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detroit’s brush park

One place I’ve been meaning to get to — not only to survey for birds but just from my interest in Detroit history — is the neighborhood in midtown called Brush Park. Brush Park was once one of Detroit’s most exclusive and wealthy neighborhoods. Revival plans have faltered, and the majority of the Victorian mansions crumbled and decayed. Finally, this area is undergoing restoration and revitalization.

Kingfisher and I made straight for one of Brush Park’s most famous residences, the William Livingstone mansion. It was one of Albert Kahn’s first designs, and was built in 1893. It originally stood a few blocks away, and was moved around 1990 to its present location, having been saved from demolition by preservationists. Unfortunately, the site was not well prepared, and the structure began to slouch.  This process has accelerated the last few years, and it’s now known locally as “Old Slumpy.” The anticipated date of its complete collapse is the basis of many betting pools. A few months ago, the facade fell off.  The end can’t be far away, so we were anxious to see it.


By the way, we confirmed Chimney Swifts nesting in the chimney. Old Slumpy has residents after all! It’s well worth checking out these links for additional info and pictures:

There are not many houses per block in Brush Park.  Two blocks over was this monstrosity of an apartment house, complete with turrets. Most of the windows as well as the front door were open to whom or whatever might need or want shelter. A number of people have told me Turkey Vultures nest in some of these abandoned buildings, but vultures have an aversion to human disturbance, so I’d guess they prefer taller structures that are more securely boarded up than this one.

Things were a bit better a block or so away. Below is a beautifully restored mansion at 291 Edmund Place (check it out on Google Earth to get a feel for the ‘hood). Built in 1882, it’s now four condos, ranging in price from (sit down), $239,000 to $395,000.


We were told by a homeowner nearby that it takes about a half million to renovate these structures, but please, the price of these condos is a bit ahead of the rest of the area.  Here is 291 Edmund Place in context with its closest neighbors:


Note the tree-fronted place three doors down. It’s a real fixer-upper:


And the view from your front window is…expansive. Although you can see General Motors headquarters at the RenCen, and Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. To the left are some new developments as well. And there are pheasants crowing from these lots, too!


We ended up with a few more surprising birds: a Cooper’s Hawk being pursued by an American Kestrel, and two different Gray Catbirds defending their territories.

However, we actually spent most of our day in a different area of the city where we explored some rough areas, including a cemetery with the sign on the left. It’s adjacent to another one of Detroit’s spectacular ruins, the abandoned Packard Motor Car plant (also designed by Albert Kahn).  It was the last really under-surveyed section of the city we needed to visit, and we picked up over 20 species. Not bad for a place where we didn’t feel comfortable leaving the vicinity of the car.

Overall, a culturally interesting and biologically satisfying day of field work in the urban jungle.


Filed in Urban issues

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • John June 30, 2007, 10:01 pm

    It's sad to see a beautiful building in such a state of disrepair. I wonder if Slumpy will collapse or be demolished first.

  • Nuthatch June 30, 2007, 10:20 pm

    I think it has historical status, and therefore can't be demolished. It will either fall down on its own, or get purchased by a developer who will restore the shell and re-do the interior. Believe it or not, there is a building a few blocks away that was in worse shape that is being renovated in this manner. Slumpy's worst problem, I think, is that it was moved and therefore the foundation may be crap.

  • Jess July 2, 2007, 10:34 am

    I love, love, love your "urban decay" posts. Detroit is fascinating to me — you should give me a tour someday!

  • Nuthatch July 2, 2007, 4:41 pm

    I'd love to, c'mon over!

  • Aydin July 4, 2007, 11:27 am

    The cemetery must be full of carjacking undead people.

  • dtownie August 1, 2007, 10:16 pm

    It's too late to see Slumpy and many other Detroit gems. The fall of Slumpy was actually miraculously caught on film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3p7G4hpvUn4

    It's a shame it couldn't be saved and we all lose when this type of thing is allowed to happen under our watch. Who cares, it's just our history, right?

  • Nuthatch August 2, 2007, 8:18 am

    Slumpy is still standing, that video was the facade falling off. As I mentioned, it's my understanding the Ransom Gillis house was in worse shape, but is being restored, so there is hope, as I've tried to convey here.

    Although I do not live in the city of Detroit, I am a member of the Detroit Historical Society, donate money to individual projects such as those helping to restore Fort Wayne, and do what I can to raise awareness of these treasures to suburbanites who may not know about them. I'm not sure if you were being sarcastic or what, but I'm not just somebody who takes pictures and thinks "oh, that's too bad." I try to do what I can.

  • dtownie August 5, 2007, 12:31 am

    Pure sarcasm there, but not at you or anyone in particular but rather the general population, anyone who should be affected by the less than 250 years of history this country has recorded. It is impressive to me that you do help out in those ways in which you do and that makes at least two among those on this thread who donate to preservation groups in Metro Detroit. I wish the amounts were enough that no more of Brush Park would be lost than already has. Sorry for the misunderstanding. :)