March 1, 2007
I was working one day in the Book Building where I shared an office a couple of summers ago, when my associate and I started to smell the familiar wafts of a building fire — which is not very good when you work in a highrise downtown. The Book, being as old as it is, doesn’t have either the proper capabilities to fight off a major fire, nor the alarm system swift enough to notify those on the 23rd floor (et al) that there’s a blaze in the building. So, worried, we stuck our heads out the big picture windows and saw the small building next to the partly-demolished Statler ablaze. VERY ablaze.
We ran down to the street level and actually got very close to the fire; on the same block, in fact, and got there before the fire crews did.
The fire got bigger and bigger until we realized that this was getting more than slightly out of hand. The fire crews were already on the scene, and as they hoisted the firefighters up in the water cranes, they also put the ladders leading to the roof in place. I could NOT believe the brave souls moving steadily but cautiously up to this burning roof with literally 50 foot flames coming from the surface.
This photo, as dear to me as it is for obvious reasons, also has different meanings for me. I think about the fire signifying our city and it’s troubles, and the fact that so few are actually trying – honestly trying – to put out the fire. There are so many causes for the blaze: carelessness, neglect — and possibly direct intent. You look at the fire and wonder if it will be extinguished before the structure is destroyed altogether; such an unfair, uphill battle.
Those that live outside the city, and remember it as it was, tend to reminisce about the ‘good old days’ when everything about Detroit was right. This, in many cases, is done in a very shallow manner — why do people believe the ‘good old days’ were good for everyone? The old buildings in Detroit, to many native Detroiters, symbolize an era when many citizens were not afforded equal rights and protections; a time when segregation was alive and well in many forms, and law enforcement did not always look kindly on a large swath of the city’s residents. Why, then, should many people that lived in the city at that time celebrate the ‘rebirth’ of a city that they were not privy to in the first place? When the berms at the RenCen were removed, very few Metro Detroiters understood how significant that was in the city’s communities, as symbolic as it might have seemed. These buildings – some built for visiting royalty both foreign and domestic – were not originally built for all people. This is not forgotten, and should not be forgotten.
I’m very thankful to live in this city built on so much beautiful diversity — diversity of people, races, cultures, attitudes, symbolisms and, yes, histories. Even though we all share one history, we all have our own parts of it… and sometimes, we forget how easily we put that, which is behind us, firmly in our path to the future – for the simple fact that we fail to address it properly when it occurs. Maybe we can all learn, finally, from the past.
Michigan Photographer Profile III
Day III: Bobby’s Favorite