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Crews Begin Razing Historic Detroit Housing Project

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(credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

(credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

DETROIT (WWJ) – City and federal officials are making good on promises to raze a vacant, blighted Detroit housing project once home to the Supremes before the trio became vital voices of “the Motown sound.”

Mayor Dave Bing and Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan on Wednesday announced the first stage of demolishing the Frederick Douglass Homes.

The graffiti-covered complex comprising several city blocks is more commonly known as the Brewster projects.

Bing has acknowledged the Brewster’s lore as the proving grounds for Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson before joining Motown Records a half-century ago

Mayor Dave Bing poses with Kelley Lyons, Shaun Donovan-HUD Sec'y, Sandy Enriques-HUD. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

Mayor Dave Bing poses with HUD reps. (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

In announcing the demolition plans last year, Bing said the complex “has a proud place in in Detroit’s rich history,” as the nation’s first federal housing project for African-Americans. But, he said, what over the years has become a haven for crime on the edge of downtown is an “eyesore.”

WWJ’s Pat Sweeting spoke with former resident Rosanna Johnson moved in to the complex in 1955, and was among the last to move out in 2008.

Watching a wrecker tear through the building, Johnson said: “It just takes my heart away, because we did so many things. I remember like in the summer time when we took the children on boat rides, you know.”

“We sent a group of girls — a dance group — to Europe,” Johnson said. “You know, it was the first time anything like that had been done at a development like that.”

Fond memories aside, Johnson said she sees the demolition as a positive

Alana Peyton  (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

Alana Peyton (credit: Pat Sweeting/WWJ)

move toward rebuilding the neighborhood.

Now living in Nevada, former complex resident Alana Peyton said she was visiting Detroit and had to come and see for herself.

She said every adult on the block was like your own parent.

“I couldn’t get away with too much because, like I said, all the parents saw everything,” Peyton said.

“I learned how to skate here; I learned how to swim here. I was also in the Girl Scouts back in the day,” she added. “I did all that … curve ball we done. We did all that in the Brewsters.”

A $6.5 million HUD grant covers the initial phase of demolition and cleanup.

Detroit Housing Commission Executive Director Kelly Lyons says the city is conducting abatement work on mid- and high-rises in the projects.

The second phase of demolition is expected to begin late this year and continue through the first quarter of next year.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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