A Historic Preservation Battle Fought & Lost: The R. Thornton Brodhead Armory

I purchased a book about historic buildings in Michigan a few months back and while looking through it I found a pamphlet from a tour of the Brodhead Armory from the late 1990s. I have explored the armory a number of times, so here is a combination of photos I have taken and information that I have learned from the pamphlet. 

 
BrodheadPamphletEHERG
 

In the late 1920s Lieutenant Commander R. Thornton Brodhead, the head of the Michigan State Naval brigade, led a drive to establish a new naval armory. The state of Michigan appropriated $250,000 for construction, and the City of Detroit provided the land and additional funds.

On October 6, 1930 the Detroit Naval Armory was dedicated. The structure, standing on the Detroit River just east of the Belle Isle Bridge, was designed by the Detroit-based architectural firm Stratton & Hyde, featuring an Indiana limestone-faced exterior and ceramic tile crests made of Pewabic Pottery. William Stratton was a veteran of the Michigan Naval Militia’s USS Yosemite Crew during the Spanish-American War. 

Upkeep of the building was limited to primarily state funding, and as the armory opened during the Great Depression the Navy was forced to take advantage of the space they had to make money, hosting sporting events, rallies, and auto shows. Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke at the armory during his first campaign for the presidency and Joe Louis fought in the main area of the building in 1932. 

During the Great Depression the Federal Government paid a number of different artists to create works inside the building. These works gave the building the most extensive Works Progress Administration art collection of any other building in the state of Michigan. David Fredenthal began painting murals in the wardroom and officer’s bar of occupational and leisurely activities of sailors in 1936. Edgar Yaegar completed murals on the mess deck in 1937, portraying vessels that served Detroit’s Naval Reservists. John Tubaczuk carved extensive wood pieces all throughout the building, but most notably carvings of marine fantasies on the bannisters, and room-specific carvings on wooden-doors and insets. Gustave Hildebrand carved a number of unique plaster pieces on the first floor of the building, depicting occupational themes in scenes of sailors swabbing, plotting courses, and “holystoning” their decks smooth.

The anchor from the Yanic, a ship built in 1863 and used by the Navy until 1929, is centered in the front yard of the building. Brass portholes from the USS Dubuque, the first of two ships to hold said name, were installed in a steel bulkhead at the base of the stairwell leading to the wardroom.

 
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During World War II the building became a training center for electrical and diesel engineers, housing and training over 1000 sailors that would ship off to Europe, Africa, and Japan. Captain Brodhead died in the late 1940s and the State of Michigan honored him by renaming the Detroit Naval Armory in his honor. It has been named the R. Thornton Brodhead Armory since. The Navy used the building until sometime before 1989, when it was leased to the Marine Corps. At the time this pamphlet was printed, which is hand dated 1998, the armory was home to the headquarters element of the 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment (1/24) and their medical support unit, Naval Reserve 5th Marine Division (1/24). It also served as the Marine Corps Mobilization Station, where unassigned reservists mobilize in times of war or national emergency. The armory was also home to P.A.L.’s Youth Basketball League, high school graduations, and special sports activities, often free of charge. It appears to have been left abandoned sometime around 2004, ownership being transferred to the City of Detroit some time thereafter. Support beams were stolen by scrappers, caving in the roof sometime around 2014. Most of the ornate woodwork has been stolen by thieves, but some of the murals still sit somewhat intact.

The pamphlet I found was produced by the Brodhead Armory Preservation Society, a group that was established in 1998, "for the purpose of coordinating efforts to rehabilitate and maintain the armory as a historic structure and to raise funds for that purpose.” The group, based out of Royal Oak, realized that the Marines would do all they could to maintain the armory, but also knew it would take a lot of money to restore and conserve the artistic treasures the building housed. It appears they were running tours of the building to gain public awareness of the beauty it held with the Marine Corps’ permission, accepting donations to help upkeep the more ornate portions of the building. Although it appears the men and women of the Brodhead Armory Preservation Society were fighting the good fight, as you can see by the photos shown here they were unable to stave off the destruction due to scrapping, neglect, and the weather. This should be a reminder that although we have lost so much here in Detroit, we cannot let such events put a damper on our attitude towards historical preservation, as there are still a lot of battles to be fought.

 
Photo from the  Detroit Historical Society  of the armory in the 1930s. Students from Cass Tech, Crosman, Smith, and West Commerce High Schools present for an event.

Photo from the Detroit Historical Society of the armory in the 1930s. Students from Cass Tech, Crosman, Smith, and West Commerce High Schools present for an event.

 

Knowing how to get involved with historic preservation can be a little daunting at first, but in Detroit we have a number of ways to make it a little easier. A great way to make a difference is to consider donating your time or funds to an organization like Preservation Detroit. A great way to keep updated on current events is to follow HistoricDetroit.org on Facebook, and also check their website periodically. Crain's Detroit and the Motor City Muckraker are also good sources of information as well.

For more on the Brodhead Armory, check out this article from Detroit Urbex. It shows a number of before & after photographs of the wooden carvings and murals.

Written by Eric Hergenreder. Photos taken by Eric Hergenreder in December of 2015.

Ditch Your Digital Camera—Why You Should Shoot Film On Vacation

Even before I picked up a camera a number of years ago, I was traveling as much as my schedule and wallet would allow me. There has always been something that has drawn me to hitting the open road, heading to the airport, or catching a train. When I was young my family moved to England for my father’s job and while living across the pond my family traveled to a number of European countries. I think it was those specific vacations at such a young age when the travel-bug bit me for the first time. As I grew older I still loved to travel, but it wasn’t until I picked up a camera that I really started wanting to travel across the globe as much as possible, this time documenting my travels. I took my digital camera, an assortment of lenses, and countless other photography-related odds and ends with me to St. Louis, Sorrento, Seattle, Vancouver, Venice, South Carolina, Florida, Rome, Philadelphia, and a number of other locations. Although I had an amazing time on all of those trips and took numerous photographs that I enjoy very much, something just didn’t feel right when I was traveling. I didn’t get that same sense of adventure that I once did, I felt like I wasn’t on vacation at all, like it was just another day shooting in Detroit with my friends. Whereas I do love shooting in Detroit with my friends, I feel like shooting at 4am along an ancient Venetian canal with the stars dancing above my head should feel a little special, right?

 

These photos are from the first roll of film I shot in December of 2016. I used a Canon AE-1 and expired Fuji 400 35mm film.

 

It wasn’t until I picked up a film camera in the beginning of 2017 that I began to realize that it was my digital camera that was causing these vacations to feel far different from how they once had. I was so focused on getting a perfect shot of everywhere I went that I somehow forgot that I was on vacation and that I was supposed to be enjoying myself. I first had this thought on one particular day while adventuring around Venice in the spring of 2017. We had decided to head to Burano, one of Venice’s most colorful and vibrant islands. I had brought along some color film to shoot in my Canon AE-1, and as I had already visited Burano before I decided that I would ditch the digital camera for the day and focus on shooting some film while adventuring around the island. As I wandered around the radiant island, I snapped photos here and there, had some pizza, and walked through some unique looking storefronts. Although the architecture wasn’t as unique as the main island and the buildings weren’t nearly as magnificent, I had more fun shooting on Burano than most of the rest of my trip to Italy. 

 

These are a few of the images I took while walking around Burano. I used a Canon AE-1 and some cheap Agfa 400 35mm film.

 

Although I had the time of my life on the entire trip, that one specific day in Burano stood out to me even after returning to classes a week later. I explained time after time to interested friends and colleagues about my trip, about how my favorite portion was on this tiny island in the Venitian Canal that had hundreds of colorful little homes and cute little shops. I told them about how I had some of the best pizza of my life whilst drinking a Heineken, of course explaining how much better the Dutch beer was in Europe than America, as it skunks on the trip over the Atlantic—you know, all the stupid things Americans say after returning from vacation. After explaining the story of my time on the island so many times, I really started to analyze why I had such a great time there, and I began to realize it was because of my digital camera. During the rest of my time in Italy I was so focused on capturing every single moment, scene, and historic building perfectly I forgot to enjoy myself and truly take in my surroundings. Yes, those photos turned out and I’m quite happy with a number of them, but I truly believe that if I had been shooting film I would have remembered my entire trip as fondly as I remember Burano. 

Now I’m far from saying that you shouldn’t take your digital camera on vacation, that would be simpleminded. There are lots of situations while in a foreign place that facilitate using a digital camera. Whenever I am planning a trip I typically research for hours upon hours different locations that I want to shoot, looking up sunrise and sunset times, and mapping out my attack plan from location to location. For specific places you've traveled thousands of miles to see, use your damn digital camera, get the perfect shot, and show everyone you know when you return. But while walking around the streets of someplace new, instead of focusing on your LCD camera screen, focus on what’s going on around you, what people are doing, how they’re doing it, and try to understand why they’re doing it. You don’t need a perfect photo of the itsy-bitsy alleyway just outside your hotel door. Snap a quick photo with a film camera and be on your way. Whether or not it turns out perfect after you get it back from the darkroom doesn’t really matter, regardless of the quality the image help you remember what it was, why you took it, and your time coming to and from your hotel. Some of my favorite photos I have taken to date were taken whilst just walking around the streets of Venice by myself with some Agfa 400, climbing the cliffs of Anacapri overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean with some Portra 400, exploring frigid Philadelphia with some expired Fuji 800, or walking through Toronto’s Chinatown in the rain with my friend Jill with some Ilford XP2 loaded up.

 

This is a small collection of photos I have shot on film during my travels. 1-Sorrento, Portra 400. 2-Philadelphia, Fuji 800. 3-Chicago, Ilford XP2. 4-Palm Beach, Portra 400. 5-Toronto, Ilford XP2. 6-Sorrento, Kodak Gold 400.

 

Even as I write this I know I’m going to get some flak for this article. My friends call me a hipster, other photographers think I’m crazy, and my mom thinks I want to be broke forever. To all of those people, maybe even you reading this, I love shooting film and there isn’t anything you can say to change that. Film is beautiful, and it’s damn easy. Load it up, choose a shutter speed, read your light meter, and BLAMO—you’ve got a timeless photograph. When I’m on vacation I don’t want to get caught up looking through my photos to ensure I got something perfect while visiting somewhere that should be taking my breath away. I want to snap a quick photo or two, and enjoy my fucking vacation. Film isn’t making a comeback, it never died in the first place!

 

Self-portrait shot with my Canon AE-1 & some Fuji 400

 

Are you interested in getting started shooting film? Worried about costs? When I first got into analog photography I was flat broke, but was able to immerse myself in the hobby without breaking the bank. I wrote an article about how to get into film photography cheaply, check that out here >>>

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


Written by Eric Hergenreder

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.