Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects is a residential housing project owned by the City of Detroit, located in the Midtown-University section on the East Side of Detroit, Michigan near the Chrysler Freeway, Vernor Highway and Saint Antoine Street. The housing project is named after Frederick Douglass, African American abolitionist, author, and reformer. It is currently undergoing urban gentrification by which working class residents are displaced by wealthier residents.
The complex was home for Lily Tomlin, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Smokey Robinson during their early years. The claymation animated series The PJ's was based on the housing project as well. It was also seen in a screenshots for the movie Dreamgirls as well as D12's debut music video. RuPaul mentions the Brewster Projects in the intro of his biggest hit, the 1992 "Supermodel (You Better Work)".
The Frederick Douglass apartment buildings were built between 1942 and 1952 by Harley, Ellington & Day Architects. The complex included two, 6-story low-rises completed in 1942, and six, 14-story high rises completed in 1952.
The towers were part of the larger Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects originally, which included over 700 low-rise units named the Brewster Projects. The combined Brewster-Douglass Project was five city blocks long, and three city blocks wide, and housed anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 residents at its peak capacity.
The Frederick Douglass Projects were built for the "working poor"; the Detroit Housing Commission required an employed parent for each family before establishing tenancy. As the Commission became less selective, crime became a problem in the 1960s and 1970s, and the projects eventually fell into disrepair. Two towers (Towers 303 and 304) were demolished in 2003, and the rest are scheduled for demolition in the future. Many of the brick row houses from the 1952 addition to the site have been boarded and abandoned. There are plans in place by students at the Rhode Island School of Design to make a radical critique of the conditions.
From historic marker on the site of Brewster Homes
“Between 1910 and 1940 Detroit, Michigan’s African American population increased dramatically. Faced with restrictions on where they could live, many African Americans were forced into substandard housing. In 1935 First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt broke ground for the Brewster Homes, the nation’s first federally funded public housing development for African Americans. The homes opened in 1938 with 701 units. When completed in 1941 there were 941 units bounded by Beaubien, Hastings, Mack and Wilkins Streets. Residents were required to be employed and there were limits on what they could earn. Former residents described Brewster as ‘community filled with families that displayed love, respect and concern for everyone in a beautiful, clean and secure neighborhood.’ The original Brewster Homes were demolished in 1991 and replaced by 250 townhouses.”
As of June 2008, all of the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects have been boarded for demolition, many residents and citizens are outraged that the remaining four towers will no longer stand, as memories in these historical city landmarks go to waste.
Hastings Street was the center of black culture in Detroit between the 1920s and 1950s. Located at the southern edge of the Brewster-Douglass Homes the street was the home of innumerable salons and entertainment venues. With the addition of the high-rises and an influx of people moving into the housing, Hastings Street was billed as the place you could fulfill any conceivable need. The I-75 corridor is now in place of this important African American landmark. The (Walter P.) Chrysler Freeway was constructed between 1963 and 1968.
|Building Name||Address||Year Completed||Year Demolished|
|Frederick Douglass Apartments - Tower 306||Chrysler Freeway & Vernon Highway||1952|
|Frederick Douglass Apartments - Tower 305||Chrysler Freeway & Vernon Highway||1952|
|Frederick Douglass Apartments - Tower 302||2702 Saint Antoine Street||1952|
|Frederick Douglass Apartments - Tower 301||Chrysler Drive at Alfred Street||1952|
|Frederick Douglass Apartments - Tower 304||2602 Saint Antoine Street||1952||2003|
|Frederick Douglass Apartments - Tower 303||650 Alfred Street||1952||2003|