Unruly Detroit Tigers fans are suspected of intentionally setting fire to a large, 103-year-old Victorian house in historic Brush Park that played an important role for African Americans and low-income white people in Detroit.
The long, narrow house at 312 Watson served as a black masonic lodge and a cutting-edge hospital, Mercy Hall, for white and black cancer patients of all incomes at a time when most people were sent home to die.
On Friday afternoon during Opening Day, Tigers fans wedged into historic Brush Park to party. Neighbors said they saw groups of inebriated fans around the abandoned 103-year-old house when the fire broke out. Firefighters said the block was teeming with fans when they arrived.
The interior sustained fire damage, and the exterior bricks were burned.
“Ten percent of those who come here to die walk out and go home,” founder Lorretamary Gibson told the Milwaukee Journal in 1948. “We allow no defeatism. Every case is treated as if had never been diagnosed before.”
The newspaper described Mercy Hall as “a homey place, painted in cheery colors, with large glass porches. Organ music piped to the rooms. Patients are accepted regardless of race, creed or color.”
The house was a padlocked speakeasy when Gibson bought it in 1931.
Most recently, the house served as a family home. But the 2,100-square-foot house has fallen into disrepair after several years of neglect. Graffiti marks the home, which is open to trespass.
On Saturday morning, a day after Opening Day, some parts of downtown were covered in red cups, broken beer bottles and rotting food.
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Steve Neavling, who lives on the city’s east side, is an investigative journalist, a freelance reporter for Reuters and former city hall reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Neavling explores corruption, Detroit’s unsung heroes and the underbelly of an oft-misunderstood city.
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.