Chene Street Detroit

Chene Street on Detroit’s east side was once one of the main streets for the city’s large Polish population. The mile and a half stretch of the street from the I-94 Expressway to Mack Avenue was one once lined with all types of shops, bakeries, ethnic restaurants, bars and other businesses that were supported by the strong Polish community.

Mixed in along Chene, and lining the streets that run parallel to it, were plenty of large two-family and small single-family wood frame homes that housed the rapidly growing Polish population in the early days of the booming automotive industry. With shifting demographics over the years, the once vibrant neighborhood is now pretty much void of commercial and residential buildings.

About three years ago I did a blog entry on the churches of Chene Street that can be viewed by clicking here. In that story I featured the variety of small churches found along that battered street and the people that they seem to cater to. Since that time, I’ve ridden down that street many times watching it slowly deteriorate. Lately it seems more and more of the older buildings have been stripped and torn down.

Like many old buildings I see on my rides, many of the ones that remain on Chene remind me of those that can be found in ghost towns on the prairies of the American west. The old, gray wooden ones especially remind me of those. The aged 100-year old buildings with their weathered cladding, splitting grain lines and sun soaked, dried out wooden facing, remind me of the tough gnarly skin of a lonely old man who worked all his life in the desert sun.



Looking at the old wooden structures that line that barren stretch on the city’s eastside, I see more than rundown buildings; I see a huge part of Detroit’s history and heritage slowly fading away.



Also found along Chene are some pretty interesting commercial brick buildings. A few look as if they are still in use and some feature really nice art deco design elements such as rounded corners and ornate brick work along the roof lines.




There is still quite a variety of interesting buildings along Chene, and unfortunately, many have been stripped and burnt. However, looking beyond their rough condition, there are some real gems of early 1900’s residential and commercial architecture to be seen. It’s a shame that most will be lost forever.




The Ford Rouge Plant is a huge, historic manufacturing facility just downriver from Detroit.  It was completed in 1928, and at that time it was the world’s largest factory of its type. The complex is about 1-1/2 miles wide by 1 mile long. At its peak, it employed about 100,000 workers.

Built along the Rouge River where it meets the Detroit River, it’s a place where large lake freighters pull in to unload iron ore that is turned into steel used in the manufacturing of automobiles. At one time, the historic complex produced nearly everything needed on site to manufacture automobiles from start to finish. Steel, glass, cast iron engine parts, etc. all came together to feed the assembly lines that workers manned 24 hours a day.

Rouge Entrance _2376

Just outside the plant’s main employee entrance along Miller Road is a small park with a brick wall that features a series of historical markers. The markers offer a brief history of the plant. Accompanying them are historic photos of the mammoth facility that have been engraved on granite. They complement the message found on the markers.

Roge Plant History Wall_2366

The markers and photos vary based on the plant’s place in history, and some feature the Rouge Plant’s role during WW II, which included production of non-automotive vehicle parts for airplanes and boats.  There is also a marker pointing out the important part women played in the overall war effort. The female employees were hired during WW II to work the assembly lines, building components for airplanes and other war related vehicles and parts. That is where the term, “Rosie the Riveter” came from.

Rosie Riviter Plaque_2343

Rosie Rouge Engraving _2344

Also featured on the wall are plaques and photos dedicated to the labor movement and the establishment of the United Auto Workers (UAW) at Ford. In the late 1930s, union organizers tried to set up a union at the Rouge Plant. As they crossed Miller Road using the employee overpass leading to the factory entrance, they were met with Ford security guards, and a conflict erupted. Many workers were brutally beaten on that famous day.

Rosie Rouge Plaque_2346

Rouge Miller rd Engraving_2345

The conflict, known as “The Battle of the Overpass”, eventually led to the establishment of the UAW within the Ford Motor Company.

The overpass is still in use today. Standing just across it in the park is a lifelike cast statue of Henry Ford. He’s facing the bridge as if greeting the workers as they arrive.  Just behind him is the brick wall with its historic plaques. Beyond the wall is the huge Rouge complex with its vast steel and power generating plants that are still in operation today.

Henry Ford at Miller Rd Bridge _2371

Henry Ford at Miller rd Park _2370

At one time, Detroit had a diverse ethnic base. In the early 20th century, people from all over the world migrated to the city to work in the quickly expanding car industry and many other types of manufacturing companies. Workers settled here from Germany, Poland, the Balkans, Ukraine, Mexico, Arabic countries and beyond before moving to the suburbs.

Currently there is an influx of Bengali people into the neighborhoods along Conant Avenue from Hamtramck into North Detroit. The people from Bangladesh are moving into that neighborhood from the New York City borough of Queens where they have been priced out because of gentrification.  Plus, the housing costs in North Detroit are incredibly cheap. In addition to the affordable housing being scooped up by the Bengalis, they have opened interesting stores and services in that area.

Bengal Town Stores_2283

I remember the first time I rode along Conant in that section of the city. Not only was I amazed at the array of stores and shops, but also the rich smells of spices that filled the air.  It was like walking into a specialty spice store. Looking around at the business along the street, it made sense. There were numerous spice stores with their doors wide open and restaurants specializing in curry, cardamom, ginger, cumin and many other spicy flavored food dishes.  It was truly a feast for the nose.

Live Fish Sign Bengal _2248

Bengal Spices_2277

Conant, also know as Bangladesh Avenue, has more than restaurants and spice shops. Along that section of Conant that straddles Hamtramck and North Detroit are many other stores (with their names written in the Bengali native language). There are fabric and clothing stores that offer colorful, bright patterns and women’s Saris. Small, independent markets offering fresh halal meats and fish are also abundant.  Other stores offer chicken (some live) and general groceries. There is also a large Mosque serving the community.

Radia Fashion Bengal_2274

Live Poultry Bengal_2268

Mosque Bengal_2282

Some of the residential streets such as Moran and Klinger run parallel to Conant. They too have old world, small corner markets catering to those living nearby.  Like those on Conant, they offer an assortment of meats, vegetables, poultry and imported grocery items.

Neighborhood Mkt Bengal_2239

That small section of Hamtramck and North Detroit is a culturally diverse, interesting and lively area. It’s a place where kids play on the streets and families walk hand in hand to the local stores and restaurants.

Indian Gifts Bengal_2275

Bengal Mkt Conant_2245

I like riding my bicycle along Junction Street in Southwest Detroit, especially the one-mile stretch between Michigan Avenue and Vernor Highway.  This little section of the Detroit street is somewhat of a microcosm of what I’ve seen in many neighborhoods while riding across the city over the past few years.

Junction Street is packed with a variety of vintage buildings that include large, older historic churches with steeples that reach high into the blue sky. There are automotive related industries still kicking out car parts. Overhead railroad tracks cross over the street and graffiti covered trains roll noisily along them. Lining the street are a few restaurants that cater to the Mexican population that live in that part of the city and non-residents seeking authentic ethnic fare.

One of many restaurants on Junction Street

One of many restaurants on Junction Street

Most of the commercial buildings and homes on Junction appear to be built in the early 1900’s through the 1930s. They look to be well cared for, and in many cases still have small, viable businesses. The older homes found there are packed together with nothing more than a walkway between them, and are mostly well maintained. It’s not unusual to see smiling, happy kids out playing and running around in the small fenced in front yards of the old homes.

Interesting duplex home

Interesting duplex home

One of many well maintained homes along Junction

One of many well maintained homes along Junction

Written on a fence facing Junction

Written on a fence facing Junction

As I mentioned, Junction Street runs through a mature neighborhood and has plenty of older buildings representing a variety of architectural styles.   There is a former service station in the art deco period that is still in use as a repair center.  On a corner sits an intriguing three-story Victorian era building with unusual roof lines that houses a florist on the first floor. Another fascinating building, probably built in the 1920s, features extraordinary brick and tile work.

Beautiful Artdeco service station

Beautiful Artdeco service station

Note the roof line on this Victorian era building

Note the roof line on this Victorian era building

Intricate brick and tile highlights are featured on this building

Intricate brick and tile work are featured on this beauty

There are two commercial buildings constructed with no gap between that caught my eye. They may have been neighborhood bars at one time. They now look secure, but not in use. One features red porcelain panels right out of the 1930s, and the other is now painted a couple of shades of gray.  Done right, both could make interesting, residential lofts spaces.

Thinking these would make ideal residential  lofts

Thinking these would make ideal residential lofts

Like many of the city’s commercial streets that I’ve ridden, that one mile stretch of Junction features the usual mix of liquor stores, hair salons, barber shops, and other small business supported by the surrounding community. Like other parts of the city, it’s refreshing to see so many viable businesses and well-maintained homes.

Plenty of small business, like this liquor store can be found on Junction

Small business, like this can be found on Junction

The corner of Junction St and Vernor Hwy is quite active

The corner of Junction St and Vernor Hwy is quite active




Detroit is fortunate to have a broad representation of some of the best architectural buildings that were constructed in the early to mid 1900’s. The Guardian Building is considered by many to be one of the finest art deco high-rise buildings that can be found anywhere. There’s the Penobscot building; another art deco gem and the glorious Fox Theater, built in the golden age of theaters with its fabulous far east motifs , There’s the Rococoish style Opera House and many others, including the majestic Fisher building in the city’s new center area.

Beyond the immediate downtown and new center areas are a tremendous amount of ornate apartment buildings featuring exotic, breathtaking facades incorporating beautiful brick and tile work. There are plenty of art deco styles and mid-century modern apartment buildings. Abundant arts and crafts designed buildings and a blend of southern Mediterranean, Moroccan, Rococo and other decorative styles can easily be found. To me, one of the most fascinating features of the old apartment buildings, are the decorative entryways.

Moroccan style with incredible detail found within the brick work

Moroccan style with incredible detail within the brick work

Interesting pillars and arches to the left of the doorway

Interesting pillars and arches to the left of the doorway

The inviting doorways are spectacular in their fine detail and eye-catching brick work that, in many cases, are quite dazzling in appearance. Complementary windows placed on both sides of the entryways, trimmed to match the door openings, go with some of the entry ways I’ve seen on my bike rides. Other buildings feature vintage lighting fixtures placed above or beside the appealing doorways. Most appear to be hand crafted to match the overall architectural theme of the building.

Art Deco Style has a nice warm feel

Art Deco Style has a nice warm feel

Windows compliment the entry

Windows compliment the entry

Clean, eye catching entryway

Clean, eye-catching entryway with vintage lights

I’ve spotted arched entryways made of bricks that incorporate colorful Pewabic tile. Ornate textured cement blocks, sandstone, granite and other decorative tile and slate are incorporated into many of the classic, old world apartment buildings as well. In some cases, Romanesque pillars are also featured, as are decorative insets, hawkish looking ethnic family shields and building names carved into marble or granite strategically placed above the entryways.

Beautiful carvings above the arched doorway

Beautiful carvings above the arched doorway

Note the inlayed stone work that forms the arch

Note the inlayed stone work that forms the arch

Amazing detail above and on each side of the arch. Check out the faces

Amazing detail above and on each side of the arch. Check out the faces at the bottom of the vertical pieces

Many of the classic old apartment buildings, with their fine entryways, can be seen across the city. Large concentrations of them are in the historic Palmer Park area near Woodward Avenue and 7-mile Road. Many of the multi-story buildings in that neighborhood were built in the late 1900’s through the 1930’s and offer some of the most ornate entryways of any apartment buildings found in the city. Other beautiful old apartments featuring decorative, inviting entryways can be found along East Jefferson on both East and West Grand Boulevard, and along many of the main roads and neighborhood streets of Detroit.

Opening leads to a small courtyard in front of the entry door

Opening leads to a small courtyard in front of the entry door

Wrought iron fence compliments the grand entryway

Wrought iron fence compliments the grand entryway

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Despite the damp, cool spring weather, over the past couple of weeks I’ve finally been able to roll up a few miles on my bicycle.  One of the many interesting Detroit neighborhoods I ride through and explore on a regular basis is the Historic Milwaukee Junction. It’s a section of Detroit just northeast of the city’s bustling mid-town area. It is an old industrial area full of vintage buildings that are showing signs of life, with many of the old brick structures being converted to residential lofts and art galleries.

One of the most historic buildings in that neighborhood is the abandoned six-story Albert Kahn designed Fisher Body 21 manufacturing plant. That old industrial building stretches almost a city block along Piquette Street.

The historic Fisher Body 21 manufacturing plant

The historic Fisher Body 21 manufacturing plant

Interestingly, I was riding past the old plant a few days ago and discovered the steel rails being used in the construction of the M1 light rail project going in along Woodward Avenue. They were stacked on Piquette in front of the former plant in rows 4 or 5 high and 25 or so wide.  What was remarkable about them was their length. Ninety percent of the rails appear to be seamless and at least 110 feet long, if not longer. They virtually ran the length of the building.

The one piece M1 rails stretch a city block

The one piece M1 rails stretch a city block

Rails stacked along Piquette Street in front of the plant

Rails stacked along Piquette Street in front of the plant

I recognize that technology is in place allowing continuous lengths of rail or steel of all sizes. But the bigger mystery to me is, how did they get there? The narrow streets don’t seem wide enough for semi-trucks to be able to haul the long rails through there, let alone make the necessary tight corners found in that section of the city. The corners just don’t appear to be wide enough.

I understand portable type wheels can be placed along the length of the rails for hauling. However, it’s a nagging question to me as to how they made it to Piquette street to be stacked in front of the old plant, especially with the tight street corners found in that old industrial neighborhood.

Looking at them and their 110’ length that seems to go on forever, I wondered how they will be moved from their current location along Piquette Street west to Woodward for placement along the M-1 light rail system that is being built. It’s a straight shot along Piquette to Woodward, but they still have to be swung around to a north/south direction once there.

Manufacturer's numbers on the rails

Manufacturer’s numbers on the rails

I’ll be keeping my eye on these; hopefully I’ll be in that neighborhood when they are being moved to Woodward Avenue for placement.

As I’ve pointed out in past blog entries, Detroit is an interesting place full of interesting signs. Many are clean, simple hand painted versions with colorful messages and images found nailed to a utility pole or an abandoned building. Others are crudely hand-made types constructed from cast-off scrap wood, Plexiglas and other found materials.  Most of the eye-catching ones I see at the grass-root level feature a simple message or a rough rendering of a particular product being promoted. It isn’t unusual for some to have misspelled words or painted, dippy letters that make them almost impossible to read. The quirky signs can be found throughout this large city in just about any neighborhood or along major commercial roads that spread across the city.

Below are a few more of the amusing signs of Detroit that I’ve spotted on my bicycle rides in the city.


They do it all

They do it all

That's one large computer

That’s one large computer

Looks to made from discarded doors

Looks to be made from discarded doors

Hand painted campaign sign

Hand painted campaign sign

Like the added words good and cheap

Like the added words good and cheap on the main sign

Plenty of interesting spellings on this tree mounted menu

Plenty of interesting spellings on this tree mounted menu

Below are links to previous blog entries on the Amusing Signs of Detroit.

Amusing Signs of Detroit

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 2

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 3

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 4

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 5

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 6

Amusing Signs of Detroit – Part 7

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