So You Want to Save a House?

I am speaking on this panel today. I am talking about how you can collaborate with a land bank to market historic houses in your neighborhood that they were going to either demolish or let languish.

Lose sleep! Work hard! Eventually get neighbors! It’s great.

The details: So You Want to Save a House?
Published in: on January 27, 2016 at 10:52 am  Comments (1)  
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“We know the name of the architect of Grand Central, but who swept the floors?”

–Studs Terkel

I heard this quote on a StoryCorps podcast this morning, and spent a moment hovering on the brink of crying in my car. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. This is why old buildings matter, because they belong to all of us. Because you can point to it and say I lived there, I worked there, I went to school there. It is built, physical proof that you exist, that your life story is true. I thought about a kid (now in his early 20s but I still think of him as a kid–ed.) I know on the North Side of St. Louis…. Many of the buildings he’s lived in have been torn down. A mutual friend remarked, “It’s like the carpet of his life is rolling up behind him.”

So yeah, this is why I sometimes lose sleep over a humble house. This is why my favorite building is a two-story storefront (ILY, 4831 Fountain). This is why I say we need to talk about the stories of buildings’ lives and what they meant to people, not just which catalog the architect Dead Q. Whiteguy ordered the terracotta from (as much as YOU KNOW I love that info too). This is why I talk about the neighborhoods we lost for the freeways and the ones we are still losing to sketchy banks and Paul McKee.

The Guardian Building matters because it is so goddamn beautiful but also because it was built by many sets of hands, also because so many people have worked there and walked through the doors. The Guardian Building also matters because we all love it, visit it, show it off, take it as a proud symbol of our identity as Detroiters, photograph it, run our fingers over the carved stone. Standing in the Guardian Building’s lobby fills me with emotion but I am moved just as strongly (if in a different way) by standing in the front yard of the burnt house that was my mother’s childhood home.

Places matter, and they matter because of *all* of their people.


Yesterday I learned a gross and fascinating fact of the “Old buildings are something, aren’t they?” variety.

It is possible for a century-old storefront to get the meatsweats.

Some friends told me about how their building, which was a meat business until a few years ago, has a big dark area in its hardwood floor. When it gets hot out, it turns white–the wood exudes a thin coating of animal fat. Past lives of the building come out of the floor.

Published in: on January 9, 2016 at 3:48 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Last Service: A memorial for First Unitarian Church

The Last Service: A memorial for First Unitarian Church


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.

Published in: on May 15, 2014 at 1:20 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Preservation Detroit Picks Claire Nowak-Boyd to be Executive Director

Preservation Detroit Picks Claire Nowak-Boyd to be Executive Director

I was on WDET yesterday, talking about Preservation Detroit.

Published in: on March 5, 2014 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Guest Column: ‘I Don’t Want My History To Be Erased’ With Detroit Demolitions

Guest Column: ‘I Don’t Want My History To Be Erased’ With Detroit Demolitions

A deeply moving and thoughtful essay on place and personal history, from someone I’m honored to know and work with.

Published in: on February 28, 2014 at 11:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Discussion in the office this morning: Phishing e-mails designed to target specific types of planners. “Hello CLA1R3, Click on TH1S L1NK and enter your social security number to SAV3 AN ALB3RT KHAN building!” “Oh man, I better click the link!”

Published in: on February 13, 2014 at 10:50 am  Leave a Comment  
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Clerical error leads to easy demolition of historic district building in St. Louis

Clerical error leads to easy demolition of historic district building in St. Louis

Not even surprised. Not remotely surprised. Yesterday at work I told a coworker, “I’m trying to be extra careful, because I’ve seen the wrong building get torn down before. In St. Louis.” Today I saw this.

This building was being demolished last time I was in town, and I thought it was weird.

We are only even hearing about this because it happened south of Delmar. If this was somebody’s house in North City, fuhgeddaboutit.

Published in: on February 7, 2014 at 12:42 pm  Leave a Comment  
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