Monday, March 22, 2010

Melancholy Too

As long as I'm taking the melancholy trip down memory lane I may as well make a few other stops while I'm at it. When I recently visited my grandparent's neighborhood on Detroit's west side, I also stopped to photograph the property where their first house stood, where their second (and only other) house stood, where the kindergarten/public school stood, and where their church once stood. Yes, each and every one of those building is gone now...

When my grandparents first bought the little neighborhood bakery, before it expanded to become a "baking company", there was a small apartment above the bakery. That's where they lived initially and where my mother was born. Mom was their second child and after she came along things got a little crowded in the apartment. So when a small house went up for sale kitty-corner (southwest) and one house (to the south) down from the bakery (and directly across from Sill School) they bought it. That would have been late 1918 or some time in 1919. This is the vacant property where that house once stood.

Then, in 1920, my grandparents sponsored two of my grandmother's sisters, Mary and Helen, to come to America from Poland. The little house was a tight fit for everyone and when my grandmother got pregnant again, well, it very quickly became too small. So at that point my grandparents bought a bigger house that came up for sale on the same street as the bakery just a few houses north of it. The two sisters stayed in the smaller house and my grandparents and the kids moved to the bigger house in 1921. Mary married in 1922 and moved a few blocks away. Helen married in 1924 and she and her husband lived in that little house for several hears. If I close my eyes and try really hard I can picture Helen and her children there in that house...
The larger house that my grandparents moved to wasn't all that large but it did have a second story and was big enough for the family of five. This is the house I remember visiting my grandmother at when I was a child. Here is the vacant property where that house once stood, between the garbage cans to the right of the house that's still standing...

If I close my eyes and try really hard I can picture the house and the family sitting out on the porch on a warm Sunday afternoon...
My mom went to Sill School for kindergarten. It was the Detroit Public School just across the street (to the south) from the bakery and (to the east) from my grandparent's first house. It's a large vacant lot now with a small playground on it.
But I can remember the school in all it's glory!

After kindergarten my mom attended Assumption parish school for grades 1-8. Assumption BVM Church, on Lovett Street, was the church the family attended. Mom had lots of happy memories from her years at Assumption. After she graduated from high school she sang in the choir at Assumption and was in their Young Ladies Sodality too. She was married at Assumption in 1944. My grandfather's funeral Mass was at Assumption in 1956 and so was my Grandmother's in 1970. The Archdiocese of Detroit closed Assumption parish in 1989. The church, school, rectory, and nun's residence have since been torn down. There is a new church standing there now, a Baptist church...
The heartbeat of their old west side Detroit Polish neighborhood was Assumption Church (parish founded in 1911, church/school built in 1912). It was a much larger and grander building than the Baptist church, and the other parish buildings were right next door. If I close my eyes and try really hard I can imagine it in its glory days...
Oh how it pains me to see this once lovely neighborhood in such decrepit, shabby condition. I can't go down there very often for that reason. The sadness overwhelms me and sometimes makes me angry. I know that things can't always stay the same but when I think of the churches and villages in Europe that were built centuries ago and are still standing I know that this neighborhood could still be charming and vital too. It hasn't even been a hundred years since my grandparents first came to America! Heck, the city of Detroit is just over 300 years old!

All these other sites in my grandparent's neighborhood make me melancholy too.

21 comments:

  1. What a beautiful job you do of 'imagining'...I can't even remember most of my childhood much less 'imagine' the buildings where I went to school, church, etc. This sounds like it was much like the neighborhoods of the 40s and 50s. I don't think really changed until the 70s and 80s.

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  2. Love the images over the images. Clever idea. How lucky you are to have the old photos.

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  3. Love the method of visual imaging you gave us. How sad that it is all gone. It is hard to believe the devastation you all have endured.

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  4. You have done a wonderful job of recreating for us both visually and in words. Thank you!

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  5. What did you do in order to transpose the old photographs onto the current photos?

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  6. As always, great imagery. Such a good imagination you have.

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  7. What a great idea to take old photos and 'lay' them over the top of current ones!

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  8. Perhaps a vain attempt to cheer you up but this is a little better:
    http://forgottenchicago.com/features/chicago-areas/holiday-in-avondale/

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  9. Jasia,

    I didn't get a chance to comment on your previous post. I had heard that Detroit was in a sorry state, but seeing your photos told me just how bad it is there. It is sad.

    I LOVE what you did with the superimposed photos in this piece! You need to write a post on your technique used to do that!

    Donna
    What's Past is Prologue

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  10. How cool are those pictures! I love the way what you did with them. Oh, my husband is not going to like this, because now I will want MORE time on the 'puter. ;)

    Keep up the great work!

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  11. You make me realize how lucky I am that both of the homes and neighborhoods that my father lived in as a child remain essentially unchanged. I haven't photographed one of them because I feel funny taking pictures of other peoples homes but I should! It was sad visiting the empty lot where so much Carlisle family history happened. The church where I was baptized is still standing - just. It is in a neighborhood that has declined steadily over the years. I should stop and take a picture while I still can.

    I'm sorry so many places so important to your family's history are gone! But happy that you can still picture them in their original glory.

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  12. It is incredibly sad and such a shame that we can't even drive through the old neighborhoods anymore. Only one of the houses where my grandparents lived is standing but all the others are fields of weeds. The super-imposed pictures add to the ghost like feeling that one gets driving through a once thriving city.

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  13. You did a wonderful job putting your feelings into words, I completely understand and empathize. And I really love what you did with super-imposing the old photos on the new photos - that was such a creative idea and really made me feel it all the more!!!

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  14. I loved the effect of the picture overlays! Great post!

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  15. "Melancholy" and "Melancholy Too" really struck a chord for me. The photo collages are just stunning and perfectly capture that tantalizing feeling of trying to reconstruct lost landscapes. Many of my family's former addresses in Brooklyn and Troy, NY are no more -- I think they had a real talent for settling on future interstate on-ramps :)

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  16. Jasia, I think you've done a great job of speaking for those of us who have Detroit roots. I'm betting everyone who sees your photo story gets the same sick feeling in the pit of their stomach that I get. I'd like to go look at some of my ancestors' addresses while I'm living in this area but... not alone!

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  17. Jasia,

    I really enjoy reading your posts. I am happy to award you the Ancestor Approved award. Please visit http://wellerharvey.wordpress.com/2010/04/08/ancestor-approved-award/ to receive this award!

    Dave Weller

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  18. Wow, great job superimposing your original photos on top of your vacant lots! I have been dabbling in this as well, but most of my recent pics have come from google maps because I have not been able to visit my hometown recently.
    I can't believe they tore down Assumption! That looked like a beautiful place!

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  19. My grandfather and uncle had their doctor's office, Cleage Clinic, on Lovett!

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  20. Again, an insightful piece, Jasia. You might be interested in this project being done in Australia to compare current and past pictures of places-the places will probably mean nothing to you but you may well find the process intriguing. http://open.abc.net.au/projects/now-and-then
    Pauleen

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