A Plea for the Past
The worst thing you can do to your historic home is ignore its history. There is nothing more heart wrenching for lovers of old homes than seeing all the history, charm, and character ripped out of them.
I have lived in the Detroit suburbs my whole life, but I LOVE Detroit proper. Since I was a kid I have wanted to see Detroit restored to its former glory. The buildings, the homes, the atmosphere, the history are all just so appealing to me.
I am incredibly happy to see the city getting the needed love and attention it deserves. But the thing that is bothering me as developers try to revive the area, is the destruction of Detroit’s entire appeal- its history.
"I bring old homes into the present without destroying their intrinsic historic beauty."
Thankfully, not everyone is doing this and I am all for updating as needed. It’s part of what I do. I bring old homes into the present without destroying their intrinsic historic beauty. The problem with many suburban homes is the very fact that they are not Detroit homes.
A Short History of Detroit Homes
Let me explain. During the early 1900s the Detroit population skyrocketed mostly due to The Great Migration (southern Americans moving north for work in factory and manufacturing jobs). The Detroit auto plants pulled tens of thousands of workers to the city. Eventually, the suburbs grew and so did the need for quick builds, easy to maintain spaces, and cheap materials.
Suburban homes were going up faster than anyone had ever seen before. That’s why we have so many “cookie-cutter” neighborhoods in Southeast Michigan.
After decades of neglect and a mass exodus of the population, Detroit is finally making its comeback. Young people are moving back to the city and reviving it- and rent is not cheap.
They want to be in Detroit for its culture, its art, its history. These are the things that make the rent and home prices worth it. If they wanted a typical suburban home they’d live in the suburbs.
When you see the exterior of a home, you are given a glimpse of what the inside is like. It’s like the cover of a book or the clothes you wear. The façade of a home prepares you for what it’s inside and creates a certain expectation.
"The expectation created by a beautifully crafted exterior needs to follow you into the home."
Sometimes, a gem is hidden behind a not great exterior. The outside is lackluster, but the inside is breathtaking. That’s a good surprise.
When the outside looks amazing and the inside is a let down? Not such a great surprise.
The latter is what you don’t want to do to your historic home. The expectation created by a beautifully crafted exterior needs to follow you into the home.
Below is an example of a historic Detroit home whose character stops right at the doorstep.
You can see immediately what I mean. The exterior sets up an expectation, but the interior doesn't do it justice. It's not bad, it just doesn't fulfill your expectations.
Now, this home was renovated into several condos but the point still stands. This once beautiful home is now just a shell containing nothing of real historical aesthetic value.
This is not what Detroit is about. Basic suburban homes were created for a specific purpose and I’d rather see them remain there.
Detroit is about history. It’s about art and culture and architecture and beauty. I don’t want to see the influx of new residents to the city bring with it the destructive hand of one-size-fits-all housing.
Become One With Your Home
When you buy a historic home, do your research. Every home has a history, a story, something to say that no other house can. I research the history of any design project I take on. Especially if it is an historic home.
When you research the history of your home, you find a piece of yourself, a kinship with those who came before, and a renewed faith in humanity. The idea that we are all connected becomes real.
"Every home has a history, a story, something to say that no other house can."
You let the home become a part of you and you a part of it. When this happens, you view your home as just that- a home. Not an investment, not an escrow account or a real estate venture, but as a part of your life. Your home becomes an important piece of your family and your own history.
It will become something you cherish, something you want to protect, and a legacy you can hand down to your children. The best way to honor your home is to honor its past right from the start.
Deciding to Purchase an Historic Detroit Home
If you choose to buy a home in Detroit, you are likely buying an old home. Research it. Honor it. Honor the legacy of the city itself and those who came before you. Don’t remove the history, become a part of it. Add your piece to the story. You won’t regret it.
A Short History of My Knowledge of Historic Detroit
I received my BA from Oakland University in Anthropology with a focus in Historical Archaeology.
For my Honors College thesis I authored a paper entitled, How the Mighty Fall: An Archaeological Comparative Analysis of Detroit.
I also co-wrote a paper with my mentor Doctor Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood entitled, Above-ground Archaeology of Industrial and Post-Industrial Detroit.
I have presented the latter at the 49th Annual Meeting of the Society for Historical Archaeology in Washington, DC and the Michigan Historical Archaeology Conference in Detroit, MI.