October 23, 2009, - 5:24 pm
Fascinating Weekend Read: A House Tells the Story of What Happened to Detroit; UPDATE: Linked to Non-Subscription Version of WSJ Article
Recently, I was in the Boston-Edison neighborhood near downtown Detroit to check out an estate sale.
The neighborhood, once the city’s jewel, is emblematic of what happened to Detroit. Once members of the Ford family (including Henry Ford, himself), top Ford executives, and many Jewish and gentile professionals lived in this fancy neighborhood of ornate mansions and giant lawns. Later, wealthy Blacks, like Joe Louis and Berry Gordy, live there. But now, the area has boarded up mansions and crackheads and winos wandering nearby. It’s not safe and looks like a vaporizing missile hit a wealthy neighborhood and erased a lot of its people. It’s very quiet, and the beautiful, once-envied homes could be had for a song. But why would you want to live there?
Detroit’s 1626 W. Boston Blvd. & Its Residents
(Incl. David & Ruth Andrews, Right)
The home I was in was symbolic, too. You could see the detailed tin on the ceilings and the carved ornate leaf and flower design on a wooden archway. But the paint was falling off of them. A ten bedroom home, believed to once be owned by the Kresge family (founders of K-mart forefather, Kresge’s five and dime stores), the house was old and decrepit–not kept up by its owners. The basement, which smelled of horrible, horrible mold made me wish I hadn’t entered. I got violently ill and vomited all over the front lawn from the malodorous air in there.
The kids of the wealthy Armenian family who were its last occupants had long ago moved to Detroit’s outlying suburbs, leaving remnants of what once was, like a 1961 Boy Scouts membership card from one of their sons (now likely a father or grandfather himself).
The Wall Street Journal recently did a piece that I think is among the best–if not THE best–written about what happened to Detroit. There is actually no commentary, just reporting on one house, 1626 W. Boston Blvd., which reporter Michael M. Phillips followed for its nearly 100 year history to date. First built and owned by a blueblood U.S. Senator, Truman H. Newberry, the home marked Detroit’s downward decline, White flight after riots and crime, and even mortgage fraud with the complicity of a Detroit police officer home-owner willing to do anything to get the house off his hands. The house was recently bought for $10,000. That’s right–no typo. It sold for $10,000, which is “expensive,” when you consider that the median price for a Detroit home is now $7,100. And even for that price, it’s no bargain.
An excerpt of this enjoyable must-read:
On a grassy lot on a quiet block on a graceful boulevard stands the answer to a perplexing question: Why does the typical house in Detroit sell for $7,100?
The brick-and-stucco home at 1626 W. Boston Blvd. has watched almost a century of Detroit’s ups and downs, through industrial brilliance and racial discord, economic decline and financial collapse. Its owners have played a part in it all. There was the engineer whose innovation elevated auto makers into kings; the teacher who watched fellow whites flee to the suburbs; the black plumber who broke the color barrier; the cop driven out by crime.
The last individual owner was a subprime borrower, who lost the house when investors foreclosed.
And here’s my favorite part:
In 2005, they found a buyer, Kimberly Carpenter, willing to pay their $189,000 asking price. They were too relieved to question why Ms. Carpenter’s closing documents recorded the sales price as $250,000.
“We were just praying and praying we could sell it so we could move to the golf course,” says Ms. Andrews.
County records show Ms. Carpenter took out simultaneous loans of $200,000 and $50,000 from First NLC Financial Services, a unit of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, an Arlington, Va., investment bank. First NLC specialized in subprime mortgages — loans for borrowers with damaged credit. . . .
David and Ruth Andrews say Ms. Carpenter paid them $189,000. They say they don’t know what happened to the other $61,000 entered into sales records.
“I have no idea about any of that,” says Ms. Carpenter. “It’s over. It’s out of my head.”
Keep in mind that David Andrews is a Detroit cop.
Read the whole thing. I promise you’ll find it entertaining and enlightening. And a fun read, in addition to a great look at how Detroit went from great to crap.
Tags: 1626 W. Boston Blvd., Berry Gordy, boarded up, boarded up mansions, Boston-Edison, crackheads, David and Ruth Andrews, David Andrews, Detroit, Detroit cop, Detroit police officer, Ford family, Henry Ford, Joe Louis, Kimberly Carpenter, Kresge, mansions, neighborhood, Truman H. Newberry, Truman Newberry, U.S. Senator, whinos, winos