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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Bulldozing Cultural History

The soon-to-be-former Millender Apartments in Detroit
A recent article at Deadline Detroit got me thinking about how cultural history can be bulldozed without any structures being lost. Bill McGraw was writing about the rename of the Millender Apartment building, but, in a way, he could be writing about the E.W.F. Stirrup House and Coconut Grove.

McGraw's article is on the topic of the renaming of the Millender Apartments. I was unfamiliar with the 33-storey highrise building in downtown Detroit, for good reason: It was built 15 years after I had already left Detroit. However, I'm sorry I was unaware of Robert Millender, a man whose accomplishments are enough to have garnered him a page on the Detroit African-American History Project:

Millender [after getting his law degree following the war] became interested in politics as a way for African Americans to exert power, given that they were often denied economic power. In the mid-1950s he began to develop political strategies and to recruit young African-American leaders to run for political office. Millender and George Crockett, Jr. were instrumental in finding the logical boundaries and legal grounds for creating a new congressional district in Detroit that would elect an African American to the United States House of Representatives. These efforts paid off in 1964 with the election of John Conyers, for whom Millender acted as campaign manager. Millender was known for his tireless efforts on behalf of African-American candidates, spending countless hours canvassing neighborhoods and meeting with voters and city leaders. His dedication paid off in a number of significant political victories in which he managed campaigns. He served as campaign manager for George Crockett's 1966 election as the first African-American Recorder's Court Judge and for Detroit City Council members Robert Tindal and Erma Henderson. Millender managed Richard Austin's 1969 campaign as the first African-American mayoral candidate and his 1970 successful candidacy for secretary of state, making Austin the first African American to hold that post. Millender's political activism reached an apex with Coleman Young's 1973 election as mayor of Detroit.
One of the saddest historical markers I know.
Bill McGraw's article "Renaming The Millender Apartments Is Not a Neighborly Thing To Do" expresses his frustration that while the building will remain, Robert Millender's name will be bulldozed into the dustbin of history by a new owner:
[...] Detroiters who were paying attention recalled Millender as a giant of black Detroit.

Bob Berg, a public relations executive who served as a spokesman for both Gov. William Milliken and Mayor Coleman Young, said Millender continues to enjoy “legendary status” in Detroit’s  African American community.

“Coming in and changing the name is extremely insensitive and confirms the worst fears many have about the impact of growing suburban influence in the city,” said Berg, who happens to be white.


[...]

Memory is important to every ethnic and racial group. That’s why many buildings, parks and streets around the world are named after people.  Detroit, despite being the biggest black-majority city in the nation, has relatively few African Americans memorialized within its city limits.
The E.W.F. Stirrup House currently undergoing demolition by neglect.
I cannot help but think of the parallels to the E.W.F. Stirrup House, the rich cultural legacy of which is slowly being allowed to undergo Demolition by Neglect by a rapacious developer who cares more about making money than Coconut Grove history.

When cultural history is lost, it cannot be replaced. The historical marker in Detroit (above), which marks where Paradise Valley was once a vibrant community is one of the saddest I know. There had been plenty of time to save some of the structures in Paradise Valley, but clearly there was no will to do so.

Rapacious developer Gino Falsetto, one of the owners of Aries Development, claims he will turn the E.W.F. Stirrup House into a Bed and Breakfast. However, in the 8 years he's had effective control of the property, he's done NOTHING to protect his investment, not even sealing the house from the elements during all that time. Wind, rain, and animals have all been allowed to attack the house unmolested.

This is all the proof needed to know the E.W.F. Stirrup House is of no concern to Falsetto. In fact, the house stands in his way. Falsetto is after a much bigger prize. He has acquired all the land that surrounds the Stirrup House and wants to bring to West Grove the biggest mixed-use condo development since the Grove Gardens Residence Condominiums, which was Aries' last mixed-use monstrosity.

Save the E.W.F. Stirrup House!!!