Here is Model D's guide to visiting Woodbridge. Also check out our guides to moving to and investing in the near-West Side neighborhood.
If you visited Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood recently, it was probably at the invitation of a friend. Or you came to attend a party, a festival or a community event where you had the opportunity to make new friends. Or Woodbridge drew you in because of an art or cultural event at one of the many independent gallery and performance spaces squeezed into this triangle-shaped neighborhood on the city’s near-Westside. You may have made a friend or two at one of those places as well.
Woodbridge is a neighborhood where personal contact is a part of daily life. On streets like Trumbull, Commonwealth and Avery, you see students of all ages, college professors, professional people, musicians and artists, anarchists and organic farmers, dog-walkers and bicyclists, longtime residents of all colors and social strata. You see them walking, lounging on front porches — a characteristic feature of Woodbridge— or firing up the barbecue in the neighborhood’s large backyards.
Last summer at a house on Commonwealth shared by electronic musicians Rob Barrett, Matt Caputo, Andy Toth and Colin Zyskowski (collectively known as People Mover Productions), a party was held for those born under the sign of Leo. The yard was packed with people — neighborhood residents and non-residents, Leos and non-Leos alike — the barbecue was smoking and the group’s basement studio was filled with DJs and dancers.
“This is the way Woodbridge is,” Zyskowski says. “People come here to hang out, find a (compatible) group of people to live with, and do your music or some other job out of your home. It’s very comfortable to that here, because you’re supported by other people doing the same thing.”
The Woodbridge visit — the experience of seeing people you know or meeting people you never imagined you would — might itself be the strongest characteristic of the neighborhood.
Ed Potas, founder of the Woodbridge Neighborhood Development Corporation (WNDC), says that he and his wife Michelle fell in love with the area after attending a small street festival on Commonwealth and Merrick in 2000.
“There were about 150 people there, with bands that were trying out for the Dally in the Alley,” says Potas, referring to a longtime festival held in a neighborhood next to Wayne State University’s campus. “We met so many people who welcomed us into their community. It was the people, plus the beautiful residential architecture, that made the biggest impression.”
Potas and the WNDC helped start up another larger festival last August (2005). Called Woodbridge Summerfest, the event is held just north of the intersection of Grand River and Trumbull — which is closed to motor traffic for the day — and at adjacent Scripps Park. The park itself has an interesting history: It was donated to the city by George G. Booth, a newspaper publisher who founded the Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills. It is named for Booth’s father-in-law, James E. Scripps, who lived across from the park on Trumbull. Scripps started The Evening News — which later became known as the Detroit News — in 1873. He also helped found what became the Art Institute of Detroit.
The 2005 Summerfest featured entertainment donated by musicians who live in the neighborhood, plus food and beverage vendors. Other community groups that contributed to the neighborhood party were the Woodbridge Creative Coalition and Woodbridge Historical District Association.
After the 2006 Summerfest, unfortunately, the WNDC, couldn't secure enough revenue to put on the fest in 2007 and it was canceled. And, right now, there isn't much talk about a 2008 Summerfest.Art & culture
Woodbridge is perfectly situated to be a destination for those looking for a taste of Detroit’s visual and performing arts scene. The neighborhood includes the westernmost edge of Wayne State’s campus, which connects to Detroit’s Cultural Center. It is accessible via the Edsel Ford (I-94) and John Lodge (US-10) freeways, which serve as its north and east borders. Grand River, the Woodbridge boundary on its southern and western ends, is the best way to reach the neighborhood from downtown.
Visitors coming here for an art show at 555 Gallery and Studios or to visit a friend’s studio in the 4731 building will also find Grand River the best route to take. Inside 4731 is an “arts incubator” — a place that serves the community as engines for business and culture. The incubator was begun by Ric Geyer, a developer who rehabbed the building and set up attractive leasing terms for artists and creative entrepreneurs. He also owns the 555 space and leases it to the gallery's founders, Jacob Montelongo Martinez and Carl Goines. 555 began in Ann Arbor and moved to Detroit in 2004. The nonprofit arts organization houses a group of artists, offering affordable studio and gallery space.
Another art space in the neighborhood is the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit (CAID), located on Rosa Parks Blvd between Warren and I-94. Like 555, CAID has a regular schedule of exhibitions and also presents live musical performances.
There are other options for art and culture in Woodbridge. For avant-garde theater accented with political activism, check out programs at the Trumbull Plex, in the heart of the neighborhood at Trumbull near Willis St. The venue has supported community life for years and draws in visitors to shows like Europa: Community and Graffiti, which documented squatter culture in Spain, Italy, Germany and Ireland.
A spot with even more hipster cachet and mystique is Alley Culture, a performance space that is entered — naturally — through an alley off Willis, between Lincoln and Trumbull. Since 1995, Alley Culture has featured the work of local and national visual artists. Its most recent show, called American Icon American Myth, explored 100 years of Paul Bunyan mythology.
Another of the neighborhood’s cultural beacons is the Frederick Douglass Branch Library, located on the grounds of Scripps Park. The library features a mural showing a Michigan meeting held in 1859 between its pioneering civil rights namesake and abolitionist John Brown.
What you won’t find in Woodbridge are many options for dining. Its most well-known restaurant is Carl’s Chop House, which has been at the far southeastern tip of the triangle — at Grand River and John Lodge — long before the neighborhood was dubbed Woodbridge. Carl’s is a Detroit dining institution, known for its generous portions of prime rib, steaks and Maine lobster. The restaurant offers shuttle service to sporting events downtown.
Residents are more likely to get their meat and fish at University Foods Center, at Warren and John Lodge, and cook it up in their kitchens or backyards. But if the urge hits to go out on the town, nearby options abound. It’s only a few blocks east to various Midtown locations, or a short car or bike ride to Corktown or to downtown hotspots for food and drink.
What Woodbridge has lacked in the past is a local watering hole. But this is soon to be no more. The Woodbridge Pub, at 5169 Trumbull Ave. off of Merrick, will should have open doors for the summer - serving up food and drinks for the neighborhood's local riff-raff.
However, there's no shortage of beautiful shade and ornamental trees, especially on the length of Avery and Commonwealth streets from Grand River to I-94. Take a springtime walk and see fruit trees bearing buds for apples, pears, cherries and apricots. The blooming streets make the neighborhood postcard perfect for strolling and looking at neo-Victorian, French Tudor and Early Craftsman houses that date from the 1880s to the 1920s.
As you walk, you encounter people — working on their houses, gardening in a patch in front of the porch, or just relaxing and listening to music. You see kids shooting hoops on a court on Rosa Parks near Forest, or throwing a football around on the grounds of WSU’s Matthaei Athletic Complex.
It feels like home, which is just the way Potas likes to pitch it when he talks about his neighborhood.
“Walking in Woodbridge always presents a new experience, the way city life should be,” Potas says. “You always meet someone you know. You end up leaning on a fence, talking about a neighbor’s landscaping project. It’s very friendly, really homey. It’s exactly what neighborhood life should be about.”
Directions to Woodbridge
From the East:
Take I-94 West and take Exit 214 toward Grand River Ave/Linwood Ave. Stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy West, and then turn left onto Linwood St. Turn slight left onto Grand River Ave and arrive in Woodbridge.
From the North:
Take I-75 South and merge onto I-94 West via Exit 53B toward Chicago. Take Exit 214 toward Grand River Ave/Linwood Ave. Stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy West, and then turn left onto Linwood St. Turn slight left onto Grand River Ave and arrive in Woodbridge.
From the West:
Take I-96 East and take Exit 190B toward Warren Ave. Stay straight to go onto West Jefferies Fwy. Turn left onto Warren Ave to Grand River Ave. Arrive in Woodbridge.
From the South:
Take I-94 East toward Detroit. Take Exit 214A toward Grand River Ave and stay straight to go onto Edsel Ford Fwy West. Turn right onto Grand River Ave and arrive in Woodbridge.
Take I-75 North toward Detroit. Merge onto I-96 West via Exit 48 on the left toward Lansing. Take Exit 190B toward Warren Ave. and stay straight to go onto W Jefferies Fwy. Turn right onto Warren Ave and arrive in Woodbridge.
4731 Gallery on Grand River
Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit
555 Gallery and Studios
Trumbull Plex Performance Space
Carl's Chop House
University Plaza Shopping Center
All Photographs Copyright Dave Krieger
Eds. Note: In the May 8 edition of Model D, we incorrectly identified the founders and goals of the 555 Gallery and Studios. We regret the error and have corrected information in the above story.