By Steve Neavling & Adrienne Ayers
Motor City Muckraker
An arsonist struck the sixth Heidelberg Project home in five months, burning down the iconic Party Animal House early this morning and damaging a neighboring occupied home on Detroit’s east side.
The house, which was festooned with stuffed animals at the corner of Mt. Elliot and Elba, was raging with flames at 2:50 a.m. when 22-year-old Janae R. was driving to pick up her mom from work. She immediately stopped, dialed 911 and began frantically knocking on nearby houses.
“I went next door, but I couldn’t get to the house because the fire was so bad,” said Janae, who asked that her full name not be revealed.
When firefighters arrived five minutes later, there was nothing they could do for the Party Animal House. It was consumed by flames. But firefighters managed to protect most of the occupied house, which still sustained water and fire damage.
No one was injured.
It was the ninth Heidelberg fire since May 2, and investigators believe each was intentionally set.
Janae said she saw a darker gray Mercury Sable leave the scene after she arrived.
But police, she said, weren’t interested in what she saw.
“I tried telling the officers what happened, but they wouldn’t write anything down,” she said. “They didn’t even ask for my name or number.”
What’s also unclear is why the Heidelberg Project didn’t have security on the scene. The nonprofit raised more than $50,000 late last year specifically for security after the breakout of arsons.
Guyton created the Heidelberg Project in 1986 after he lost three brothers to the streets. He wanted to brighten up the blight and call attention to the poverty and decay that still eat away at Detroit’s neighborhoods. Guyton slowly began decorating abandoned wood-frame houses with found objects and erected other installations in vacant lots.
The project is now world-renowned and a popular tourist destination.
Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.