We started the ramble on the narrow brick paths of the Zen Center garden, winding toward the gate. In accordance with the beautiful day promised by meteorologists, iced beverages were first on the agenda, so we stopped into Delite on Caniff before turning north again. We peered into Popp’s Packing, revisiting the origin of one rambler’s dissipating hangover. Looking at fields striped with rows of red clover, one rambler shared with us the secret to extracting nectar from the blossoms.
We crossed the freeway at Carpenter, Hamtramck’s northern border, where the Colonel Hamtramck Homes are situated west of Dequindre. The first federally-funded public housing in Michigan outside of Detroit, the tight community of old buildings has an otherworldly feel. It’s also the only place where I’ve noticed street signs posted directly on buildings.
We passed by the long blocks of the scantily-forested Grand Haven-Dyer revitalization project, a strip of Hamtramck that feels decidedly Detroit, with the vacant lots dotted with uncomfortably new brick and vinyl infill homes. We crossed the freeway again.
We marvelled at the phenomenon of multiple homes housed on single lots and smaller residences set back from their larger neighbors, lending an uncanny sense of suburban privacy. North of Caniff the streets are lined with the monotonous two-story flats I associate with the city, but venture south and everything changes.
Here we found the old Hamtramck, as resident historian Greg Kowalski put it, of “tidy homes on tiny lots.” Ramblers were very relieved to not be “in the middle of nowhere” touring block after block of tedious “nothingness” like last time — not sure how well this bodes for future walks in Detroit. Hamtramck offered plenty to keep us distracted — quirky signage, milk crates sprouting from trees in makeshift basketball hoops, flowerpots filled with onions, a lonely sand-colored military vehicle, ice cream trucks, and huts carved out of garages to cozily house garbage cans, reminding me of shelters at the end of long driveways in rural areas for kids awaiting the school bus.
After emerging from the alley paralleling Joseph Campau, we walked along Florian, selected for its high probability of being the most tree-lined street in the city. Mass was in session at the enormous church, and we lurked in the garden for a moment listening to trills of organ spill from the cathedral’s open windows.
Making our way to the southwest corner of Hamtramck, we stopped to rest next to Hamtown Farms, not exactly an oasis with its picnic tables and benches out in full sun. Further down Lumpkin, stopping to use a conveniently located portapotty at the site of some new construction, we watched a field of soccer players in the foreground of an odd clear view of the Fisher building. Now that the American Axle plant no longer fully spans between Denton and Holbrook, the sight was a reminder of how close seemingly isolated landmarks are in the city, despite perceived long distances.
Where there had been gritty, dusty lots in the past, scars of recent change, nature had reclaimed the south end of town and was coexisting nicely with residents. Instead of seeming blighted, the accumulated verdure was well-kept and reassuring. The neighborhood had a certain healthy lushness I didn’t remember before. An exception was Holbrook Garden, a tribute to master gardener and activist Gerald Hairston, where the lovely pergola was overrun with brush and the wayward memorial sign had sprouted many tags, ironically enough many of them pledging, “I love”.
We passed the funny red Holbrook School, whose tiny playground I used to cut through, admiring its economy. I was surprised to find out later that the school, built in 1896, is perhaps the oldest continuously operating school in Michigan. Fortunately voters passed a millage to protect the buildings a few months ago. We saw most of Hamtramck’s schools between these two walks, at one rambler’s request passing by the lovely historic Hamtramck High School.
Ramblers rambled in for a sugar fix at Detroit Donut, then went east to Gallagher and north toward the Zen Center garden. As the light began to fade, popular vote took us in the direction of Aladdin, overshooting our starting point. On the fragmented walk back to the Zen Center garden later, the twilight air was redolent with night-blooming jasmine. I hope other ramblers got to smell the flowers, too.
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