When the financial meltdown hit Michigan in late 2007, it triggered a population exodus from which the state is not expected to recover until around 2060. It didn't help that the Big Three automakers had been outsourcing jobs and closing plants since the mid-1980s, either. Michigan now has many areas in which local residents are still a bit shell-shocked, and then there are cities in the Lower Peninsula that will break your heart. Saginaw, Pontiac, Flint and Metro Detroit -- to name just a few -- all runneth over with abandoned buildings waiting for demolition crews. Some will wait years, because it costs a good deal of money on the low end of the scale to tear down and remove a structure. So.
When people try to re-purpose these eyesores, making a community-building silk purse out of the proverbial sow's ear, I wish them every success. The attempt takes vision, courage, a nearly unshakable sense of optimism, and a strong back. This is how it was with Imagination Station, two derelict houses sitting between the empty brick shell of a hotel and an overgrown, otherwise vacant lot in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit. Where others saw urban blight, Jerry Paffendorf and Mary Lorene Carter envisioned a community arts center. In 2010 they each pitched in $500 to buy the houses at 2230 and 2236 14th Street, right across the street from Roosevelt Park and the towering Michigan Central Station with its Beaux-Arts fašade. A small army of volunteers spent hundreds of hours clearing out the two structures, taming the surrounding jungle, and building a platform for outdoor performances. The houses became large "canvases" for local artists, as the group made its ambitious plans for the future.
This path ran into a cul de sac on the morning of Wednesday, June 27, 2012, when arsonists torched the house nicknamed "Lefty." Seeing as how Lefty's south exterior wall is about six feet away from "Righty's" north exterior wall, it, too, caught fire. Imagination Station's physical manifestation burned like 100-110 year old dry kindling which, incidentally, exactly describes wood lath-minus-plaster walls: kindling. Sayonara, Lefty; you will be missed.
Arson pretty much happens on a daily basis in Detroit, but something about this case feels like a punch to the stomach. If you have any positive energy to spare, could you please direct it towards the nice people behind Imagination Station as they ponder Plans B? And please, if you know of similar projects in your area, share them with us in the comments below. Let's hear some good news.