Brewster - Douglass Housing Projects
Location Name: Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects (Detroit, Michigan)
Location Type: Abandoned Site (Housing Project)
Year Completed: 1938
Architect(s): Harley, Ellington and Day
Brewster-Douglass was the first federally-funded public housing project for black Americans. Designed by architects Harley, Ellington and Day, construction began on the Brewster homes when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt broke ground for the 701-unit development in 1935. A 1941 expansion brought the total of housing units to 941. The Brewster homes were built for the working poor. Contrary to the social stigma often associated with living in "the projects," in the earlier days the housing commission imposed strict requirements for project tenants. To live in Brewster-Douglass, each family must include at least one employed tenant before residency could be established. The projects were seen as a place for upwardly mobile lower income families to start off. The projects were something of a social experiment meant to uplift those in need; but only those who were willing to help themselves.
In 1952, the Frederick Douglass Apartment towers were completed, making Brewster-Douglass the largest housing project owned by the City of Detroit. The six fourteen story towers were built in the modern architectural style. The growing projects were once home to such notable figures as Diana Ross, Lily Tomlin and Smokey Robinson. Yet despite the early successes of the Brewster-Douglass projects, migration of the upwardly mobile tenants to the suburbs brought harder times on the projects. During the 1960s and 1970s, housing restrictions weakened and the area became known for the drug and crime problems that plagued the inner city.
In 1991 the low-rise apartment blocks were razed and replaced by 250 townhomes, now known as the New Brewster Homes. In 2003, Frederick Douglass Towers 303 and 304 were demolished, leaving just four towers remaining; these were converted to senior housing. Continuing problems eventually led to the 2008 closure of the towers. Today only the townhomes remain in use. The city has stated that it intends to demolish the abandoned properties but no date has yet been set. Until then, the four ghost towers overlook commuters traveling along Interstate 75. What awaits the property? No one knows. Just a stone’s throw from the city’s new and thriving stadiums, perhaps it can be invigorated by its proximity to Comerica Park, Ford Field and the Foxtown area. In the meantime, an important part of the city’s past awaits the wrecking ball, but the scar it creates is visible for miles around.Sources