Detroit To Finally Tear Down Brewster-Douglass Projects, America’s First Black Housing Development

September 11, 2013  |  

Mayor Bing discussing the demolition of the Brewster-Douglass projects in a press conference.

The first housing development built for African Americans is being razed. The Brewster-Douglass projects in Detroit are finally coming down, reports The Huffington Post.

The Brewster-Douglass projects, closed in 2008, are comprised of four 15-story towers, two six-story buildings and about 100 low-rise homes. It was the first federal housing development for African Americans when it broke ground in 1935. The Frederick Douglass Apartments were built next to the Brewster Project, began construction in 1942. The Brewster Project was comprised of two 6-story low-rises, and six 14-story high rises that were completed between 1952 and 1955. When the  Brewster-Douglass Project was combined, it stretched five city blocks , and was three city blocks wide. It housed between 8,000 and 10,000 residents, at its peak capacity.

The city has been trying to tear down the projects since its closure but lacked funds.At a recent press conference with Mayor Dave Bing and Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city was awarded $6.5 million for the first stage of demolition.

“The demolition of the Frederick Douglass Homes represents another important and positive step in Detroit’s journey toward revitalization,” Donovan said in a statement.

“This site has long been an eyesore and a breeding ground for crime in our city,” the mayor added in a statement. What will happen with the land after the demolition (which could take up to a year) has not been announced.

The projects are historic in other ways as well. Legendary Detroit celebrities such as Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard — The Supremes — called the projects home. As did actress Lily Tomlin and boxer Joe Louis, who practiced at the complex’s Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center. The hit claymation animated series, The PJs, was based on the housing project.

Last year, Detroit filmmaker Oren Goldenberg released “Brewster Douglass, You’re My Brother,” a short documentary looking at an often-forgotten part of the projects — the squatters who still lived there, and the congregation of a historic black church located on site.

“Things being torn down in Detroit seems like progress,” Goldenberg said at the time. “But it all depends on what’s built to replace them.”

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