Detroit to demolish historic Brewster-Douglass housing projects

Nov 15, 2012

Miguel Thornton, in front of the Brewster apartment where his family once lived.
Miguel Thornton, in front of the Brewster apartment where his family once lived.
Credit Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Mayor Dave Bing says the city of Detroit will demolish the vacant Brewster-Douglass housing projects.

The famous—or in more recent years, infamous—Brewster projects sit on 18 acres of what is now prime real estate near downtown Detroit.

Brewster-Douglass was the first federal housing project for African-Americans in the nation. But it’s been vacant for years, and the blighted towers have become one of the most visible eyesores along the city’s skylines, as well as a magnet for crime.

The demolition effort will be financed by a $6.5 million grant from the department of Housing and Urban Development.

“The federal government is providing the money to bring these structures down, as well as to remediate the soil so that the area can be put up for public or private development,” said Antonio Riley, the administrator of HUD Region 5.

There aren’t any solid plans for the site yet, but officials are hopeful it will attract lots of interest.

“It’s over 18 acres of continuous land in one of the most prime spots in the city of Detroit, connecting downtown and Midtown,” said Karla Henderson,

The demolition process is expected to start early next year, and then run for about a year. After that, officials say there will be a process to engage community groups and other “stakeholders” in deciding the site’s future.

The Brewster projects are also historically significant for their famous former residents. Diana Ross and the Supremes grew up there, and boxing great Joe Louis trained at the former Brewster Recreation Center.

The Brewster projects also hold memories for thousands of ordinary Detroiters.

Those memories are mostly fond ones for Miguel Thornton. His family was relocated here briefly in the 1950s, after the city bought up and razed their home in Detroit’s old Black Bottom neighborhood.

Thornton remembers the now-derelict projects as a friendly place where everyone knew and looked out for their neighbors. He has mixed feelings about the demolition plans.

“To really put something in here that’s gonna benefit the people in the community, and benefit us that can come back and talk about it…that’s fine,” Thornton said. “But it will be a part of me that they tear down also.”