Sunday, February 24, 2008

Detroit's Corktown

Over the years the fortunes of Detroit's oldest neighborhood have mirrored that of the city proper. In many ways the story of Corktown is the story of Detroit. Detroit's Corktown from Arcadia Publishing examines the fabric that has held this neighborhood together through its many ups and downs.

The story of Corktown begins in the 1830's when the Cass and Woodbridge families began to sell off their ribbon farms west of downtown for development. This area was quickly filled by the hundreds of Irish immigrants newly arriving in the city. Authors Armando Delicato & Julio Demerly devote the early pages of the book to the cultural and religions institutions that the Irish established in the area.

With a few exceptions, Corktown has always been a working class neighborhood and this is reflected in its housing stock. The neighborhood's housing stock has evolved from Shotgun Houses to Greek Revivial and later Gothic Revival gradually becoming more stylish. There are a shortage monumental residences that exist in other neighborhoods. However, Corktown has been one of the most successful neighborhoods in preserving its architectural heritage inspite the coming of freeways and numerous urban renewal projects. The book successfully captures the essence of the community providing numerous photos of area homes.

Urban renewal and redevelopment was the prevailing theme in Detroit during the middle part of the last century. Corktown's residential nature proved to be an obstacle to the city's plans. Converting the neighborhood to light industrial was seen as a necessity in order to retain manufacturing synergy with downtown. Two freeways were built cutting through huge swaths of Corktown, dividing it and isolating it from the rest of the city. Other sections were raised to make way for industrial parks, may of which now sit empty. The rise of the automobile precipitated a steep decline in rail travel which ultimatatly lead to the demolition of one of Corktowns train station and the famous abandonment of another.

Despite of all of this destruction in the name of progress, Corktown has managed to hang on. Residents fought the destruction of their neighborhood and manage to contain the devastation. Corktown is no longer an ethnic enclave, but it has managed to attract new residents and businesses to begin to fill the void left by the loss of train Stations and Tiger Stadium. Later pages are dedicated to the new pioneers as well as those institution that have held firm, surviving though many decades of turmoil.

Detroit's Corktown provides valuable insight into history and character of one of Detroit's most colorful neighborhoods. Considerable space is devoted to historic photographs of the district and its people. The photos are supported by chapter introductions and lengthy, informative captions. As an introduction to one of Detroit's cultural gems, the book serves as a valuable resource.

Photos reprinted with permission from Detroit's Corktown, by Armando Delicato & Julio Demerly. Available from the publisher online at or by calling (888) 313-2665.

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