of a
MICHIGAN: The Magazine of The Detroit News                        July 30, 1989
Life is tough in Delray,
but there are still people with enough grit to call it home.

The photographs for this story are part of "The Delray Project" — a two-year effort by a group of Detroit area photographers to document life in the old Delray section of Detroit. The project, which was funded in part by the Michigan Council for the Arts and the Detroit Council for the Arts, includes the work of seven photographers. The exhibit has mainly been shown in businesses and community buildings in the Delray neighborhood.
It next will be displayed in October at the 100th anniversary of McMillan Elementary School, 615 S. West End.
"We wanted to capture the essence of Delray — one of the old factory neighborhoods of the city," says Gary Kasprzyk, one of the photographers, who is also a co-director of the project. "Delray is rich in history and culture and we found that attractive as photographers, as well as the attachment that people had to the neighborhood."
Each of the seven photographers offers a uniquely personal vision of the Delray community — some are nostalgic, some offbeat, some painfully grim. We present two of those perspectives, the works of Kasprzyk and Anthony Bitonti.
We also dispatched Michigan magazine writer Jeff Gaydos to Delray to form his own impressions of the neighborhood. Here is his portrait.


When people talk about the old West Jefferson neighborhood called Delray — Hunkytown, or Little Hungary, as it has been called — they usually talk in past tense.
The neighborhood that was. Oh, if you could only have seen it then.
These days, except for an occasional jewel of a house, business or church that's being kept up by uncharacteristic tenaciousness and pride, the place is littered from one end to the other — from Fort to West Jefferson and Livernois to the Rouge Bridge — with burned out or run-down homes, factories and

Fr. Julian Fuzer, 74, has been at Holy Cross Hungarian Catholic Church for five years.

Where there was hope and life, there are ashes.
Where there was commerce, there are boarded windows.
Where there were hard-working, easygoing families who prospered in the neighborhood, there are fearful families living behind high chain-link fences and hoping to hold on to the little that's left. And, there are crack houses.
From what longtime residents say, Delray was a great place to grow up for kids whose parents came from far-off countries like Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia to take jobs in factories that were within walking distance of their homes. But when the children became adults, most didn't stay.
Bob Haig grew up in Delray and he lives there still. He's president of the Detroit Firefighters Association, and is required by the city to live in Detroit. He was reared in Delray and so that is where he has decided to stay.
Touring the place with Haig is a study in contrasts. You cruise down West Jefferson and he tells you what used to be at sites that now look like scenery from a movie about Europe in the last days of World War II.
This was the old Revere plant, he says, pointing toward the river. There's a wrecked shell of a brick factory and surrounding it a dump site for old tires, rubble and junk.

Gladys Woodard, executive director of the community group, Delray United Action Council, agrees. "Del­ray is just as nice as any place in the city. We don't have much killing. Everybody gets along here fine —black and white. They always have.
"Sure, we have some troubles, but we're working to fix them," she says. The council serves about 80 to 100 free meals to the hungry, five days a week, and looks after senior citizens who have trouble getting along on their own. Woodard has been working to improve Delray for the past 30 years, she says.
"A lot of the people who live here don't want to leave," she says. "They want to build.
"You know, a lot of people say a lot of things about Delray, but we've got a good community and it's going to get better," she says.
Woodard and Delray supporters like Mr. Woolridge have hope —visions of a bright tomorrow — for a neighborhood others say is doomed.
A lot of residents call their neighborhood "Death Valley."
They complain about the huge trucks that rumble down the streets from Zug Island and other nearby industrial sites.
They recall fondly the great Hungarian Fancy Pastry bakery shop where you could get rum and walnut tortes. But the bakery moved to Allen Park.
And the trucks keep running. And the factories that remain keep belching soot and grime across the aging, dilapidated buildings that once made Delray a place where people yearned to live.

Auto dealerships, furniture stores, bakeries, banks, bars and little ethnic grocery stores once lined the street.
"It was like they say, 'a gentler time,' " says Haig. "But look at this place. It's like the 8th Air Force was through here last week.
"There was the Grande Theater, the Delray Theater. Frank's Clothing used to be there, and that was an A&P supermarket," Haig says, pointing to vacant storefronts. "There were a mil­lion little businesses and on Sundays the sidewalks along Dearborn Avenue used to be crowded with people —families, all dressed up."
Today, in the same neighborhood, on the same street, there are a couple of shoeless, blank-faced hookers walking down the sidewalks where families used to parade their Sunday finery. There are houses with wrecked cars piled in the back yard. And there are more burned-out buildings, boarded-up storefronts and shattered remnants of the turn-of-the-century architecture that once made the place proud.
A few people have gardens and have kept up their homes. What would be natural in some neighbor­hoods is surprising here.

Present and former Delray residents enjoy the 62nd annual grape festival at the Hungarian Club.
(Click to Enlarge)

Jim Soltesz remembers the days when it was normal practice to keep your home or business neat and in repair.
Soltesz, now an attorney in Lincoln Park, grew up in the old neighborhood and still owns property there.
His parents, Mary and Andrew, fresh from Transylvania in 1920, ran a couple of confectionary stores until 1937 when they opened a beer garden on Dearborn — Soltesz Bar. It was a favorite hangout for factory workers and local residents — the kind of friendly place that makes a lasting impression on the lives of a lot of neighborly people.
So when Mary Soltesz died this June at age 96, still a Delray resident, the family got letters from some of the old customers who remembered 50 years of kindness and good times.
Not many of the letters were mailed from a Delray address. The population of the community, by last count in the 1980 census, had dwindled to about 8,000 — about half the size it had been the decade before. And if a census were made this year, it would probably be half the size again.
The changes in the neighborhood have been remarkable, any old-timer will tell you that. The vision Delray once offered of modest American prosperity — the American dream realized of immigrants coming to the United States to make a better life and to live without fear and with reasonable happiness — is a distant memory.
Jim Soltesz says he has had to evict tenants from two of the houses he still owns because they were selling crack on his property.
"You want to buy a couple of houses?" he asks. "They're cheap. Like most of the houses in Delray these days."
Still, Soltesz says it's tough to give up on the old neighborhood. But there'd be a lot of work that would have to be done to straighten out the place.
"First, I'd tear all those empty houses and buildings down. I'd clean the place up. Then, if you could get some federal aid, I think the thing to do would be to open some senior housing."
Haig, too, would like to see a major cleanup in Delray, and senior housing built, but he doesn't think it will ever happen. He says the neighborhood has been going downhill for a good 30 years — partly the result of the old rust-belt factories belching out grime and pungent smoke across the neighborhood, and partly because the children of the early immigrant founders didn't stay to keep commerce alive.
His analysis of the Delray decay goes something like this: "As indus­tries moved or became outmoded, the second generation — the kids born and raised in Delray — left for the suburbs.
"Then you had the civil unrest in '67, and that didn't help. And the old-timers were dying off and there was a further deterioration, more crime, and the small businesses couldn't survive here anymore. So they moved, too."

Steve Szabo, 63, and his sister Ann Sorovetz, 59, at Szabo's Market, on West End, has been in business in Delray for 51 years, 40 years at the above location. The Hungarian village he came from was named Agyasszergenny.
(Click to Enlarge)

So this is what's left: some factories, a truck depot, a handful of bars, a couple of small machine
shops, about a dozen churches, a few ethnic restaurants and a bunch of bitter memories.
One business that stayed is among the few landmarks remaining from Delray's rich ethnic past. Szabo's Market, on West End, has been in business here for 40 years.
"I keep it old-fashioned, as you can see," says Steve Szabo who learned the meat and grocery business from his father. "This is how all the little groceries used to look. I love it when people come in and reminisce."
Szabo's market is packed with a few each of life's nutritional necessities and a variety of Hungarian meats and specialty products you'd never find in a run-of-the-mill supermarket.
If you want handmade Hungarian sausages or bacon, Szabo's is the place to go. Imported paprika, special cake fillings? This is the store. These are the products that were available at Szabos and a handful of other stores in Delray in decades gone by.
Szabo says his store may look like a replica of the past, but there's one major difference. It's a neighborhood store with an out-of-town clientele.
"I'd say 95 percent of my customers don't live here," Szabo says.
"This is the last of the Hungarian markets," he says. "People visit us from a 300-mile radius. We mail our Hungarian sausage to customers all over.
"It's a shame what happened here," he says. "But you see that it happened all over Detroit.
"You know, I came to America when I was 12. Detroit was held up in Europe as above all other cities. We talked about Detroit. The industry here. People had pride.
"When we got here, to us it was beautiful. All through the neighbor­hood the ladies used to be out in the morning sweeping and cleaning the sidewalks and streets. People watched out for each other. They worked hard and raised their kids, made sure they had a good education.
"But look what we've got now," Szabo says, shaking his head. "It's a shambles." But he stayed because the store and the neighborhood were his life. "What would I do? Start over?" he asks.
"You've got crack houses, and crime. There's no pride. American people should wake up. We have a beautiful country. How can we let it be ruined like this?"
How could it happen? That seems to be the question of the decade in Delray.
They talk about it at Kovacs Bar, where until a few years ago you could listen to and dance to Hungarian gypsy music every Saturday night.
Steve Kovacs, proprietor, survived his brother, Elmer, who died this year and who had been a partner in the business. Shandor Godla, who used to lead the gypsy band and played at the bar for 25 years, can't perform any­more because of shoulder problems. There's no more music at Kovacs .
On a typically quiet weekday after­noon, a couple of patrons are drinking cold beer and admiring the Old World class of the woodwork behind the bar.
Kovacs, meanwhile, thinks about the old days. He says he counted the saloons on West Jefferson in Delray when business there was flourishing. There were 35 bars, he says. All shot-and-beer places where factory workers would stop to quench their thirsts after a shift at any one of about a dozen nearby mills and factories where they worked. This was part of a neighborhood ritual. It was part of the social life.
But those were the old days. They're gone. Still, the old days are what people here like to talk about. People are talking about them at the Delray Cafe, one of the few other surviving bars on West Jefferson.
Proprietor Les Pafford says he
doesn't know what happened to Del­ray. He's been in business there seven years and the neighborhood has been decaying since he knew it.
A customer drinking coffee at the Delray Cafe this morning, John Simon, says he doesn't know, either: "I can just tell you that this place was like the Roaring '20s. They had big-time bands here. They had gypsies. They had this high-class women's clothing store ...
"Oh, I remember it all. They had a lot of big names here at one time, but they all moved out."
They're talking about them at the firehouse on West Jefferson. One veteran firefighter, who asked that his name not be used, says that he has either been traveling through or working in the neighborhood for 30 years.
"I never lived here," he admits, "but I've spent a lot of time here. Delray was a wonderful place at one time. Now, I'd have to say that there are only about two viable businesses in this community: crack and arson.
"We get a lot of arson runs. And we get a lot of ODs (drug overdoses)."
Specific crime statistics for the neighborhood are not available from the police.
"Except for a few restaurants and small businesses, that's about all that's left in the old neighborhood," the veteran firefighter says.
The old days are gone and only a few people seem to think there is any chance of reviving them.
The Rev. Garrund Woolridge and his congregation at the First Baptist Church of Southwest Detroit are among the hopeful.
Mr. Woolridge and his parishioners have invested $600,000 in a new church building that is scheduled for dedication at the end of August. It's an attractive, modern building and, though it is ordinary in its design, the place stands out as a jewel in Delray. It's one of the few building projects to go up this decade.
The First Baptist Church has been in the neighborhood for 70 years, Mr. Woolridge says. "We felt that if we could invest something here, people who haven't given this area much thought might start thinking about doing something good here.
"We thought that if nothing else, the church would stand out and give the community hope."
Mr. Woolridge says that following the dedication of the building he and his parishioners will begin to evangelize all over the Delray area — going door to door, preaching the gospel. "We're going to get out there and talk to people. We're going to try to get them involved in church activities," he says.
"We feel that if we were willing to take the chance here, maybe other people will follow our lead."


Thank you Bob Takacs for providing a copy of this magazine.



This entire site Copyrighted 2008 and Forever by R. S. Bujaki