Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Detroit, A World Class City

Detroit's crown jewel, the Renaissance Center, or "RenCen", I spent my wedding night there in the wedding suite, back in 1980. I've had many of fine meals at "Coach Insignia" the rooftop restaurant, while gazing down upon the city. That seems almost like a lifetime ago....








Hmmm, where to start? I want to make this as personal as I can, my relationship to this once great city. I suppose, I'll start with some very fond memories and experiences that I had as a child. On a couple of occasions my mother and the next door neighbor took their broods to see Santa Claus, at the Hudson Building, "downtown" on the bus. This was no ordinary experience that you'd see at the local mall, no it was much more than that, it was "Santa Land". I can remember passing through three full floors, the lighting was rather dim but not quite dark, of snowy cotton spread out on the floor and with sparkles that would shine of every color that laid softly upon the snow. Life like wildlife figurines were scattered about amongst a pond with skaters, hills with sledders and scenes of Christmas at the farm. It was almost like following the yellow brick road of "The wizard of Oz" and at the end was a jolly old Santa, where a boy of five could whisper the dream of having a horse in the old man's ear.... Never again, would I see such "splendor" as it was long ago that the store had closed.





Other former popular attractions of downtown, was the ferry ride over to Bob-Lo Island where there was an amusement park and small zoo that featured seals, penguins and walruses in a water park equipped with slides and pools... Trips down to Michigan and Trumbull, brought the excitement of Tiger baseball.





The Detroit Zoo is still a popular destination but now is threatened of being closed, features 125 acres of naturalistic habitat in near by Royal Oak. Even the Henry Ford Museum, at nearby Dearborn, has lost a lot of it's luster of the "hay days" before the city lost half of its population......




My family moved, "Up North" back to the "family farm" just before the riots of 1967. I can well remember my father stating, "Glad, we got the hell out of there, just in a nick of time!" I did get my wish of getting that horse, guess that Santa Claus guy, was able to drop off one further up north, before he ran out...while coming to the city.





In, the late seventies, I moved back to the Detroit area to work construction, as an heavy equipment operator. There were times when the asphalt paving company who I was working for, had jobs in the inner city constructing fast food restaurants, loading docks, factory roadways and such. It was ALWAYS the practice to haul the machinery back to the yard everyday while completing projects within the Detroit city limits... As theft and destruction of equipment was common... It wasn't long, before the economy tanked and I found myself working elsewhere, along with thousands of others.





It wasn't until 1984 when I found myself back again in Detroit. The city was just beginning to pull out of the recession of the time and the Detroit Tigers baseball team was on the way to the World Series. It was almost as if the city became alive once again! Very upbeat and the construction "boom" was on. I cannot understate the pride and enthusiasm found in making this city "great" again... The Detroit Grand Prix and the Detroit River boat races, were also considered, "World Class" entertainment.



I found employment as a foreman/operator for one of the largest minority contractors in the city. Here, I started work at Chene Park, the pride and joy of the city at the time and also doing work within the low income projects around the inner city. Working at the park was almost a reward for under taking the jobs at "the projects". However, there was an "overseer" at the park that demanded attention, that could have been another reason...





It was at the park that I came to meet Mayor Coleman Young. While being prepped for this event, I was told to never cross this man and to do EXACTLY what he told me to do, to the letter, whether it was "our" job or not... One should not speak of Detroit without mentioning this great man's name. He was the mayor of Detroit spanning from 1974 to 1993, 5 consecutive terms for a total of 20 years. He ruled Detroit with an "iron fist" and it was his vision of the city, that carried it through the rebounds or "partial recoveries" of the era. It was his character and charisma, that made it so! He "willed" it, anyone who disputes this, didn't know the man... Mayor Young, was not an easy man to please, there would be many, many times I would do a job over and over again, until it met his satisfaction. Not only at the park, but Cadillac Square and "the projects", he was personally involved in them all (and didn't seem to mind if he got his feet dirty doing it). He did get to know me on the first name basis, for me addressing him it was always Sir, or Mayor Young... I can't say, that I knew this man well, because I didn't. However, I learned a lot from him just by the way he walked around. This man walked, like he had an invisible shield around him and that nothing could touch him. I cannot say if I've ever met a man more admirable, maybe not respectful. He had his worries, and it was on more than one occasion, I'd seen him, lash out.



I think, in retrospect his vulgarness, stemmed from his vision of the future for the city, once he left, that it'd "fall apart". I even went to the extent to switch jobs, so I could help complete the work at the park as well at the projects. Detroit, is a "hard" city, and what is so apparent to me anyway, it lacks this kind of "hard" man to manage over it today... Mayor Coleman Young was a "World Class" man.




4 comments:

FARfetched said...

I remember Coleman Young from back when. Even from across the state, he seemed like someone who was passionate about his job and his city. As is the detroitblogger and you too…

I wonder if he's related to Andrew Young, formerly mayor of Atlanta. He was also UN ambassador in the early days of the Carter administration, and got replaced after shooting his mouth off a few (dozen) times too many. :-) He's remembered more fondly as a mayor than an ambassador.

Thanks for filling in some of your backstory… I was wondering about the timeline from some of what you've told me here & at my place.

Eric Vogel said...

Due to the recent millage passing in August, the Detroit Zoo will be around for at least another 10 years! YAY!

yooper said...

Hey Far! Gee, I wish I read that one over at detroitblog! I just couldn't find a story that was approperiate! I had a really good time at the park, I'd set my fishing poles up and check them at lunch and again before I left for the day. More about the "down river" part of town later...

Yes, Coleman Young was quite the man, without him, I don't think Detroit would have rebounded like it did, again and again. He was the glue, that kept it together, the best he could.. I don't know if he was related to Andrew Young.

Inbetween my employment there, I spent 3 1/2 years in Houston, but I think you knew that. Again in the construction trade, fine grade and crane operator/foreman.

Welcome Eric! That's good to hear, I'm glad the Detroit Zoo has the funding. It's been years since I've been there, but would very much enjoy going there again. The gorillas were my favorite!

I was shocked to read that the Grand Prix was canceled, when I was there it was run downtown and not Belle Isle. It took a good two weeks to set that baby up!

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