Brightmoor, an area encompassing approximately four square miles in northwest Detroit, got its beginning as a residential area in the 1920's.  From 1830 until that time it had been a part of Redford Township.  A developer by the name of Burt Eddy Taylor built the first house in Brightmoor in 1923. Up until the time Mr. Taylor began his development, the area was predominantly rural farmland.  He started with a parcel of land containing 160 acres one mile from the city limits of Detroit, adding an additional 2913 acres from 1923 - 1924.

The intent of Taylor’s development was to provide housing for workers relocating to the area to work in the auto industry.  Some claim it was Henry Ford who was the driving force and financial backer behind Mr. Taylor’s venture.  Those relocating were white families who had been recruited from Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia, as well as from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The workers who headed north from those southern states were lured to migrate to Detroit by advertising flyers.  They came to work in Ford’s Highland Park and Rouge manufacturing plants, as well as the many parts supply factories throughout the Detroit area.

The period between 1910 and 1920 saw a tremendous growth in the auto industry.  As a result, during that period, the population of Detroit exploded from approximately 500,000 residents to nearly a million, making it then the fastest growing U.S. city.  Brightmoor was annexed into the city in 1926.

Taylor’s development was a “planned community” intended to offer affordable housing to the huge influx of auto industry workers and their families arriving from the southern states.  The houses being built were of wood frame construction and were inexpensive and modest.  There were few amenities.  The original houses built had outhouses on the back of the lot and had no basements. Typically, the houses were completed in one eight hour workday.  Taylor answered those critics who complained of the shoddy construction and workmanship, reasoning that the housing he was providing in Brightmoor far surpassed what poor migrant workers occupied in Appalachia.  He  felt that once the residents became established in their jobs, and incomes increased, they would then be able to make improvements to their houses.  By 1925, there were 11,313 people living in the 3950 homes Taylor had constructed over a three year period.  It was his intent to build more substantial housing as the community grew and residents became more affluent.  Unfortunately, the Great Depression cut short those lofty ambitions, and what was originally meant to be transitional housing became the permanent housing.

With the Nazi threat that had befallen the European countries in the late 1930’s, many of the Detroit factories began to support the impending war effort.  My father, who was pretty much of a “jack-of-all-trades”, having earned a living farming, doing carpentry work, owning a small lakeside diner, as a machinist, etc., decided in 1939 to come to Detroit to find work.  With his skills, he soon was employed as a tool and die maker at one of the small, independent factories prevalent in the Detroit area.  My mother, together with the rest of our family, remained in Twin Lakes, Wisconsin until dad decided that Detroit was the place for us to make our new home.  The family moved to Detroit in 1939.  We first lived in rental housing on Strathmore Avenue until my parents were able to purchase a house in that northwest Detroit suburb of Brightmoor. The house they purchased, I am sure, was one of those inexpensive, modest, wood frame constructed, transitional houses that Taylor had built back in the 1920’s.  Ours surely was a “second generation” house, as it seemed to be reasonably well constructed and even had indoor plumbing  ---  no outhouse at 14901 Lamphere! 

Perhaps that indoor plumbing was one of the improvements made by the prior owners.  I do know, however, that my dad made many improvements over the first few years we lived there.  This included adding a basement, constructing a two car garage on the rear of the lot, adding a large front porch that was later enclosed, expanding the rear of the house to enlarge the kitchen and to enable a large pantry room to be added and to allow for covered access to the basement, and to convert the coal burning stove first to oil and then to central gas heat with the furnace in the basement.
When we moved into our house way back in 1940, the area was definitely a working class neighborhood with multiple ethnicities.  And all white, I might add.  There were those of Swedish and German descent, Polish and British and Italian with names like Maisevich, Leholm, Albretch, Palmer, Rowland, Gatzka, Rumohr, Loveridge, Koontz, Franquist, Janssen, Krause, Concilla and on and on. What we all had in common, it seemed, was a pride in our homes and the neighborhood in general. And it was a safe neighborhood.  One never had to worry about walking the streets at night.  Most everyone left their doors unlocked.  It was a friendly place.  Up on Fenkell Avenue (Five Mile Road) there was Taub’s Five and Dime, the Irving theater  at the corner of Blackstone, the Brightmoor Community Center near Lahser, Smith’s Grocery between DaCosta and Dolphin, and Scotty’s Fish and Chips (who could ever forget Scotty’s?) that were all within walking distance.

I remember going to the Irving to catch the Saturday matinee where, for the unbelievable sum of 12 cents  --  ticket 10 cents plus two cents luxury tax  --  one could see a double feature, that week’s serial episode, several cartoons, an RKO Pathe Newsreel, and more previews than one cared to watch.  On the way to the theater we would stop at Smith’s Grocery to buy penny candy.  My brother, Bud, worked there until he entered the Navy in 1942 and would always end up treating us.  And going to school was easy.  Hubert Elementary was just two doors away.

Anyway, that was where I spent my growing-up years!  After I graduated from Redford High in 1951, I worked a while and attended college a while before entering the army.  Upon discharge from the army, it was back to college, marriage, kids and out on my own.  Basically, I forever moved from Brightmoor in January 1954 when I took a cab ride to Fort Wayne in downtown Detroit and was inducted into the army.  My parents continued to live there in Brightmoor with my sister, Dolly, and younger brother, Max.  My other siblings were all married and living elsewhere.  Max entered the service and married in 1961 shortly after his discharge.  He and his bride moved in with my parents. Dolly, at the age of 39, died in 1962; my father in 1967.  Following the death of my father, Max convinced my mother she should sell the house and together they could buy something newer and larger.  Max’s children now numbered four and more space was definitely needed.  They moved further out in the suburbs in Redford Township.  That was in the late 1960’s.

About that same time, many of Detroit’s factory jobs had already begun to move to the suburbs. The western suburbs were seeing housing development upon housing development spring up offering affordable housing.  With the discriminatory housing policies prevalent at that time, these neighborhoods opened opportunities primarily to white families.  As working class white families from Brightmoor, and other Detroit neighborhoods, moved into these new developments, African-American residents of Detroit began to move into northwest neighborhoods.

Once an all white neighborhood in 1940, Brightmoor has now become predominately black with over 80% of the population African-American and only 14% white.  What is the neighborhood like now?                  

Many of the houses are in total disrepair with boarded up doors and windows, many burned out and demolished buildings  --  the Irving theater of my youth started to show adult movies in the 1970’s, closed and later opened to serve a church congregation, closed again and finally was destroyed by fire  --  , crack houses are prevalent, prostitution is prominent, the schools of my youth are no more  --  Hubert Elementary closed in 2005; Redford High in 2007  --  , trash is being illegally dumped on vacant lots.  It is considered the poorest neighborhood in the poorest city in the country.  Am I glad I moved? Like they say: “It’s a great place to be from!”

It was another place, another time.