Monday, April 14, 2008

Save Our History

Why does southeastern lower Michigan consistently tear down its past? Why is it that every time I open up the newspaper it seems that I am reading another article about a historic building being razed for one reason or another (parking lot, Rite Aid, to "save money", etc.)?
Just last week, another part of our past is now literally history
And, from what I understand, the schoolboard members, contrary to what is in the article, were high-fiving each other. Here is a segment from an email I received, written by Kym Janowicz, leader of the Friends of the Murphy House (

"What is even more disturbing today was that three of the five school board members who voted to demolish the building stood under the arch at the west entrance of the high school laughing and joking while watching the Murphy House being razed. President Greg Murray, Larry Humphrey and Joe Rheker turned out for what appeared to be a victory party at the site of their destructive triumph.

Those of us who were able to stay through the duration of the demolition had good conversations with members of the wrecking crew. They were aware of the controversial nature of the demolition and were incredibly kind and respectful, which is more than I can say for the school board members. The crew picked through the rubble and handed onlookers bricks and roof tiles over the fencing. We learned from the wrecking crew that they had offered in their proposal to go through the building and salvage anything of value. That offer was rejected by the school board. The board wanted the cheapest price and had no interest in salvaging anything. Shortly after that conversation the crew excavated a chunk of the green Pewabic tile from the fireplace."

How so very sad.
Unfortunately, this is only one of many - too many - historic structures lost forever due to folks who just don't give a damn. There are many groups and societies who have proven a willingness to care for these buildings, but the powers that be only see dollar signs - money that, in most cases, they really do not need.
And, one has to admire how these money hungry fools work: ignore a historic structure long enough and it will soon enough "go away" (beyond repair, in some cases) and they will build their cases upon the idea that the dilapidated building is "beyond repair" and necessitates razing. The Monroe Block is a prime early example of that
And so was the razing, back in 1961, of Detroit's old city hall
and the Hudson Building just a few years ago
and the Clinton-Grove Cemetery Caretaker's Home just last year, once again, in Mt. Clemens (I cannot find a link to the razing of this structure, but I witnessed the tear down preparations myself).

In fact, so many local historical buildings, homes, etc., have disappeared that most of our local history is only available now in the "Images of America" books published by Arcadia Press or other local history books.

So, why does this continue to happen? "Progress" we are told. "We can't live in the past! We must move ahead to the future!! We need the money!"
And they go ahead and replace the 100 + year old buildings with either a parking lot or cheap cookie-cutter structures with little or no personality made to last, like modern cars, only for a short while (when was the last time you saw a Gremlin, Maverick, or Pacer on the road? Heck, one sees autos 50 years and older many many times more than the aforementioned 1970's classics!). These new structures are hideously bland and ugly - just drive down Gratiot, Woodward, or any other main thoroughfare in this area and you'll see what I mean. Ha! Just take a drive from 8 and Gratiot all the way to Mt. Clemens (about 9 miles) and you might as well be driving in the desert of Nevada - that's how exciting the buildings are.

Do yourselves a favor - if you feel as passionate as I do about saving our history, please get involved. Support your local historical society by donating whatever you can monetarily - even if it's only $10 bucks - whatever you can afford. You can also support them by attending their functions and meetings, as well as visit their historical sites. The more support we show and give, the stronger the historical societies will become. The stronger they become, the greater the chances and opportunities will be to save our past.
I know I sound like a bleeding heart (I don't mean to, honest!), but saving our local history for the benefit of the future generations is a charity that truly is a worthwhile cause.

It's a sad state (literally and figuratively) that we live in.

1 comment:

Historical Ken said...

From Debra DiFranco:
I bought and am restoring an old house as a way to hold on to a preserve the past. I mourn the loss of every old building and cheer those who save them.

Your story of the school hit home. They tore down a school in Brockton and the demo was held up (as well as the opening of the new school they built next door) because they wanted to take out everything they could and repurpose it. When they took down the building, the doors, knobs, hinges, radiators,flooring was all saved. Though it was sad to see the school least they tried to do something right...Other schools which closed once the last of the baby boomers passed through the system, were repurposed into day care centers, and apartments.

In my town of Abington I found a good listing of houses that were schools and even shoe factories which are today single family homes. Still standing and looking almost the same. Abington isn't as hateful of it's old buildings, we have so many, but are great for stripping out the woods and putting in spit-and-cardboard McMansions. They are taking away the small town feel... I am glad I am on a dead end and my back yard borders conservation land. This was a perk in deciding to the buy the house.