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Paradise Lost: Hastings Street Remembered

Francis Grunow: Digging Detroit

(As Detroit is once again recognized by the world as a wellspring of musical talent, thedetroiter.com columnist Francis Grunow takes a look at an earlier chapter in Detroit's celebrated musical history.)

Now a desolate, truncated row of industrial buildings, Detroit's Hastings Street was once the heart of Detroit's "Paradise Valley," an African-American community that thrived from the 1920s through the 1950s. The neighborhood extended from Jefferson Ave. to Warren with Hastings Street serving as its commercial spine.

As the area's established Jewish population moved north and west, blacks coming from the South looking for industrial jobs in the Motor City moved into the inexpensive, wood-framed houses that lined Hastings Street. The new residents started many businesses, including drugstores, bakeries, doctor's offices-many of which were "firsts" for entrepreneurial blacks in segregated Detroit. As the area developed, a fully functioning, self sufficient neighborhood evolved. But what Paradise Valley was most famous for was its music and entertainment district, which came to rival Harlem and Chicago's south side.

Clubs like The Palms, Club Harlem, the Corner Bar, Jake's, the Ace Bar, the Silver Grill, the Three Star Bar, The Flame, Sportee's Lounge and the Horseshoe Bar would host nationally renowned performers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington.

Homegrown talent was not to be outdone. Willie Warren, Baby Boy Warren, Calvin Frazier, and Bobo Jenkins were just a few Detroit musicians who made their names in Paradise Valley. A young Berry Gordy made the clubs along Hastings Street his second home, developing his keen business sense running numbers on the street by day and immersing himself in world class music at night.

Johnny Lee Hooker arrived in Detroit in 1943 via Memphis and Mississippi playing his unique brand of blues in places like the Forest Inn and Club Basin. T-Bone Walker is credited with giving the guitarist his first electric guitar in the late 40's, and a legend was born. Hooker was soon discovered by the record producer Bernie Besman while playing with his trio at Paradise Valley's Apex Bar and went on to record thousands of tracks over the next half century.

But the dreams of Paradise Valley were doomed to die a premature death. During the urban "renewal" era of the 1950s, a huge swath of land that encompassed most of the neighborhood was condemned with a combination of Federal programs that dramatically altered Detroit's landscape. The Federal Housing Act facilitated the demolition of hundreds of "sub-standard" (read African American) homes and businesses, forcing many Valley's residents into the new Brewster Housing Projects on the eastern edge of Brush Park. Under the auspices of the Federal Highway Act much of Hastings Street was bulldozed to create the stretch of I-75 known as the Chrysler Freeway. During the period of highway construction, over 3,500 dwellings were demolished, displacing thousands of residents.

Though the neighborhood is no longer, some Hastings Street veterans carry on the neighborhood's torch, including 75-year old Eddie Burns' whose haunting voice, harmonica and masterful guitar "hearken back" to the heyday of Detroit blues. Burns was a Hastings Street regular and played often with Hooker, among many others. Burns still performs today and lives on Detroit's East Side with his wife of thirty years. The last vestige of Paradise Valley's halcyon days, The Horseshoe Bar located at 606 Adams, came down with the construction of Ford Field just last year.



For a virtual tour of Hastings Street visit. http://www.bluesharp.org/tour/hastings0010.html

"Hastings Street Street Opera"
Bob "Detroit Count" White - 1948

Boy it's all down on Hastings Street Hendrie and Hastings! The Corner Bar!

That's the only place you can walk in and get yourself a bottle of beer, turn your head and somebody else is trying to drink it up. Boy that's a bad joint!

Forest and Hastings! Sunnie Wilson, longest bar in town.
T
hat's the onlyst bar you can walk in when you get ready to buy a bottle of beer you have to walk a mile after you get in the joint

The Willis Theater! That's the only picture show in town; if you missed the picture fifty years ago you can see it right now.

Leland and Hastings! Leland Bar! That's the only bar in town where bartenders carry pistols.

Joe's Record Shop. He got everybody in there 'cept a T-bone steak

Down on Hastings Street! Eliot! Benson! Hastings Street Bar. That's the only place where bartenders shoot everybody after two o'clock.

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