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Detroit's Coming Out: Welcome to the Gayborhood

Earlier this year, a group of gay homeowners in the 7 Mile-Livernios area grew weary of having their suburban counterparts over to their beautiful historic homes for smart cocktails or fabulous brunches and getting comments like: "I had no idea this kind of neighborhood existed in Detroit!"

As luck would have it, at the same time the City of Detroit was very interested in this area as part of its NEXT Detroit Neighborhood Initiative. And more significantly, the Kilpatrick administration had made very quiet but very significant steps forward in its attitude toward the LGBT community with the appointment of a liaison to the LGBT community, Brad Dick. And bringing things full circle, Brad knew the aforementioned groups of homeowners personally. I think you can see where this is going.

The result was the "LGBT & Friends Home Tour" -- the first-ever, city-sanctioned and city-funded event targeting/involving/promoting/acknowledging/accepting gay life in the city of Detroit. That, my friends, is progress.

The neighborhoods they highlighted all have tremendous residential architecture, excellent value for the money, convenient locations, strong diverse neighborhoods and a Neighborhood Enterprise Zone designation to keep taxes in check. OK, yeah yeah super, that's need-to-know stuff, but let's move on to the meat of the matter: the tour and the judging.

Gay folks showed up. (FYI: It's safe to assume that groups of three or more pleasant-looking men over 30 might be gay). What became clear as we toured the circuit on our little buses was that each area has its own look and feel, despite all of them being in close proximity. So I'm going to assess each area on the aesthetic pleasure given at each home and the potential for gay living.

The University District: This area, close to the University of Detroit-Mercy, has homes that are good-sized and rife with the architectural details that you love. While admiring the many great details of the beautifully-kept tour house it was hard to overlook something a little unusual; specifically, giant-sized dolls everywhere around the house, which inspired looks of wide-eyed … wonder? … from other gays on the tour. The tour docent informed me that the wife is the agent for an artist who makes these dolls. Well I thought I'd moved away from Ann Arbor, but the University District has that same university town vibe.

Tour home: B (it's those dolls, man)
Gay Living: B+ (If the professor/intellectual/art fair-lover thing is your vibe)

Bagley Neighborhood: Located on the west side of Livernois and reaching from 8 Mile to McNichols, this area consists of small houses in a solid neighborhood of the "professional working class" – cops, teachers, city workers. Despite the small sizes, the houses have the character of the bigger ones on the tour, such as brick exteriors, plaster crown molding, and hardwood floors.

The house was an interesting choice for a home tour, if only because, well, it was maybe not as home-tour-ready as a home tourer might expect. It had a funky charm from the artist owners, to be sure, but it possibly needed the eye of a professional designer or HGTV show host. I would have to say that puzzlement was the primary reaction I gauged from other tour guests. There had to be a good reason for its inclusion, however, so I stayed and chatted with the woman who lives there to get a better understanding for this area.

What I learned was that the housing stock is intact and attractive, city services are delivered and a strong neighborhood association keeps it that way, the location is hyper-convenient and – here's the gay kicker – it's full of super-affordable houses that may need a little TLC but have great bones. For anyone who wants a D.I.Y. project that is mostly cosmetic, this is a great area to check out. It just seems a little U.D.I.Y. may be involved first.

Tour Home: C (You gotta move all those clothing racks into one room and just close it off.)
Gay Living: A- (It's Ferndale in 1993, but with better housing stock.)

The unexpected pleasures of the unexpected combined with a few glasses of wine at the first two houses set the stage for the emergence of a social vibe at the next few stops, and this is where the home tour really started turning into something special.

Green Acres: This area of charming medium-sized homes nestled in next to Woodlawn Cemetery is the "starter home" section for the trio of gorgeous neighborhood bordered by 8 and 7 Mile roads to the north and south, and Woodward and Livernois to the east and west. The tour house in this 'hood had lots of curb appeal, and because we were greeted by gay friends at the door and good design throughout, we assumed this must be a gay house. Well, we were wrong. While not gay-owned, it was certainly the most metrosexual house I have ever seen! These folks put the "& Friends" into "LGBT & Friends," that's for sure.

These homeowners had created a real entertainment oasis in their backyard, and quite a few tour guests were hanging out on the very attractive back patio. Neighbors were mingling and sharing their passion for the area. New introductions were made, old acquaintances were rekindled. People looked good and frankly, it was all very chic.

Tour Home: A (Unless those Barcelona chairs are knock-offs, in which case, B+.)
Gay Living: A (Hip neighbors; really, really pretty homes; across the street is Ferndale.)

Sherwood Forest: This vibe continued after the brief walk to the next house. There is an upgrade in house size in this neighborhood (and some have said a social upgrade – I'm just sayin'), but more significantly, the streets switch from a grid pattern to winding lanes, with bigger lawns and bigger yards.

And nobody has a lovelier yard than John Corvino and Mark Lock, the owners of the next – and only gay – home on the tour. The understated good taste of their home's interior is matched by the magic of their backyard shade garden, and once again friends and tour guests alike lingered and chatted. I'd wager that this stop went through the most wine, people would just not leave. It was really the gay hub!

Tour Home: A+ (Well-executed, sophisticated, gay-owned.)
Gay Living: A+ (With gay neighbors who get it and fantastic homes, what's not to love? Lots of house for the money, but still probably better entered on a double income.)

Obviously the tour was evolving more into a party, but there was still one more house to see. Tearing ourselves away we ventured to stately Palmer Woods.

Palmer Woods: Boy do I love a Palmer Woods home! They tend to be architecturally classic, huge and situated on large (but not too large) lots on mature-tree-lined streets. This one was perfect with all that great plaster work and this fabulous built-in bar in the living room, and this amazing study, and the many bedrooms, and a Sunset Boulevard pool … it was just too much! I was imagining redecorating with my own furniture within three minutes of entering the house. I was caressing the Pewabic tile on the bathroom wall when my friends finally dragged me away to the afterglow.

Tour Home: A (Amazing, but it doesn't have my furniture in it.)
Gay Living: A+ (The architectural splendor of living in Grosse Pointe without having to stay in the closet.)

The afterglow was held at the mansion home of Dale Morgan and Norman Silk, the owners of Blossoms. Dale was the chair of the tour and the two of them are in the process of renovating the Frank Lloyd Wright Turkel House in the neighborhood. Maybe you've heard about that.

I probably don't need to go into detail about how fun this party was -- how can you not have fun at a party stocked with great art, fabulous dιcor, a koi pond, and a refill on your wine glass around every corner? This spot is where homeowners, guests and friends all gathered and you could really feel the spirit of the neighborhoods -- friendly, fun and fancy. Just the way I like it.

I heard lots of great feedback after the tour, including many people who will seriously look at these areas when they plan on making a move. The one big question I heard was, "Where were all the gay homeowners?" Shouldn't we see that gay people live and thrive there? I asked Brad about this and he told me there were other gay homeowners who considered opening their houses, but (I love this) they felt their places weren't quite ready. To have a troop of judging homos traipse through? Who's ever ready for that? The homeowners this year were very brave! Next year, I was told, there will be more gay homes on the tour.

And there will be a next year, which is exciting in its own right. Better-than-expected attendance and positive feedback pretty much guarantee it. Constructive feedback guarantees it will be even better.

All I know is that I was thoroughly impressed. I even considered leaving my beloved Lafayette Park for life uptown, at least for a little while. So while a few attendees may give the tour mixed marks, my overall grade is a Gay-Plus.



Supergay Detroit is the handle for Detroit's premier gay blogging superstar. His blog was recently hailed by the Metro Times as the area's best pop culture blog. And when he finds the time between saving gay Detroit and blogging, Mr. Supergay shares his opinions and POV with Model D.



Photos:

Attendees at the LGBT & Friends Home Tour

Bagley neighborhod

Green Acres neighborhod

Sherwood Forest neighborhod

Palmer woods neighborhod

All photographs by Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the managing photographer for Metromode & Model D.

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