There’s a short street in Downtown Detroit that reminds me of New York City. It’s a narrow street with a narrow sidewalk lined with small trees, and it ends near a quaint urban park. What I like about the street is its scale. The street was developed in the late 1800’s when cars were only a curiosity. There are only two buildings on one side of this short block. They are not massive and both hug the sidewalk, creating a peaceful and warm urban environment that encourages walking.
The streetscape, with its ornamental trees and intricate brickwork found on the buildings, is a noticeable contrast to today’s modern, box-shaped buildings built for the car culture. Many of the current, newer square buildings I see while riding along Jefferson Avenue, for example, are set back from the street and sidewalk. They are usually fronted with parking lots, creating a sense of isolation for pedestrians. Center Street, with its older buildings, is quite the opposite. It is an integral part of the urban setting in that part of the city.
There are two vintage buildings on the short street: the triangle-shaped, 10-story Milner Hotel and the historic Harmony Club known today as the Virgil H Carr Building. The Milner spans about three-quarters of the block. It was built in 1917 in the Flat Iron style of architecture, similar to the famous triangle-shaped Flat Iron building in New York City.
Next to it is the Virgil H. Carr Building (Harmony Club). It was built in 1895 for the Harmonie Society, a musical society made up of German immigrants that settled in that section of Detroit in the mid-to-late 1800’s. The four-story building was constructed in the Beaux Arts style of architecture with curved windows and intricate brick work. When built, it included various lounge areas, a tavern, dining areas and recreational rooms such as a bowling alley. I recently took a tour of the place and was surprised to find a large theater currently under restoration on the fourth floor. The Carr building is now home of the Arts League of Michigan.
Although Downtown Detroit has lost many of the historical buildings through neglect or urban renewal, it’s refreshing to see a little bit of urban density. It’s reminiscent of New York City’s Greenwich Village, and it’s right here in Detroit.