If a neighborhood could survive on nostalgia, the Detroit enclave of Delray would be thriving, not on the brink of extinction.
Once home to about 23,000 residents, the industrial neighborhood about 5 miles west of downtown today only has about 2,000 people left - if that. In contrast, a Facebook page devoted to sharing stories about the neighborhood’s better days has more than 12,000 members.
“It used to be a great place to live,” said John Nagy, 63, of Monroe, who was born and lived in Delray for 53 years and was an activist there for more 30 years. “What I miss about the old Delray is the fact that it was a family-oriented neighborhood. Everybody got along, all the neighbors knew each other.”
“You didn’t have to go outside the boundaries of Delray to get anything you wanted.”
Once known as “Little Hungary,” Delray was a beacon for immigrants coming to Detroit for work in auto plants in the early 20th century.
The neighborhood’s landmarks speak volumes about its history and demise. On its eastern edge is the decommissioned Historic Fort Wayne, which never fired a cannon in warfare but became the largest motor supply depot in the world during World War II. On its western boundary: Zug Island, home to U.S. Steel Corp. mill operations and the destination for the Edmund Fitzgerald freighter that sunk in Lake Superior in 1975.
In between: The city’s wastewater treatment plant, Interstate 75, spectacular (but closed) churches, and miles of jaw-dropping poverty and blight that made it a natural selection for the Gordie Howe International Bridge to Ontario. Detroit is offering some 350 residents new homes elsewhere in the city, and money for renovation, if they leave Delray.
Explore the neighborhood through the above slideshow.