It’s Over

Wondering What Happened
Originally uploaded by OtisDude

I went into this season with modest hopes. If the Tigers could make the playoffs this year, I would be satisfied. Being a Michigander, I have been taught by the Tigers and Wolverines not to get my hopes too high. I thought just a playoff berth was in the cards.

Wrong. The Tigers were eliminated this weekend after getting swept (in idiotic fashion) by the Indians and are going home while the Yankees or Red Sox will end up with the Wild Card. Damn it. No thrills versus the Yankees or A’s this year at the TCAUP TV space or The Arena.

Now I’m back to my hope for the last 15 years — .500 seasons.

Not as Crazy as it Sounds

Ford Reintroduces Model T Line That Made It Great:

Still reeling from a $12.6 billion loss last year and a steadily declining customer base, the Ford Motor Company announced plans Monday to invest its entire third- and fourth-quarter manufacturing and advertising budgets into reintroducing the Model T, one of history’s best known and most innovative car models.

“Today’s drivers want to get in touch with the experience of sitting behind the wheel of a finely crafted, planetary-gear vehicle with manual crank shafts,” said Ford’s president and CEO Alan Mulally, who expects the first line of Model Ts to be available for sale by mid-December and safe for driving as soon as it is neither snowing nor raining. “We’re getting back to the basics, bringing the quality and elegance of 1908 into the 21st century. We want to show the country why, at one point, every single car driven in America was a Ford.”

Photography of De-Industrial Life

Holga: Grain Silos

Originally uploaded by Matt Callow

I’ve noted on more than one occasion that I love Michigan. It’s not just Michigan, the state I grew up in, but coming from a region of stories, of pathos, of potential, of wasted opportunities and second chances. My family history is bound up with the state in one of those typically interesting ways: on my mother’s side was a Polish agricultural family who emigrated to the Bay City area to grow potatoes. My grandfather was a medic in World War I; at 47 he married my grandmother and they had 9 children, the penultimate being my mother. On my father’s side is one of those crazy quilts of English-French-Canadian-American ancestry, featuring farming on the Old Mission Peninsula over a hundred years ago. My grandfather was born in Detroit then was adopted by his aunt and grew up in the UP. He worked in the tannery, then enlisted in the Navy in WWII, married my grandmother who had grown up across the street from his family, painted houses for a living, and has hunted and fished his way through his adult life.

Almost everybody I know who grew up in Michigan has a similar set of stories in a way that my acquaintances in growth states like Arizona, Florida, and California don’t. Their stories usually start with a sigh in about 1970 when somebody moved for better weather or a different job or the promise of suburban life. The landscapes of these places reflect this same disaffection — Arizona is nothing so much as a tired newness, a cheerless effort to convince you that THIS is gonna be THE PLACE.

It’s difficult to describe what these braided lives of Michigan history mean. Driving through the strip malls and expressways of Southeast Michigan, for example, makes me question if anybody really cares anymore — who decided to make the suburbs of Detroit a placeless mass of concrete and neon and asphalt and wood and plastic and glass? Did this ever appeal to the senses or inflame the spirit? But I feel it when I detour through Saginaw on my way up north. When I walk down Michigan Avenue in Ypsilanti. When I see struggling wig stores and faded factory buildings and bricked-up windows on darkened taverns, and when I pass by the river in Kalamazoo or the locks in Sault Sainte Marie. These places have texture. More than patina — bourgeois dirt arranged just so on the facade or in the grooves of trim — these are wounds, scabs, sunburns, scars and liver spots making a place recognizable as being unlike any other.

Continue reading

Detroit Sold For Scrap

Remember this Onion article from a year ago? Ha, ha, we all morbidly chuckled at the nation’s finest news source taking a dig at our fair city.

Detroit, a former industrial metropolis in southeastern Michigan with a population of just under 1 million, was sold at auction Tuesday to bulk scrap dealers and smelting foundries across the United States.

“This is what’s best for Detroit,” Mayor Kwame M. Kilpatrick said. “We must act now, while we can still get a little something for it.”

Once dismantled and processed, Detroit is expected to yield nearly 14 million tons of steel, 2.85 million tons of aluminum, and approximately 837,000 tons of copper.

It’s not such a joke after all. Tiger Stadium parts to be auctioned off. Detroit City Council votes in favor of dismantling ballpark.

The long-debated issue of what to do with Tiger Stadium might finally be close to a resolution. On Friday, the Detroit City Council voted in favor of a proposal to grant authority to dismantle part or most of the ballpark and auction off its parts.

The matter, which passed by a 5-4 vote, is the first step in Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s plan to redevelop the property into a combination retail-residential complex. The hope is to preserve Tiger Staidum’s playing field for recreational and youth sports while possibly maintaining part of the stadium as a memorial.

The vote authorizes the city to auction off seats and other potential memorabilia, the proceeds of which could help pay for the demolition. From there, the city would be free to find developers. However, the council reportedly voted against transferring control of the stadium over to the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, a partnership of business, civic, labor and community leaders that has been a part of other development plans on the city.

June 9th at the Magic Stick

2 am at Big Ten Burrito

Originally uploaded by urbanoasis.

I need a ride.

I have an appointment with the Great Lakes Myth Society on this date in this place. I don’t have a car. I made the mistake of being born, growing up, and falling in love with an auto-dependent state while having adopted a lifestyle in diametric opposition to such lifeways. (To my credit, I fought my parents tooth and nail in 7th grade when my dad had a job offer to do real estate lending in Arizona, though in retrospect I kind of screwed my dad. Sorry about that, Dad). I missed a similar appointment with the members of said society 2 1/2 years ago when they celebrated the release of their first album, a point that irks me to no end, stinging my conscience and reminding me just how hip I might have been had I attended. With apologies to the great Bruce Dickinson, I now suffer from a chronic malady chiefly characterized by fever. The only cure, I have learned, is more accordion.

For anyone who wants to give me a ride, I will pay your cover to the show. I can also be called upon to provide merriment during the journey and in the course of the return trip. If necessary, I will provide cartographic interpretive services in an advisory capacity, in which case I will not require the handling of the shotgun in either literal protective capacity should we encounter bandits or figuratively in attempt to establish a symbolic position within the motorcar.

I will recommend a stop afterwards at the establishment pictured with this entry. Having attended a meeting of the Society Friday last, I concluded the night’s activities in a most enjoyable fashion at the former Big Ten Burrito. Finding it bustling with a line out the door even at 2 am, I must point out how awesome it was and how both the band and the burritos are two of the few things I miss about Ann Arbor.

Little help?

Enter the Podcast

After talking about this for more than a year, I have finally produced my first podcast. As I noted before I left for the conference, this is simply the paper I gave at the Urban History Association conference. This is about as lo-fi as you can get and you don’t get the benefit of seeing my footnotes or powerpoint slides (or the comments I inserted during the talk), but it is a definite start. This is a 15-minute talk and the file is about 8.5 MB. While my contribution to the emerging storm of new media has been minimal, I do believe that people who can provide content – creating knowledge and providing analysis – are an important part of the information revolution. As I create new ones, I’m sure I’ll get better and probably start providing video at times, too.

Lemme see if I can figure out how to create an RSS feed for the podcasts so you can subscribe.

“Out of the Congested Zone”: Annexation in Detroit, 1915-1926

The historical process of annexation in growing cities is poorly understood. Urban historians have recognized the importance of the results of annexation in shaping the landscape of cities but scholars have neglected the essential role of real estate developers in the annexation process. This paper examines the city of Detroit in its most active period of annexation, the decade from 1915-1926, and the role that a handful of real estate developers played not merely in exploiting the result, but in driving the process. This series of expansions of city limits turned Detroit from a city of approximately 40 square miles in 1915 into a sprawling city of 138 square miles by 1926, a physical legacy Detroit still struggles with today in the midst of repeated revitalization efforts.

This paper builds upon existing interpretations of annexation as part of the suburbanization process and as a form of government evolution to argue that annexation in Detroit was, at heart, the fulfillment of a real estate investment strategy. By looking at city administration records, real estate publicity and advertising, and analyzing local financial networks, I will show how real estate developers employed several strategies to promote annexation as a means of realizing their speculative investments in land at the urban fringe. However, this paper also revises our understanding of the cooperation of cities like Detroit with business interests in urban growth coalitions. It demonstrates how real estate developers can drive city policy and even state-level urban policy, and the enduring consequences of that cooperation.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Blast from the Past

From an editorial I wrote 4 years ago as opinion editor of the Western Herald.

The Detroit Tigers are in trouble.

The Tigers lost their Hall of Fame announcer to retirement. They lost almost two-thirds of their games this season. They have lost more than 20 percent of their attending fans from last season. The Tigers have lost nearly everything that makes the team special and exciting to the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan.

What the Tigers do have is an opportunity.

The Tigers, in the last three years, have drawn seasonal attendances ranging between 1.5 and 2.4 million fans, with an economic impact on the Detroit metro area upwards of $120 million, according to Major League Baseball and Detroit-based Comerica Bank, respectively.

In addition, the Tigers maintain a psychological hold on the state. The team’s history in American sports is so rich and runs so deep, that to speak of many aspects of our present life is to allude to the Detroit Tigers.

The development of the state, the city of Detroit, American sports as a big business and baseball as a leisure activity of enduring tradition all involve the Tigers in some way. The growth of the auto industry fueled the rise of the city of Detroit, after its origins and function as a main maritime port throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Of the forms of entertainment which arose to amuse the growing city, professional sports stands as the most prominent in modern society. One of baseball’s top teams historically (despite their current ineptitude), the Tigers contributed to the current free agent frenzy and hyper-commercialization of the game as much as any, with the possible exception of the New York Yankees. The behemoth that baseball has currently grown into is due in large part to its prominent stars and top teams, both of which Detroit has had many. Too, the prudent stewardship of John Fetzer for two decades brought the state a pair of world championships and enduring stars who provided summers of idyllic enjoyment to families throughout Michigan. The family ties which Detroit baseball helped knot still hold fast our memory.

As the city of Detroit has perhaps lost its grip on the country’s industrial artery, so have the Detroit Tigers slipped from their formerly dominant ways. Rumor has it that the club is in economic trouble, despite a beautiful brand-new ballpark and a bloated payroll. Perhaps most unbelievable of all is that the last winning season in Detroit was in 1993.

A shadow no longer looms over the institution of the Detroit Tigers. Dark clouds have enveloped the franchise, and rays of sunlight are few and far between.

However, with the interview of near-mythical Tiger hero Alan Trammell for manager, and the robust intentions of Dave Dombrowski as president and general manager, Detroit is perched upon a precipice of potential.

It has been said that the Tigers’ chief problem was that there was nothing to draw fans to the ballpark in the upcoming year. History, the Tigers’ chief asset in the past, was no longer on the team’s side. All of the homegrown fan favorites had either retired or been traded away, and even the seeming anchor of the Tigers, Ernie Harwell, just set down his microphone for good.

Dombrowski’s resolve and Trammell’s class and experience may be the necessary ingredients, along with the growing downtown renaissance movement and one of the premier parks in the country, to redevelop the Tigers club into a cultural icon and top tourist destination for the state, instead of the fallen organization it now is.

The next year the Tigers lost 119 games.  Then they signed Pudge Rodriguez and went 72-90 in 2004 and 71-91 in 2005.  I count the most important factor in the Tigers’ resurgence as the replacement of Randy Smith with Dave Dombrowski.  After that, it was the expansion of the Tigers’ payroll ($82m in 2006 vs. $55m in 2002) by a good decision-maker, eg not paying Bobby Higginson 7 million dollars a year to hit .260 or additional millions to Damion Easley, only to (rightly) cut him a year later.


United Artists
Originally uploaded by Allan M.

I recently went “pro” with flickr, right about the time the gamma version came out. I don’t know if it was my upgrade or theirs, but I can’t get enough of it. What seemed at first a clever application of storage space (like the U-M ifs “public” spaces on the web) I now realize was an utter stroke of genius in promoting visual communication and community based on that exchange.

There are a lot of crappy photos on flickr, to be sure. Search “ann arbor” and see all the uninspiring instances of “my car,” “my class,” “my presentation,” etc. However, I can say with some authority that flickr is better than any visual image library in terms of (still-standing) architecture at U-M and probably anywhere. Don’t believe me? “Unite d’habitation” (Le Corbusier); “Great Wall of China“; “Hearst Castle“; “Maya Lin“; “Central Park.” When I put together architectural history lectures from the 19th or 20th c., I go to flickr first. ArtStor is a service under development that the university subscribes to; it is an attempt to put together multiple repositories of art and architecture resources and make it accessible via the web. In terms of architecture (and probably publicly held art) they are wasting their time and money; the private market has outdone them in a ridiculous fashion by drawing upon the expertise and enthusiasm of the populace of the US, the UK, France, Taiwan, Colombia… For anyone who knows remotely what they are looking for, this is the most amazing repository of architectural imagery in existence. This is not even getting into how rapidly it is updated (I demonstrated its power by showing classmates hundreds of images of April’s Iowa City tornado the day after it happened when approximately 2 were available from larger media sources throughout the Web) and its possibilities for message boards and learning the craft of photography from the sheer number of examples. Simply amazing. I say this as an historian who is generally unimpressed with technology and all the advantages new gadgets don’t bring us. Amazing. I don’t look at all the photo sites like ofoto, kodakgallery, etc., because, like blogger, flickr seems to be the unquestioned king. However, unlike blogger, it is easy to sift your way through the voluminous garbage to the really quality stuff.

Just as a note, I love these images of the United Artists building in Detroit (as featured in Preservation magazine). The window graffiti gives the facade such a sense of fine-grained detail and variety of color it almost seems to rival the Guardian Building for color and innovation. This is, to me, why architecture is more than design — it is also about use and adaptation.

Stroh’s is spoken here

My buddy took me out to two abandoned Detroit buildings for a little Urban Exploration yesterday. I consider it fieldwork. Most of my photos suck compared to his, but he has better equipment (along with some idea what he’s doing). I’m confident, however, I could do large format better than he could. Maybe.

I hadn’t realized what a robust culture of urban explorers there seems to be. A large dusty mirror in one of the buildings we went to was covered with initials and dates of explorers who had visited recently and noted the fact for others to see.

It was a lot of fun and definitely good to fool around with the flashes and exposure options on my digital camera to help get a sense of what it takes to make a good shot.

In addition, it is amazing what sort of entertainment and service capacity Detroit had (and still has potential for) just in its downtown area. The city may never need to build another building again, there are so many abandoned ones waiting for renovation. It was also incredible to see what a night-and-day contrast there was between areas as we drove from the locations (in downtown) to Campus Martius to Greektown (one of the few areas with a place open for dinner at 9 on Sunday). A great experience overall, but kids, don’t try this at home.


Continue reading


I’ve had a paper accepted to the 2006 Urban History Association conference in Phoenix. I’m fairly excited, as this is my first major paper acceptance I’ve gotten on my own. I’ve done others of varying sizes, but those usually involved people going to bat for me — not so with this one. Additionally, I was in an 0-for-3 slump, including a previous proposal on this topic, so this is a vote of confidence. In the interest of helping out fellow young scholars, I’ll present a development of the proposal after the jump.

Continue reading