“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.

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archisweaty

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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Late notice: Why save old buildings in Detroit? Preservation Detroit on Who We Are and What We Do

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Preservation Detroit President Amy Elliott Bragg and I will be talking about old buildings in Detroit and why they matter, later today. If you can make it, we’d love to see you and answer your questions.

Published in: on October 15, 2014 at 11:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Detroit Church Blog

Detroit Church Blog

I just stumbled across this while answering a personal reference question, and thought some of you might enjoy it.

If you have passed a pretty, historic, Polish Catholic church in Detroit and wondered what the interior looks like and whether it’s still open, this website has your back.

As an East Side resident, the first two pages of the blog alone have shown me several buildings I was curious to see inside! I should really try to find an excuse to walk through Transfiguration Church. I bike past it frequently in warm weather, and from the photos on this site, I can tell that the inside is full of the same gorgeous old tilework that made me notice the building in the first place.

Published in: on January 26, 2014 at 4:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
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