Is haunting me! For the past 7 years or so I’ve walked past it and thought it would be the ideal home for Detroit Summer. It wasn’t always abandoned during those years. In fact, these pictures I found on flickr make me realize it’s only been abandoned for a year or two. Now, the brass around the door (below) has all been stripped and a lot of the windows are broken. The roof is in good shape though.
It’s 2 buildings– one, a rectangular sandstone building, which looks 2-storied from the outside but which is actually a large, open recital hall with high ceilings and beautiful acoustics. Attached to it is a mansion, which in the early 20th century was a funeral home, but since 1929, is where the music lessons of the Art Center Music School were held. The ACMS’s mission is to provide affordable private music lessons to Detroit kids and adults. A lot of my friends remember taking lessons there when they were little. But it seems that the school was so devoted to this mission of benefiting the community over profit-making, that they eventually ran out of money.
The miracle is that that the buildings are still owned by the board of the ACMS non-profit. According to my landlord who heads a low-income housing non-profit in the Cass Corridor, a majority of the buildings around here are owned by speculators who think if they just hold out long enough they will be able to sell their property for a million dollars or more. In the meantime, people with energy and vision for transforming those buildings can’t afford to buy them and they remain hazards to the community.
The board members of ACMS are older African Americans, some of whom taught at the school or studied there, many of whom are in their 90s. They have staunchly protected the buildings from developers who would have bought them and turned them into lofts or bulldozed them for parking lots. They remain devoted to the vision of providing affordable music lessons for Detroiters, but seem to lack the capacity to bring the school back to life.
I learned all this in the past 3 days, after AMP and Detroit Summer found out we have to move again (from the amazing space we relocated to at Warren and Grand River only this Summer). We have until the end of March. Luckily, 2 things– 1) the people I’ve talked with at the ACMS are energetic about the possibilities of working with us. We haven’t met all of the board members, and we anticipate that some of them will be more reluctant, but it seems hopeful. 2) We are moving with our friends Carl and Monte who run the 555 Arts Gallery and are two of the most skilled, hard-working, resourceful building-renovators I know.
I’m so excited about the possibility of this move I can barely stand it. I’m not even sure why. Part of it is how sweet the building is, and the fact that it’s around the corner from my house. Another part is the history of the building. Houdini was laid out in the funeral home after his untimely death in Detroit! When Steve, one of the board members was giving us a tour on Saturday he said they used to talk about the idea of holding a seance as a Halloween fundraiser. All kinds of jazz and Motown musicians passed through the school or performed in the Hall. Apparently even some seminal Detroit Hardcore bands– Negative Approach and Necros performed there in the 80s.
It would be amazing to move Detroit Summer back into the Cass Corridor. But even more amazing to do it in a way that builds upon the legacy of the Art Center Music School, takes it to the next level, doesn’t let it die.