Much has already been written about the rise and fall of Delray.
Since I grew up there, I feel qualified to offer my short but concise perspective.
When I was a kid in the 70’s, people and businesses were already moving out of Delray for a number of years. In spite of the decline in population, Delray was a pretty special place to call home. The glory days were certainly in the rear view mirror, but the neighborhood was still full of tradition and culture. Holy Cross Church continued to put on the Hungarian Festival every year, Szabos Market, Kovacs Bar, Al’s Lounge, they were all doing ok. My grandmother sold Hungarian pastries out of our home, and people still walked to church in the morning.
By the end of the 1970’s however, the exodus of Delray’s longtime residents had accelerated. Increased pollution, industrialization, crime, and racial tension were among the causes.
The mid 1980’s ushered in a new threat, the Crack cocaine epidemic; a ravenous monster with an appetite that could not be satisfied. Families, homes, schools and churches were being swallowed up whole by the plague of addiction, leaving in it’s wake a landscape that would later be referred to as a ghost town. By the end of the 80’s, anyone who could leave Delray, fled to the downriver suburbs. Those less fortunate, would have to try and tough it out.
For anyone left stranded, the 1990’s proved to be even worse. The strangle hold that Crack had on America was suffocating, especially in a place like Delray which was already struggling to breathe (quite literally). As the 90’s came to an end, history continued to disappear right before our eyes. The neighbors you had known your whole life were gone, their homes burned to the ground. The streets were silent, except for the familiar sounds of sirens, and gun shots blasting in the night.
Fast forward to today, Delray is a modern day tragedy. The fabric of it’s existence is once again being torn apart, this time by a new enemy, the Gordie Howe International Bridge to Canada. Anything that remained standing within the footprint of progress has been bulldozed…concrete poured over the unmarked graves.
The few remaining inhabitants of Delray are now the gatekeepers of a once vibrant and culturally significant part of Detroit’s history. Most of them are not even aware of their newly assigned roles and the responsibility that comes with it.
This lack of knowing, will likely be the final nail in Delray’s coffin.
I’m assuming that over the next few years most of Delray, especially along Jefferson Ave., will suffer even more loss. Aside from the bridge construction, and a gas station or two, it will likely take years (maybe never) for the area to show any real signs of life or tangible growth. For as long as I’m able, I’ll continue to document the ongoing changes in Delray and post the images here.
In some ways, this feels like a responsibility, and a curse…
A link to the full set of Delray images is here.