Lens on Detroit: Historic Second Ave. undergoes transformation in Cass Corridor

Second Avenue in Detroit. All photos by Steve Neavling
Second Avenue in Detroit. All photos by Steve Neavling

Before the automobile made Detroit one of the fastest growing cities in the country in the early 20th century, Second Avenue was a tree-lined street with beautiful Victorian homes for wealthy professionals in the Cass Corridor.

Then came the relentless demand for housing during the torrid growth of the auto industry in the 1910s and ’20s. The noise, overcrowding and crime that followed prompted many Second Avenue professionals to flee for more secluded neighborhoods, made possible by the advent of mass transportation.

Larges homes were torn down or diced up into apartments. Between 1905 and 1923, numerous apartment buildings were built on Second between Warren and Canfield. They include the Forest Arms Apartments, Winthrop Apartments, Pioneer Apartments, Hollenden Apartments, Renaud Flats, Touraine Apartments, Biltmore Apartments, LaBelle Apartments and Sheridan Court.

But the boom ended soon after as the Great Depression in the 1930s left many of the residents without a job.

The area has been in a slow decline since, and the four-lane road (with two additional lanes for parking) is often empty. Crews are scheduled to convert Second into a two-way road Monday, with a center turning lane and two bike lanes, from Temple to Warren.

Third Avenue underwent a similar transformation two years ago.

The photos of Second Avenue begin on Temple and move north to Warren.

The one-way avenue starts here at Second and Temple.
The one-way avenue starts here at Temple.
The remnants of vacant Chinatown at Second and Peterboro.
The remnants of vacant Chinatown at the corner of Peterboro.
Abandoned building at Second and Martin Luther King
Abandoned building at the corner of Martin Luther King.
Mural of local activist and philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs.
Mural of local activist and philosopher, Grace Lee Boggs, near Brainard.
Abandoned building at Second and Brainard
Abandoned, graffiti-splashed building at Brainard.
Wayne State University Police covers the entire Second Ave. that is being converted into a two-way.
Wayne State University police cover the entire section of Second Ave. that is being converted into a two-way.
Like all of the Cass Corridor, loitering is very popular.
Like most of the Cass Corridor, loitering is common.
The Coronado was built in the 1890s for the affluent middle class. The Richardsonian Romanesque building now serves low-income residents.
The Coronado was built for the professional and middle class in the 1890s, an early time in the area for large apartments. The Richardsonian Romanesque building now serves low-income residents.
Abandoned buildings and closed-off park at the corner of Second and Brainard
Abandoned buildings and a closed-off park at the corner of Brainard.
Second Ave
Painted window in the abandoned classical revival-style Century Apartments, built in 1923 at 3962 Second.
The Campbell Symington House was named after a Scottish-born entrepreneur who lived at the red sandstone house from the 1880s until his death in 1928.
The Campbell Symington House was named after a Scottish-born entrepreneur with the same name who lived at the red sandstone, Victorian Romanesque home from the 1880s until his death in 1928. Symington paid $12,000 for the house at the time, making it the most expensive home still surviving in the Cass Corridor, according to the National Register of Historic Places.
Graffiti-style billboard welcomes people to Midtown at Second and Alexandrine
Graffiti-style billboard welcomes people to Midtown at Alexandrine, where Second Avenue begins to be more occupied.
Tomboy Markets is a grocery store with a history of health violations.
Tomboy Markets is a grocery store with a history of health violations.
Graffiti covers most road signs.
Graffiti covers most road signs.

 

Built in 1908, the Charles features bay windows in each apartment and decorative stone banding.
Built in 1908, the Charles is a good example of Jacobethan Revival architecture, featuring brick and stone with elaborate bow front windows.
The Sheridan Court Apartments were built in 1921, replacing single-family homes built in the 19th century.
The Sheridan Court Apartments were built in 1921, replacing single-family homes built in the 19th century.
Second Ave
Built in 1905, the Forest Arms Apartments became the largest apartment building from the early automobile days in the Cass Corridor. The Jacobethan revival-style building was closed following a fire in 2008 but is being renovated.
4727 Second Ave
Built in 1923, this apartment building on Second Ave. near Forest is called the LaBelle. The area of Second between Canfield and Warren has a high concentration of apartment buildings.
4835 Second Ave
These houses at 4835 and 4831 Second Ave. were designed by the builders – J.E. Boomer’s – and remain some of the oldest-surviving homes constructed by builders, instead of architects, in the Cass Corridor.
Second Ave
During the boom of the 1920s, some residences built commercial buildings next door. One of the best surviving examples is the building that now occupies the Bronx Bar at 4476 Second. It is one of the most popular bars in the Midtown area and started out as a small grocery store.
Hollenden Apartments
Hollenden Apartments, a classical revival building, was built in 1911 at the corner of W. Forest.
Second Ave and Warren
The Pioneer apartment building at 4863 Second was built in 1918 and is the last structure south of Warren Ave.

Steve Neavling

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.

  • kim

    Renaud isn’t flats. They are apartments. I lived there 35 years.

  • Joe Russo

    a lot of these photos are out of date…

  • Amanda Milstead

    Great photos. I always enjoy your work. Thanks.