Grande Ballroom Strikes A Case For NRHP, Redevelopment

By Eric Hergenreder - 

 
The Grande Ballroom shortly after it opened. Photo from the Burton Historical Archives.

The Grande Ballroom shortly after it opened. Photo from the Burton Historical Archives.

 

The Grande Ballroom on Grand River and Beverly may enter the National Register of Historic Places by the end of the year. The Friends of the Grande are making a push to have the historic concert venue added to the NRHP to ensure the building’s safety and to help enable renovation. The current owners, Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church, have given permission to the group to pursue the nomination to be added to the list. The Grande’s sister, the Vanity Ballroom on Jefferson and Newport was added to the NRHP in 1982.

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

The Friends of the Grande recently met for the first time in over ten years to discuss the nomination to the NRHP which will be reviewed by committee in September. The group also talked potential business ideas and pre-development projects to stop the deterioration of the structure. Leo Early has spent over 12 years researching and collecting stories from the Grande, culminating with the publishing of his book, The Grand Ballroom: Detroit’s Rock ’N’ Roll Palace. In the book, Early tries to shed light on the building's almost 90 year history and empower hope for the future of the building he loves so dearly. This past week I was able to catch up with Leo to talk about the building and the recent meeting of the Friends of the Grande. He was most excited about the fact that after an 8+ year battle, the building owners are allowing a submission to the NRHP. He was also excited to have a number of members of the church that owns the Grande at the meeting, including the Reverend Dr. R Lamont Smith II. They also spoke about a number of different stabilization ideas and fundraising projects that would help stave off demolition, but these are all dependent on the structural integrity report. A bad report would make addition to the NRHP and saving the building quite difficult. Early is very enthusiastic about the Grande Ballroom and without patrons like him it’s likely we would have lost a number of other historic Detroit buildings. There is another meeting planned for Thursday, July 7th at the Tech Shop in Allen Park. Find more information here, and you can purchase Early’s book here.

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

Photo by DetrotUrbex.com via HistoricDetroit.org

The Grande Ballroom, as Historic Detroit describes it, was ‘a rock ’n’ roll mecca.’ The building opened its doors in 1928 as a place for young Detroiters to listen to music and dance. The Grande began to struggle in the 60s due to a lack of a liquor license and a deteriorating neighborhood. In 1966, Russ Gibb began renting the property and promoting rock shows. Detroiters and suburban youth alike began frequenting the Grande to see acts like the MC5 and The Stooges. It wasn’t unusual to find tabs of acid, kids smoking weed, and Iggy Pop bleeding on the Grande's stage. Not only did local legends rock the Grande, big name acts like Led Zeppelin, the Yardbirds, Cream, Pink Floyd, Chuck Berry, and the Velvet Underground climbed onto the stage of the historic venue. Eventually, the music stopped echoing out of the Moorish Deco walls of the ballroom, hosting its last show in 1972. The building has been seldom used since, and it has been owned by Chapel Hill Missionary Baptist Church since 2006. 

The basis for joining the NRHP is somewhat simple. The National Park Service wants to protect and inform the public about important places that have changed our history in some shape or form. There are 261 sites in Detroit that already boast this certification and 10 National Historic Landmarks, which is a higher distinction. While the fate of the Grande Ballroom is unknown, it’s pretty hard to deny that the building is something special that deserves to be remembered.  

Photographer Falls Through Abandoned Downtown Roof, Second Occurrence In One Year

By Eric Hergenreder - 

A photographer ended up in the hospital Thursday night after falling through a skylight in an abandoned building downtown. It is currently unclear what exact injuries the man suffered, but it appeared he had broken his leg, ankle, and a couple ribs. The man fell through the abandoned Harvard Square building on Broadway Avenue in downtown Detroit. This is the second occurrence that we know of within the past year, including an explorer who fell through a stairwell at the United Artist Theater last August, shattering his heel among other injuries.

Photo of Harvard Square Center by Eric Hergenreder

Photo of Harvard Square Center by Eric Hergenreder

Although the number of abandoned properties downtown has been decreasing over the past few years, there are still a good number of neglected properties within walking distance of the attractions bringing people to the city. Even with more security and police presence downtown, these photographers, explorers, and vandals continue to find their way into these buildings. Most of the neglected buildings that remain downtown have been sitting for decades, which enables the decay of these structures. After such negligence, entering these buildings is an extreme risk. Even with that being said, and all the work that has been done downtown in recent years, urban explorers are still able to find their way into buildings amidst the new hustle and bustle downtown. 

Harvard Square Center was built in the 1925 and originally housed offices and retail space. The building exchanged hands a couple times before becoming abandoned in 1998, although the street-level retail space is still operational.

The United Artists Theater opened in 1928 and was one of the most beautiful movie palaces in the city. The theater and connected office tower closed in 1975, although it was used for various things such as a recording studio for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and storage. Bricks have been falling off of the facade since the 1980’s, and not much has changed since the graffiti was buffed before the 2006 Super Bowl and the marquee was removed after falling apart onto the sidewalk in 2005. It was recently announced that the building was part of a renovation plan by Ilitch’s Olympia Entertainment, but many are weary of the behemoth of a project actually being completed. Renovation plans are set to start in 2018.

Photo of the United Artists Theater by Eric Hergenreder

Photo of the United Artists Theater by Eric Hergenreder

Both of these properties were featured on our list, Buildings in Detroit That Need to Be Saved in 2017.

Even with less and less abandoned properties downtown, it appears until they are all renovated or demolished we will continue to see accidents like this. 

A Case For Cooley High

By Eric Hergenreder

Photos by Eric Hergenreder

An abandoned school on Detroit’s Northwest-side may see new light soon through the work of local grassroots organizers. The Cooley Reuse Project, founded by long-time Detroiters Nicole Pitts and Lamar Williams, is attempting to raise enough money to purchase the closed school and renovate it into a community and business center. The property features a 1,000 seat auditorium, pool, gymnasium, gun range, kitchen, and library. The most notable alumni of the school was the late Mike Ilitch, who had the school added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011, but many famous athletes also attended Cooley. Rapper Obie Trice and producer Black Milk both attended as well.

Cooley High School was built in 1927. The school is 322,000 square feet and sits on 17 acres. The school was truly a beautiful construction—the attention to detail both on the exterior and in particular inside the auditorium is stupendous, even while vacant.

 
Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University

 
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map 1951

Sanborn Fire Insurance Map 1951

Google Maps Aerial View 2017

Google Maps Aerial View 2017

As you can see from the map, Cooley’s gym was once split into two sections—something that was somewhat typical for the time period. One side was for boys and the other for girls. Physical education courses were typically separate when the school was built, but that would change a few decades later. The Cooley sports programs dominated most other city schools throughout most of its history, sending numerous players to the MLB, a few to the NFL and NBA, and even two to the Olympics.

You can also notice by the map how large the auditorium is compared to the rest of the school. The auditorium is definitely one of the highlights Cooley has to offer, as one can see from the photos below. The attention to detail in the molding on the ceiling is spectacular, and even in the pitch dark the stage seems to glow. The two story library is also quite breathtaking.

 
Photo by Jon DeBoer

Photo by Jon DeBoer

Photo by Felicia Fullwood
 
 
Photo by Robert Monaghan
 

The school has started to be vandalized and scrapped by intruders, but overall the building is in pretty good shape. The organization trying to purchase the building would like to do so as soon as possible, not only to begin refurbishing the building, but to thwart off further attempts to cause damage to the school. So far the group has raised just under $900,000 to purchase the property and renovate it, but they are still a little bit short. They have turned to the community to try and make an effort to raise the appropriate funds, with a goal of $10k by Mothers Day (May 14th). We truly hope that Cooley will continue to, as it has for almost a century, serve the neighborhood it is surrounded by.

 

More Info:

GoFundMe Page
Cooley Reuse Project Website
Curbed Detroit Article
Notable Alumni of Cooley
Shitty People Ruining the School

How To (cheaply) Get Started With 35mm Film in Metro-Detroit

Written by Eric Hergenreder

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Ilford HP5 with Canon AE-1 PROGRAM & Canon 35-70mm 3.5-4.5

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Ilford HP5 with Canon AE-1 PROGRAM & Canon 35-70mm 3.5-4.5

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Agfa 400 with Olympus Stylus 120

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Agfa 400 with Olympus Stylus 120

Around the beginning of this year I was feeling a bit uncreative with my photography. It seemed like I was caught in a rut of shooting the same things over and over and I couldn’t seem to break out of that creative-funk. A couple friends of mine were film shooters and they had been trying to convince me to join the dark side for months already. I had gotten lucky and scooped up a Canon AE-1 Program up at a garage sale for $20 the summer before, paired along with a 35-70mm Canon Lens that I have grown to enjoy. I found that shooting with film forced me to slow down, frame my shots more precisely, and think about what I was doing before even taking my lens cap off. Starting with film also allowed me to re-shoot some of my favorite locations with a different feel, which was fun. Whether you just want to get into it for fun or you’re older and want to jump back into the game, I have some advice on how to do it cheaply.

First off, you’re going to need a camera. Garage sales, flea markets, and thrift stores are prime locations for finding gems for good prices. Habitat for Humanity Re-Store locations often have bins full of old cameras. I stopped by Recycle Ann Arbor this week and they had 5-10 point-and-shoot film cameras that seemed in working condition, all for under $10. I also was able to pick up beautiful Quantaray and Sigma FD lenses for my AE-1 there. Salvation Army and Goodwill also are good places to look. I have seen a number of older cameras at Value World on Woodward in Detroit, too. If you are already a digital photographer, particularly Nikon shooters, and already own some older lenses you may be in luck. Nikkor AI and AIS lenses were originally made for film cameras and fit a plethora of Nikon cameras from the 70s onward, and still work on digital cameras today. D-series Nikkor lenses will also mount a number of newer Nikon film cameras as well. You can pick up the same Canon AE-1 Program that I use on Keh.com or Ebay for around $100, or less if you are lucky. I use an old Olympus point-and-shoot and my Canon pretty religiously, and find I never leave them at home even if I plan to shoot just digital.

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Fuji Superia 400 with Canon AE-1 PROGRAM & Canon 35-70mm 3.5-4.5

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Fuji Superia 400 with Canon AE-1 PROGRAM & Canon 35-70mm 3.5-4.5

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Ektar 100 with Canon AE-1 PROGRAM & Canon 35-70mm 3.5-4.5

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Ektar 100 with Canon AE-1 PROGRAM & Canon 35-70mm 3.5-4.5

Secondly, you’re going to need some film. There are a lot of budget films around, my favorite being Fuji. You can get four rolls of Fuji Superia 400 for around $12 on Amazon. That’s 96 total shots, which isn’t too bad. A lot of people don’t like Agfa films, but I think they are super fun to mess around with, especially in a party or concert setting. They’ll set you back around $4 a roll in store, which isn’t too bad. My budget film option of choice is only available in some specific places. Camera Mall in Ann Arbor sells expired film for $2 a pop, generally Fuji Superia 800. It has only been expired by one month, and I have never had any issues shooting with it. It isn’t the best film, but for starting out or just messing around, it’s not a bad deal. Once you have gotten your hands dirty, I would recommend trying Portra or Ektar films, which are both by Kodak and are a little over $10 a roll. They produce amazing colors and are fun to mess around with for portraits. If you really feel confident in yourself, you can try Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5 black and white films, both of which are stellar, but will cost you a pretty penny to have developed… which is our next topic.

When I first started shooting film, I had no idea where I would have it developed. I heard that Woodward Camera did good work (which I must say, they really do), but after developing some film there I found the pricing to be a bit out of my budget as a broke & alcoholic college student. My buddy Julian recommended Express Photo & Camera in Livonia, and I haven’t looked back since. Development and scanning for one standard color roll ends up being around $5, and you save if you wait to develop a number of rolls at once. This is far cheaper than Camera Mall in Ann Arbor and Woodward Camera in Birmingham. They also only take about an hour to do the whole process, whereas the others can take up to a week or more. The workers at Express Photo & Camera are the nicest damn people you will ever meet, and are always happy to help with any questions you might have. Developing traditional black-and-white film is more expensive no matter where you go because of the different chemicals used, so to test the waters I would recommend Ilford XP2. This is because it can be developed in the same chemistry as color film, AKA, Express Photo & Camera can do it for cheap. I don’t like the results from XP2 quite as much as HP5 or Tri-X, but saving around $10 a roll is a nice kicker.

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Agfa 400 with Olympus Stylus 120

Shot by Eric Hergenreder on Agfa 400 with Olympus Stylus 120

I highly recommend anyone who shoots digital to try film out. The only times I had ever shot film prior to this year was on family vacations before we had a digital camera and my mom would buy me disposable cameras. But after spending so much time and money on digital, I find film to be a nice break. I really feel it has helped me become a better photographer because I actually sit back and think about each shot individually before I press the shutter, and I am able to get a feel from my photos that I never could with digital. It’s definitely something fun to mess around with, regardless of whether you go out and buy a $5 point-and-shoot or a Leica M3 for $1000+. I also recommend trying to get into a dark room and seeing the process sometime, because it’s really interesting. I hate chemistry and I was enamored by the process. I hope I was able to help you understand film a little more, understand why I do it, and how you also can do it on a budget. Happy hunting!

 

A Conversation About Detroit’s Graffiti

Lately I’ve been thinking about all the buffing that’s going on around the city of Detroit. Mayor Mike Duggan is taking a very hard stance on graffiti in the city, leading to the arrest of a number of artists and the buffing of hundreds of buildings. Whereas I do think that this is a good thing, I can’t help but question Duggan’s strategy to tackle the issue. The city has been putting pressure on building owners to clean up the appearance of hundreds of buildings, which means buffing the exterior of the building. Upon first hearing this would be happening, I was happy. It’s hard to take pride in your city when there are buildings in shambles on every block outside of downtown. 

Fisher Body 21 after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by Tom Poeschel

Fisher Body 21 after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by Tom Poeschel

After further investigation, I really don’t understand how this is really helping the city. Yes, Duggan’s iron fist is forcing building owners to clean up their buildings and he has ordered the clean-up of numerous city owned properties, but these buildings are still wide open to the elements—and graffiti artists. Fisher Body 21 in Midtown was recently buffed clean, but when you head over there, you can still walk right in. New graffiti has already been sprayed on the decaying walls of the old General Motors facility. Please tell me how that’s a good use of government funds? I understand that city leaders are trying to beautify the city, and many see graffiti to be an eye sore, but how is this any better? By buffing these structures and then leaving them wide open to the elements and vandals, the city is literally just throwing money away. The city needs to either clean these buildings up *and* secure them, or just leave them be until funds are available to do both. I understand the hard-nose attitude the city is trying to take with property owners, but sealing these buildings up is just as important as cleansing them of graffiti.

As someone who often finds himself inside these abandoned buildings, I also have another opinion to offer. Since when is a crumbling shell of a building covered with one (typically ugly) color paint prettier than a structure covered with art by local creatives? I mean, I’m not saying that ELMER and GASM are Michelangelo prodigies, but art is art, right? I understand that Detroit is trying to distance itself from its rugged and grimy past, but I truly believe that this very past is what makes Detroit the creative hub that it currently is. People love the murals in the Eastern Market District and other commissioned works around the city, but what many people don’t realize is that most of these artists started by spraying on abandoned buildings. This may be an unpopular opinion, but I find the tags on abandoned structures like Fisher Body, the Grand Trunk Warehouse, and other buildings around the city to be far prettier than a bare, naked, abandoned structures in shambles.

Photo of the United Artist Theater before cleanup, used with permission from Nailhed.com

Photo of the United Artist Theater before cleanup, used with permission from Nailhed.com

The city has a history of removing graffiti from abandoned buildings when beatification attempts are being made. Before the Super Bowl came to town a decade ago then mayor Kwame Kilpatrick took a hard stance on abandoned structures, namely in downtown districts. One building that comes to mind is the United Artist Theater, which still sits abandoned today. The windows of the building were covered with pieces inspired by Mayan hieroglyphics in gold, reds, and blues. This really made the building look like quite interesting, and not like the abandoned movie palace that has been sitting empty at the hands of the Ilitch’s since 1995. The graffiti was removed before the 2006 Super Bowl to try and make downtown look nicer, but I can’t help but make the argument that the building was far more interesting, and beautiful, before they removed the artwork and left it bare and decaying. It’s far easier to point out the flaws of a building when there isn’t any paint slapped on it to take your eyes off the bricks falling from above. The Lafayette building had similar art on its windows before it saw the wrecking ball in 2009.

Photo of a recent REMY piece

Photo of a recent REMY piece

A friend of mine is the tagger known as ‘REMY.’ He has been exploring, and painting in, abandoned structures for a number of years in the city. He explained some of the things he has seen change since he started painting in pre-bankruptcy Detroit. “Four or five years ago the city of Detroit was a free for all, graffiti wise…lots of the city was abandoned and the police had bigger problems than artists,” REMY explained. He went on to tell me about how he and his friends used to paint street side walls in broad daylight at little to no risk at all, maybe a ticket if it was a slow day for police. He then explained how as the money began flowing into the city, stricter regulations went into effect. These laws were always technically in place, but for a long time city officials were more concerned with the bigger issues facing Detroit. As the beautification of Detroit came onto the radar of Detroit officials, the police came onto the radar of Detroit’s graffiti artists. REMY also believes that these new Detroiters “aren't able to look past the fact that it's a crime and enjoy the graffiti as an element of beautification, like the native Detroiters once did.” REMY describes this change as the end of an era, and that a lot of artists have changed up their style because of this. Having known him for almost a year now, REMY is also a skateboarder, explorer, and pretty talented photographer. As he told me, “It's kinda like either push the envelope, or get left behind.” REMY still paints and just got a new GoPro to highlight his adventures in Detroit. His tagging Instagram is @remy1r, you can see some of his work there.

Grand Trunk Cold Storage / Warehouse after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by Tom Poeschel

Grand Trunk Cold Storage / Warehouse after buffing in October of 2016. Photo by Tom Poeschel

One thing that is very clear, the state of the Detroit graffiti scene is changing fast. I may not agree with the methods Mayor Duggan is currently utilizing to beautify Detroit, but I do think that some of what he’s doing is good for the city. It will be easier to take pride in a Detroit that lacks blight, but with the sheer amount of blight the city has, dreams of a blight free Motor City are a long way off. I also wish that the city spent money securing the buildings that are still salvageable rather than cleaning up all of them but leaving them open to the elements. I also don’t see the harm of artists putting their mark on buildings that are already dilapidated, especially if the city has neglected them enough to allow them to reach that point. I guess my question is, what roll will graffiti and street artists have in the Detroit of the future? I, for one, hope it’s one of some significance.


You can read more about the stance Mayor Mike Duggan and the City of Detroit have taken on graffiti at the link below.

http://www.detroitmi.gov/graffiti


As always, finishing with a link. Grimy subject above, grimy song down here. Been really into $UICIDEBOY$ lately for their dingy feel and hard hitting delivery. The duo hail from New Orleans and make some pretty dope music, check it out.