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From Holy Cross to the Fairgrounds

An interesting side note to the saga of my mom being in the hospital has been some low-grade nostalgia. The hospital she has been in for the last week and a half is on East Outer Drive on the far north edge of the city of Detroit. When my family lived in Detroit in the 1960s and early 1970s, East Outer Drive was part of the route to two of the most important places in the lives of me and my sister: K-Mart and our cousins' house in Birmingham*. I'm not driving the whole route, and mostly I'm driving at night so I don't see much, but I'm seeing enough to trigger memories. Outer Drive is mostly a boulevard, and where it is a boulevard it's lined with houses that I always thought were nice, back in the day, certainly nicer than ours was. In these neighborhoods are parks and churches and community centers as well. The boulevard narrows to a wide street in some more industrial areas. "Our" K-Mart was at one of these parts of the route. Eventually Outer Drive becomes State Fair Avenue and borders the south edge of the Michigan State Fairgrounds.

Over the last 35–40 years, one could expect a good deal of change, but "change" might imply neighborhoods switching from homes to shopping, or factory districts redeveloping as housing. None of that has happened, really. It's all still what it was before. All that has happened is deterioration, except in small pockets that are holding their own for now. The long line of nice houses is occasionally punctuated with a boarded-up one, although the further west one goes the proportion of occupied to abandoned houses pretty much flips to more abandoned than not. There's a nice new recreation center, but it doesn't look as if there's much activity there. I passed by St. Bartholomew's and St. Rita's Catholic Church and wondered which saint was the original patron. I found out within two miles when I passed the boarded-up St. Rita's church and school buildings. There's a big banner proclaiming that a new Baptist facility was "coming soon" but, like the big new shopping plaza coming to the northwest corner of the fairgrounds for the last couple of years, the economy has slowed progress on that front. The K-Mart closed many years ago; there have been some attempts at retail stores in that building, but the property looks completely derelict now.

The hospital where my mom is lodged used to be called Holy Cross Hospital. It may have closed briefly, I don't remember, but it's now part of one of the big local hospital groups. Actually, the part she's in is apparently a for-profit facility affiliated with the big local hospital group. I guess that reflects actual change over the last three decades.

It would be easy to say that all the decay is sad, but it's more the hollow kind of ache that comes with many years of seeing the losses and almost getting used to them. It's not quite as absolute a loss as my old neighborhood is, with so many missing houses you have pheasants nesting in the weeds. I guess it just shows how tough things are in Detroit, that an outer edge neighborhood can be so run-down now. It's also one of those things that haunts a middle-aged guy who still thinks things should be the way they were in his youth.


* Dave: Melinda's family. jjfmi: They went to Seaholm. All: Yes, that Birmingham as in my song "'67".



( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 18th, 2010 02:28 am (UTC)
Wow, that's triggering memories for me too. My dad used to work for the Diesel division of General Motors, later Detroit Diesel-Allison, that was located on Outer Drive. I always loved driving along the stretch of the drive between Dearborn Heights and his office because it was such a beautiful parkway. The trees and parks would help me to imagine I was not in the middle of a densely populated metropolis, but much farther out. Something like Oakland County north of Pontiac, where my grandparents lived. That was really "out in the country" to me then, though these days I guess it's probably as built up as the rest of the area.

I seem lately to be struck by a lot of realizations of just how many years have passed. My memories of Outer Drive are from the late 60s and earlier, so 40 years or more ago. I probably wouldn't recognize anything now.

I hope your mom is doing better.
Jan. 18th, 2010 02:42 am (UTC)
I would guess that the western & southern stretch of Outer Drive has not deteriorated very much, and that it's still a very nice parkway. Sometime, I will drive the length of it on the west side, since I haven't done that yet. Well, if there were open spaces, those probably filled in over the years. Except for the stretch near Rouge Park (I just remembered Outer Dr. goes through the park, or very close).

Thanks for the kind wishes. She's making progress--we think they're going to get her walking again starting tomorrow, and if that happens she'll probably come home at the end of the week. That might help her as much as the antibiotics.
Jan. 18th, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
Yup, it goes right through Rouge Park in at least one area. That used to be really pleasant in the summer and fall.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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