Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects

The Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects were the largest residential housing project owned by the city of Detroit, located in the Brush Park section on the east side. The Brewster Project and Frederick Douglass Apartments were built between 1935 and 1955.  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 Brewster Project began construction in 1935, when First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt broke ground for the 701-unit development; the first phase was completed in 1938. An expansion of the project completed in 1941 brought the total number of housing units to 941. The Frederick Douglass Apartments, built immediately to the south of the Brewster Project, began construction in 1942 with the completion of apartment rows, two 6-story low-rises, and finally six 14-story high rises completed between 1952 and 1955.

The complex was home to such notable figures as Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, Lily Tomlin, Loni Love, and Etterlene DeBarge, during their early years. The claymation animated series, The PJs, 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 the 1992 song, “Supermodel (You Better Work)”.

The Brewster-Douglass Project 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. The Frederick Douglass Apartment towers were converted to senior housing.

In 1991, the most of the low-rise apartment blocks of the original Brewster Project were demolished, and by 1994 were replaced with 250 townhomes dubbed the “New Brewster Homes”. Two towers (Towers 303 and 304) of the adjacent Frederick Douglass Apartments were demolished in 2003.

On March 9, 2012, mayor Dave Bing announced that the Detroit Housing Commission planned to request funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to demolish the remaining housing on the site, but redevelop the abandoned Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center. The vacant land would then be developed as affordable housing and commercial space. The demolition was announced on November 15, 2012 and formally began on September 4, 2013.

Data/History Resources:  Wikipedia

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