Detroit’s Boston-Edison neighborhood is nothing if not rich in history, once home to icons such as Henry Ford, Joe Louis, Sebastian Spering Kresge, and Berry Gordy. Mostly built and designed early in the 20th century, Boston-Edison is characterized by classic designs and majestic structures that have remarkably stood the test of time.
That said, its present is perhaps even more remarkable than its past. Modern-day Boston-Edison reflects the same architectural creativity, the same pride in ownership and the same commitment to community that it did when those legendary figures called it home.
And the neighborhood’s current residents say they understand, and embrace, the responsibility to honor the standards of those who came before them.
The Boston-Edison residents of today are above all else committed to Detroit – what it is and what it can be, and they believe Boston-Edison can not only provide a magnet for those who want to find exceptional quality of life in the city, but can also set an example of how a truly great Detroit neighborhood should work.
“You’re committed to living in the city because you have certain values, about wanting to be around and be close to lots of other people,” said Trey Greene, a 40-year resident along with his wife Colleen Dolan-Greene. “If you’re not committed to living in the city, you go out to the suburbs, which is some kind of split between here and living on a farm. But it doesn’t really make any sense.”
For the person of discerning taste looking for a stately house and attractive property, you can’t do much better than Boston-Edison. The home designs are as varied as they are striking, with a healthy variety of brick, stone and wood – and a mixture of colors and shades that are a far cry from many production-built, cookie-cutter subdivisions of today.
Boston-Edison runs from Woodward Avenue on the east to Linwood Street on the west, with a northern boundary of West Boston Boulevard and a southern boundary of Edison Street – where you’re just blocks from the New Center area.
If you’re heading downtown via Woodward Avenue, it’s well worth your time to enjoy a detour through Boston-Edison via West Boston Boulevard, Chicago Boulevard or Edison Street. The quality and character of these homes run counter to many people’s images of Detroit, but they represent a very real element of the city.
If you have the opportunity, you might walk into a home with a ballroom, or a solarium, or a sitting room, or a front lobby with high ceilings and a circular staircase. These are throwbacks to the high-end lifestyles of another era, but they are far from dead in the early 21st century. They remain very much at home in a neighborhood whose inhabitants understand how to incorporate them into their lifestyles.
Vernacular and Tudor styles dominate the neighborhood, but even within those categories there is a healthy dose of American eclecticism. Boston-Edison designers were nothing if not adventurous in their concepts, and the result was a seemingly endless array of opportunities to gaze at homes and marvel at their quality and beauty.
And the history of the neighborhood is as much about who has been there as how the homes were designed and built.
On West Boston Boulevard, you can marvel at the Tudor house built in 1915 for Charles Fisher, right around the time he sold his stake in the Fisher Body Company to General Motors. Henry and Clara Ford lived just around the corner in an Italian Renaissance Revival home on Edison Avenue. Walter Owen Briggs, who founded Briggs Manufacturing and owned the Detroit Tigers, called an English Manor house on West Boston home. Kmart founder Sebastian Spering Kresge lived in a Mediterranean Villa on West Boston.
The neighborhood was home to sports titans as well. Ty Cobb lived in a two story on Atkinson, while Willie Horton and Joe Louis both lived on Edison.
And if music is your thing, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. was the proud owner of an Italian Renaissance on West Boston.
That’s just a sampling of the prominent figures who were part of the Boston-Edison neighborhood throughout the years. The residents of today are proud of that history and feel a responsibility to honor it – not only by keeping the neighborhood in excellent condition but also by maintaining the sense of community that made it more than a mere collection of houses a century ago.
While Boston-Edison neighbors are not necessarily equipped with professional qualifications to perform this caretaking, they make up for that with a strong association and an array of well-populated committees who take their responsibilities seriously.
That includes a beautification committee whose members personally walk the neighborhood, taking care of debris and doing things like mowing and landscaping where it’s needed. It also includes a security committee whose members may be lay people as security matters go, but who work closely with Detroit police to understand and implement the right security measures.
A zoning committee works with residents and city officials to make sure the neighborhood remains in harmony with the zoning ordinances that help it maintain its unique character.
Boston-Edison residents are believers in the city, and in the idea that older urban areas deserve residents who are committed to their resurgence. They understand they have to take some responsibility for each other in order to ensure the neighborhood is as safe as it is stately – and they are more than prepared to do so.
“Security is something people think about, but the best form of security is people knowing each other, being present and visible,” said Mike Hanafee, a pastor who along with his wife Susan moved to Boston-Edison from Oregon seven years ago. “We talk about visibility currency, and you invest that currency being out there, and you create that community and a sense of security. You know who’s around and you keep in touch.”
Making that effort successful starts with making sure neighbors truly have relationships with one another.
The neighborhood hosts a variety of events throughout the year, which are well-attended and further the goal of encouraging people to know and look out for each other.
Some of these include the April Home Preservation Fair, which is conducted in trade show format and has contractors and other companies in attendance, as well as The Sounds of Music, which features three separate concerts held in three different Boston-Edison homes.
Members of the public often turn out for an annual attic sale, which is held each August on a neighborhood-wide basis. One of the most popular Boston-Edison events is the annual Holiday Home Tour and VIP Twilight Tour, a neighborhood fundraiser held in 2016 for the 42nd time.
The neighborhood also hosts monthly membership mixers. In addition to all these, the neighborhood is planning a 90th anniversary gala for late 2017.
As Boston-Edison grows, and the community becomes more interconnected, businesses offering daily provisions are popping up to meet the increased demand.
Detroit has gotten attention in recent years for lacking chain grocery stores. That has changed significantly with arrivals like the Eight Mile/Woodward Meijer and the Mack/Woodward Whole Foods. For Boston-Edison residents, finding the right shopping option is just a matter of knowing the options and choosing the one that works for you. Nine-year resident Karen Seaman has become a huge fan of Eastern Market.
“I make a habit of going, if not every weekend, every other weekend,” Seaman said. “It’s that feel-good where you know you’re buying from farmers, and a lot of them are Michigan farmers – especially in the springtime when they have flower day, and everyone has herbs, flowers and everything.”
Of course, if all you want is easy access to groceries, suburbia beckons. But for the committed Boston-Edison resident, it holds little appeal.
“You don’t get the quality of homes in Suburbia,” said 23-year resident Gwendolyn Esco-Davis. “You don’t get the flooring, you don’t get the size of the rooms. So these homes have personality and the warm feeling you feel just living in Boston-Edison.”
Salamango said he and his wife Melissa Fernandez knew they were making a radical change when they left New Hudson for Boston-Edison. That was exactly what they had in mind.
“Our move here was based on our desire to be in a vibrant place where we could get good food, great culture and world-class entertainment,” Salamango said. “All that exists two miles down the street, not so much in New Hudson. And we feel it’s a sincere honor to own this house, which was built in 1903.”
For Trey Greene, who remains as committed as ever to Boston-Edison after 40 years, the hope is that good things happening in the neighborhood are also the drivers of more resurgence throughout the city.
Greene and other Boston-Edison residents believe their neighborhood serves as an example of the fact that what was created long ago to be striking and beautiful can be kept that way. The Vernacular and Tudor style homes may have been designed nearly a century ago, but the character of the homes shines brighter than ever.