Fond memories and burned homes: Slideshow

Delray’s population has plummeted from 23,000 in the 1930s to about 2,000 today. Once known as “Little Hungary,” the neighborhood in Southwest Detroit is the future site of the Gordie Howe International Bridge to Ontario. Some 350 residents are being offered city-owned homes elsewhere in Detroit to relocate to make room for the bridge.  (Photo courtesy Lester Graham/Michigan Radio)

Illegal dumping is common in the neighborhood. After the economy tanked in the late 2000s, owners of boats who couldn’t keep up with payments abandoned them in the neighborhood on the banks of the Detroit River. (Bridge photo by Anthony Lanzilote)

The neighborhood is so vacant that dumping, presumably from nearby suburbanites, is common even on busier streets. (Photo courtesy of Lester Graham/Michigan Radio)

Delray has one of the highest arson rates in the city, and vacant houses outnumber occupied ones, according to City of Detroit data. (Bridge photo by Anthony Lanzilote)

Among the Delray residents who are getting to set to leave is Maria Walkenbach, 58, who is seen here checking an inventory of Detroit-owned houses in three neighborhoods where she may relocate. (Bridge photo by Anthony Lanzilote)

Longtime resident David Williams, 58, plans to move to Westland because his family was bought out and forced out under eminent domain to make way for the bridge. (Bridge photo by Anthony Lanzilote)

Eli Clepe, 59, with his son Mathew Morehouse, 16. Clepe moved to the neighborhood in 1989 and also will have to give up his home due to construction of the Gordie Howe International Bridge. (Bridge photo by Anthony Lanzilote)

It wasn’t always this way. Up through the World War II, Delray was a haven for immigrants and its main thoroughfare, Jefferson Avenue, teemed with movie theaters and stores. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

One major landmark of Delray: Historic Fort Wayne on its western border. Constructed in 1848, it served a variety of purposes over the years, including as a supply depot for World War II equipment and an entrance station for enlistees of the Korean and Vietnam wars. It is now operated by the City of Detroit, and has hosted military reenactments and flea markets in recent years. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

Another major landmark: Detroit’s wastewater treatment facilities, seen here overlooking a neighborhood playground. The contents of the all toilets in Detroit eventually are processed in Delray. The odors are predictable. (Photo courtesy Wikipedia Commons)

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.

Related: Goodbye to Delray, the Detroit enclave residents are getting paid to leave

“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.

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Alex Sagady
Thu, 03/08/2018 - 4:13pm

Zug Island is next to Delray, but it is not a part of it. Zug Island is part of the City of River Rouge, not Detroit.

Sat, 05/05/2018 - 11:38pm

OMG bro, get over yourself

Karen Dunnam
Mon, 09/10/2018 - 10:26am

Dear Anonymous:
Facts matter, and providing corrections to journalists is a responsibility we all share.
Alex, thanks for your post.

Sat, 10/27/2018 - 1:43am

I briefly lived in Delray and had a great girlfriend named Franny , one of a kind ,,It was a glorious time full of life and fun through out the 1980s those who lived it know , and those who missed it dont know ,, but life has to move on , and perhaps a new kind of place will rise from all this and start all over once more,, Thanks so much.............