detroit’s brush park

June 30, 2007

in Urban issues

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, revealing photo set at Flickr).  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.


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