricate brickwork. I wonder what the interior is like. It would also be interesting to know its history.
Close to Wyoming is Watts Club Mozambique. At one time, this was one of Detroit’s most famous jazz clubs. Many national acts such as organist Lonnie Smith, guitarist Grant Green and saxophonist Houston Pierson have played there. So have many of Detroit’s top-notch local musicians like trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, drummer Leonard King and many, many others. The club now features male dance reviews.
Fenkell at Grand River is congested. It’s congested because that intersection is also a major exit for the Southfield Freeway. Plus, Grand River runs on a weird angle so it’s not a true “grid” intersection that’s easily crossed. Patience is required, and so is paying close attention to the pedestrian signs. It would be easy to venture into that busy intersection and get caught in a Forrest Gump no-mans land of “walk – don’t walk”.
Grand River headed southeast to Downtown is a good city road for cycling, especially on Sunday. It’s wide, fast and not many cars are parked along the curb. The only exception is in the immediate area around a church. Caution is advised around them because of car doors opening. Some of the intersections are also a bit dicey because of Grand River’s odd angle. It’s part of that old spoke pattern of the streets that stem from downtown much like Gratiot and Van Dyke on the eastside.
While heading downtown I did a quick loop through the Grandmont residential neighborhood. The tidy brick neighborhood reminded me of East English Village on Detroit’s eastside. A little further down I came to Greenfield Road, a major shopping district that at one time included Montgomery Wards, Federals and Hughes and Hatcher. Many of the great retail buildings are still there and in use.
Just below Joy Road is the venerable Grande Ballroom, Detroit’s premier concert venue in the 1960’s and early 70’s. In its prime, a who’s who of rock-n-roll played there. Bands like Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Stooges, Jeff Beck and Janis Joplin just to name a few. Unfortunately this historic site has fallen on hard times.
Near West Grand Blvd. is the MBAD’S African Bead Museum. It incorporates two buildings, and both are covered in glass, mirrors, colorful tiles, and beautiful wall paintings. There is also a multi-colored, vibrant sculpture garden behind the main building. Quite a sight and a fitting end to my westside ride!