On Sunday, Preservation Detroit will host a memorial for First Unitarian Church, at the site. The abrupt burning and demolition of this 1890 building has been a shock for many of us. Join us for readings, remembrance, and solidarity.
As I was finishing up that post on the Clemens Mansion chapel partial roof collapse, I heard a big ol’ round of fire sirens to the west and south of here. Biiiiig ol’ round of ’em.
Uh, so anyone ever hear a resolution on what happened with those arsons, those eight Blairmont buildings and two collateral buildings that burned in four days? I’d like to know what happened.
I climbed up on my roof to see if I could tell what’s burning right now, to no avail. If I didn’t have to get up early tomorrow morning, I’m betting it wouldn’t be too tricky to figure out: If I were to walk out my front door and just go in a straight line, west along Hebert, I’d probably find it before I’d gone too many blocks.
This might be unrelated to those arsons, and it might not be a Blairmont-owned building that’s burning, but that’s exactly the trick: striking a nice, ongoing, lingering fear into the hearts of neighbors, so they’re never really quite sure if the trouble has disappeared. And hey, with so many forcefully, aggressively neglected buildings around, there’s plenty to worry about.
Methinks I’m going to conclude this blog entry now, because there’s not much I else I can say on the topic in my current state that doesn’t start with the letter “F.” Lots and lots and lots of capital-lettered words starting with the letter “F.” The word I’m thinking of has four letters, but it ain’t fire.
No sirens heard two nights ago, although I slept soundly enough that I could have missed em.
Then, I heard a big mess of fire engine sirens around 9:30 last night, to the south and west of my home. Headed over on foot to St. Louis Place and couldn’t find anything. Granted, I didn’t go that far west, but…. feet are not a car, and I couldn’t hear engines or smell smoke. So who knows. It only sounded like three or so engines, nothing like the six that were at the 2206 Hebert fire. Might have been a false alarm, might have been totally unrelated, might have been nothing. It was the kind of thing I wouldn’t have paid much attention to before this whole thing frayed my nerves. But hey, frayed nerves are what life in Blairmontland is allllll about.
And of course, I have no way of proving these fires have anything to do with Blairmont. But my neighbor Barbara Manzara has been compiling addresses of the fires, and eight out of ten are owned by Blairmont companies. Awful funny, no? Granted, if one randomly selected a bunch of vacant buildings in the target area, a good portion of them would be owned by Blairmont. But the thing is, not a single one of the ten buildings that burned was owned by the LRA (the city’s Land Reutilization Authority), and there are a lot of LRA properties in the fifth ward. In fact, I remember someone telling me that we’re #1 or #2 in the city for the number of LRA properties in our ward. So if this was really, truly a random selection of vacant buildings, why was not a single one of the buildings owned by the LRA? Save for the occasional “NO TRESPASSING NO LOITERING” sign, LRA and Blairmont buildings are often hard to distinguish from the street.
Besides the lack of LRA properties on the list, it’s just awful coincidental that this is happening so neatly within Blairmont’s project boundaries. There are plenty of other depopulated, high-vacancy areas in North City where an arsonist could burn buildings that don’t happen to coincide with somebody’s bulldozer-happy real estate project.
Even if there proves to be no direct Blairmont connection ultimately, I reiterate: Brick rustling was a minor problem in our area, something you heard about sometimes, before Blairmont descended. Now, it’s a plague. So, direct connection or not, we can still thank McKee for this latest ravaging of our community. Even if the fires have nothing to do with brick rustling, some of these buildings were occupied before Blairmont bought them, and certainly they were likely better secured if they were not. And the entire area was more populated, which in and of itself would have been a great deterrent. Blairmont deliberately created these conditions in our area. But that’s okay, none of us were using our human rights anyway, and who wants to feel secure on their own block? (argh, argh, argh….)
Barbara Manzara is compiling a Google map of Blairmont buildings that have burned, both in the past week and in the past couple of years. Here it is.
Up until tonight, they all happened within a four-block area bounded by St. Louis, Glasgow, Hebert, and Jefferson. Glasgow is the western boundary of Blairmont property ownership in that area, and it’s also the boundary of the Fifth Ward there.
Tonight, 2206 Hebert burned. It’s at the edge of St. Louis Place Park, nearly to North Florissant. It’s several blocks east of the other fires, but still well within the boundaries of the Blairmont project area. It is owned by N&G Ventures, a Blairmont company. It is not the only building owned by a Blairmont company on its block, and in fact the next couple of blocks west along Hebert have some pretty high concentrations of Blairmont owned properties.
I had heard about the other fires, and so it was a terrible, terrible thing to sit here in my living room this evening, on the verge of sleep, and find myself yanked out of my peaceful state by the clamoring of numerous fire engines, the wail of all those sirens and the unmistakable honking of engine horns. It was clear from the sounds that they were all stopping nearby, and that it was not a small fire.
I climbed up on my roof, not expecting to be able to discern anything, and was met instead with the sight of a tall, luminous cloud of smoke just three blocks west of here. To see so much smoke so close to home, to know what it meant, was a terrible, sick feeling.
I went to see the fire. Thankfully, the building was not a total loss, but it felt so, so debilitating nonetheless. After years of Blairmont’s pummelings, I stood there and wondered how this can happen, and felt like no one cares about us here at all (Melodramatic, yes, but you try watching a similar event and see how you feel). Watching those flames lick at those iconic Near North Side eyebrow lintels, three blocks from my house, I felt profoundly helpless. Three blocks is not that great of a distance. Will it be closer next time? Will it be this one, or that one that’s attached to the one that’s being rehabbed? Playing that “What’s going to burn around here next?” game is a quick and surefire way to make oneself very queasy very fast.
KSDK covered the blazes today. Neighbors are interviewed. One man is watching his sister’s house while she’s at church, because they are terrified that the vacant building next door will catch fire and spread to her house. Unfortunately, it’s a completely legitimate fear. It’s a terrible, terrible way to live, to have to worry like that for one’s own home and safety. As I sit here, wearily wide awake at 3AM, I wonder how many people a few blocks west of me are awake, too, trying to protect their homes. Sitting up all night, knowing that you’ve got to sleep some time, biting your nails, holding the phone in your hand, tensing at the sound of every siren…. It’s terrorism in the most literal sense of the word, creating deep and unceasing fear in the hearts of one’s targets.
The magic question: What is the involvement of Blairmont in this? I do not know, but they did own and neglect the building, and had it been occupied this would not have happened. One wonders how many of the other recently burned properties they own.
I will say that I find it rather interesting that the batch of arsons up until this point all falls squarely within the bounds of the Blairmont project area, stopping at the west at the very street that bounds the Blairmont area (Glasgow). And on the North Side, there are plenty of other concentrations of vacant buildings that an arsonist could easily burn which do not fall neatly inside someone’s real estate project boundaries (where the objective of the project seems to be widespread bulldozing, no less). These are areas that have seen some brick rustling, but that have yet to experience the levels of devastation achieved elsewhere within McKee’s project area.
If Blairmont did not cause these fires directly, their ongoing parasitic landbanking and aggressive neglect in our community over the past several years created the conditions that allowed them to happen.
Even if it really is just the brick rustlers to blame (Fire separates the brick from the wood handily, and makes the police less even likely to stop illegal demolition than they already are.), brick rustling was not such a problem around here until Blairmont ownership started to metastasize. They used to pick off a wall here or there, but they now erase entire blocks, due in no small part to Blairmont’s ongoing depopulation and forcible neglect of our area.
And speak of the devil–in the process of typing this, I heard not one but THREE distinct rounds of sirens to the west of here. Oh, no. Please, no.
I promise you that Paul McKee does not sit up at night, hearing rounds of sirens and wondering, nervously, nervously, what buildings near his home must be burning. I promise you he doesn’t live like this.