Monday, October 02, 2006

Update on the Chene Street Project

On Sunday, September 24th, Marian Krzyzowski gave a presentation on The Chene Street Project at St. Albertus Catholic Church in Detroit. For those who aren't familiar with The Chene Street Project let me briefly explain.

About 5 years ago Marian (who once lived/visited on Chene Street) got an idea to collect information and memorabilia about the people and businesses that have inhabited Chene Street (in Detroit, Michigan) over a 100 year time span, 1890-1990. He enlisted the help of 11 University of Michigan business students over the years and has proceeded to compile over 450 individual interviews (1000 hours so far), more than 10,000 photographs, has scanned every yearbook for St. Hyacinth and St. Stanislaus Catholic Church high schools for the time span, and more restaurant menus, dry cleaning receipts, parish bulletins, and other memorabilia than you can imagine.

The presentation he gave was sort of "Here's what we've done so far". It included a PowerPoint presentation of 100 slides with 200 photographs highlighting about 20 businesses on Chene Street. Those businesses included: Witkowski Clothiers, Modern Bakery, Ksiegarnia Ludowa (People's Bookstore), Hoffman Photo Studio, Andy Schemer Tailor, and Jaruga Music Store to name a few. The presentation was well organized and Marian had lots of interesting stories to share. Unfortunately, he didn't entertain questions at the end of the presentation but he did share his email address :-)

My question, and the question that many others had was, "Will this information be made available to the public? (If so, when, where, and how?)" Since he didn't mention this in his presentation, and he didn't entertain questions (at least not publicly), I sent him an email. This was his reply:
The entire Chene Street archive that I am collecting will reside in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and will be available to the public. This includes the hard copy as well as all the digital images which now number in the tens of thousands. Eventually, I will write a book and there will be an interactive website. This last piece will require some $$ which I have not yet found.
No mention of "when" unfortunately. But the good news is that it will belong to the University of Michigan Library system. And in case you didn't know, Google announced an agreement to digitize the University of Michigan Library back in 2004. The University of Michigan library is the 6th largest in the country with some 7 million volumes. So presumably the The Chene Street Project (which apparently is already digitized) will be included in the Google index for the U of M Library in the future. Yeah!

[Chene Street, for those of you not familiar with it's significance, was the "heart" of the east side Polish community in Detroit from the late 1800s through the first half of the 1900s . After that, the neighborhood changed over to primarily African American. Most of the businesses on Chene Street are gone now and the neighborhood is pretty desolate though there are still some Polish "hold outs" who continue to live in the area. The Poles may have built most of the Chene Street businesses but there was also a smattering of other ethnic groups in the area as well including Jewish, Ukrainian, and German immigrants to name a few. African Americans too will find The Chene Street Project of interest. There are stories about their move into the area and the businesses they established as well.]


  1. I would love to see this project when complete. Where would I beable to find it. I grew up on Chene St. My family owned Van Dyke Pastry Shop on the corner of Chene and Plamer from about 1972-1999. It was a wonderful place to grow up. There were so many differant Nationalities Polish, Yugoslavian, Romanian, German and many more. Everything was in walking distance. Kroger,Kowalski's, Chene-Ferry Market, Restuants, Bars and Pubs, Little Corner Stores, Icecream Shops, Dan N Vi's Pizza. And I also went to St. Hyacinth School. Life was much differant back then. It was to bad when GM plant came in because in my oppinion that was the down fall of Chene St. Now when I tell people I grew up there their response is "You grew up in that war zone" I try to explain that it wasn't always like that. It's nice to hear someone is trying to show the good side of Chene St.

  2. I wish I knew what to tell you, Nancy, but I have no new news to report on this project. It seems like from the very beginning Marian has been vague about just where, when, and how the results of this project will be unveiled. A lot of people have shared information with him but to the best of my knowledge no one has seen anything come of it.

  3. I would really love to know more about Chene Street and Chene Park.
    Harriet Chene and Bernard Kurnz are my great great grandparents so any information on this is wonderful!! I'm so glad someone is digging into this (my familys been too lazy to find their own heritage). I reall hope that information can also be found on their history and such because that part of my family is lost a little bit. Good luck to this project!

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  5. I'd very much like to find out how to access the database or purchase a copy of the book when it's published. I went to St. Stannies grade school and lived at Dubois and Palmer from the mid 50's until I moved out myself in 1979. My parents stayed there a few more years after that until about 1984. I have many fond memories or Werern's soda fountain, The home theater, Playdium bowling, Joe-Gee's, Trudy's flower shop, Zarembski's, Nowak Bros Hardware, on and on.........

    1. Who are you? I grew up on Palmer and Dubois too! Fromm 1951 to 1665 Art Witkowski

  6. My husband's family lived on Trombly off Chene Street [down the street from the original Chene Trombly Market]and he worked at Zaremski's for $5.00 a week. I first saw him there when my Father took me shopping for a blue chiffon dress for my sixth grade graduation. Six years later we met again and a year after that we married at St. Stanislaus Church. Forty one years later we are still talking about Chene Street. Remember the Band Sheltor at Chene/Warren Park where the band's played and the baton twirlers twirled their batons on a hot summer night. Paulina

  7. My Grandfather, Walter Frances Smuczynski, owned a furniture store at 5560 Chene Street. The store failed in 1938. My father grew up at 2628 Palmer Street from 1920 to 1934, and attended St. Stanislaus Elementary School. My Grandfather's name can still be seen on the building on Chene Street.

    I visited Chene Street for the first time this past weekend, 6/12/2011. It is heartbreaking to see what has become of "West Poletown" and the City of Detroit. I give my best wishes to the City, and Mayor Dave Bing, and earnestly hope that efforts revive Detroit will be successful.

    Alvin W. Smuzynski
    Fairfax Station, VA

    1. Hi Alvin or anyone else who may read this. I need some help with pictures of my grandparents wedding in Detroit. Unfortunately my parents and grandparents have passed. I don't have anyone to ask and I am desperately seeking answers. I have a wedding photo on a street in Detroit. my grandparents lived on Erskine Street near Chene. In the picture I have you can clearly make out half a sign that says Chene ---below it Restauran----(restaurant) and BEE (beer?) below that. There are to signs in the distance I think could help but googling for hours has lead me nowhere. they say "O. Toia (?) Ladies Gents Furnishings/Childrenswear/infant goods/imported Italian goods.
      My grandma was Italian and GPa Italian/German and I know their neighborhood was Italian and not polish as a lot of my readings say the area became.Next to this OTOIA (?) sign in the next building is a SODAS sign. Can't make out what is above or below it. The picture is a horse drawn carriage but a car of some sort is in front of it you can see the end of. My dad was born in 1938 and I think this picture was from 1920-1930 at the latest.
      If there is any info you may have or can direct me to so I can find where this picture was taken, I would so appreciate it. I am happy to email the picture if people arre interested in guinuine helping me on this search. I don't have marriage records or anything, all were destroyed by water damage before I was interested in searching.

      Thank you to all who read this. Please email me at with the subject Chene Street Detroit if you have suggestions

      Shannon Meyer
      Clinton Twp, MI