History of Detroit's Brush Park
A scene from Brush Park during its heyday. Image from the Burton Collection: http://www.flickr.com/photos/50788895@N00/2810159022/
Beginning in the 1850s, entrepreneur Edmund Brush began developing his family's property, located conveniently close to downtown, into a neighborhood for Detroit's elite citizens. Homes were built in Brush Park beginning in the 1850s and peaking in the 1870s and 1880s; one of the last homes built was constructed in 1906 by architect Albert Kahn for his personal use. Kahn lived in this home until his death in 1942, after which it was obtained by the Detroit Urban League, which still uses it today. Other early residents of Brush Park included lumber baron David Whitney Jr., his daughter Grace Whitney Evans, Joseph L. Hudson, founder of the eponymous department store, and dry goods manufacturer Ransom Gillis. Architects who designed these mansions included Henry T. Brush, George D. Mason, George W. Nettleton, and Albert Kahn.
The Lucian Moore House. Image at: http://fadeddetroit.blogspot.com/2004/09/lucian-moore-house_29.html
During the 19th century, around 300 homes were built in Brush Park, including 70 Victorian mansions. However, the neighborhood began to decline in the late 19th and early 20th century, when the advent of streetcars and then automobiles allowed prosperous citizens to live further from downtown. Early residents moved out, notably to up-and-coming neighborhoods such as Indian Village and Boston-Edison, and the neighborhood became less fashionable. During the Great Depression, many of the old mansions were subdivided into apartments, and as demand for housing fell after World War II, the homes were abandoned and fell into disrepair. As of 2001, about 154 original structures remained in the area.
Brush Park's revival began in the 1990s and has accelerated recently. A number of the older mansions have been restored, and more have been stabilized. In addition, new condominiums have been built in the southern part of Brush Park, near the Fisher Freeway.
Brush Park Today
Today, a new 21st century Brush Park is being born as a proposed modern streetcar starter line and affordable residential infill take their place adjacent to the neighborhood's remaining preserved historic building stock. The continued revitalization of this inner city neighborhood in one of America's most distressed cities should give local leaders and citizens hope that a similar turn around can occur in inner city Jacksonville.
Connecting Brush Park with downtown Detroit, Midtown and New Center, Woodward Avenue will soon become the home of Detroit's new 9.3 mile light rail starter line. This project should stimulate more redevelopment throughout Brush Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.
"In the not to distant future, a light rail line will be running down Woodward Avenue past the DIA," said Detroit Mayor Dave Bing.http://www.myfoxdetroit.com/dpp/news/local/detroit-rail-line-about-to-clear-hurdle-20100802-mr
The project pegged to cost $500-million dollars will give bus riders another option.
"I think it's beautiful. I think once that gets done it will make it very convenient for the people who ride the buses," said John Niles.
"It would help them get to work fast because a lot of people depend on the public service to get to work," said Darlene Rickett.
A private group called M-1 Rail raised $125-million for the city's matching share of the funds, and the project also got $25-million in federal stimulus money. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood praised Mayor Bing for pressing for the 9.3 mile project.
"Thank you mayor for having a large vision for Woodward Avenue," said LaHood.
Proponents of the light rail project argue public transportation is essential to spur economic growth and development in Detroit.
"From my prospective, in addition to the 9.3 miles, this will also connect with our high speed rail plans to be able to connect to Chicago, to Pontiac, and then a commuter rail from here to Ann Arbor," said Governor Jennifer Granholm.
Brush Park is located along Woodward Avenue between downtown Detroit and Midtown.
What Does This Means for Urban Jacksonville
The rebirth of Brush Park illustrates what can happen when a community clusters historic preservation, walkable infill and public infrastructure investment together. Despite what some may think about the current condition of urban Jacksonville, there are no local neighborhoods that have fallen as low as Brush Park. However, its renaissance in the heart of a city that has had continuous population loss since the 1950s suggests that with dedication and the right planning, any neighborhood can come back to life.
Article by Ennis Davis