There are some unique, interesting old apartments and single-family buildings in Detroit built in a variety of styles. Many are still occupied and well maintained. A few have unusual little additions on the front of them that contain businesses, restaurants or walkways leading to adjoining residential buildings. I don’t know how the concept of adding to the front of buildings evolved, but they are odd-looking.
Most of the quirky little additions are constructed of brick. A few are made of wood, and all the ones I’ve seen are attached to places that look to be 75 to 100 years old. Some tap into half of the front of the building, while others look to be attached just enough to allow for a standard doorway between the add-on structure and the home or apartment building. Some of the peculiar additions are painted in bright, eye squinting colors that glow in the sunlight.
However they evolved and whatever the reason for attaching them to the front of residential buildings might be, they sure are odd additions to the once beautiful, old residential homes. So odd in fact, that they destroy the architectural character of the buildings that are hooked to.
While looking at these places on my bicycle rides, I think the little square editions are some type of offshoot of the late 1800’s, early 1900’s version of a live/work environment. It wasn’t unusual back then for a store to be built at ground level with an apartment above.
I see the attached additions scattered about the city, mostly along busy streets on the fringe of good, solid neighborhoods. I wonder what it must be like for the people living in the apartment buildings or homes where these unusual additions are found.
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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.
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