My first encounter with the Brewster Projects was in June of 2012. In the middle of a sunny afternoon, the heat was relentless. The sun bleached, weed filled center circle drive stood out in harsh contrast to the dark empty windowed towers looming around in a group. On my first trip to Detroit at the time, I was too intimidated to venture any further than the ground level perimeter of the site. I had been told it was a sketchy neighborhood and that there was security. I never saw any and there were no fences, so I took pics of Flying Fortress and Nychos hitting up the bottoms of the towers.
In the summer of 2012 the European graffiti crew JBCB (Juke Box Cow Boys) were in town along with other international artists involved with the Detroit Beautification Project.
By the time I got to Detroit there were only 4 remaining of the big, 15-story towers. There used to be 6, but 2 were torn down in 2003. The towers were called the Frederick Douglas Apartments and were built in the 40s and 50s. This was the housing project where singer Diana Ross grew up and where, in the rec center, boxer Joe Lewis trained. The projects are right across the freeway from Ford Field and downtown Detroit. There were other low rise apartment houses there too, but they have been removed in pieces over the years.
I moved to the Detroit area in the fall of 2013 and made it back to the Brewster towers in October of 2013 determined to check out the inside. On that trip I made it to the top of one tower. In the 15 months since I’d last been there, tons of graffiti had been added to the towers. The bottoms were now grilled with tags, throws and pieces. More noticeably, 3 epic 15-story top to bottom rollers had been executed. In addition, Gats, Feral Child, and Ghost Owl had done rollers at the top of another tower, prominently placed and visible to highway traffic heading south into downtown Detroit. As I climbed I noticed preparations for demolition, but didn’t pay a lot of attention to it. There had been ongoing delays and interruptions in the effort to complete the removal of the projects.
With Michigan welcoming me with the most severe winter since 1880, I didn’t make it back to the Brewster Projects until January of 2014. On this trip, the remaining lower buildings, with the exception of the rec center, were in the process of being torn down. A new fence had been erected around the whole perimeter with ‘demo in progress’ signs hanging with a measured spacing.
Early on a Sunday morning with 4-5 inches of fresh snow on the ground I scrambled over that fence and post-holed my way to a lower window where I swung over the sill and into the basement of one of the towers. I knew if I was ever going to get back in to take more photos for this post I’d been promising RJ, that this snowy Sunday morning was my only chance.
I knew security would most likely want to stay in the heated trailer. Climbing to the top of the 3 towers that I hadn’t made it in before kept me pretty warm.
I’m glad I got in when I did as the final demolition if the remaining tower started March 10:
For a video of the demolition from a drone, go here.
Photos by Brian Knowles