In the era when Detroit became a thoroughly racially segregated metropolis, the city hired Leon “Toy” Wheeler as their first black recreation worker, in 1919. As the black population grew, a need arose for a recreational center for black youth. One opportunity would have been to racially integrate the city’s large and prosperous YMCA in downtown Detroit. That was not viewed as a conceivable option, so the city developed a racially segregated system for youth recreation.
In 1926, the city purchased property in the East part of town, at the intersection of Vernon Highway and Hastings Street (the major black ghetto at that time) and in 1929, erected the Art Deco building that you see in the picture below. Substantial funds were invested to create a marvelous facility with space for basketball, swimming, the indoor sports including boxing and the outdoor sports—tennis and baseball. “Toy” Wheeler was the first supervisor/manager of this facility.
This was originally named the Brewster Center but was renamed for its long time manager, Leon Wheeler, the first black worker in the Detroit Parks & Recreation department. At some point in the 90’s a basketball court was donated by former NBA star Chris Webber. Along with the surrounding Douglass projects, the recreation center was closed in the late 2000’s.