Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What Happens to a Condo Development Deferred?: A Visit to Ypsilanti's Water Street

When Dusty Diary visited Water Street a few years ago with a local historian, it was a peaceful ruin, beautiful in its crumbly evocation of the past. We checked out the buildings and even found a railroad spike from the old siding that used to service the factories on the site in the 19th century.

Now, not so much. Near a spot where the fence has been shoved down (above), there's a view of the old auto factory that sent chills down my spine. It seemed like a spot where lost souls drifted in off Michigan Ave for desperate and dark deeds done by those whose personal situation allowed that a derelict auto factory at night, with unknown inhabitants doing unknown deeds, was acceptable shelter.

The west side of the old auto factory, where a little gravel road curves down to the river, is not inviting. I felt as though the site were the bottom of the vortex of the bad economic situation in Michigan--that to some, this was a roof from the rain for whatever deeds they pursued in the privacy of this abandoned auto factory. It made Dusty D sad. And, you better believe it, watchful. I was there in broad daylight and with a burly bodyguard, but yes sir I kept swiveling my head around like an owl and I would NOT recommend visiting here. Urban exploration is one thing--running into someone with nothing to lose is quite another.

On a lighter note, back up on Parsons Street, which readers will recall was named for the Parsons Brothers woodworking factory, there's the Ypsilanti Iron and Metal Shop. Dusty D would like to know which City Council member I should bribe with some of my home-grown lettuce, dill, and EVEN tart cherries so that a member of the Historical Society (raises hand) could sign 50 waivers in type O blood and be allowed IN THERE to SALVAGE any historical tools for my perso--er, for the Museum. Would this building be boarded up, potentially with hoards of historical relics, if it were the Quirk mansion? No. To me, those tools are worth more than any rich man's gold-plated cigar cutter.

Stepping off the soapbox now to note that the Iron & Metal Co's original phone number is still painted on its side, as seen at left: HU2-1617.

The Iron and Metal Co is near River & Parsons streets and a big mysterious Quonset-Hut-style building. The atmosphere of this part of the site is peaceful and evocative.

Dusty Diary paused for a moment, feeling the warm sun on her shoulders. She squinted through the veils of time and could almost see men with dented tin lunch pails walking onto the site, ready to begin a day of work in the foundry or metal shop.
The view from the street signs above is of this north side of the auto shop, which does not invite exploration. You can see the path that curves around and heads south, as seen in picture #2, above. Dusty D does not recommend exploring this path, although it is not fenced off and one is apparently not trespassing.

To the west of this sinister building is the original Water Street, which used to have a series of houses and is said to have been named due to its propensity for flooding. Here, Dusty Diary's bodyguard investigates a mysterious pipe in the middle of a field with the sinister auto shop in the background. This is a bleak and somewhat sad part of the site, near the river, where so many lives, and homes, have been erased from the landscape.

In this area, a lone streetlight burns in a dim pink color, illuminating nothing, a mundane object forgotten by the city that time turned into an unwitting memorial to those who used to live here.

One consolation can be found when one turns away from a lost-in-thought contemplation of the streetlight which ignores the sun to burn a wan pink. The site of the McCullough foundry is here, right by the bridge, within sight of Materials Unlimited. And also the end of Water Street, where it leads to Michigan Ave, and leads away those who cautiously visit, dreaming of better times years ago.


john gawlas said...

You are a brave soul and we applaud your expedition. Your travelogue was most revealing.

p.s. Were you looking for my twitter back in May?


Dusty D said...

Mr. Gawlas: Oh, DD is not particularly brave at all. I just enjoy the evocative nature of the site and things such as the mural on the side of the Ypsi Iron and Metal Co., painted in vintage typography.

Mr. Gawlas, I do not recall receiving a tweet from you in May, but I would be glad if you sent one. My Twitter handle is the same as the name of this blog.

p.s. Baking soda is the best antidote to vinegar.

Dusty D said...

Incidentally, the auto factory referred to, the one with the skull on it, was the Thermofil factory which once manufactured convertible roofs.

Anonymous said...

Hi DD!
I wish you had asked the archivist where Pine Grove Terrace was---he knows for a fact where it was! McCullough Machine Shop down in the Water St area made some machinery which was akin for "rolling oats" as it were. TRhey called it an oat press I believe. We may have a pic. It is in the Business File at YPS.

Dusty D said...

Hi petycash! Oh, I agree, and I would have gone to the Archives first thing! But it was Monday, so it was closed. It did underline how much I rely on the Archives otherwise!