Six suspected arson fires lit up the sky on Detroit’s east side early Monday morning. Detroit Fire Chief Michael Gallo said four of the fires – within blocks of each other – burned at the same time, keeping crews busy. “Our central office that dispatches — they were probably pulling their hair out moving people around to get everything covered,” he said.
When I pulled up to the scene of one of the fires on Longyear and Frontenac, I was floored when I noticed the Church of the Living God. It stuck out like a sore thumb. Why? Church of the Living God is located on a dead block…not one occupied home. There is however an abundance of vacant lots and stripped-down, abandoned houses.
The church property is well manicured and maintained. Through the glass window at the entrance, you’ll see a beautiful chandelier illuminating the front of the building. The house of worship stands in stark contrast to the now burned and gutted, two-story, abandoned apartment building right next door.
At one point, a firefighter manned two hoses from a ladder unit hovering above the roof of the apartment building. As chunks of charred debris flew off the roof – under pressure from the powerful blasts of water coming from the hoses – I thought to myself, “Please don’t damage this beautiful church.” It has apparently survived a lot over the decades.
The church still stands as a beacon of hope for the few families left in the neighborhood which is in the shadows of the old Packard plant, a hulking complex that is also often the target of arsonists. I couldn’t help but wonder if the two abandoned and wide open houses on the other side of the church would be the next matchboxes firebugs would go after.
Two blocks away a suspected arsonist hit a home on the corner of Canton and Lambert. The abandoned house burned down to its foundation, as did another house on Sheridan and the westbound Ford Freeway service drive.
As I drove around the area, it was painfully clear that there are more vacant homes than occupied dwellings. That’s a fact which makes a great case for Mayor Dave Bing’s effort to reconfigure the city by moving residents into more viable areas of Detroit. But then, my mind goes back to the Church of the Living God.
Should a house of worship move too? Or, should it remain in hopes of serving as a catalyst for rebuilding a once thriving neighborhood? When you look at the photos however, it appears to be a monumental task.