Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Thursday

March 7, 2013

Phil Power: Remembering old Detroit

I’m old enough — 74 —to remember the days when Detroit was a thriving city and a magnet for folks throughout Michigan.

When I was a little boy, my mother would put on her white gloves and hat and take me to the enormous J. L. Hudson store downtown. At that time, it was one of the biggest department stores in the nation, chock-a-block with wonderful things. To top it off, we would have chicken sandwiches for lunch in the cafeteria.

It was a big deal for my parents to take the long drive on Ford Road from Ann Arbor to “the city” for dinner at Al Green’s, a place that remains dim in my memory, except for the enormous mirrors in the dining room. People from all over the state trooped to the Detroit Institute of Arts and shopped on fashionable Woodward Avenue.

And spring was incomplete without a visit to the Eastern Market to stock up on all the flowering plants for sale … and maybe have a sampling of strange but delicious Middle Eastern dishes.

Thousands and thousands of people in this area treasure these memories of a Detroit that was truly “the arsenal of democracy” during World War II. The Great Migration drew hundreds of thousands of people, black and white, to the city where a working man could make enough to buy a car and, maybe, even a house.

For a time, the city boasted the highest concentration of owner-occupied houses in the country. Like most big thriving cities, Detroit spawned larger than life characters.

I knew Jerry Cavanagh pretty well when he was mayor from 1962-1970, about the time I started my newspaper company. In those days they said you could see all the way from the mayor’s office atop the City-County Building to the Capitol in Washington, and Jerome P. Cavanagh enjoyed that psychological view as much as anybody.

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