The Way It Was

Midtown neighborhood, 1929


Published:

PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE WALTER P. REUTHER LIBRARY, ARCHIVES OF LABOR AND URBAN AFFAIRS, WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY (THE DETROIT NEWS PHOTOGRAPH COLLECTION)

1959This photograph of Canfield Street and Second Avenue, in what came to be known as Midtown Detroit, looks simultaneously to be old fashioned and timeless. Certainly, the quaint 1920s automobiles, the Red Crown gas station, and other businesses are from a period long gone, but the lovely old Victorian homes are still standing on Canfield, due in no small measure to the efforts of urban pioneer Beulah Groehn (later Beulah Groehn Croxford). In 1965 she came to an estate sale on Canfield, which at the time was decrepit and dowdy. The former prime neighborhood had become home to flophouses, drug dens, or brothels. But where others saw a tatty place in ruins, Groehn saw possibility and the promise of restored grandeur to a neighborhood that once was home to wealthy Detroiters in the pre-automotive era. The impressive domiciles were built from the 1870s to around 1900. Instead of buying a few antique trinkets at the estate sale, Groehn and her lawyer husband, Henry, bought the whole house, pulling up stakes from their suburban Franklin home. She helped fight blight and spearheaded efforts to make the neighborhood Detroit’s first historic district in 1970. A year later, it was added to the national register. The nearby restaurant called Traffic Jam and Snug, which is still in business, also opened in 1965. Eventually, others were attracted to the block between Second and Third avenues. When the Renaissance Center was being built, scads of bricks were taken from the uprooted Atwater Street and placed on Canfield’s thoroughfare. If Canfield seems exceptionally wide, it is. As the auto industry mushroomed, It went from 100 to 200 feet side to accommodate busy crosstown traffic. Beulah Groehn Croxford died in 2001, but it would likely gladden her heart that the home she once owned recently went up for sale in January 2017 — and sold within the day.

 

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