Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Unique Way of Bringing the Past to Life

When you walk around the town that you live in, do you ever think about what originally stood where that modern gas station now stands?
Have you thought about how the busy concrete intersection may have once been a dirt road?
How about that building over there? What was there before?
I think these thoughts all the time.
Even while waiting at a red light in my car I look around and wonder what this exact spot looked like 100 or more years ago.
You see, most of the buildings from a century (and before) in my city of Eastpointe have been long torn down; I'm an old soul living in a very modern suburban city.
So I decided to do some super-sleuthing and find out about the ghosts of buildings past.
As a board member of my local historical society, I have access to the hundreds of original photographs in the archives. As I made the attempt to piece the 100+ year old puzzle together and align the photos in some sort of order, an idea popped into my head:
why not try to locate the original location of the buildings pictured in the old photographs? In that way I can actually *see* what was originally in that spot, thus allowing me to live out (to an extent) my fantasy of traveling back in time while in my own hometown.
To take it a bit further, I took photographs as close as possible to where the photographers once stood way back when.
The following photographs are my results:

NW corner of Gratiot Blvd & 9 Mile Rd THEN
St. Peter's Lutheran Church
This church was razed and the cemetery was relocated to the new St. Peters located almost directly across Gratiot Blvd. Halfway was the original name of my hometown of Eastpointe. It was changed to East Detroit in 1929 and then to Eastpointe in 1991.
NW corner of Gratiot & 9 Mile NOW - A BP gas station


9 Mile Rd looking west from Gratiot Blvd THEN
It was just a country lane known as School Road because there were multiple schools along this road within a relatively short distance from each other. Note the wood-plank sidewalk. This photo was taken around 1900.

9 Mile Rd looking west from Gratiot NOW. No longer a country lane, 9 Mile and Gratiot is a very busy intersection. And schools are still located along this strip.

This was the west side of Southbound Gratiot THEN.
  Eastpointe was a rural country town where one could buy, sell, or trade horses here. The inter-urban tracks were laid in the early 20th century photo.

Here is the exact same location of the previous picture - the west side of Southbound Gratiot NOW.
The horse market is long gone...
  That spot is now part of the parking lot of a shopping plaza


SE corner of Gratiot Blvd. and 9 Mile THEN. "Then" being in the 1930's. If you look to the left of the brick Kaiser building you will see a framed structure. That was the original school house that was moved from its location along 9 Mile to here in the 1920's. It has since been moved back to within 100 feet of where it was originally stood and beautifully restored (see link at bottom of post)

SE corner of Gratiot Blvd and 9 Mile NOW
The original Kaiser building was razed a few years ago and an ugly Rite Aid was built in its place


Gratiot Blvd. just south of 9 mile THEN. This is even before the brick Kaiser building from the above "THEN" photo!
How cool it would be to see my hometown during the late 19th or early 20th century!
Gratiot just south of 9 mile NOW. Bland and boring...

 Is it just me or are modern cities sterile looking? They all just seem to run along the lines of never-ending conformity from one to another, sameness abounding, never knowing where one city ends and the next one begins, whereas in the old days each town or village had a unique style and character of its own, separated by miles of farm land or untouched forests...a beginning and an end.
I guess I have an old soul indeed.

Update 2013: here is another "then and now" casualty of Eastpointe:

And here is Oakwood Jr. High School, on the very first day that it was open for class back in September of 1953. This was my Jr. High back in the 1970's. I also worked here as an adult.

Due to dwindling population (people having less kids, etc.), it was decided that this grand building, renamed Oakwood Middle School, was to close after the 2009/2010 school year. Here is a photo that I took on the very last day Oakwood was open for classes - June 17, 2010. I tried my best to line it up exactly as the previous picture.
Now, this next picture is actually pretty sad, especially for those of us who attended Oakwood and worked here as well:

This is the front of Oakwood from a different angle after most of the building had been razed in the summer of 2012. Yes, it was sad.
And now, here is what was built where most of the Oakwood building stood:

I took this photo roughly from the same angle as the first two pics of Oakwood. I say 'roughly' because I included a bit of the 'gym' portion which was not in the first two pictures but can be seen in the third picture as the building was being razed. The gym was to the immediate right of the front doors and pillar.

It's a shame that here in America we look at 'change' as necessary and have a tendency to tear down the old only because they don't fit in with the modern 'vision' and then replace them with ugly modern structures not meant to last more than a few decades using cheaper materials, while Europe has structures that go back from a few centuries to a millennium and more and are still being utilized to this day.
Better still are the folks who adore the quaint look of the country towns dotting the landscape but get happily excited when that same town builds a hideously modern--looking Wal-Mart right in the middle of what made it so quaint in the first place.
"Now I can buy all of my unnecessary crap in one place instead of supporting local businesses!"
Yes, it is a shame.

To learn more of my city as it was in the 19th century, please click HERE

~   ~   ~


GinaBVictorian said...

Hi Ken, I know what you mean! I collect old postcards of my town and when I see what it looks like now it makes me so mad that no one else can share our love for history and historic buildings by saving them. So sad.

Donna said...

Oh, I was afraid what I saw was going to make me sad.....There is no quaintness in most modern buildings.

the bee guy said...

Great post again Ken. I wonder if there is a map out there that has were all the buildings at Greenfield Village or Crossroads Village were originally located and what is there now.

Historical Ken said...

From a former Eastpointe/East Detroiter (sent via e-mail):
"It was sad seeing Oakwood Jr. High being razed. It happened to my school, Grand Jr. High years ago. I've been away since I was 18 and am just now trying to recreate some of the past. I guess that is what happens when youth gives way to wisdom. I also remember St. Peter's Lutheran Church. A lovely building with great sounding tower bells. Nisners (sp) 5 and 10 and the post office on Gratiot are also memories I now cherish. Thanks for the postings. Lynne Hilliker Hamner, now of McKinney, TX."