Clarence Brewer Park and Rec Center – Park #84

Location:  Warren and Fairview; Eastside; Delorme Farm

Moody sky over the 8 acres of Brewer Playground.

HE FLUNKED & SO DID EVERYONE ELSE

Who would think the exam to become Superintendent of Detroit Parks and Recreation in 1940 would be so difficult?

It was.

And the winner is.. Clarence Elsworth Brewer. DFP, 1941

Out of 36 applicants including Brewer, none passed.  A second round of exams was offered; Brewer scored an 82 and won the position.

EAT,  SLEEP,  MAKE RECREATION 

Clarence Brewer [1892-1964] was an early adopter of the idea of ‘play being the work of children’. Around the turn of the century, playgrounds were mostly non-existent.  Kids played in streets and alleys while ‘keep of the grass’ signage ruled.  Playgrounds and recess were considered fads and luxuries, not necessities. Perhaps, the all-American “work ethic” was somewhat responsible for this attitude.

In 1910, Brewer garnered playground experience in Columbus, Ohio as a recreation supervisor. After graduating from Ohio State University and working a short stint in Wisconsin, he made Detroit his home base.  By 1920, Mayor James Couzens appointed him as Parks and Recreation Commissioner, a title he held until 1940.

Brewer saw the metamorphosis of Detroit recreation from zero – no budgets and no playgrounds – to heroic with a dedicated recreation commission created by a City Charter and million-dollar budgets for equipment, programs and land purchases.

1940 was a pivotal year for Detroit. In efforts to better serve the public and eliminate redundancy, the longtime the Dept. of Parks and Boulevards consolidated with Department of Recreation.  Brewer passed that aforementioned exam becoming the temporary General Superintendent of the newly minted Detroit Parks and Recreation Department.

By 1943, he resigned and within a few months began a second career with the National Recreation Association.  He retired in 1960.

Through his busy Detroit career, Brewer served as the President of the National Amateur Baseball Federation; Director of Detroit’s Soap Box Derby and Director of the Detroit Boys Club. During WWI and WWII, he traveled the US creating recreation programs for defense workers.

Racing down Derby Hill in Rouge Park, 1935. Image Source: WSU Virtual Motor Cities, Detroit News Collection.
The Soap Box derby was all about small budget maker ingenuity. 1947.    Image source: WSU Virtual Motor City, Detroit News Collection.

 DIED ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1964

Shortly after his death in 1964, the east side St. Clair Recreation Center and surrounding parkland were renamed to honor Clarence E. Brewer.

48214. Map courtesy google.

This property was acquired in 1918 when the folks residing in the Village of St. Clair Heights [population 1,000] voted to become annexed by the City of Detroit.  By 1928, the city constructed the St. Clair Recreation center on the property with club rooms, pool, kitchens and an auditorium.

The 1960’s Brewer Recreation Center [the former St. Clair Rec Center] was going strong.
In 1955 with the aid of the Detroit Women’s Advertising Club, the auditorium of the St. Clair Rec Center was named for Meta Eckel, Director of Public Relations for Parks and Recreation.  She retired in 1955 to northern Michigan where she died in an auto accident later the same year.

 

Meta enjoyed teaching and supervising Detroit youth in theater and dramatics. She spent countless hours in the auditorium that served as her namesake after her death.   Detroit Free Press, 1955.
Meta’s husband holding the bronze plaque that adorned the recreation center wall proclaiming her memorial auditorium .    Detroit Free Press, 1956

 

St. Clair Rec Center served dual use in 1962 as it was connected to newly built Helen Newberry Joy Middle School on the same parcel.   It was re-named in 1964 to honor Clarence Brewer.  By 1979, it was outfitted using grant and federal money to serve the growing number of senior citizens on Detroit’s east side.

By 2010, both Joy School and Brewer Rec Center were demolished due to extreme damage due to scrapping.  Brewer Park is now a large swath of open land with a lone piece of newer playground equipment on the south end.   The possibilities for this parcel are endless.

Amazing turf in this park.  The lone piece of playground equipment at Brewer.

Learn more about the parks and recreation movement in Clarence Elsworth Brewer’s personal papers at the Bentley Historical Library in Ann Arbor, MI.

Thanks for reading!

Copyright, 2018.  Andrea Gallucci.