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The J.W. Westcott company uses a variety of ships to bring packages, medical equipment, and anything else passing sailors need to their ships straight from shore. 
Photo by Karen Dybis

‘Secret Detroit’: Exploring the city’s history, art, and oddities

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The J.W. Westcott company uses a variety of ships to bring packages, medical equipment, and anything else passing sailors need to their ships straight from shore. 
| Photo by Karen Dybis

Detroit is full of weird, historic, beautiful, and sometimes just unusual landmarks. A new book called Secret Detroit: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure takes the reader through 90 of these locations, including some familiar (the Dequindre Cut, Third Man Records Pressing Plant, the DIA) and some not-so-familiar (a Mortuary Science Museum, Missile System Towers). Author and journalist Karen Dybis shared some of her favorites with Curbed in a starter map.

Dybis actually started with a list of 150 places, and narrowed it down to 90 for the book. She took on the project after finishing her last book, The Witch of Delray. “I thought it would be fascinating to visit all the places I always say I’m going to visit,” she tells us. She wanted the book to include both locations for those new to Detroit and some spots that locals might not know. All locations are either free or low-cost, and for the most part accessible (except for some private residences).

For this map, we included some of our favorites (the floating post office, the odd bowling pin) and some of Karen’s picks that impressed her during the research process (the Tiffany glass, the McGhee house). This is just a small sampling of what’s in the book (remember this weird cow head building from 8 Mile? It’s in there, too). Go forth and explore!

Looking for an organized tour? Detroit History Tours is leading three Secret Detroit tours with Karen this summer.

Note: We’ve arranged the locations from the north, moving south, and then east to west, for an easy way to navigate.

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1. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge

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20510 Livernois Ave
Detroit, MI 48221

The world’s oldest continuously-running jazz club boasts a keyboard bar, live music, and an Art Deco interior. Baker’s has been open with live jazz since 1934, hosting greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams, Maynard Ferguson, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Dave Brubeck, and Nat “King” Cole. It was designated a Historic Site in 1986 by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Feel free to stop in for lunch or dinner; keep in mind the intimate space can only hold 99 patrons.

Photo by Karen Dybis

2. Birwood Wall

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20194 Mendota St
Detroit, MI 48221

Built as a way to separate African Americans from their white neighbors for federal-funding purposes, the Birwood Wall stands as a stark reminder of redlining. Dybis notes, “Racially restrictive covenants—discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from receiving low-interest loans and mortgages—were once standard practice. Not only did these covenants exist in Detroit, they were common across the United States. In fact, federal government encouraged these racially motivated restrictions. One of the strangest uses happened in Detroit when the Federal House Administration and the Home-Owners Loan Corporation refused to make loans to a developer for a housing project unless he built a six-food high wall to separate his property from those owned by African Americans. The developer willingly erected the wall so he could receive the funded he wanted.”

The wall was painted by community groups in the early 2000’s to bring beauty to something with an ugly past.

Photo by Karen Dybis

3. Psychedelic Healing Shack

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18700 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48203

You can’t miss it. The brightly-colored healing center known as the Psychedelic Healing Shack is a chiropractic office/organic cafe/treehouse and more. Dybis says, “Dr. Bob,” as he is known to everyone who works at or visits the Psychedelic Healing Shack, purchased the building at the corner of Woodward and Goldengate near Seven Mile in the summer of 2000, hoping to create a healing center for the masses and new connections in an otherwise struggling set of neighborhoods. As a result of his open and welcoming nature, Dr. Bob has people of all ages, lifestyles and spiritual backgrounds gathering at the Healing Shack, adding a groovy touch of good will to Detroit.” Check the schedule for bonfires and performances; each small business has their own hours as well.

Photo by Karen Dybis

4. Hamtramck Stadium

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3201 Dan St
Hamtramck, MI 48212

One of the last few Negro League stadiums still stands in Hamtramck. “Custom built in 1930 by team owner John Roesink for its proximity to Black Bottom, Paradise Valley and Dodge Main, the stadium was home to the Detroit Stars and the Detroit Wolves, both part of the Negro leagues that once played across the United States. The league’s World Series of sorts was played in Hamtramck in 1930 with the Detroit Stars losing in game seven to the St. Louis team,” says Dybis. Restoration efforts have been underway through the city of Hamtramck and several preservationists and the site could host many community sports in the future.

Photo by Karen Dybis

5. Site D-23 or A.B. Ford Park

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100 Lenox St
Detroit, MI 48215

Our map lists this site as Alfred Brush Ford Park in Jefferson-Chalmers, but some maps may list it as Nike Missile Control Site D-23. According to Dybis, “What is now known as Alfred Brush Ford Park formerly served as a radar installation for missiles stored underground on nearby Belle Isle. The station, which operated sometime during the Cold War, was private and few people around the time of its construction in the 1950s knew about its true purpose. As word got out and other threats became more pressing, the Nike missile station was closed. All that remains today are several decommissioned towers that sit as a ghostly reminder of its former purpose.” She notes that there were other missile sites in Detroit at City Airport and Fort Wayne.

Photo by Karen Dybis

6. Hurlbut Memorial Gate

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10098 E Jefferson Ave
Detroit, MI 48214

Across from Pewabic Pottery on East Jefferson stands an impressive gate...that doesn’t open. Hurlbut Memorial Gate once led to the magnificent Water Works Park, which had tennis courts, baseball diamonds, a library, a greenhouse, and open space. Opened in 1894, the park included the water filtration department and equipment. Chauncey Hurlbut left money to beautify the park after his death, and a gate was built in his honor. According to Dybis, “The carved Bedford limestone edifice is dramatic and regal, filled with arches, angels, eagle, garlands and other floral touches. However, concerns over water safety during wartimes and other incidents resulted in Detroit officials closing up Water Works Park, and the gate now sits at the front of a vast gated field.”

Photo by Karen Dybis

7. Elmwood Cemetery

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1200 Elmwood St
Detroit, MI 48207
(313) 567-3453
Visit Website

One of the largest cemeteries on the East side is a certified arboretum. Designed by famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted—who also designed Central Park in NYC—the cemetery has rolling hills and over 1,450 trees on its 86 acres. It’s a peaceful place to appreciate nature, pay respect, and learn about Detroit history.

Photo by Karen Dybis

8. Beecher Mansion

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5475 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

Detroit has many outstanding examples of Tiffany stained glass, including pieces at Wayne State’s Beecher Mansion. Dybis says the glass is impressive from the outside, “But from the inside, the exquisite nature of the windows comes to life with vibrant and saturated colors. And when the light hits just right, you feel like you are seeing a little vision of heaven.”

Photo by Karen Dybis

9. The Michigan Theatre Parking Garage

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220 Bagley Ave
Detroit, MI 48226
(313) 963-5270

One of the most popular photos ops in the city used to be one of the grandest theaters. Built by Cornelius W. and George L. Rapp and opened in 1925, the Michigan Theatre “had a huge orchestra pit, a giant stage and a Wurlitzer that could blow your hair back with its pipes.” It closed in 1967 and after a series of failed attempts to revive it, the theatre was gutted and replaced with a parking garage. Head up to the third floor to see what really remains.

Photo by Karen Dybis

10. City Sculpture Park

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955 W Alexandrine St
Detroit, MI 48201

City Sculpture Park in Cass Corridor is the creation of Detroit native and artist Robert Sestok. About a dozen metal sculptures stand on the small plot of land. According to Dybis, “For his sculptures, Sestok shifts between what he calls positive cuts, such as a silhouette representing man, to negative cuts to express architecture or environmental space. Welding helps him create permanency and sculptures that can withstand the elements, like those on display at City Sculpture for locals, visitors, Wayne State University students and nearby public schools. “

Photo by Karen Dybis

11. True North

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4699 16th St
Detroit, MI 48208

Off of Grand River just outside of the Woodbridge neighborhood, a community of Quonset huts has risen in the last couple years. Led by Prince Concepts, the metal huts are largely residential, with some hosting live/work space, an Airbnb, and events. Although Quonest huts aren’t new to Detroit, True North has created a uniquely new Detroit community.

Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

12. McGhee House

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4626 Seebaldt St
Detroit, MI 48204

The house on Detroit’s west side was once home to Orsel and Minnie McGhee, an African American couple who rented it for years and decided to buy it. The neighborhood association restricted the occupancy to “whites-only,” and the couple took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dybis says, “Two courts, including the Michigan Supreme Court, agreed with the local covenant. The case came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, and the court combined it with a similar case from St. Louis (Shelley v. Kramer) in hopes of settling the matter once and for all. The McGhees were represented by NAACP’s attorney Thurgood Marshall, who would become a Supreme Court justice himself. The nation’s highest court ruled that any covenant restricting residence on the basis of race was unconstitutional because of the Fourteenth Amendment. That Amendment, passed after the Civil War, prohibits the states from denying “to any person…the equal protection of the law.” According to the State Bar of Michigan, “Orsel and Minnie McGhee had secured not only their home, but the rights of all to buy homes free of restrictive racial covenants.” “

A historical marker stands, but please respect that it’s a private residence.

Photo by Karen Dybis

13. J.W. Westcott Floating Post Office

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12 24th St
Detroit, MI 48216

Just to the west of the Ambassador Bridge docks the first floating zip code in the United States. The J.W. Wescott Floating Post Office—open and in the same family since 1874—delivers mail and packages to the ships and barges along the busy waterway. Dybis says, “Known as the “7-11 of the Great Lakes,” the J.W. Westcott delivers it all come rain, snow, sleet or anything else that is thrown its way.”

Photo by Karen Dybis

14. Giant bowling pin at Mi Pueblo restaurant

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7278 Dix St
Detroit, MI 48209

Why is there a 10-foot-tall bowling pin in the middle of the Mi Pueblo restaurant in Southwest Detroit? Your guess is as good as ours. Come for the selfie with bowling pin, stay for the tacos?

Photo by Karen Dybis

15. Lawndale Market

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1136 Lawndale St
Detroit, MI 48209
(313) 841-2531

Lawndale Market has all the chips, pop, and snacks you might need, but stop and take a look at the thousands of polaroids that line the party store. Owner owner Amad Samaan has hung the photos all over the store for over 30 years. Dybis says, “The faces are of happy times—kids grinning, families pressed together, young people in their prime. These frozen images tell a story of a place and a neighborhood where people recognize one another by face and by name. Samaan, who also is a big fan of Elvis and other Hollywood stars, is glad to have so many customers to remember every time he steps into his business. He even writes “God bless you” on nearly every photo to show just how much he truly cares for Detroit and for the people who shop in his market.”

Photo by Karen Dybis

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1. Baker’s Keyboard Lounge

20510 Livernois Ave, Detroit, MI 48221
Photo by Karen Dybis

The world’s oldest continuously-running jazz club boasts a keyboard bar, live music, and an Art Deco interior. Baker’s has been open with live jazz since 1934, hosting greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams, Maynard Ferguson, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Dave Brubeck, and Nat “King” Cole. It was designated a Historic Site in 1986 by the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office. Feel free to stop in for lunch or dinner; keep in mind the intimate space can only hold 99 patrons.

20510 Livernois Ave
Detroit, MI 48221

2. Birwood Wall

20194 Mendota St, Detroit, MI 48221
Photo by Karen Dybis

Built as a way to separate African Americans from their white neighbors for federal-funding purposes, the Birwood Wall stands as a stark reminder of redlining. Dybis notes, “Racially restrictive covenants—discriminatory practices that prevented African Americans from receiving low-interest loans and mortgages—were once standard practice. Not only did these covenants exist in Detroit, they were common across the United States. In fact, federal government encouraged these racially motivated restrictions. One of the strangest uses happened in Detroit when the Federal House Administration and the Home-Owners Loan Corporation refused to make loans to a developer for a housing project unless he built a six-food high wall to separate his property from those owned by African Americans. The developer willingly erected the wall so he could receive the funded he wanted.”

The wall was painted by community groups in the early 2000’s to bring beauty to something with an ugly past.

20194 Mendota St
Detroit, MI 48221

3. Psychedelic Healing Shack

18700 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48203
Photo by Karen Dybis

You can’t miss it. The brightly-colored healing center known as the Psychedelic Healing Shack is a chiropractic office/organic cafe/treehouse and more. Dybis says, “Dr. Bob,” as he is known to everyone who works at or visits the Psychedelic Healing Shack, purchased the building at the corner of Woodward and Goldengate near Seven Mile in the summer of 2000, hoping to create a healing center for the masses and new connections in an otherwise struggling set of neighborhoods. As a result of his open and welcoming nature, Dr. Bob has people of all ages, lifestyles and spiritual backgrounds gathering at the Healing Shack, adding a groovy touch of good will to Detroit.” Check the schedule for bonfires and performances; each small business has their own hours as well.

18700 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48203

4. Hamtramck Stadium

3201 Dan St, Hamtramck, MI 48212
Photo by Karen Dybis

One of the last few Negro League stadiums still stands in Hamtramck. “Custom built in 1930 by team owner John Roesink for its proximity to Black Bottom, Paradise Valley and Dodge Main, the stadium was home to the Detroit Stars and the Detroit Wolves, both part of the Negro leagues that once played across the United States. The league’s World Series of sorts was played in Hamtramck in 1930 with the Detroit Stars losing in game seven to the St. Louis team,” says Dybis. Restoration efforts have been underway through the city of Hamtramck and several preservationists and the site could host many community sports in the future.

3201 Dan St
Hamtramck, MI 48212

5. Site D-23 or A.B. Ford Park

100 Lenox St, Detroit, MI 48215
Photo by Karen Dybis

Our map lists this site as Alfred Brush Ford Park in Jefferson-Chalmers, but some maps may list it as Nike Missile Control Site D-23. According to Dybis, “What is now known as Alfred Brush Ford Park formerly served as a radar installation for missiles stored underground on nearby Belle Isle. The station, which operated sometime during the Cold War, was private and few people around the time of its construction in the 1950s knew about its true purpose. As word got out and other threats became more pressing, the Nike missile station was closed. All that remains today are several decommissioned towers that sit as a ghostly reminder of its former purpose.” She notes that there were other missile sites in Detroit at City Airport and Fort Wayne.

100 Lenox St
Detroit, MI 48215

6. Hurlbut Memorial Gate

10098 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit, MI 48214
Photo by Karen Dybis

Across from Pewabic Pottery on East Jefferson stands an impressive gate...that doesn’t open. Hurlbut Memorial Gate once led to the magnificent Water Works Park, which had tennis courts, baseball diamonds, a library, a greenhouse, and open space. Opened in 1894, the park included the water filtration department and equipment. Chauncey Hurlbut left money to beautify the park after his death, and a gate was built in his honor. According to Dybis, “The carved Bedford limestone edifice is dramatic and regal, filled with arches, angels, eagle, garlands and other floral touches. However, concerns over water safety during wartimes and other incidents resulted in Detroit officials closing up Water Works Park, and the gate now sits at the front of a vast gated field.”

10098 E Jefferson Ave
Detroit, MI 48214

7. Elmwood Cemetery

1200 Elmwood St, Detroit, MI 48207
Photo by Karen Dybis

One of the largest cemeteries on the East side is a certified arboretum. Designed by famed architect Frederick Law Olmsted—who also designed Central Park in NYC—the cemetery has rolling hills and over 1,450 trees on its 86 acres. It’s a peaceful place to appreciate nature, pay respect, and learn about Detroit history.

1200 Elmwood St
Detroit, MI 48207

8. Beecher Mansion

5475 Woodward Ave, Detroit, MI 48202
Photo by Karen Dybis

Detroit has many outstanding examples of Tiffany stained glass, including pieces at Wayne State’s Beecher Mansion. Dybis says the glass is impressive from the outside, “But from the inside, the exquisite nature of the windows comes to life with vibrant and saturated colors. And when the light hits just right, you feel like you are seeing a little vision of heaven.”

5475 Woodward Ave
Detroit, MI 48202

9. The Michigan Theatre Parking Garage

220 Bagley Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
Photo by Karen Dybis

One of the most popular photos ops in the city used to be one of the grandest theaters. Built by Cornelius W. and George L. Rapp and opened in 1925, the Michigan Theatre “had a huge orchestra pit, a giant stage and a Wurlitzer that could blow your hair back with its pipes.” It closed in 1967 and after a series of failed attempts to revive it, the theatre was gutted and replaced with a parking garage. Head up to the third floor to see what really remains.

220 Bagley Ave
Detroit, MI 48226

10. City Sculpture Park

955 W Alexandrine St, Detroit, MI 48201
Photo by Karen Dybis

City Sculpture Park in Cass Corridor is the creation of Detroit native and artist Robert Sestok. About a dozen metal sculptures stand on the small plot of land. According to Dybis, “For his sculptures, Sestok shifts between what he calls positive cuts, such as a silhouette representing man, to negative cuts to express architecture or environmental space. Welding helps him create permanency and sculptures that can withstand the elements, like those on display at City Sculpture for locals, visitors, Wayne State University students and nearby public schools. “

955 W Alexandrine St
Detroit, MI 48201

11. True North

4699 16th St, Detroit, MI 48208
Photo by Michelle & Chris Gerard

Off of Grand River just outside of the Woodbridge neighborhood, a community of Quonset huts has risen in the last couple years. Led by Prince Concepts, the metal huts are largely residential, with some hosting live/work space, an Airbnb, and events. Although Quonest huts aren’t new to Detroit, True North has created a uniquely new Detroit community.

4699 16th St
Detroit, MI 48208

12. McGhee House

4626 Seebaldt St, Detroit, MI 48204
Photo by Karen Dybis

The house on Detroit’s west side was once home to Orsel and Minnie McGhee, an African American couple who rented it for years and decided to buy it. The neighborhood association restricted the occupancy to “whites-only,” and the couple took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Dybis says, “Two courts, including the Michigan Supreme Court, agreed with the local covenant. The case came before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948, and the court combined it with a similar case from St. Louis (Shelley v. Kramer) in hopes of settling the matter once and for all. The McGhees were represented by NAACP’s attorney Thurgood Marshall, who would become a Supreme Court justice himself. The nation’s highest court ruled that any covenant restricting residence on the basis of race was unconstitutional because of the Fourteenth Amendment. That Amendment, passed after the Civil War, prohibits the states from denying “to any person…the equal protection of the law.” According to the State Bar of Michigan, “Orsel and Minnie McGhee had secured not only their home, but the rights of all to buy homes free of restrictive racial covenants.” “

A historical marker stands, but please respect that it’s a private residence.

4626 Seebaldt St
Detroit, MI 48204

13. J.W. Westcott Floating Post Office

12 24th St, Detroit, MI 48216
Photo by Karen Dybis

Just to the west of the Ambassador Bridge docks the first floating zip code in the United States. The J.W. Wescott Floating Post Office—open and in the same family since 1874—delivers mail and packages to the ships and barges along the busy waterway. Dybis says, “Known as the “7-11 of the Great Lakes,” the J.W. Westcott delivers it all come rain, snow, sleet or anything else that is thrown its way.”

12 24th St
Detroit, MI 48216

14. Giant bowling pin at Mi Pueblo restaurant

7278 Dix St, Detroit, MI 48209
Photo by Karen Dybis

Why is there a 10-foot-tall bowling pin in the middle of the Mi Pueblo restaurant in Southwest Detroit? Your guess is as good as ours. Come for the selfie with bowling pin, stay for the tacos?

7278 Dix St
Detroit, MI 48209

15. Lawndale Market

1136 Lawndale St, Detroit, MI 48209
Photo by Karen Dybis

Lawndale Market has all the chips, pop, and snacks you might need, but stop and take a look at the thousands of polaroids that line the party store. Owner owner Amad Samaan has hung the photos all over the store for over 30 years. Dybis says, “The faces are of happy times—kids grinning, families pressed together, young people in their prime. These frozen images tell a story of a place and a neighborhood where people recognize one another by face and by name. Samaan, who also is a big fan of Elvis and other Hollywood stars, is glad to have so many customers to remember every time he steps into his business. He even writes “God bless you” on nearly every photo to show just how much he truly cares for Detroit and for the people who shop in his market.”

1136 Lawndale St
Detroit, MI 48209