PARK 81 – OSCAR B. MARX

BEGINNINGS OF A TRADITION:  THE DETROIT CITY CHRISTMAS TREE 

Oscar Marx was born on July 14, 1866 in Detroit.  His parents, Stephen Marx and wife Eleanor [Busch] were German immigrants turned dairy farmers living on the cusp of Hamtramck Twp. and Detroit.

The Marx farm faced Gratiot Road with acreage running north along Mount Elliot. It was quite close to the small town of St. Anthony which was annexed by Detroit in 1891.   Image:  Wayne County Atlas, 1876.
Stephen Marx makes front page news.  Apparently vehicle theft has always been a Detroit problem. Source:   1.31.1868, Detroit Free Press.

The hard work and discipline of his farm based upbringing along with a touch of seminary school gave Marx the determination needed to become a successful civic leader and Detroit businessman.   Continue reading “PARK 81 – OSCAR B. MARX”

Corporal Robert C. Milan – Park 65

– For a super long time, Milan sat in my stuck file, he was an only child [no one alive to contact]; I had found little about him.  Things changed when I answered my phone.  My lucky charm is a retired chiropractor friend.  He checked in with me and I spent 50 quality minutes on the treadmill while he chatted me up.  He inquired, “So how is that park thing?”  I told him I needed a pep talk.  He then proceeded to tell me a story about how his mother once dragged him to a park dedication [“like a million years ago”] .. then something about his mom’s friend Gladys and her boy Bobbie.   Thanks god. 🙂 My lucky day. I found a little clarity and worked off that raw chocolate chip cookie dough I had abused the day before.  Honor the small things in life, they can change the landscape in an instant.  Thanks for reading.  ag

I'd love to credit this photocopied photo of Robert Milan because I feel so lucky to have found it. I can't. It was in a clipping file undated with no attribution. So thanks to that lost soul photographer who took this photo.
I’d love to credit this photocopied photo of Robert Milan because I feel so lucky to have found it. I can’t. It was in a  file undated with no attribution. So thanks to that lost soul photographer who took this photo.

Continue reading “Corporal Robert C. Milan – Park 65”

Joesph and Anna Votrobeck – Park #44

Votrobeck Update:  

The gardeners at Votrobeck have already had a busy season planting, weeding and teaching kids about mother nature.  Something extra special happened during June and July 2015… It Takes A Village Garden raised $27,000+ through crowdfunding to finish creating the community gardens at the rear of the Votrobeck property.   When the project is finished it will include a some unique features – a meadow, butterfly and rain gardens, edible wall, sunflower living room, gourd trellis [this is really cool] along with gazebo, raised beds, signage and bench seating.  Click here for an informational video.  

Founding Family Farmers

The pastures and barns owned by the Votrobeck family are long gone from northwest Detroit, yet their surname lives on at Seven Mile and Evergreen Road.  The playground and street honoring their homestead lies within a renovated, gated apartment complex.

Super nice playground inside the apartment complex.
Super nice playground inside the apartment complex.

Back in the day, Detroit was a small town located near the Detroit River surrounded by outlying villages and townships.  Joseph [1866-1937] and Anna Votrobeck [1868-1945] settled this northern area which would later be enveloped within Detroit’s border.  Both came from Bohemian backgrounds; Joseph was born in Austria, while Anna was born in Michigan to Austrian parents.  Joseph moved to Michigan from Iowa.  They married in 1893.

The Votrobeck land in left quadrant. Source: Sauer Borthers Atlas of Wayne County, 1915.
The Votrobeck land is upper left quadrant. Source: Sauer Borthers Atlas of Wayne County, 1915.

Three daughters and one son rounded out the family – Dorothy, Frances, Rose and Joseph Francis.  The children pursued higher education – the daughters became stenographers which could possibly be a paralegal, admin or legal secretary.  Joseph graduated from University of MI in 1925; taught math and electronics at the Flint Community College and became a math professor at University of Detroit.  

John Francis Votrobeck Photo:  U of D Tower, 1931
John Francis Votrobeck
Photo: U of D Tower, 1931

Contrary to what city publications list, the land for the Votrobeck playground was deeded to the City of Detroit solely by daughters Rose and Frances.  It consisted of a 3 acre parcel with frontage on Seven Mile Road, Vassar Street and Evergreen Road.  Letters written to the Detroit Parks and Recreation Dept. by the Votrobeck family indicate the presence of apartments adjacent to this property at the time of dedication in 1948.

A long while back, I visited this site on an early morning to find a lot of construction going on.  The original flagpole dedicating the playground could be viewed from the side street; it sat in the middle of a mud pile.  My friend graciously hopped the construction fence and navigated the mud.  The original dedication plaque was gone. 

Additional park area with gazebo, parking, playfield.
Additional park area with gazebo and  playfield.
Updated porticos and parking.
Updated porticos and parking.
Old flagpole where the original park existed.
Old flagpole where the original park existed.

Another stop over to Vassar Street in 2014, revealed a beautiful new playground residing in the middle of the renovated apartment complex.  I chatted with a complex resident from outside the fence; she indicated she was pleased with the updates, but was unsure why her street had such a weird name.

Behind the complex is a newer gazebo, additional sun shelter, parking and a tract of land perfect for community gardens, picnicking or playing frisbee.  The renovations are lovely.  I think they would make the Votrobeck family proud – a little bit of country greenspace in the city and a perfect opportunity for a neighborhood family to make some good memories on that former playground.

All rights reserved. Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2015

Willis Watts O’Hair aka Mrs. Walter R. O’Hair  – Park #42

 

 “Life is so fast paced today that good use of leisure time is essential to mental health”

– Willis Watts O’Hair

IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A WOMAN IN CHARGE

Alice, Viola, Minerva, Willis… They all had distinctive names; they were / are distinctive women.  In this post, we are working through the women honored with a park.. there are a few more after this one.. Lotta, Delores, Clara, Erma.. brilliant names. andreag 

In 1940, the Detroit Department of Parks and Boulevards merged with the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation to reduce redundant efforts and financial waste.  A new commission was formed to oversee the new solo Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Mrs. Willis Watts O’Hair was appointed to this commission by Mayor Edward Jeffries; importantly, she was the first woman to become the president of a Detroit city commission.  Ultimately, she would serve four terms before her death in 1959.   

Willis Watts O'Hair Photo: 1945 Annual Report
Willis Watts O’Hair
Photo: 1945 Annual Report

Under her guidance, Detroit parks experienced enormous growth through improved services.  New offerings included:  supervised tot lots, installation of shuffleboard courts, 9 artificial ice rinks [her idea], an indoor / outdoor city pool, competitive sports leagues for teens; horticulture activities, arts and crafts for all ages and on.

O’Hair was a booster for free band and symphony concerts arranged by Parks and Rec.  Her pet project was the installation of a putting green and golf driving range on Belle Isle.  The driving range was popular and financially successful; the commission opened another in Rouge Park.  During her tenure, Detroit rose from 7th place for recreation honors to 1st place nationally. 

Mrs. O’Hair always maintained that recreation centers should be within walking distance of residential areas.  “The greatest need is in the congested areas,” she said in 1953, then adding, “There is no greater thrill for me than to see youngsters enjoying themselves.”

Prior to the commission appointment, O’Hair raised funds for the support of the March of Dimes and founded the Women’s Auxiliary of the Volunteers of America.  She enjoyed bridge and the theater.  In 1943, she received an honorary degree in Sociology from the Detroit Institute of Technology.  Willis Watts was married to attorney Walter O’Hair.  They had 3 children.  Her son John Dennis Watts O’Hair became the Wayne County Prosecutor. 

Willis often said, “You get back what you give out” and she lived these words assisting others throughout her life.  Overall, Willis Watts O’Hair was a hands-on Parks and Recreation Commissioner taking interest in boxing matches and other sporting events, as well as trying some of the programs out herself.  Above all, she was always a lady.  

Pretty spring day at O’Hair. Sorry about the garbage in this picture.. it’s long gone now. The neighborhood association is super tight and works hard to keep O’Hair and the surrounding area tidy.

 

A big park for a woman who positively impacted Detroit. Map via Google.
A big park for a woman who had a huge and positive impact on Detroiter’s with recreation. Map via Google.

 

Looking west toward the park and Pitcher Woods.
Looking west toward the park and Pitcher Woods.

O’Hair Park  located at Stahelin and Hessel Street is a staggering 78 acres which includes 20 acres of forest.  The land  was donated to the city by Joseph and Helen Holtzman in 1947.  Pitcher Woods honors Dr. Zina Pitcher, Mayor of Detroit 1840-1844.  Pitcher greatly influenced the State of Michigan to pass a law for the first free public school in Detroit and helped create the Medical Department at the University of Michigan.  The nearby Pitcher School is now closed.  The surrounding subdivision has a strong neighborhood association that works hard to keep this community safe and vibrant.

Detail on Pitcher Elementary School exterior.
Detail on Pitcher Elementary School exterior.

©Andrea Gallucci, 2014.  All rights reserved.  Thanks for reading.

2ND LT. JAMES T. HOPE – PARK #40

 

In my opinion, this playfield is one of the loveliest in Detroit.  Situated alongside a neighborhood, the park’s wooded area fronts Burgess Street.  The west side slopes into a large field.  An asphalt trail meanders through the entire park for fitness walkers / runners.  The amenities are a well groomed baseball field, newer playground equipment, picnic shelter and wrought iron park entry.  It’s the home of the Crowell Rec Center.  [I’ll have to update this story with his info.]  Hope Park has been well maintained in recent years thanks to the ongoing investment made by the Lear Corporation, various landscapers and Motor City Blight Busters.  It is bordered by Burgess, Lahser, Verne and Puritan. 

Park isn’t on google maps but the outline of the walking trail is new.

UNLIMITED VIEW, NO HAZE

In 1940, James Hope had a year of college under his belt.  He had just begun to work and was living with his parents and sisters on Grand Boulevard in Detroit.  He enlisted for service in WWII on October 15, 1940 entering into the Air Corp National Guard.  Hope served with the 414th Night Fighter Squadron, 62nd Fighter Wing. He was a pilot and achieved the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.  

The emblem of the 414th Night Fighter Squadron. Public domain, courtesy US Air Force
The emblem of the 414th Night Fighter Squadron.
Public domain, courtesy US Air Force

 

 

In late August 1944, Hope and his First Officer / Navigator, Carmen Phillippi left on an intruder mission in a Beaufighter VIF VIII around 8:10pm from the island of Sardinia, Italy.  They were scheduled to reach their target outside of Milan at approximately 10:30pm; bomb for 30 minutes and return to Sardinia.  They were 10 minutes late in leaving with their fighter group and this misstep would become their demise.

 

The path of flight on that fatal night in 1945.
The path of flight on that fatal night in 1945.

10 MINUTES LATE

The Beaufighter was a British plane made by the Bristol Company and used by many nations in wartime.  It held a crew of two and had a max speed of 333 mph.  The variant model that Hope flew that night had a redesigned nose and improved radar system.  This aircraft was fitted with ten guns and was often referred to as the “Ten Gun Terror”.

The dedication plaque is intact on the flagpole base.
The dedication plaque is intact on the flagpole base. The play field was passed as an ordinance in 1951.

DISAPPEARED WITHOUT A TRACE

Hope’s last transmission was overheard by two other aircraft from his squadron and three ground stations – it came through at 10:25pm: “Ghero 34 bailing out, mayday, mayday”.  His manner of speaking was hurried.  

Military calculations report Lt. Hope was on his return most likely over the Italian coast when he spoke these final words.  There was an unlimited view from the craft with no haze that evening.  The fighter’s altitude would have been at 7000 feet due to the mountains he needed to cross. 

What is known:  Hope and Phillippi both bailed from the plane under the cover of darkness with no eyewitness accounts.  The US military concluded the bomber was attacked by anti-aircraft fire.  Several US and British air-sea rescue searches were conducted the next morning.  Neither Hope nor Phillipi were found.  Both men are memorialized at the Tablets of the Missing American Cemetery in Florence, Italy.   

2nd Lt. James Hope was decorated posthumously with the Purple Heart and the Soldier’s Air Medal.  His lovely memorial playfield in Detroit was dedicated in 1952.

Thanks for reading.  Copyright, 2018  Andrea Gallucci.

Henry James Tuttle – Park 29

HUMBLE BEGINNINGS

Location: Stout, Trojan, Fargo and Kentfield Streets

Henry J. Tuttle [1897-1959] was born on a farm near Plymouth, MI on January 29, 1897 to parents Minnie and Charles.  He graduated from Detroit’s Old Central High School in 1915 with distinguished skill as a Latinist.  Beyond this, Tuttle was a self-schooled individual.

Henry’s first job (1915) was an entry position at the Detroit City Gas company as a serviceman.  His wrench skills were great and within three years, he was promoted to supervisor of merchandise orders.  Deemed an accounting wizard, he received prestigious promotions in management in the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Detroit and the surrounding farms and forests were beginning to grow.  His professional rise coincided with a period of dramatic expansion in housing and increased natural gas demand and use.   Eventually, Detroit City Gas was renamed to Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. Today we know it as Consumers Energy.

Wooded park
A lovely 4 acre wooded paradise within a northwest Detroit neighborhood.

BRINGING HEAT TO THE MASSES

In 1951, Tuttle was chosen by the Secretary of the Interior as an expert to forecast natural gas need and supply for the United States.   In 1952, he was elected president of Michigan Consolidated Gas Company – in full charge of the utility.  Under his watch, the utility began working with the Michigan Public Service Commission to install gas space heating units within homes and apartments to approximately 80,000 consumers across Michigan.

The installation of natural gas was a exciting prospect. [Tuttle is not pictured.] Clipping courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.
The installation of natural gas was a exciting prospect. [Tuttle is not pictured.] Clipping courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society.
Tuttle was civic minded and worked as an active member on several advisory boards:  American Red Cross Detroit Chapter, the Detroit Zoological Society, Businessman’s Advisory Committee of Wayne State University, as well as the finance committee of the Boy Scouts.  He had membership in the Masons, Shriners, Detroit Athletic Club, the Detroit Golf Club, the Economic Club of Detroit, the Lansing Press Club, the Newcomen Society among others.

Henry Tuttle died on March 26, 1959 leaving his widow Marjorie and brother Irving.  He is buried in Grand Lawn Cemetery in Detroit.

tuttle cu
Tuttle Park was dedicated on September 1, 1959. The plaque is somewhat hard to read.

Tuttle Park is a piece of paradise within a stable residential neighborhood.  It’s a short distance from Henry Ford High School. At the end of the short sidewalk, the red flagpole base remembers his legacy.

map
4 Acre Tuttle Park on the left side of map. The larger park is named for Willis Watts O’Hair – an early Detroit Parks and Recreation commissioner and civic minded woman.