Detroit plans to resurrect heart of once-booming Paradise Valley

Demolition of Paradise Valley to make way for I-75. Photo via Wayne State University.
Paradise Valley was demolished to make way for I-75 and other urban renewal projects. Photo via Wayne State University.

Paradise Valley was a bustling entertainment and business district for black residents in Detroit from the 1920s to the 1950s until the area was paved over in the name of urban renewal.

Now the city of Detroit is hoping to resurrect some of the area that once attracted jazz greats like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

The city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is seeking proposals “to restore and honor the rich cultural, economic and historical heritage of the former Paradise Valley within the area formerly known as Harmonie Park.”

The area is bounded by Adams, Brush, Alexandrine and I-75.

The DDA owns five buildings and two parking lots in the area and wants to find a new use for them.

Proposals are due by Nov. 11.

Black people were largely confined to Black Bottom and adjoining Paradise Valley until the city plowed through both for so-called urban renewal projects, displacing African Americans who came to Detroit in search of jobs.

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.

  • Tom

    Places like that were organic it’s good to emulate and keep folks aware of the history, you can’t recreate it though.

  • falseprophet

    You cant resurrect a dead dream. It is just that DEAD! Detroit is a toilet and always will be. For Christ sake you cant even buy gas in the city after sundown. Am I lying? Don’t pee down my back and tell me its raining.

    • hillary2016

      Who in the world is going to listen to Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald these days? What 20-something negro even knows who they are? In the bad ol’ Jim Crow days of 1930-1950 most black folks were married, most black kids were raised by married couples, and most black men over 18 were gainfully employed. You cannot bring that back by building some jazz joints. The black folks who made that rich and vibrant neighborhood are long dead.

      The real question you should be asking is who is lined up to get all those construction contracts and how much the DDA is going to pay them. Will the DDA issue government insured bonds to pay for the work? Who is going to be on the hook for all the debt once the whole deal collapses? The City of Detroit?

      Where are investigative journalists when we need them?

  • John T. Feret

    There is a reason the inhabitants of Paradise Valley & Black Bottom used to refer to the city’s Urban Renewal as “Negro Removal.”

    I-75 blew through a major and vital area of the city, that happened to be the heart of a major minority community. The Lodge Freeway had previously destroyed Chinatown. This establishes a pattern.

    The men responsible intentionally destroyed thriving areas of a city due to racial bias. These men are majorly responsible for turning the city seen in the fringes of this fantastic photograph, to the unrecognizable landscape we see today.

    Do we even know what streets this photo was taken at? This is heartbreaking.

    • nolimitdetroiter

      Agreed, this trend was continued with obvious glee by coleman in Poletown.

      • John T. Feret

        You see, this is the trouble when discussing Detroit: It takes no time at all for someone to show how truly ignorant they are with regard to Mayor Young.

        The Poletown thing is completely different from the construction of freeways. GM moved production of transmissions from Detroit to Livonia. Young could have legally blocked GM from getting the tax incentives they were getting from the state for the Livonia plant, but figured Livonia was better than all the jobs going out of state. He also got GM to promise Detroit would get first dibs on their next plant.

        One of the rejected sites for the transmission plant was the closing Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Dodge Main was 144 acres. When GM came to Detroit about their new plant proposal they wanted 500 acres in a perfect square mile (basically a way of setting Detroit up to fail in the bid for the plant.) GM rejected every one of the sites proposed including where the plant went. Young & the city put a lot into getting GM to make changes to their cookie-cutter factory design to make it work at the Poletown site. The plants it replaced (Clark Street & Fleetwood) employed 10,000. Poletown 2,000-3,000. It’s a 75% loss in jobs, but if the plant had gone elsewhere that would be a 100% loss. Detroit needed to save as many jobs as it could.

        As for the people that lived there, the initial offer of $15,000 over market value was taken immediately by ~3,900 of the ~4,200 homeowners. The reports on the condition of the neighborhood varies depending on who writes the story, as it is “vibrant” in anything anti-Young/Detroit & “run down” according to the city.

        I seem to recall a quote by Young that displacing the Poletown residents was one of his largest regrets, but cannot locate it. I have never come across any quotes from him that represent any sort of “obvious glee.” (Can you share your source for this information?)

        The Poletown situation was one where a giant corporation had a desperate city right where it wanted it. Detroit had to bend over backwards (then do a pirouette) just to save some jobs. Was it worth it? That’s debatable. Though without it we’d likely just have a few thousand lots that look much like others nearby, some with homes, some without. Dodge Main may have been another Packard Plant site and who knows if the Chrysler plant would have been expanded to build the Grand Cherokee (the issues with Poletown were largely avoided.) I guess the city does learn from its mistakes occasionally!

  • shavers313
  • Aaron Schwartz

    Harmonie Park is not bounded by Adams, Brush, Alexandrine and I-75.

    • Micheal Valentino

      Harmonie Park is NOT Paradise Valley.

      • Aaron Schwartz

        I understand that. However this article says that they wish to redevelop Paradise Valley in the former Harmonie Park, bounded by Adamd, Brush, Alexandrine, and I75. That may be the old Paradise Valley boundaries, but not the new PV area.

  • Ilene Marsch

    Hastings used to have some of the best bars. In fact there’s a blues song written about it. IMO the “thinkers” did a great disservice to Detroit by tearing apart that community. There were a lot of established black businesses, and a thriving neighborhood.

    • Jonathan Brown

      John Lee Hooker wrote and released boom boom at the apex Lounge on Oakland which is the only remaining bar still open today

      • Antman573

        A little bit more vanilla? How’s the surrounding area looking these days with chocolate?