Hey everyone,

A last-minute effort to save one of the last — and perhaps most significant — buildings in Detroit’s old Chinatown neighborhood failed. The building on Cass Avenue that once housed the Chinese Merchants Association was demolished over the weekend

We spoke with one woman who has a personal connection with the former restaurant on the building’s ground floor about how the demolition affected her. We’re planning to delve deeper into the history of Chinatowns in the city — drop me a line at aaron@outliermedia.org if you have a story to share. 

You can also read more about continued troubles at Detroit Housing Commission properties and why farmers feel the city isn’t supporting them. And if you have $1.2 million lying around, boy have we got a reno for you.

As always, thanks for reading.

The Dirt

>>A seed of doubt: Plenty of urban farms in Detroit have been operating for over a decade. But their work is often technically illegal because farmers don’t own their land, and they say the city is indifferent to their needs. Several of these farmers detailed their issues to the Detroit News, which include difficulty buying vacant land from the Detroit Land Bank Authority and struggling to get approval to build structures like hoop houses. The land bank responded that it supports farmers and has offered more project opportunities that cater to farmers in recent years. (Detroit News)

>>Falling apart at the seams: Part of an exterior wall fell off the eighth floor of the Sheridan apartments during a severe storm last week. The building is owned by the Detroit Housing Commission (DHC) and houses older adults with low incomes. The DHC said repairs on the wall will start “ASAP” and that an architect will inspect the building for structural issues, but residents say they no longer feel safe there. A flood in December damaged the building’s first eight floors, and the DHC took months to begin repairs. Outlier’s reporting has revealed that much of the DHC’s public housing portfolio is in disrepair. (WXYZ, Outlier Media)

>>Scouting land: The Girl Scouts of Southeastern Michigan are planning a campus in Detroit with a price tag of at least $35 million. CEO Monica Woodson said the organization has identified a location that could accommodate multiple buildings and outdoor activities that it hopes to lease or have donated. The organization secured a $1 million earmark from the state to help with planning and research. Woodson said she hopes to have plans “locked in” in the next 60 days. (Crain’s Detroit Business)

>>‘Visual clutter’: Detroit has tried to demolish and sue its way through blight, and it is now using the same tactics for “visual clutter.” The city said it physically removed 16,000 signs from public property in the last 18 months and repeatedly told business owners the activity is illegal. It’s now pursuing legal action. The Law Department filed 59 misdemeanor charges against a business they say is the biggest offender, Melvindale-based Shaw’s Plumbing. The city said it hopes the charges act as a warning to other offenders. (Detroit News, Detroit Free Press)

>>Banning corporate landlords? Private-equity firms like Blackstone and Pretium have been scooping up bigger percentages of the single-family market and converting them to rentals. Efforts are underway from policymakers in D.C. and state legislatures to restrict this practice. Minnesota state Rep. Esther Agbaje introduced legislation to ban “corporate entities, developers, and contractors from converting single-family homes into a rental property unit” in her state. She admits the bill has a difficult road to passage. A recent uptick in investor-purchased homes in Detroit makes us wonder if we could see similar efforts in Michigan. (Racket, Crain’s Detroit Business)

Dig Deeper

What remains of Detroit’s Chinatown?

Black-and-white photo of a Chinese man and woman standing next to each other and looking at the camera. The man is wearing a black suit, white dress shirt and tie; the woman is wearing a floral pattern dress.
Sandra Lee’s grandparents were owners of the Shanghai Cafe for about 20 years. Photo credit: Courtesy of the Lee family

The debate over what to do with a dilapidated building in Detroit’s old Chinatown on Cass Avenue ended in its demolition on Saturday. The Ilitches owned the building that once housed a Chinese restaurant and the Chinese Merchants Association, and let it fall into disrepair over the last two decades. City Council, led by Councilmember Gabriela Santiago-Romero, voted to delay the city-ordered demolition. The city, however, said the resolution lacked “any legal impact,” and the building came down over the weekend. 

The demolition took place over pleas to preserve it from the Asian American community. 

We spoke with Sandra Lee, whose grandparents owned the restaurant in the building for 20 years starting in the 1940s, about the loss of the building and how her family would like to see the neighborhood’s history preserved.


Home fit for a gearhead

Large living area with a leather sofa, bean bag seats, large garage-style door with windows, concrete and brick walls, a kitchen with high-top chairs, red vintage sliding doors, wood plank ceiling, concrete flooring, and a spiral staircase leading to a lofted area.
This living room and kitchen space was once a car repair shop. Photo credit: Christian Gerard

Some cars need so much work they practically live at the repair shop. Well, now you can live in it, too!

A residential listing in Corktown that hit the market last month for a whopping $1.2 million is a converted car shop. The listing claims that the 2,050-square-foot building on Trumbull Avenue dates back to 1904 as “one of the first car shops in Detroit.” 

While the asking price is high, the converted home has undergone an extensive and impressive renovation. A slider door salvaged from an old Stroh’s delivery truck is used for one of its bathrooms, by the expansive kitchen and living room space. A spiral staircase leads to a lofted bedroom and lounge area.

Aaron (he/him) believes in telling true stories about real people. He doesn’t think there’s anything better than a crisp fall afternoon at the Detroit Jazz Fest.