Southwest Detroit is growing fast. Immigrants, primarily from Mexico but also from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Middle East are flocking to the area, creating a vibrant mix of people and an energy that is visible every day on its “Main Street,” West Vernor.
Detroit is often derided for its dependence on automobile travel, and yet West Vernor is remarkably walkable. In fact, on Saturdays and Sundays, cars become second-class citizens slowed to a crawl because so many people are out and about — on foot. Stroll along West Vernor, and you’ll find all the amenities you’d want from a neighborhood: florists, pharmacies, doctors, dry cleaners, banks, restaurants and grocery stores.
So much diversity, walkability, shopping and dining — as well as its close proximity to Downtown businesses and Dearborn’s shopping — makes Southwest Detroit a livable neighborhood, at a scale that is uncommon most anywhere else in Metro Detroit.
Southwest Detroit is made up of different neighborhoods, each with its own distinct flavor. There are small wooden cottages and large brick estates, rehabilitated apartment buildings and bungalows ranging in provenance from the 1920s to 1950s. Housing prices range average from about $70,000 to $100,000.
Arguably the heart of Southwest Detroit, the Vernor-Junction neighborhood is bounded by Michigan Avenue, Clark Street, I-75 and Waterman.
Resident Amy Amador moved to the area in 1999 from the Cass Corridor and enjoys her neighborhood’s solidity. “It’s densely populated. There aren’t burned out houses and vacant lots. There’s a lot of pride in property.”
The intersection of Vernor and Junction is anchored by the soaring tower of Holy Redeemer, the area’s central pulse; it serves not only a religious function but a social one as well for its mostly Latino parishioners.
Grocery stores are abundant and get rave reviews. One of Vernor-Junction’s most envy-inspiring assets has to be E&L Supermercado, located on Vernor just east of Livernois. Its many acolytes praise its cleanliness, quick checkout lines and amazing seafood selection. E&L provides locals with a quality that rivals anything found in the suburbs. Another local favorite is Ryan’s Foods just a few blocks to the east.
Amador, who lives south of Vernor between Junction and Clark, also points to Sam’s Mercado on Vernor at Lansing, the anchor of La Plaza Mercado, a 30,000-square foot shopping plaza built in 2002. “I find it to be friendly and convenient and it has longer hours than some of the other markets.”
Vernor-Junction can be characterized as working-class with a mix of seniors and families. Amador believes its stability is due in large part to the neighborhood’s schools. Mayberry Elementary, Earhart Middle School and Western International High School are each situated facing Clark Park. “It’s one of the best-planned communities in Detroit, in that respect,” she says. Children can go from one level of school to the next without ever leaving their neighborhood, and Clark Park certainly provides a lovely front yard for the students.
Amador says people in her neighborhood walk to shops and restaurants on West Vernor and to church at Holy Redeemer. “I enjoy hearing the church bells ring throughout the day — it’s a nice atmosphere.”
Springwells is known for its stable housing stock and places to shop along its West Vernor spine. The neighborhood is bounded by the Ford Rouge Plant, Michigan Avenue, Waterman and Fort Street.
While house hunting citywide, Lauren Bruyninga, who is now a realtor herself, found the Springwells neighborhood to be affordable and well-located. She’s lived there for five years now. “I’m 10 minutes from my job in Corktown, less than 10 minutes to Target and TJ Maxx in Dearborn, and I got a lot of house for my money.” While her home is an unusual Dutch Tudor cottage, her block alone is host to other Tudor varieties, 1920s bungalows and even a couple of small brick apartment buildings.
Bruyninga shops for groceries at Farmer’s Market on Central, bikes through the picturesque Woodmere Cemetery, and knows all of her neighbors personally. “During the blackout [of 2000], everyone was on their porch looking out. It took me a long time to get home that night because of a freeway closure, but I was never worried.”
Another neighborhood asset is the 85-acre Patton Park, which stretches north of Vernor at Woodmere. The sprawling greenspace is home to some of the oldest trees in the city as well as baseball diamonds, playscapes, and soccer fields. In fact, the Mexican Soccer League — with over 1,000 players participating annually — makes Patton Park its home. The Recreation Center, which contains a pool and gymnasium, recently underwent a $10 million renovation and is slated to reopen in the spring 2006. Southwest Detroit Business Association is planning for construction to begin this spring on phase one of the Southwest Detroit and Dearborn Greenway, which will run through the park; a future phase will complete a greenway trail around the periphery of the park.
After nearly a decade without a branch library in the neighborhood, Detroit Public Library partnered with Southwest Nonprofit Housing Corp. in the beautiful renovation of a vacant storefront on Vernor at Lawndale to reopen the Campbell Branch. In an era of budget and service cutbacks, this investment is a striking statement to the value of the Springwells neighborhood. “In fact,” says Conrad Welsing of the Detroit Public Library, “this is the first new library in Detroit since about 1965!” As to its on-the-street placement, Welsing says, “We believe that libraries need to be more a part of the neighborhood; we want to serve the community.”
The Southwest Nonprofit Housing Corp.’s Housing Opportunity Center (HOC), located just across the street from the Campbell, is a great first stop for those looking for housing in the area. They have special services and programs for first-time buyers, too.
The area has plenty of amenities: fine dining thanks to Vince’s Ristaurante Italiano, Las Brisas, Nuestra Familia Taqueria and Doña Lola’s; a Rite Aid and a CVS; a Neighborhood City Hall; a Secretary of State branch office; numerous hardware stores, bakeries, banks and dry cleaners; and quality senior housing at the Pablo Davis Elder Living Center. As if that weren’t enough, Dix Street just west of Patton Park features a row of Arabic shops including butchers and markets.
The Michigan-Livernois neighborhood was once primarily Polish and still retains a Slavic population, although many of its residents are now Latino and, increasingly, Middle Eastern. Tightly packed rows of well-kept bungalows line residential streets.
Residents say this is a cohesive, tight-knit community. “I grew up in a rural community, and the close relationship I have with my neighbors is the same as I had back in Midland,” says Wade Streeter. That’s in part why Streeter, who owns and operates a tugboat in Delray, settled on his current neighborhood in 1997, after years of moving around Southwest Detroit. And he’s put down even deeper roots. “In 2002, I bought my house four doors down from where I’d been renting,” he says.
Many residents shop at Prince Valley Supermercado on Michigan Avenue east of Livernois. Prince Valley is respected for its fresh meat and excellent in-house products such as empanadas and pico de gallo. Down the street, Markowycz's European Home Style Sausage, operating since 1954, is revered for its Polish delicacies like kielbasa, pierogis, and galabki (stuffed cabbage).
Befitting its unique nature, there are two truly singular initiatives being nurtured in Michigan-Livernois. Romanowski Park on Lonyo south of Michigan is being transformed by the Detroit Recreation Department and the Greening of Detroit to include not only a playground and sports field, but also a working community farm including a fruit orchard and syrup-producing sugar maples. One of the several schools that will benefit from Romonowski’s rebirth is Our Lady of Guadalupe Middle School for Girls, located on Central south of Michigan. This private school provides a holistic community for its 45 sixth through eighth grade students; it includes volunteer service, summer camp and a mandatory extended-day program that includes directed study, athletics and clubs — one of which is indeed gardening.
For more information about SW Detroit visit the Model D
- Visiting Guide
- Investing Guide
Directions to Southwest Detroit
From the East:
Take I-94 West, continue to exit 211B toward Cecil Ave/Central Ave then turn slight left onto Edsel Ford Fwy W. Turn left onto Central St. Either turn onto Michigan Ave or continue to Vernor Hwy.
From the North:
Take I-75 South to I-94 West via exit 53B toward Chicago. Continue to exit 221B toward Cecil Ave/Central Ave then turn slight left onto Edsel Ford Fwy W. Turn left onto Central St. Either turn onto Michigan Ave or continue to Vernor Hwy.
From the West:
Take I-96 East to I-94 West via exit 190A toward Chicago. Continue to exit 221B toward Cecil Ave/Central Ave then turn slight left onto Edsel Ford Fwy W. Turn left onto Central St. Either turn onto Michigan Ave or continue to Vernor Hwy.
From the South:
Take I-94 E toward Detroit and continue to exit 212A toward Livernois Ave. Stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy West and turn right onto Livernois Ave. Either turn onto Michigan Ave or continue to Vernor Hwy.
Take I-75 North toward Detroit to exit 46 toward Livernois Ave and stay straight to go onto Fisher Fwy West. Turn left onto Junctions St. Either turn onto Vernor Hwy or continue to Michigan Ave.
Photos, from the top:
The New Recreation Center at Patton Park
Holy Redeemer Catholic Church
E & L Supermercado
A typical street near Patton Park
The New Campbell Branch Library
Prince Valley Supermercado
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger