East Side Detroit resident Nick Sinacori lives in the same home that his grandfather bought not long before he went off to help fight World War I. At the time, the land around the house on Newport Street, near Jefferson and Chalmers, was so underdeveloped that the Detroit River (nearly a mile away) could be seen from the front stoop.
But that was long ago, back in the early 1900s, when entrepreneurs peddled their wares from carts on neighborhood roads, and street cars provided reliable mass transit for the growing region. This was before the motor car's genesis, a time when horse racing was king. That's right -- horse racing was big in Detroit once upon a time.
Sinacori relishes telling the story about his neighborhood's history, and listening to him is akin to getting an accelerated history lesson. One story leads to another and another. Not only can he tell you origin of virtually every street name in the area, he can provide a biography of the namesakes or anecdotes about why they were named as they are and how they came to be.
Bewick is named after Charles Bewick, a shipping magnate of the times. Garland Street takes its name from the Garland family, which ran a prominent stove manufacturing business. St. Clair was named after Arthur St. Clair, not the lake. He was a general who served under George Washington and was stationed in the area. According to Sinacori, many of the streets were named after top-performing horses or horse farms that were popular in the 1800s, including Waterloo (no, it wasn't named for the battle), Iroquois and Seminole (references to horses, not Native Americans, but the area they're in became Indian Village anyway). In fact, Iroquois reportedly won 145 races and earned nearly $200,000 – a huge sum in those days.
He is more than a buff of local history, more like an advocate, using the knowledge of the area gleaned over the past 30 years to try to pump up interest in preservation and revitalization. His passion for maintaining the area's past glory led him to form the Village of Fairview Historical Society.
"I'd like to give everyone in this area a history. I think there is a disconnect, and assumptions are made that are not necessarily giving people a good image, in view of the fact that a lot of things have been let go of and are in decline. There's not much to look at to say well this was like this," Sinacori says.
Fairview is a city that once sat between the city of Detroit and Grosse Pointe Park, right on the river. It was incorporated and annexed so quickly that even longtime East Side residents have never heard of it, but from 1903 to 1907, Fairview was a legitimate municipality. Some may question why Sinacori honors what many would consider a footnote in the region's history. It's his way of making a point about the importance of understanding how our region developed, and more specifically the pivotal role the area played in the history of the automotive industry.It all began one day when ...
When he was a teen, one of Sinacori's uncles told him a story about how he used to sell fruit from a horse-drawn wagon, and on weekends would race the horse in pickup races to earn extra money. He found the story interesting but didn't fully understand how prominent horse racing was back in the day until his grandfather planted another seed. Sinacori recalls inquiring about why two blocks of Marlborough Street at Jefferson are the only blocks in the area paved with bricks.
"He said 'That's where they ran the horses.' I said 'I don't understand, you mean they ran them up and down the street?' But he said 'you'll find out in time.'"
That was back in 1966. Sinacori, then 16, began digging for information in local libraries and archives. He eventually came across a map that would change his life.
"It showed the Detroit Driving Club and it was only a few blocks over from where I lived. But the map defined itself as Grosse Pointe Township. I thought, but this is in Detroit," Sinacori says.
Sinacori said that made him want to find out how what happened over the last 100 years to change the geography, to figure out why there was such a disparity in the quality of neighborhoods, schools and services in the Grosse Pointes and Detroit. He started with the basics, looking at the names behind the streets, and the layouts of the neighborhoods and hasn't stopped.
Professionally, Sinacori has worked as a sales representative, a teacher, and owned a disc jockey business during his career. Researching local history was always a hobby, until three years ago when Sinacori got together with Ron Mikulak and Sue Steinhauer to found the Village of Fairview Historical Society. Since then, Sinacori has been working on a book, which he is trying to raise about $30,000 to self-publish, and delivering lectures to local community groups.
As it turns out, the brick lane on Marlborough was once a path that led to the Detroit Jockey Club. Sinacori found that was the second track in the area. He later discovered there was a third large track on Jefferson, the Hamtramck Track, which was further west in the neighborhood now known as Indian Village.
The Detroit Driving Club may be the most important of the three. The entrance to the track was where, today, Algonquin Street meets Jefferson, and if you drive by you can picture where the gates once sat and trees lined the entryway (Algonquin is said to be a boulevard for precisely that reason.)
In 1901, long before he launched his own company, Henry Ford was an avid car racer. Promoters looking to drum up interest in cars decided to stage races at the Driving Club and gave the track a makeover to accommodate automobiles. Ford raced Alexander Winton of the well-established Winton Motor Car Company in front of a crowd said to be in the thousands. Ford won in a car he designed that would later become a Cadillac. One of the spectators that day was Alexander Malcolmson, an investor who was so impressed with Ford that he offered to back his future ventures, and Ford Motor Company was ultimately formed as a result.
"My hope is to bring back the history. Show how much that there is to look back on. That the automobile industry got its debut as it were in Detroit, through the Detroit Driving Club. That's what I want to do," Sinacori says.A place in history
The first mention of Fairview came in 1896, when the Fairview Land Company was formed. At the turn the century the land was essentially 900 acres of marsh, but would be valuable if developed. Fairview's borders were Bewick to the west and Cadieux to the east, Mack to the north and the Detroit River on the south. The municipality was officially incorporated in 1903, and at the time it satisfied the interests of businessmen in the area looking to control land for a road connecting Detroit to Grosse Pointe Farms. Frank Lindeman was elected the first village president.
The problem was that neither Detroit nor Grosse Pointe wanted to pay for the road to be paved, Sinacori says. Fairview sued to force Grosse Pointe to cover the cost and won, reportedly $186,000 at the time, and the road was paved -- from Beniteau to Cadiuex, and it was the second paved road in the region (after Woodward).
This was a controversial issue at the time, and there was some animosity between Fairview and Grosse Pointe officials as a result.
Sinacori links the fall of Fairview to the competitive street car business and the politics of the time. The city of Detroit got into the rail business and began building lines to compete against leading carriers, and with control of the Fairview could drive them out of business. He says that Detroit officials lobbied the state legislature for annexation. During the negotiations, a contingent representing Grosse Pointe fought for the rights to a two-mile stretch, which became Grosse Pointe Park. The rest of Fairview was absorbed by Detroit.
As fascinating as many people find the story of Fairview, the question of why Sinacori is so interested in a city that only existed for four years comes up regularly.
"There are a lot of issues. How many books have been written about World War II? That was only a four-year event," Sinacori says.
And those four years were incredibly rich. "Here we have urban politics. We have transit politics. We have horse racing issues; the early, beginning stages of the automobile industry," he says. And one might say the beginning of Detroit as we know it.
Rodd Monts is a Detroit-based writer and often contributes to Model D. Send feedback here
To contact Nick Sinacori or for more on the Village of Fairview, contact him at [email protected]
Nick Sinacori in his second floor home office
A family home passed down through generations
Portrait of Peter James LoPiccolo, Nick's grandfather
Brick lane on Marlboro street
Nick Sinacori at the Village of Fairview Historical SocietyAll photographs by Detroit Photographer Marvin Shaouni
Marvin Shaouni is the Managing Photographer for Metromode & Model D.