brewster douglass housing projects

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The city of Detroit is looking for plans to re-develop the former Brewster-Wheeler recreation center.

The center is best known as the place where Detroit boxing legends Joe Louis got their start in the sport.

It also served as an important community hub for generations of Detroiters who lived in and around the recently-demolished Brewster-Douglass housing projects.

But it’s fallen into disrepair since it closed in 2006, and was recently added to the city’s demolition list.

Now Mayor Mike Duggan is making a final push to re-develop it instead.

Amber Leigh / Flickr

To those of us who have seen those decaying buildings along I-375 near downtown Detroit, it’s pretty difficult to realize that the Brewster-Douglass Projects were once seen as a shining example of public housing.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt turned up on Sept. 7, 1935 for the groundbreaking. And when Brewster homes opened in 1938, they became the America’s first public-housing project built for African-Americans.

Brewster-Douglass went on to become home to names like Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, Smokey Robinson and Lily Tomlin.

The projects helped launch many blacks into the middle class.

Now the last phase of demolition is under way. No one will miss the crime-ridden, decaying housing project that sat empty since 2008. And now the question is: What should be done with the site?

We welcome June Manning Thomas. She’s an urban planner with the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning. We also talk to her colleague, urban designer Roy Strickland.

Listen to the full interview above.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

Detroit’s historic Brewster-Douglass housing projects will finally come all the way down sometime this spring.

The final stage of the ongoing demolition effort at the 18.5 acre site started Monday. Officials say it will last for another two months, while land restoration will continue throughout the summer.