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Pallister Park: Detroit's Strange, Pedestrian-Only Street

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Photography by Chris and Michelle Gerard

Detroit's wide roads, intricate freeway system, and reliable grid pattern (outside of downtown) make it among the most car-friendly cities in the country. One of the biggest exceptions to that rule is Pallister Park, a small chunk of Pallister Street in New Center. The pedestrian-only road is a snapshot of what residential streets once were—narrow, brick, tree-lined, and full of houses from the early 20th Century. But it wasn't always this way. Ironically, this victory over the automobile was engineered by none other than General Motors.

GM's logo is inextricably linked with the RenCen, but it wasn't so long ago that GM was based in New Center's Cadillac Place.

When the area began slipping in the late '60s, GM made an odd decision: Rather than build a new headquarters somewhere else, they spent millions on a project they called New Center Commons. Along with new commercial development, GM renovated homes, added landscaping, and rerouted traffic around the historic neighborhood immediately to the north of New Center. The centerpiece of the residential effort was Pallister Street's transformation into a scenic park. It was a street meant to be worthy of GM's wealthy execs.


But the execs weren't biting, and GM gladly moved to the RenCen in 1996. Still, the dream of New Center Commons didn't die. The improvements really did stabilize the area, a protected district of historic homes. One of those homes belongs to Sandi Bache Heaselgrave and her husband Andrew, founders of Red Hook Cafe. They moved to Detroit from Brooklyn in 2010, and will soon be opening a branch of the cafe in West Village. Overlooking Pallister Park, their 1912 home is just a few blocks from West Grand Boulevard.