If you're poking around for a bit of Detroit Irish history this St. Patrick's Day, take a moment to examine Corktown's "welcome arch." That is, if you can find it tucked away behind a local church garden.
The arch celebrates contemporary life in Corktown, which is both traditionally Irish and the city's oldest neighborhood. Corktown hosts the St. Patricks Day Parade the Sunday before the holiday each year, but there are clues to its heritage to be found here every day.
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Behind the Spirit of Hope Church at Trumbull and Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., the arch serves as an entryway to a permaculture garden that contributes organic food for the church's food pantry.
The 10-foot-high brick structure features two white concrete reliefs with scenes of Corktown life: a person walking a dog, taking a bus and sitting in a local diner.
The work's creator, Jerome Ferretti, is a well-known local artist who's lived in the neighborhood for a little more than 30 years. Ferretti comes from a family of bricklayers and learned the trade himself at an apprenticeship school. He also studied art at Detroit's College for Creative Studies, where he served as an artist-in-residence. Ferretti said he blurs the line between mason and artist.
"My brother often jokes that my situation is the opposite of most artists," he said. "I can afford to be a bricklayer by selling my paintings."
So how did the Corktown arch end up in a church garden? The now defunct Greater Corktown Development Corporation (GCDC) originally commissioned the work in 2005 to serve as a gateway to North Corktown. Members planned to place it next to a never-realized farmer's market in a lot near the Knox dry cleaners at the corner of Temple and Trumbull. But those plans fell through because the property owner wouldn't sell.
Spirit of Hope's chief gardener Kate Devlin said Ferretti wanted to put the arch at a site on Mack Avenue, but Devlin, who was worried it would be struck by a car, persuaded the board to use the current site behind the church garden.
While GCDC had to disband in 2010 due to financial difficulties, the location for the arch was settled, and its construction was finished in 2007.
In a small twist of fate, the church now hosts a local farmer's and craft market near the archway.
Devlin said visitors love the arch, although they sometimes mistake it for the remains of an old building.
"Jerome purposely found bricks that were old, so people think it's really well established," she said, "They don't know that five years ago it was a vacant lot with broken-down cars, really high weeds and dogs there."
Ferretti has assembled several other public artworks in the neighborhood, including a Corktown mural on the corner of 6th Street and Michigan Avenue and a huge brick cat sculpture titled "Monumental Kitty" that commemorates the old Tiger Stadium baseball field.
The arch and "Monumental Kitty" bookend Cochrane Street, near Ferretti's home.
"I love it," he said, "two pieces of public art on the street where I live!"
CORRECTION: The story has been corrected to reflect that one of the possible locations for the arch following the initial choice at Temple and Trumbull was on Mack Avenue, rather than in front of the Spirit of Hope Church as the story originally read.
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