Block profile: Parker Street in The Villages of Detroit

Parker Street's historic row houses stand shoulder to shoulder on deep lots bordering Detroit's Indian Village. The homes display their antique charm with painted wood siding and large inviting porches, bracketed with ornate columns. Situated among these uniquely detailed row houses are further specimens of Victorian stateliness, including high-rise apartments, cottages and stable houses, all built in the first days of the 20th century.

Part of historic West Village, and one of the communities that make up The Villages neighborhood, Parker Street is located just east of Van Dyke, between Jefferson and Kercheval. Within walking distance of commercial strips, the RiverWalk and Belle Isle, Parker is also just minutes away from downtown. These richly detailed but affordable homes have attracted a steady stream of new residents undertaking a multitude of restoration projects over the past few years.

The street is occupied by a diverse group of artists, writers, developers, community activists, business people and entrepreneurs who have collectively decided to make their street one of the city's most vibrant. They are friendly, passionate about their homes, and they have big plans for their neighborhood.

Take a stroll down Parker. As you walk, don't be surprised if someone invites you up the steps to their porch. You might find yourself talking to new friends and asking yourself, "Why haven't I been to this neighborhood before? Why don't I live on this block? How did this wine glass get in my hand?"


West Village and specifically Parker have earned some national attention. Time Inc. purchased a 3,000-square-foot home on Parker in 2009 to operate as headquarters for their Detroit-based bureau for the duration of its Project Detroit.

Time Inc.'s subsidiary, This Old House Magazine, also has its eye on the neighborhood. It recently selected the Villages of Detroit as one of the 50 best places to fix an old house in the country for its annual "Best Places to Buy an Old House" contest. Calling the neighborhood a "bargain-hunter's bounty of architectural riches," This Old House points to the area's affordability and to "people who share an appreciation of finely crafted homes that have plenty of past and lots of future."

On Parker alone, potential residents can choose from flats, rental properties and high-rise apartments, in addition to historic homes.

An average two bedroom rental ranges from $600 to $800, 3 bedrooms are up to $900. Homes run from $30,000 to $200,000, according to Realtor Joy Santiago, who sits on The Villages board and sells a lot in the neighborhood. "Its definitely a good selling neighborhood, and Parker is one of the hotter streets in West Village," she says.

Resident Bill Swanson also saw potential in West Village. In 2004, he purchased a 1907 row house fixer-upper on Parker for $25,000. Although the house was the worst on the block, a few qualities caught his eye. "The African Mahogany throughout the house was in perfect condition. It had never been painted," he says. "In this neighborhood, there are historic buildings and homes built by named architects. I knew this house was worth restoring."

In 2007, Swanson won the Governor's Award for Historic Restoration for his work on the house. "I took something that should have been torn down and put it back together," he says. "But I won the award because I put it together the way it was supposed to be. When it was built, it was a beautiful home. I knew it could be beautiful again."

In the last six years Swanson has seen other improvements on the street. "A lot of young people are moving in," he says. "There used to be four empty houses on this block -- now there's only one, and it's not in foreclosure, it's for sale."

Swanson sees a link to progress made in downtown Detroit to the evolution of Parker and West Village as a whole. "This neighborhood was originally built for people who wanted to experience city life but still wanted their own space. They don't want an apartment. They want a house, a lawn. Here, people can live close to the city and get what they want."

Steve Lambers was attracted to the neighborhood for affordable rental opportunities and it's proximity to Belle Isle. Lambers, an active rower on Belle Isle, could bike from Parker to the nearby island daily for training. "There's an unbelievably strong sense of community there," he says. "Everybody knows everybody. You feel a very strong sense of belonging."

Most people living on Parker are quick to point out this sense of community. "It's a very solid social network," explains Swanson. "My neighbor grew up here and still mows the lawn for the people across the street. I don't think he gets paid for it any more but he keeps on mowing," he says.

"On this street, everyone knows each other and everyone's looking out for each other. People aren't fleeing this neighborhood. They're coming to it."

This sense of community may come from the physical nature of the street. The closely situated homes create a sense of communal living that promotes interaction. "The houses are close together and everyone has a front porch, so we see each other a lot. We talk. That's what really reinforces a neighborhood," he says.

Many Parker residents frequently get together for barbeques, walks, progressive dinners and parties. Together with his wife, Vittoria Katanski, Swanson hosts the annual West Village Wassailing Party that brings more than 100 residents into the streets carrying steaming hot liqueurs and belting out carols at the top of their lungs.

"Everyone just hangs out here," says Parker resident Kirsten Ussery Boyd. "We've been lucky with new people moving in," she says. "It just happened. Everyone is really committed to the neighborhood and to its success. We want to attract more good people here."

The commitment to the neighborhood has created a sense of stewardship too. Most residents admit to taking an active role in recruiting new neighbors to pick Parker. "If I see someone looking at a house or a place to rent, I'll introduce myself and try to make them feel welcome. And it's not just me, everyone does it," Ussery Boyd says.

Business, and the future

When Yolanda Graves and Tylie Harris began renovations in a commercial building on the corner of Parker and Kercheval, it wasn't long before they were introduced to many of their new neighbors. "People saw what we were doing and were very supportive," says Harris. "Everyone is excited to see something happening here."

The owner of TeAri Massage Spa, Harris is a native Detroiter who was drawn to West Village. "I've always felt this was a safe neighborhood. I could exercise here," she says. "This area has a lot of pride and I wanted to bring healthy living along with that pride."

The spa held its grand opening earlier this year in conjunction with Suite 7 Salon. The salon's owner, Yolanda Graves, is also enthusiastic about her new location. "There's a lot of new and exciting things happening here," says Graves. "Since I moved the business here, it's taken off faster than I thought it would. The architecture, the details, you don't get that in a prefab home. People are drawn to history and diversity, and you get that in this neighborhood."

Across the street, Pearl's Music has been in business since 1992. Owner Walter Esaw credits Pearl's success to the connections he's made in both the record industry and in the neighborhood. "We have many of the same customers we had in '92 today," he says.

Pearl's Music
holds frequent customer appreciation events, including album release parties and Pearl's underground concerts in the store's basement. Saturday nights in the summer feature live outdoor DJs and music for the community. "Pearl's wants to be involved in making this neighborhood better. I know it works both ways," he says.

"So many positive things are going on here, and now we're getting an opportunity to tell this neighborhood's story," says Swanson. "Parker is becoming a natural place for people to move. As the riverfront and Jefferson continue to develop, this neighborhood gets even more walkable, more vibrant and more connected to the city."

Mike Gentile lives on the East Side and writes for Model D, and both offer him ample opportunity to ask, "How did this glass of wine get in my hand?"

Model D will be regularly featuring profiles of great blocks in different neighborhoods. Have a tip or comment? Send feedback

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