Posts Tagged ‘east grand boulevard’

Detroit’s North End neighborhood is an interesting place full of history. It’s an old section of the city where residential and industrial areas seem to intersect. It’s also a good-sized neighborhood that radiates about two miles around the intersection of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue.

Bicycling through the streets of this old, historic neighborhood, I was struck by the contrast between the industrial area south of East Grand Blvd. and the farm like feel north of the Blvd. Like other areas of Detroit, it’s a tale of two neighborhoods within its borders.

The neighborhood’s south boundary area has a gritty, hard edged, industrial feel to it. There are expansive brick buildings throughout that were constructed in the 1920’s. Heavy-duty steel structures that support train tracks cut through that section of the neighborhood too. Many of the buildings once housed machine shops that fed parts into the burgeoning auto industry. Thankfully, many of those old storied buildings have now taken on a new life.

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

Many of the small manufacturing businesses that have survived the ups and downs of Detroit’s automotive industry over the decades can still be found along the old streets, but change seems to be coming. Young artists and others have been converting the vintage brick buildings found along the densely packed, narrow streets into residential lofts, art studios, performance spaces, etc.

This old building has been converted to residential  lofts

This  building has been converted to residential lofts

Tangent Art Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Tangent  Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Restored apartment building

Restored apartment building

The artists that have moved into the old places on the south side of East Grand Boulevard have created colorful exteriors paintings on the buildings. The large wall paintings seem to glow brightly in the early morning sunrise and late evening sunsets. The wall art offers a pleasing, uplifting contrast to the harsh industrial feel in that section of the neighborhood.

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this tall building

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this building

Colorful art can be seen on many North End buildings

There is colorful art on many North End buildings

On the north side of the Boulevard there is virtually no industry. The streets, once lined with homes full of families and viable retail businesses, have changed dramatically over time. With the city’s massive population exodus and other factors, many of the businesses have closed and homes have been abandoned. Now most of the vacant homes and abandoned businesses have been cleared. The lots where they once stood are now fields of tall, wild plants turning many sections of the north side of the Boulevard into soothing, country like fields.

Community and religious organizations have moved into that area and are creating community gardens. Some cover close to a full block of land. City parks have been adopted and revitalized, and when I recently rode past one, it was in use by families and kids of all ages.

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

The North End is an interesting neighborhood. It offers plenty of diversity in architecture, lifestyles, and landscape. It seems every street I rode down and every corner I approached offered a sense of togetherness and vitality. It’s good to see that the city’s North End is coming back to life.

One of many murals in the North End

Mural in the North End

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful restored doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

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Detroit is known as a city of neighborhoods and the never-ending miles of streets are lined with a variety of homes. Most are well-built single-family residences, constructed mainly of common red brick, and many have matching garages. Bricks were widely used in the construction of these places because they are cheap to produce, strong, and came in standard, common sizes.

In some ways, riding throughout the city’s diverse neighborhoods reminds me of suburbia. Many of the city’s homes are constructed in the same architectural style, but incorporate small, almost unnoticeable variances, such as door or window placement. There are plenty of look-a-like bungalows and colonials built in the 1940’s and 50’s, as well as single-story ranch homes lining the city streets. In some of the more upscale neighborhoods, English Tudors seem to be the style of choice.

Before the city’s rapid expansion in the 1940’s and 50’s, many of the homes being built tended to be one of kind, custom places with unique stone details, slate roofs, ornate trim, etc. Although red bricks were widely used, several of the earlier, larger, and more expensive homes were built using sandstone bricks. That type of brick has a warm earth-tone hue and a rough texture. They come in uneven sizes, making for an interesting house design. They look like something found on a European building constructed hundreds of years ago.  Not only were many of the earlier, larger Detroit homes built of them, so were many of the accompanying garages.

One sandstone brick garage in particular caught my attention on a recent ride. The beautiful old two-story structure is located behind a small mansion of a house on East Grand Boulevard. It looks as if it was initially built as a carriage house, and the two barn doors facing the side street appear to be original. With the exception of the bricked-in door openings and windows on the alley side, the garage looks to be unaltered and in pristine condition. If I had to guess, this beautiful old European style garage was probably built in the early 1900’s. It’s a gem of a place and not your typical Detroit brick and mortar garage.

This could have been built as a carriage house

Various sized bricks add interest to the building

The barn doors may be original

Beautiful old-world craftsmanship

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Detroit is the Motor City. It’s a town of cars, freeways, and summer roadwork.  When they all come together, it creates lengthy stop and go traffic jams, as was the case on westbound I-94 near downtown this past weekend. While pedaling along East Grand Boulevard on the north side of the expressway, I noticed that car and truck traffic was much heavier than normal for a late Saturday morning. It didn’t register with me that drivers may have been hopping off the expressway and taking the service drive, which happens to be the Boulevard in that part of town.

I didn’t realize the expressway was slated for weekend work until I crossed over the East Grand Boulevard bridge on my bicycle. Glancing to my right I saw the glow of red brake lights from the cars below, all at a standstill. Peering over the bridge I saw a long line of orange barrels in the outside lane, angling to the right. The barrels were anchored at the end of the merge by a large yellow, electronic arrow. The blinking illuminated directional arrow was pointing right, forcing traffic from three lanes to one.

Vehicles slowly squeezed into one lane

Looking to my left I saw the front ends of cars and trucks, lined up on the expressway for as far as I could see. They were all waiting their turn to merge to the right just beyond the bridge. Looking down on the cars crawling by below, I couldn’t help notice the many drivers talking on cell phones, staring at their phone screens, or in some instances, texting away.  I was up there watching the slow, merging traffic through a chain-link safety fence for about 10-minutes. During that time, I would say at least 50% of the drivers were using their mobile phone one way or another.

Cars and trucks crawled along in long lines

Lot’s going on in some cars, others not so much

Others appeared to be snacking; some were smoking, talking with passengers, fiddling with what looked like their radio. Some simply looked bored.  One “tough guy” driver flipped me off, as if it mattered.  After all, he was the one stuck in traffic, not me. I laughed and pedaled away thinking to myself, “Bikes are better.”

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