In this very brief 2005 interview, Jeff Ramsey, Director of the Detroit Shoreway Community Development Organization, provides a short history of Gordon Square and its redevelopment, and refers the interviewer to several other persons with knowledge of the Square and its history.


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Ramsey, Jeff (interviewee)


Solecki, Becky (interviewer)


Detroit Shoreway



Document Type

Oral History


4 minutes


This interview is available to researchers by request only. Please contact CSU Department of History.


Jeff Ramsey [00:00:00] He's the key guy that you need to talk to. He's got pictures and all this stuff. So, you know, the building also houses the Capitol Theatre. It was built in 1920. Best part of the arcade, it was owned by the Allen family. It was originally a fourteen hundred seat theater, was later reduced to twelve hundred seats. It was a neighborhood movie theater, which meant that, you know, the big premieres were at the downtown theaters and then they would do their second showings out in the neighborhoods. It had a, it was built during the age of silent films. It had a Class F. Theater organ. And that's got a unique history all in itself, and we're trying to redevelop it again as a, as a movie theater. The basement had below the Capitol Theatre was a roller rink. And then at the western edge of the arcade was a billiards parlor. It has an interesting history. There was a guy named Dutch and I can't remember his, the last name is escaping me. But he basically ran a numbers joint. And when the police would show up, they'd flash a button and they'd clear everything up. It was in the basement to where Bank One is now. That was the kind of where you entered it. Dutch Labelle, I think, was his name. Ray Pianka, again, can give you some of that history, so that's a little bit of local color. You know, as the neighborhood changed over the years, the, the arcade fell into disrepair. If you saw the picture in the atrium where the corners of the building fell onto West 65th Street that was in 1979. At that point, Detroit Shoreway was only six years old. And so that that picture is really important because it changed Detroit Shoreway from being primarily focused on neighborhood advocacy and working with businesses and residents to being a real estate developer and property manager. The organization had to make the decision to buy this building or it was going to be demolished. So Ray Pianka was then the founding director, worked with Father Marino, the pastor, of Our Lady of Mount Church. He was on our Detroit Shoreway Board of Trustees and was able to raise some money to buy the building. They did get a UDAG grant. This UDAG was the Urban Development Action Grant Program. This was the first UDAG in a neighborhood. All the UDAGS had been in downtown projects. In fact, I'm not sure how many were in neighborhoods. Very few. But there was enough money to buy this building, do some bandaids repair. And it also paid for Father Caruso Boulevard at the northern end of the neighborhood, which is an industrial access road. So the organization kind of limped along for eight years until the creation of the Low Income Housing Tax Credit Act of 1987, which provided a funding source that redeveloped the second and third-floor for apartments for elderly and disabled. It was completely gutted. So there's 64 apartments up there now. They had a Section 8 contract that was another big part of it. Mary Rose Oakar was a key person in getting that Section 8 contract for Detroit Shoreway and construction started in '87, was completed in 1990 of the second and third-floor. Turn the atrium. What was the market into an office atrium area and renovated the facade. Since then, we've had a number of capital improvements over the years and we're getting ready right now again, it's been 16 years since that construction to put additional improvements into the second and third-floor apartments. So that in a nutshell, is kind of the history. I know that both my family and Matt's family have had the family members operate businesses in the neighborhood. In that I mean, in the arcade. My cousin Carmen had a shoes, shoot, haircut, barbershop there with and his nephew, Ralph, was the shoeshine boy. So that's where the apartment lobby entrance is right now. Matt's family brand. Besides the travel agency, Matt, what else did they?

Matt Zone [00:03:51] They ran, well, I'll get into that, a neighborhood grocery store, but.

Jeff Ramsey [00:03:56] So that's the extent of my knowledge of it. I do need to take off, but any quick questions before I leave?

Becky Solecki [00:04:03] If maybe, a contact of someone else I can interview?

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:06] Matt Wiederhold. He's our economic development director.

Becky Solecki [00:04:08] Matt directed me to you.

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:10] Okay, well, I'm directing you back to Matt.

Becky Solecki [00:04:13] Okay.

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:15] Okay. So Ray Pianka is the key person who could give you the history.

Becky Solecki [00:04:17] Okay.

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:17] About the building. Yeah.

Mark Souther [00:04:19] Could you state your name for the tape?

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:20] Jeff Ramsey, Executive Director of Detroit Shoreway.

Mark Souther [00:04:23] Thank you.

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:24] Okay.

Becky Solecki [00:04:24] Thank you.

Jeff Ramsey [00:04:25] All right. Like I said, I'll leave a brochure for you up front.

Becky Solecki [00:04:28] Okay, I appreciate that. Thank you.

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