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

By Debbie Schlussel

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.

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14 Responses

This reminds me of a Bob Dylan song”Everything is Broken”.
You hear stories like this all over the USA, in the once great big cities. This is what big government liberalism brings.
I would love to see a change a comin’. A new America where business and manufacturingcan reside, by lifting taxes and regulations, and rebuild this country from the bottom up and bring prosperity and American pride back. Where all Americans can prosper. Take away the chains of suppression. I grew up on the rich Motown music that came from Detroit. I recently saw a documentary in which Jack White (of the White Stripes) showed the landscape of Detroit today. How it is now a boarded up slum. Pretty depressing. I found a very interesting documentary
called “And This is Maxwell Street”. It is about an area in Chicago that once was a Sunday flea market, where Blues musicians would perform on street corners. The Jewish merchants would sell their wares for cheaper prices. Everyone would look forward to Sundays. Well today there is very little of left of the area. Generations of Immigrant and Jewish families lived and worked there. It is sad to see what has become of our American cities.

Delta George on October 24, 2009 at 12:04 am

My dad has taken the family through a part of Inkster(stinkster) a few times to look at where the Polish neighborhoods were. His relatives used to go to the park and play Polish music on the weekend and so forth. Now it’s tore the hell up and you see blacks have taken their place. Talking on cell phones in front of a house that is in desperate need of minor repairs. No need to fix up stuff when you don’t care about the stuff. They don’t care about themselves so why would they care about their homes and neighborhoods.
Indian reservations look just about the same. Generations of hand outs have destroyed a once proud people.

Joe on October 24, 2009 at 11:00 am

I’d like to read the whole story…but I’m not going to subscribe to the WSJ in order to read it.

ebayer on October 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    “I’d like to read the whole story…but I’m not going to subscribe to the WSJ in order to read it.”

    Me too! I can afford it right now!

    Jamie Shafer on October 24, 2009 at 4:43 pm

*They don’t care about themselves so why would they care about their homes and neighborhoods.
Indian reservations look just about the same. Generations of hand outs have destroyed a once proud people.

Joe on October 24, 2009 at 11:00 am*

Exactly. The same thing has happened to the once nice, middle class Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. I lived there until I was in first grade in the late 70’s. Liberals always make out white flight to be “racist” without taking into account any of the reasons for it.

Fast forward in time and what has happened to Stone Mountain: Blacks started moving into Stone Mountain in the late 70’s. Some of the initial white flight might have been racist, but once the blacks got demographic strength, they vote for none other than Cynthia McKinney of Stone Mountain. Then the rest of the whites start fleeing out with the liberal, democratic leadership.

A few years ago, I drove through the neighborhood in Stone Mountain I lived in. What was a idyllic, middle class suburb of Atlanta is now trashed with houses in bad condition, yards not taken care of, etc.

JM on October 24, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Time Magazine has bought a house in one of those neighborhoods and will do a year-long series on Detroit. You see pictures of once proud hotels with grand pianos still in there – all teeming with leaks and rats now.

The Fisher Body plant, used by GM until the 1990s, is deserted.

The problem feeds on itself with so many abandoned houses and an occasional inhabited one – the police can’t cover everything with such a shrunken tax base. Someone suggested that the best thing to do is raze these neighborhoods and turn them into green belts.

At blame, of course, were both the auto management and the labor unions.

I tried linking to the WSJ article and like the other poster I’ll be darned if I will subscribe to them just to read an article.

Bill Brandt on October 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    “Auto management and labor unions”?! Detroit was a wasteland before the auto industry went away. You never noticed Detroit went from White to black? Right along with all our schools in the 60’s? You don’t see a mild correlation there?

    Steve Ventry on October 25, 2009 at 5:56 pm

I grew up in suburban Detroit, and remember well the riots of the late 60’s. Liberal writers and politicians constantly criticize “white flight” as though the only reason middle and upper-middle class white people left the inner cities was to get away from black people. They left to get away from crime and poverty – which was exacerbated by the Lyndon Johnson “Great Society” programs of the late 60’s. What is sad – almost criminal – is how liberal programs have destroyed not only the City of Detroit but the great state of Michigan!

One question I do have is this: Those who criticize “white flight” seem to be saying that the only way a city can remain vibrant is if it is home to a majority of white people. Isn’t that racist? These same people supported busing schoolchildren in the 60’s (how well I remember THAT). Their argument appeared to be that the only way black children could learn anything is if they were sitting next to a white child. Isn’t that racist?

DG in GA on October 25, 2009 at 11:51 am

    DG….great observations……..the sense of entitlement cultivated since the 1960s does indeed bear a large responsibility for these conditions.

    Duck in Denver on October 25, 2009 at 2:40 pm

When have you ever seen a race of people use bayonets to push their own race out of the way, to allow a different race in? Only Whites have done this. And you think racism is evil? Hell, it’s normal. “Diversity” results in the death of the idiots who practice it.

Steve Ventry on October 25, 2009 at 5:51 pm

You can read the article here for free:


CSM on October 25, 2009 at 7:53 pm

My great uncle had to move out of Detroit in the 60’s because of the black tide.
I wasn’t born yet but as it turns out when my cousin was 5 years old the black kids would chase her home, beat her up, pull her hair out because of her skin color. All the time. She’s a nurse and the city is a hell hole. An old girlfriends dad did home improvements and had to let a thief take his tools after catching him as a knife was pulled on him and he had obeyed the law and carried no weapon. He vowed to never work another job in “D” town. I imagine if he’d have shot the black guy for his tools the riots would’ve started earlier. All over the country this scenario played out and the politicians let them take the cities and turn them into slums filled with crime.

Joe on October 26, 2009 at 9:56 am

I think one of the biggest issues here is first time home owners, mostly black, who never had the experience of maintaining a home as they grew up. My parents owned their home as I was growing up and it was not uncommon for me or my siblings to help dad on home repairs. Thus when I became a homeowner, I knew what was needed to maintain it. I am married to a black man (I am white) and we maintain the home together because he was also fortunate enough to have this experience growing up. There are parts of Flint that are primarily white and it is as run down as the low income black areas. It is a culture of pride (or lack thereof). We were brough up to take pride in our homes. Many were not or grew up in apartments where someone else was responsible for the upkeep. So start teaching these basic lifeskills again. We nned to get a sense of pride in our culture again. Do away with the mentality of owedness.

Musiccgirl on October 26, 2009 at 11:46 am

    Musicgirl, you make a lot of sense.

    Everywhere you go you will find people who take pride in their homes and those who don’t. Much of it is eduction: how you were raised to think of property care and maintenance. Another part of it is your own personal sense of self-worth.

    The very vile racist commenters on this site only seek to exacerbate the extreme problems that racism cause in America.

    Lewis on April 7, 2010 at 2:00 pm

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