Locations | People

Book sheds light on where a host of former Detroiters once lived

By Neal Rubin / The Detroit News

 

The Candelarios recognized President Kennedy, of course, but the feisty-looking guy alongside him in the photo was a mystery, and they had to clear out the attic. The picture went to the curb.

 

 Former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa once lived in this house on Toledo Street in southwest Detroit, which is now owned by Maria and Carlitos Candelario.

Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

Former Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa once lived in this house on Toledo Street in southwest Detroit, which is now owned by Maria and Carlitos Candelario.

 

 

Now they know who that other man was, and they are thrilled that their pristine home sits not only in southwest Detroit, but on the outskirts of history.

Jimmy Hoffa slept here, on Toledo Street, in the house that was ready to fall in on itself when they bought it 10 years ago for $501 — $1 to the nonprofit agency with the title, $500 to the demolition company to call off the bulldozers.

Maria Candelario says she’s a bit embarrassed that she’d never heard of Hoffa, the former Teamsters president, former convict and 33-year missing person. She only looked him up after she found out her house was in a book.

The book is called “Home in Detroit: Where They Lived … in the Motor City,” and the bungalow where she and Carlitos Sr. raise Carlitos Jr. and Angelita sits on page 21. More embarrassment, handled with an easy laugh: “See that spot?” she says, pointing to a dark blotch on the second story. “That’s where someone egged us on Halloween,” and now it’s preserved forever in vivid, glossy color.

“I remember seeing someone taking a picture of my house,” she says. “I thought, ‘Why is he doing that?’ ”

The short answer is that he’s naturally curious. The longer answer is that his grandfather died.

One thing led to another

Like many people who immerse themselves in historical archives and Internet searches, the author who calls himself T. Burton turned to genealogy after a personal loss. He started researching his Motor City roots, “and then I thought, ‘Gee, I wonder where this person and that person lived.’ ”

He’s 39, a retail executive by trade, and he didn’t set out to create a book, let alone to self-publish one. Over the course of 2 years, he’d drive in from northern Oakland County on a clear weekend day, track down an address and capture a few frames.

“I didn’t want a lot of attention thrown my way,” he says, so he used a pen name and assigned his friend John George to be his front man. George, the founder of Motor City Blight Busters, “has been out there slaving away for 20 years to make Detroit better,” Burton says. “I just kind of rode around.”

But it was Burton who found the house where Hoffa lived when he was 14, the year he quit school to become a warehouseman for Kroger. It was Burton who found UAW President Walter Reuther’s house on West Philadelphia Street, with the snout of a sedan peeking from the top of the driveway — a roomy, American-nameplate Chrysler 300. The book includes more than 70 homes, from Archer, Dennis (on Lincolnshire in Palmer Woods) to Wonder, Stevie (on Greenlawn, south of Seven Mile).

The three original Supremes bought houses within 800 feet of one another on West Buena Vista Street. Actor Tom Skerritt, who once co-starred with Ellen Burstyn in a movie called “Silence of the North,” lived around the corner from her when they were 6 years old — he on Cheyenne Street on the west side, she on Ward. Broadcast legend Mike Wallace lived in an apartment building near Wayne State called The Pioneer.

“I knew a lot of great people had come out of Detroit,” George says, “but it’s really something to see it on a page. Some of these places are just pure Detroit. They’re diamonds, really.”

Homes with a past

Burton found the third house from the corner on Appoline Street online. Somebody poking around the Motown offices on Woodward Avenue picked up a dry-cleaning ticket with the address on it and posted a picture of the stub.

 

Marvin Gaye used to host barbecues at this house on Appoline Street.

Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

Marvin Gaye used to host barbecues at this house on Appoline Street.

 

 

He confirmed the number with a directory, but anyone on Anna Graham’s block could have told him it was right. Reddish brick, tan doors — Marvin Gaye.

Graham, 33, teaches school with the owner of the Gaye house, Vivian Murphy. She lives next door in one of three houses built by a pair of architect brothers, all of which share a brick-walled backyard.

“They used to have parties,” Graham says, and she can picture Gaye and his Motown guests, eating barbecue from his built-in grill and dancing to their own music.

At 581 Belmont, near Boston-Edison, Smokey Robinson’s former house hasn’t fared so well. “I’ve been over here four years,” says neighbor Nikki Singleton, “and nobody’s lived there.”

Nobody who’s supposed to, anyway. Both front doors of the duplex are bashed in, and there’s evidence of squatters: plastic water bottles, newspapers, a pair of kittens.

Mike and Marian Ilitch’s first house on Chalfonte has boards on the doors and windows. Retired running back Jerome Bettis’ childhood home on Aurora has gaping holes in the roof. The late NASCAR racer Benny Parsons’ home at 64 E. Montana has vanished. Burton included those for historical perspective but was heartened to see that most of the houses in “Home in Detroit” remain whole, and many remain stunning.

“It changes so rapidly from street to street, or even lot to lot,” he says. “You see the good and the bad. You go back in time — ‘What was this like in 1945?’ ”

 

Donna Jones, above left, used to play with Malcolm X's daughter at his house on Keystone Street, in which Evelyn Fisher, right, now lives.

Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

Donna Jones, above left, used to play with Malcolm X’s daughter at his house on Keystone Street, in which Evelyn Fisher, right, now lives.

 

 

On Keystone Street, in the late 1950s, Donna Jones used to play on her porch with Malcolm X’s oldest daughter.

That’s how her mother, Edna, remembers it. Malcolm lived one house north, with a Nation of Islam member named Robert Davenport and his wife.

“They didn’t bother nobody,” Edna Jones says. “They had their religious beliefs and I had mine. But no clashing.”

Evelyn Fisher has rented the Malcolm X house since September. She didn’t know its lineage until Burton’s book came out last week, and neither did her landlord.

“I really love it,” she says. No matter who walked the halls before you, it’s nice to have a sensible floor plan and a two-car garage.

‘Home in Detroit’ is sincere

Burton ordered 3,000 copies of “Home in Detroit” and is selling them through George’s organization at www.blightbusters.org or (313) 255-4355. The price is $24.99.

He’s an amateur, and it shows. Spelling errors pop up in awkward places, like the names of Elijah Muhammad and actor David Alan Grier. But the photos are crisp and the sincerity is clear.

“If the city comes back,” he says, “it’s going to be through the work of the whole region.” It’ll take groups like the Blight Busters and blight busters like the Candelarios, who had to hold umbrellas when they walked through their new house because pieces of ceiling plaster came down like hailstones.

“When you touched the curtains,” Maria says, “they actually shattered in your hands.” There were yellow floor tiles on the walls, and the attic that now holds two bedrooms was thick with rubbish and fragments of other people’s lives.

In only eight months, Carlitos Jr. and his friends turned the Hoffas’ former house back into a home. Maria’s only regret is that they didn’t know the importance of what they were throwing out.

All she saved was a House of Windsor cigar box full of photos. Some of them might be Jimmy, some might be his kids. Maria didn’t know that when she held on to them, but she knew they were a connection to her house, and for reasons she couldn’t explain, that was something she needed to preserve.

 

Florence Ballard's home on West Buena Vista.

Velvet S. McNeil / The Detroit News

Florence Ballard’s home on West Buena Vista.

 

 

Reach Neal Rubin at (313) 222-1874 or nrubin@detnews.com.