There was a time when Detroit was great. It has been told to me like a fairy tale -- a time long ago.
Each story teller has a different spin on who or what made the city great. They also emotionally debate the culprit that killed a place they loved so dearly.
I have been riveted by the recent events around the fate of the Motor City. It was the land of opportunity that launched my mother's family from living the simple life of immigrants to achieving the American dream.
My grandfather, Frank Hofbauer, would fail seven times until he succeeded in launching his tool cutting business, Mohawk Tools in 1940. For him, Detroit offered something special -- a ticket to success.
There have been many stories about our family that took root in Motown. Some of my favorites have been told by my late mother and her sisters. My Aunt Marge recently shared, "Detroit was a very good place to grow up. The city offered so many things, good schools, including trade academies. All of the big bands came to us and there were plenty of things for young couples to do. I think we danced to every famous act there was. And of course there were the Boblo Boats. I remember those years with great fondness and wish the city had remained the same."
What my Aunt Marge also shared was that that spirit of tenacity would inspire my mother to be the first in their family to graduate from college.
The Boblo boats that she mentioned were some of the largest ferry boats of their time. They led teenagers to the Boblo Island Amusement Park where an American businessman, Henry Ford, had financed the second largest dance floor in the world. It held 5,000 people and the largest self-playing orchestra.
Just across town was the Grande Ballroom, known for its hard wood dance floor that covered the entire second floor. However, the joint didn't really start jumping until 1966 when Dearborn High School teacher and DJ, Russ Gibb, acquired it. He envisioned a place where young people could come. To his credit he transformed a 1920s dance hall, located in a bad neighborhood, into a psychedelic venue that was modeled after the legendary San Francisco Fillmore.
The Grande brought in rock and roll fans in droves. It became a mystical destination because of the energy and the acts that became famous. Did you know that "The Who" was about to give up until an ardent crowd confirmed they had the hallmarks of greatness?
It is also unthinkable to leave out the birth of the automotive industry. Both my father and my husband's dad began their careers working for the greats of General Motors. I was almost 17 before I knew that people drove cars made in foreign countries.
The birth of the labor force began in Detroit. The burgeoning workforce became the arsenal of democracy during World War II. The Willow Run Plant produced the highest production bomber of that time -- B-24's.
Going back further in the 1920', Detroit was referred to as the "Paris of the Midwest." This recognition was given for the wonderful architecture and the electrification of many streets by Thomas Edison. The beautiful Elm trees also were to be credited, until the arrival of the Dutch elm disease. Despite their decay, there is a fondness for this period of history.
Just recently, my son and I saw the movie, The Lone Ranger. Once again, my family reminded me of the connection to Detroit. The Lone Ranger began as a radio show in in 1933. It was conceived by WXYZ Radio. The story features the fictional character, a masked ex-Texas Ranger who, with his friend Tonto, fights injustice in the American Old West. These characters have become enduring icons of American culture.
So what now? Why should you care?
Here is what I believe: Detroit has the potential to become a model for economic growth, innovation and transformation. It's not just for the State of Michigan but for our nation.
There is grittiness and a spirit of determination with those associated with the "Big D." It runs deep in my heart, as well as, my family members. We all share a prayer -- that Detroit will once again be great. Here's to believing that giants, kings and good people will come together to reclaim the kingdom we once loved.
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