It’s as if history has a big red target on it in Lakewood. Three significant development proposals in the city so far this year have targeted buildings that have some iconic quality about them—each one a piece of the heritage and physical character that make the city attractive.
All to be demolished. Buildings that are not dilapidated. Buildings that have great possibilities for re-use. And all the while, comparable and truly ruinous properties–even vacant land–lie fallow nearby.
How is it that developers take a look at Lakewood and decide that one of the few remaining lakefront mansions, a handsome church, and a streetcar-era theatre are what they want to knock down, while they ignore empty land and buildings that actually need to be demolished?
Early in the year a developer—Adobe Luxe Living– came along with a plan to demolish the lakefront mansion known as the Heideloff house, with the intention of replacing it with 14 lakefront condos. Fortunately the plan was scuttled by zoning that prohibited that number of condos from going into that space.
But the striking thing is that Adobe came up with that plan while another waterfront parcel sits idle on the west edge of the city, already cleared. And this one has easy access to the water and marinas, which the Heideloff house does not have. And it’s positioned at the end of the vast and verdant Emerald Necklace park system.
Then along comes CVS, looking to demolish the handsome Lutheran church at Arthur Ave. and Detroit, to replace it with a big box drugstore. They have their sites set on this property despite the fact that already-cleared acreage sits to the east on Detroit. Despite the fact that the massive property Giant Eagle vacated to move across the street still sits un-used.
Finally along comes a McDonalds franchise with a plan to knock down the Detroit theater to replace it with a fast food emporium. Even though the inside is undistinguished architecturally, and even though it hasn’t been successful as a theater (and even though the economy and our massive flat screen TVs make the odds of theatrical success there extremely steep), the building is in decent shape. The roof does not leak. The massive interior would be easy to subdivide or redevelop as anyone saw fit. And if you drive down Detroit making a list of distinguished buildings, the white tile front and classic marquee would absolutely put this building on it.
What especially hurts about the proposed demolition of this theatre to build a McDonalds—or for that matter the church to build a CVS—is that about ¼ mile to the south of either of those stands the old Hilliard / Westwood theatre –once truly grand on the inside, but now decayed to such a state that demolition is the better option. The roof has leaked for more than a decade and a half. Daylight shines through the roof in several places.
Knocking down the Hilliard / Westwood to replace it with a drugstore or a McDonalds would do the city a favor. The developer who did that would be praised far and wide. It might even catalyze more investment in the neighborhood.
But demolition of the Lutheran church or the Detroit Theater only ruins possibilities. As Observer publisher Jim O’Bryan observed, (http://www.lakewoodobserver.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=10083&start=30 )we stand to lose these pieces of the city—architecture that physically distinguishes our neighborhoods—because we have been asleep at the switch. There is no plan guiding developers away from the demolition of what makes the city interesting, and toward the re-use of our vacant land and seriously decayed buildings.
I’m afraid the opposition to all this proposed destruction hasn’t been more vehement because people have been worn down by the constant battles of living in a city whose age, economic state, and architectural style simultaneously attract people who want to enjoy all that, and people who want to knock it down because they think that’s the best way to make money.
So when it comes to fighting to keep the architecture that makes the place interesting, do we have it in us to take up the cause, or are we all just too tired?