In this interview, Frances talks about life growing up in the Old Redford neighborhood. She talks about the schools, activities, and changes she noticed in the area throughout her time living there.
Detroit Historical Society
Detroit Historical Society
Frances McDonald was born in Toledo, Ohio in 1919. At the age of 10, Frances moved to Detroit Michigan, and settled in the Old Redford Area at the age of 12. Frances came to Detroit during the automotive industry boom and spent much of her life in the Old Redford neighborhood before moving to other various parts of Michigan.
BB: So I am here with Frances Macdonald at her home in Farmington Hills, and we are doing our interview for the Detroit oral histories for, uh- the Detroit historic society. And so, I’m just going to start off by asking some questions for Frances. And so, first thing I want to ask you is, uh- where and when were you born? FM: I was born in Toledo, Ohio, 1919. BB: Ok, and so what made you come to Detroit? FM: Um- my dad was an automotive engineer and that stage of the automotive industry he tended to get moved around. His first job was in Toledo and then he worked in Phil- Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Toledo again, then finally Detroit. BB: Oh wow, so you guys- FM: So he was following jobs. That’s the reason. BB: OK. And so what year was that when you guys arrived to Detroit? FM: Uh- well, we arrived in Detroit for the finals stay or the first stay- The first stay was- my folks arrived in Detroit was 1913, but I- I was born in 1919. Um- and I would say I- the first time I came to Detroit, I was in the 7th grade, so can you figure out how old I was, probably-? BB: Most likely 12, as now that’s- FM: that sounds about right, yea. BB: Ok and so, what did you hear about Detroit before coming? FM: What? BB: What did you hear about Detroit before you came here? FM: Absolutely nothing. When you’re 12, you don’t care what happens to you, you just go where your folks take you. BB: Oh ok. And so- well, when you did arrive, do you remember what your first impression was of Detroit? FM: No, not really. Um- I can say that Detroit had changed very little since the time I arrived until the time the big de- depression went over and practically bankrupt the city. BB: So that’s the first change you noticed- during the Great Depression? FM: Yes, yes. BB: And were you already in the Old Redford neighborhood when you moved to Detroit or during the depression? FM: No, we moved into the vicinity of Grand River and Joy Road. That’s of course still there- and, um- it was, um- an ordinary neighborhood full of two story brick flats, much as it is today. Um- and I’ve been down there and that- that neighborhood has changed very little from when I first moved in it. Same, uh- same- same houses, same condition. They haven’t been torn down like a lot of the city got turned down. Just the color of the people changed. BB: And was this also the case for the Old Redford Area? Off of, like, old redford- off of Lasher road? FM: Yes, yea, that’s also the case for where I lived out in Redford. We moved- We first lived down- down- sort of- well, that’s in the city now, and then we moved out to old Redford which was- I don’t know what was even considered part of Detroit, it’s certainly part of Detroit now. Um- we moved out there because my mother and father found a house they liked and bought out there. By the way, the house cost $5,000 and who knows what its really worth now. BB: Oh yea. Huge change of prices in these recent times. And so, when you moved to the Old Redford area, rather than from Joy road and Grand River, um- how old were you then? FM: Well, I- When I- When I went out there I entered the, uh- 7th grade [pause]. Oh. So that doesn’t click with my first answer does it? I think when I first came to Detroit I went to the school in the Joy Road area and I think I was in the 4th grade. So you might have to change that answer. And how old would that be in the 4th grade? About 10? BB: Yep. That sounds about right. FM: Yea, 10. And then, I wa- I knew I was in the 7th grade when I moved out to Redford, because I went to the [unintelligible] school, which has been flattened, and then I went to Redford High school which has also been flattened, and from there I went to Wayne University till I graduated, and, um- I got married the year after I graduated so- so my life growing up in Detroit was a question of going from school to school to school really. I wasn’t really aware of Downtown Detroit. Occasionally we would drive over to Belle Isle, and that’s about all I ever saw of Detroit. BB: Well, I guess we’ll continue then with the discussion of the old Redford Area. Um- what was it like, um- growing up in the neighborhood? FM: Well, I think it was like growing up in any neighborhood, you- you make your friends and you do things with your friends. We used to be able to skate on the, uh- river there- the Rogue River, Ice skate on the Rogue River. Uh- It was, uh- actually a pleasant place to grow up; lots of trees and, um- but it wasn’t much than the way it looks today. It’s the truth. The neighborhood has changed very little; my daughter that you just met lives there now in my old house. BB: Um- so, you mentioned you would ice skate on the river- the Rogue River? Um- what other things did you guys do for fun when you were growing up in the neighborhood? FM: Let’s see… well there was Edgewater Park. That’s now been turned into a church. It had a skating rink and we used to go along rolling skating up there. Roller skating, uh- did we play baseball? I don’t know. I don’t think so. We didn’t have any fields for any games like that. Used to play a lot of tennis where we could find a tennis court. I had friends that liked to play tennis. And, uh- that was pretty much my life. You have your friends, you go out with your friends, and that’s it. BB: And so I guess more on the neighborhood, um- I’m asking you about what you did but also, um- rather than recreational activities did you also, uh- go to church? FM: No, actually I didn’t go to church. We moved around so much- well my mother and father were English, and when they moved to this country they never joined a church, and they too moved around a lot, never got settled in any church. I know they put me in Sunday school but, uh- I never really joined a denomination and I’m afraid I still don’t go to church. BB: Um- was there a strong religious community or did religion play a big importance that you knew of in the area? FM: No, it was not a strong religious community. There were a lot of churches though- Catholic, Episcopalian, protestant, but it- your life did not revolve around church activities. BB: So I know you mentioned your father worked in the automotive industry- FM: Yea. BB: Um- do you know specifically where he worked while you guys- FM: I think when he first came he- I think at one time he worked for DeSoto, um- that’s long gone. I know when he died he was working for Packard. He probably worked for one or two other companies because these new automobile companies would open up, start out, and fail. And then his job would be gone, but he never had any trouble getting a new job because he had been educated over in England and grew and worked at some Rolls Royce which gives you a pretty good resume. BB: And so, what about you? I know you told me that you moved to a bunch- you went to a bunch of different schools. FM: Yes. BB: Did you like the schools that you were going to? Did you get a good experience? FM: Yes, yes. I loved the schools, yea. And I was really was really sad when they tore down the- the first school and sadder still when they tore down Redford high; that was like tearing down my life. BB: And, do you know what year they did that when they tore down the schools? FM: I don’t know what year it was, but I’ll tell you it was only- it was less than five years ago. Not too long ago. And now there’s a Meijer’s store there I think. That’s how long ago it was- it was long enough to tear down Redford and put up Meijer’s. BB: And, uh- one thing that I was wondering about specifically was the Redford Theatre. While you were living in the Redford Area did the theatre have any significance to you? FM: Yes, the Redford theatre was there. I guess it really had no significance to me because when I was quite young I would go to the movies but it would be to a theatre called “Riviera” that was on Joy Road and Grand River and that’s the only movie house I really remember- I don’t- I didn’t start going to the Redford Theatre till I was quite grown up. And so I don’t know too much about it expect it’s pretty old. BB: And so you said that you went to another location to watch movies rather than the Redford Theatre- what about shopping? Where were you shopping in the Redford area? FM: Well let’s see- Shopping? I think meant going Downtown to J.L. Hudsons, uh- or Crowley’s, or Kerns. Um- there was no big shopping center. Northland wasn’t built till long after I think I left that area. So I would say the main shopping area was downtown Detroit. BB: Ok. Thank you. And so, kind of about the city in general, did you feel that you were safe in Old Redford? That it was a safe community? FM: Yes, yes. We never thought about the safety of our children, I let my children go anywhere they want, pretty much do anything they wanted to- it wasn’t till they got to high school then had a car that I started worrying about them. Uh- you know, you felt safe in Detroit. I do still feel- certainly feel safe around here. BB: Well, was there ever a time that you felt- or was there ever a period in which that emotion of safety changed and that you felt that it started becoming unsafe? FM: Well, yes. Yes. Not too long ago… well. Let’s say 10 years ago. I think you could say 10 years ago I started feeling that the city just wasn’t as safe as it used to be. And it’s probably because the neighborhood I lived in was changing from white to blacks, and I, like a lot of other stupid white people, I thought blacks were bad and whites were good, you know? I know better now. I hope so. BB: Well, during the- during your childhood are there any sto- stories maybe that you would like to tell me? Something that’s significant to you about your childhood growing up in Old Redford? FM: No, except we could walk for a long ways anywhere in any direction we wanted. When I went ice skating I went way up the river to probably 10 mile 11 mile, and till, you know, there was just a little creek. Uh- no, but now- well I moved out of that area but my daughter still lives there and that’s a good question to ask her. BB: And more kind of about the safety the city I’m going to ask some questions. Um- how was the area during the 60’s, as I know there were the Detroit Uprisings during that time? FM: Oh, during the riots? BB: Mhm. FM: Out where I lived we didn’t feel the riots at all. That was like way downtown and we were way out here. We felt absolutely nothing from the riots and didn’t have feelings of danger or anything. BB: So then, I guess another question is: What made you leave the neighborhood? Um- when did you leave the neighborhood and- FM: when did I leave Old Redford BB: Mhm. FM: When I got married. My husband and I, first of all, moved to a flat in Greenfield or something like that. And then where’d we move? We moved out to a little house in what would be Southfield. Then- then I can’t remember. Then I think- well you know what? My husband and I moved back with my mother on Burke road in Old Redford when my father died because she wanted us to live with them and we did. So, I’ve lived in Old Redford longer than anywhere else I guess. BB: And what was the main reason for you leaving old Redford (finally)? FM: Well my husband- first husband died. I got remarried, and he was- second husband was brought up in Petoskey Michigan so we moved Petoskey Michigan. That was the reason we moved out of Detroit. Not because it got a reputation for bad city, something that I never felt Detroit was a bad city, so… OK? BB: Alright. Well sounds good. I got all the questions I need and we’re about hitting the 20 minute mark. If there’s anything else that you want to say maybe about the neighborhood you could also tell me that, um- or if not, um- we could just end the interview right here because we have sufficient- FM: Yea well, I do know that we could- well you know you’re at that age when you ride your bike everywhere, and we rode our bikes everywhere. We probably, um- took them over to, um- probably got way down into downtown Detroit, I know we got into the suburbs. Like I would say the city limits. You- and a lot of it was- it was just plain country then, it was not all built up. Probably the- the building that’s beyond Seven Mile road was started long after I moved there, and I- well- you know how it is; you don’t pay attention to anything except what occupies your own affairs- BB: Exactly- FM: So, I think you’ll learn a lot more from my daughter. BB: Ok. Well thank you very much. FM: Ok. Well good luck.
Old Redford, Joy Road
“Frances McDonald,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed May 7, 2021, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/714.