After an old log cabin was recently unearthed in Hamtramck, preservationists started making plans to save it. They hoped to move the cabin in front of Hamtramck’s City Hall, where it would serve as a lesson on regional history and the lives of residents in the 1800s.
Then, according to the Detroit News, the old structure—one of Detroit’s last three log cabins—was demolished in a matter of hours on February 22 with little notice. It was already on the Detroit Land Bank Authority’s demolition list, but activists were unable to get the designation removed.
The Land Bank’s response? It had already spent over $10,000 on surveys and abatements on the site, and “it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.”
The 320-square-foot cabin was concealed by dry wall and clapboards inside a house on a blighted street near Hamtramck. According to the Detroit News, only 17 of the 66 lots on the block of Halleck Street were occupied.
Cold, sleet, wind & dark clouds don’t stop our intrepid @AnthroAtWayne archaeologists from waking up early on a Monday to do an emergency survey of a newly-discovered 19th-cen. log cabin on the Detroit/Hamtramck border! More details soon... @UnearthDetroit #digdetroit #hamtown pic.twitter.com/1Tgok0qDlI— Krysta Ryzewski (@KrystaRyzew) December 3, 2018
The Land Bank has been on a demolition spree in the last five years. According to the city of Detroit, it’s demolished over 17,000 properties since 2014, the vast majority of which were houses on blighted streets just like Halleck.
But Detroit regularly faces criticism for its demolition program. Many believe the demos have been illegally funded and that the bidding process was rigged in favor of a single contractor. Most recently, the demolition program has come under federal investigation for using contaminated dirt with high concentrations of chloride as backfill.
Local preservationists have regularly battled with the city and other institutions over demolition of historically significant buildings. In 2017, many fought a decision by the Detroit Institute of Arts to demolish the Barat House, a former psychiatric ward and truly unique mid-century structure with a distinct honeycomb design. One historian and DIA employee resigned in protest and wrote a blog post about his decision.
To combat demolition, preservation societies can try to acquire historic designation for a neighborhood or get a building placed on the National Register of Historic Places. This may open up possibilities for acquiring grants for rehabilitation or historic preservation easement.
Between the time the cabin on Halleck was discovered and then demolished, however, advocates never had a chance to seek these alternatives.