column: Demolition of houses throughout Ann Arbor destroy a piece of history as well
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
We’d get going after school and walk to St. Andrew’s church, pausing on the way to buy a snack at Diroff’s, which is now Zingerman’s Deli. After reading in the church’s school rooms, we’d walk back to her house, sometimes passing 515 N. Fifth where her friend KK lived. I did this, sometimes twice a week, for four years. I became good friends with her family and we even had our portraits taken together at K-Mart! I have beautiful memories of those years from 1964-1968.
I was recently reminded of this because KK’s house at 515 N. Fifth Ave. is slated to be demolished to build a three-story condo and apartment building. It made me sad, thinking of this neighborhood’s black history disappearing with each continuing demolition, and the loss of the history of this house in particular.
Everyone was so proud of their uncle Ollie McLaughlin, who, as a radio announcer, disc jockey and record producer (he had three record labels named after his three daughters) had discovered some great rock ‘n’ roll talents including Barbara Lewis, Del Shannon, Ann Arbor-native Deon Jackson and the Capitols, who sang “Cool Jerk.” He’d even been nominated for some Grammy Awards! All this history is just swept away when a house isn’t there any longer to bear witness to the story.
Lizzy Alfs | AnnArbor.com
It started out as a cube-shaped house with “Italianate” features, meaning it had brackets under the eaves and 4-over-4 windows (still there) and nice trim around the doorway. It began its life in 1860 as the home of Daniel Kierstad, a dealer in men’s clothing on Main Street but also the manufacturer of ‘slat window curtains’ (i.e., shutters) in the factory behind his house. He later switched to window shades and remained until the early 20th century. The neighborhood at the time was quite mixed, with many German Catholics living amongst the Irish and Italians who attended St. Thomas Church.
African Americans also built their churches here in the early 20th century, Second Baptist at Beakes Street and Fifth Avenue and Bethel AME on Fourth Avenue, just north of Beakes. With the implementation of zoning after World War I, this neighborhood was essentially restricted to Blacks though other ethnic groups like the Japanese after World War II and some Italian refugees found homes here too.
With the demolition of the Greek Orthodox Church on Main Street and the pending demolition of the small houses on North Main near Summit (all of which were associated with early Irish immigrants to Ann Arbor and most of which were built around the time of the Civil War), we lose all sense of the history of this neighborhood and of the many who have passed through it.
The black churches remain with new uses (one is a school and the other is condos) and can tell some of the neighborhood’s stories. They can tell of the bad old days and now the successes of integration and the progress we have made. Now the “old neighborhood” has become just another place for developers and speculators to cater to the needs of a new century. So, with the history of this neighborhood being erased, today is a bittersweet day for me.
Susan Wineberg is the author of the book "Lost Ann Arbor and Historic Buildings, Ann Arbor Michigan."