Brendan Roney

Title

Brendan Roney

Description

In this interview, Roney discusses growing up on Fourth street and attending its annual fair. He also discusses daily life of a midtown resident and how the neighborhood has changed over the years.

Publisher

Detroit Historical Society

Date

10/19/2018

Rights

Detroit Historical Society

Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Brendan Roney

Brief Biography

Brendan Roney was born on January 18, 1982 and grew up on Fourth Street in Detroit Michigan. He lived at this particular location from 19982 to 1994. As a child, he grew up in the infamous midtown district and work during the Fourth Street Fair. He now lives in St. Clair Shores.

Interviewer's Name

Raquel Escamilla

Interview Place

Detroit, Michigan

Date

10/19/2018

Transcriptionist

Raquel Escamilla

Transcription

RE: I will begin with something like super easy.

BR: Alright

RE: When and where were you born?

BR: I was born at, I believe it was, Hutzel Hospital on January 18, 1982, and I think it was pretty early in the morning.

RE: Were you born in Detroit?

BR: Yes

RE: You started living in Detroit, correct?

BR: Yep

RE: So, could you describe what neighborhood you grew up in and what was it like?

BR: Yeah! The overriding sort of identity of the neighborhood was “The Block,” and it was just “the block” because our street was just a block. It was Fourth Street. It’ a short kind of one block stretch that is nestled behind the expressways, in what I think the city calls the Tech Town area now, which nobody ever called it back then. And I think Google calls the New Amsterdam Historical District which nobody ever called it that either. We were fourth street. What was the other part of the question?

RE: What was it like?

BR: It was really interesting. It was sort of like, I don’t want to say it was a small town, but it was pretty close knit. More or less everyone on the block kind of new each other and interacted pretty frequently. You could say it was kind of a hippy-ish neighborhood. It was like the early 80s, it wasn’t full blow like that, [just] a lot of people were in that mindset still. There was a lot of people that were Wayne State students or who had been Wayne State students who stuck around, since we were just sort of a couple block from the edge of campus there. It had kind of a very strong sort of sense of community vibe.

RE: Would you say it was a very integrated neighborhood?

BR: In some ways. I think ethnically there was a bit of a mix. There was a lot of African American and white folks on the street. I don’t know if it was like culturally a big mix, besides some of the older residents. They didn’t really keep to themselves but were a part of the fair scene. But, there wasn’t tensions or anything like that really. At least not from that, it was more day to day concerns about people living to close to each other.

RE: What was the time period that you lived in this area?

BR: I lived there from 1982 to about 1993-1994.

RE: What did you do use to do for fun in that period of time?

BR: There was, well, the stock stuff growing up in that time period. There was the video games that were cool. The guy at the end of the block, who used to babysit me, had a VCR pretty early on and that was where you first got close to Empire Strikes back and that kind of stuff. But as far as outdoors stuff, probably more germane. There was only a couple of kids on the block, and there was a couple of other kids that were in the circles of the neighborhood that would come and go. The whole neighborhood was kind of like that because there was a lot of spaces where building had been torn down and had been reclaimed as community spaces. There was a park across the street from my house. I guess there was a house there before I was around. It had been demolished and turned into this combination of a community garden and art park. There was this thing there called Cone Hedge. I think it originally started as the back drop of the Stage play. There was these plaster sort of shapes that were kind of fun to climb around. There was a hole that you could climb through one of them. That’s probably why there not around anymore because kids would climb on them. But people would just kind of come to the street to hang out. Every now and then, neighborhood kids would show up and we would meet people further than the block itself. In the summers, don’t know if anyone had air conditioning or anything like that, so squirt gun fights were really big. Sometimes like really big, like neighborhood ranging sort of things. The street, well, there was the street and two alleys that were all in this sort of corner all nestled together. It was kind of like three blocks but like two blocks were wild. There was a lot of fun places to hide. There was a basketball hop that someone put up that was over on the north end of one of the alleys where the school is now. We used to play there every now and then. And then the general sort of growing up in the “midtown area,” my family would go to a lot of the things going on in the area. We would go to the cultural center stuff, the DIA, the historical museum, things like that. There was the summer events going on, we were a couple blocks from the Dally, but who cares about the Dally when we have our own Fourth Street Fair. That was a huge deal that would go on every summer, and in the later years, there was also the Taste fest in the New Center. New Center was a cool shopping spot; that was a fun place to walk to and take in.


RE: Where did your parents work?

BR: So, my mom was, for some of the time, was a student at Wayne State. She had done her undergrad as an acting student and gotten here undergrad had gotten into grad work by the time I was born and had gotten into Speech Pathology. And she had various points worked at different places she worked for a time at a hospital out in Novi bit of a commute and eventually settled over at the DMC where she still is now. My dad also bumped around a bit he was a jeweler and he had jobs out, for most of the time, in Birmingham at a jewelry store out there. But also did stints in a place Grosse Point and eventually in a place downtown. That business was kind of a weird there was a lot of jumping around with the shops that were owned by related guys. People would kind of leave one shop and start their own.

RE: Could you possibly talk more about the types of business that were in the area?

BR: That was the interesting thing, our street was really an oasis. There was just to the north there as a big parking lot that was for Burroughs, which then became Unisys and now it is a then became Henry Ford place It didn’t really feel like part of the neighborhood. There was this corporate building that did something computer related which was kind of cool growing up in the 80s in Detroit most people first though of what the big business are it was cars. But the one right out the window is this computer place that seemed kind of high tech. There were just a couple kind of odd balls spot. There was a hotel or still is a hotel right on Second a couple block away. Didn’t have much reason to go there. The business we went to were kind of closer to Wayne State. There was a restaurant that was called Cappy’s that was right off of Woodward in the Park Shelton. There were the businesses at New Center that we went to. A couple of party stores that were a bit of a walk there was the third street store, there was one over where ShowTime close was. They had comic books, that were cool when I was a kid. The early 90s when everyone had comic books and then there was an attempt turn to turn New Center into a shipping district behind the wig stores, shoes stores, wool stores. In New Center One they put in a Crowley's, a Barnes and Nobles, and a Burger King in there. It wasn’t quite a shopping mall they only had a handful of stores. They had elevators and bother all the business men and that was a fun thing to if you were a kid that was into making trouble. It wasn’t a residential m=neighborhood but it wasn’t a place for a lot of business since it was weird oasis. I guess the expressways kind of make it that way; cut off on two sided.

RE: Could you tell me a little bit about what school you went to?

BR: I attended Burton International from Kindergarten through 7th grade. Before that I went to a preschool in the area. It was more of a daycare that a preschool called Monteeth and a lot of the other kid there were Wayne State faculty or students kids. They had a little playground over there which has since gotten turned into a volleyball court for the new dorms over there. But Burton was great. It was one of school where you had a waiting list I don’t know what type of gymnastics my parents did to get me in there. But it was one of the best place where you had a sense that it was one of the better school, not like DPS had the reputation it does today, but it was a classier joint I guess. It was an interesting spot. The thing I remember most about the school, is that they had all these weird murals inside. And I think they are still there it got closed down years ago, I think it was because the building across the street didn’t get properly evaded for Asbestos so they tore it down when the school was still opened. And they just shuttered everything. Burden exist somewhere else under a different name. But, the murals were these weird sorts of Greek mythology themed murals. In the library, there where these planes along the ceiling, which were different heroes of like international legends and real people like Winnie Mandela and Marie Curry. And there was [inaudible] and Superman. It was all really weird, it seemed like a 70s-multicultural application kind of thing to do. I think it was a big emphasis of the school. It was that kind of era. It was a great place to go and I think the most interesting thing about Burton which is we had a little playground which was in the lot where the school was on. But on special days we got to go to the second playground which was even bigger and even cooler. I don’t understand why a school had two playgrounds. And this other one has this giant playscape. They didn’t mow there as often I think was the issue because it was bigger. It was field day at the end of the year they would open this up and we could play on the tire swing and this cool playscape and they had baseball diamond. I don’t know if they were the reminiscent of another school that was next door. It was called the Bosco. I heard the bar in Ferndale is so named because it was open by a former Burton international student that named in hero of that. I don’t know if it is true but I would like to think so.

RE: Are there any other stories you would like to tell from your childhood?

BR: I guess one of the big things growing up that I should touch on is the Fourth Street Fair and kind of my involvement. For years before I was around the street had this tradition of having an annual fair and I think it originally started because the street would do a cleanup day and I think it was tired to the city clean up that would happen every year then the next day everyone would kind of celebrate by having this big party. I have seen there was always controversy, they would have shirts every year that would say “whatever” fourth street fair and people would say “that’s not the year it started. It started this year and I remember because of this band would be practicing there.” There would be stages set up, sound and light it got pretty fancy. I think in the later years there was four stages set up. One year there was five stages. There was the main street one, volleyball court one, volleyball was a whole another story, A little on next to the house that we always call the squatter house. I don’t really know why we called it the squatter house other than the fact that the people in there had an interesting living situation had an outdoor shower and other stuff like that. Then there was one just after I moved, that was set up in another little park That was on the a space where a church had long been demolished. One year one of my friends decided to set up a lemonade stand and sell lemonades. It was weird, we were kids. Everyone shows up at this thing and gets drunk and we were selling lemonade. Then we did that for about two years, then one of the other guys on the street a guy by the name of Govinda who eventually became a personality and became tied to the fair who later ended up booking bands in the later years. Decided to kind of partner in with us again he was a college student or just out of college at the time and we were like 12 or 13 and he decided to step it up, and instead of doing lemonade he created this connection called the “Nectar of the Gods” which would come up every year around the time of the fair. The Metro Time would be like “oh it time to get the nectar.” I am still sworn to secrecy of what was in it. But it was some kind of juice, fruit floating into it, like mangos and grapes floating in it, then he would top it with some dry ice and for all the people that weren’t 13 like vodka. And people would line up and go crazy for it, and he would make it in a couple of garbage cans and I would like to think that this cheesy lemonade stand which wasn’t fun because the fair was going on and I was behind this booth selling lemonade to drunk people. We did nachos one year too. Getting fancy, we rented a nacho machine. That was an interesting thing to take part in.

RE: I know you talked about Dally could you explain more of what it is to you and did you got to it.

BR: I went to the dally all the time. The dally and it is so weird now looking at it. I made some people on Facebook mad say this, but I feel like the dally kind of I won’t say sold out. That’s too strong. It’s not what it used to be. It’s very polished. It used to be just the dally in the alley. If you go there, there is that t section. That was kind of where everything was. You were in the alley, there was two stages and there were guys selling the shirts with the cats on it like they have in the third street store. The bands were always the Layabouts or the kind of neighborhood people playing. It really feels like the mini taste fest that ended. The dally was cool I liked going to it. But the Fourth Street fair was the main thing. I am kind of the fourth street fair partisan and the dally was kind of emulating what fourth street was doing Unfortunately, the fair when it started to get big there is a couple of different story but I think the official story was that the city started to crack down. There was a woman that would BBQ every year and set up tent and sell ribs. It wasn’t like Mario’s the fancy restaurants that set up at the dally. It was just someone who makes really good BBQ health inspectors should in later years and were not having that. On the less public side there was some conflicts with the other residents, unfortunately, and some of the folks who lived on the street started to move. By this point it was the late 2000s. Even though I moved away, I still kept going to the fair and kept in contact with everyone. So, the Dally kind of emerging as the victor out of this and kind of did what the Fourth Street Fair couldn’t do and became more institution and [got permits and got the police to block up the streets]. And that is how you get crazy crowds showing up. It is a bit more slick and polish and didn’t fizzle out after 30 something years.

RE: Did you ever venture outside or around the city growing up or did you tend to stay in your own neighborhood.

BR: There weren’t too many kids on the block, and the kids that did live there that I did fall in with. There were only two kids who were younger than me and two kids that were older than me and I feel in with them. And they were a bit more adventurous and mobile than I was. We would walk to places around the campus area. Going afar was like walking to Rascos Arcade that was at Warren and Woodward, where the welcome center is now. Or we had a pair of friends who lived down by Second like passed Canfield. Which was a far trip, walking up to Grand Blvd also felt like a long trip on foot that was a far thing. But for the family things we would go downtown to the festivals or go to Fort Wayne for the fireworks and things like that. I don’t know if I am hitting at the heart of the question.

RE: Did you feel comfortable in the city?

BR: I did. I guess for better or worse I felt safe. Occasionally, you would hear stories, not just stuff on the news, but interpersonal stories like so and so their kid got bet up and I think that was a scary thing. I think one of the party stores on John R., I don’t think it is there anymore, a kid who was a couple of years older than me and one of one my parent’s friends kid got bet up pretty severally. I never really felt endangered and this was the 80’s murder capital talk. I remember this is something that I have been reminded of recently, but the fixation of gangs in the Southwest Detroit. With my friend’s dad we would go to an ice cream place in southwest Detroit, I think that was the closet Dairy Queen. We would spot the Latin Counts graffiti and something like that that is what they were talking about. But I never felt particularly in danger or anything like that. I remember being pretty young and traveling to New York. New York is where all the movies happen. New York is constant action movie stuff and I remember feeling a little uneasy down there. And I think that is the only time I ever felt that. I remember being 12 and in the subway “oh am I going to get pushed” but never felt like that in Detroit.

RE: Why did you move out of the neighborhood?

BR: So, my family moved. We were renting and my folks were interested in buying a house. My dad grew up in Harper Woods so he kind of wanted to move back to that area. My mom was from the city and grew up in Cork town adjacent from there. She was off of Trumbull and other factors were someone knew a real-estate agent and his domain was this part of the east side. They had looked for a couple of years. This was also around the time a lot of people were moving out of the neighborhood. I think it was kind of people were short of aging out of the screen. It weird to think about. The adults when I was little were just out of college. There was this weird sort of turnover in the neighborhood and the community that once was there was sort of dissipating. I didn’t know the vibe of the street now, but I know that a lot of the folks from that area have kept in touch. I actually just went to a memorial service two weeks ago for the guy you should be interviewing about Fourth Street, Tim Kethemann passed away. That was like a family reunion of everyone on the street that has since moved out. I don’t know how much that was influencing my parent’s decisions, but I do know that the kids I really hung around with had sort of drifted apart. One moved to a llama farm in Manistee interesting family there. The other one was splitting time between his dad’s apartment, which was underneath ours, and his mom’s that was out in the rural area, Fowlerville. He started high school and wanted to stay out there more and wanted to dig in. I didn’t like moving to the suburbs. I moved to St. Clair Shores, I should probably explain that. I still really don’t like, it I live out there now. It was easier, because I didn’t have those ties to my friends. Now all the people I went to school with, because Burton was a magnet school. It brought people from all over the city. If I did want to hang out with one of my friends from school I would have to get my parent to drive me across town to the North-east side or something like that. I wasn’t really in regular contact with the people I went to school with outside of birthdays and cool reasons to get together. It’s a bummer I wish I kept up with those people better. Renting, I guess long story short.

RE: Has your neighborhood changed over the years? If so, how?

BR: Again, I feel bad speaking as an ex-resident, because I don’t want to over step. But, I know that some of the folks that have lived in the neighborhood have been pushed out. This is kind of immediately adjacent to the midtown thing, and I hear rent has really gone up on that street. The street I guess I should say is modestly this four unit flats and one big apartment building called the Valesin. The Valesin got featured in a small living tiny apartment blog, and I don't know what the rents are like. But I have friend that is living there now, and I know he told me it was more than what I thought it would be. I don’t know what the landlord situation is, but I believe that some of the folks that were owning when I was owning are still the landlords. Some of the old timers on the street eventually bought their house. The character of the street has definitely changed because the fair doesn’t happen anymore, and the last couple of years which are more recently years 2005- 2006 even though the fair didn’t happen people showed up and had it informally happen. I don’t know if there is still that mystic around it that brings folks out I don’t know if anyone on the street is interested in doing it. I don’t know if people still do the play volleyball, on the volleyball court, and that was a community thing that people from around the neighborhood would show up and play.

RE: How do you fell about the neighborhood today?

BR: It is an interesting block and still has its own character. I should roll back a couple of the things I said. There had been some developments on the street since I have been there that give its own flavor and that people know that block for now. It has peacocks on it. I don’t’ know how that happened but there are peacocks on the street. You will hear them and see them perched on the buildings. I had a friend on from out of town took him on a peacock safari. We spotted one. I heard someone shot one with a bow arrow which is not good but is probably one of the most fourth street thing possible. I didn’t even get into the time someone was trying on to hot garages into a swimming pool. Very eccentric things would happen like that. Corn hedge is long gone but the park is still there and there are these weird art cars that have fire breathing mouths. I don’t know who put those in but it is like fourth street and they are keeping that side alive. It looks pretty much the same and I don’t think they have gone too much into rehabbing it. Sure, rent is up but it’s not like some rehabbers came in and did that. There is a new school on the street. Before I was there was school on the street. It was a free school thing, a very 60s concepts. Now there is a private school on the street and it looks really fancy and I don’t know how living on the street is going. You have school kids coming and going, and then this weird sort of aging art sense. It is a weird kind of interesting thin maybe I work well I don’t know. I don’t know if it has changed for the worse, but it has changed. It is definitely different

RE: What would you like to see happen in the neighborhood?

BR: I guess the most obvious thing I don’t want to see happen is to see it demolished this has always been an existential threat it been talks about widening the expressways. They want to widen them and it would wipe out the street. I know Gil Hill rolled out to one of the fourth street fairs to kind of like I am not going to do this t you guys. Very location certain campaigning there. They still talk about widening 94 there and taking fourth street and Untied Sounds Systems which is a couple blocks always, where parliament recorded. My dad has an excellent story of how meeting them in a bar at the neighborhood years ago. I definitely don’t want to see it go away. I deficiently want to stay to continue tin the spirit it was. I am not going to say that it wasn’t my street but I hope that the folks who have stuck in are still doing their thing and being eccentric as they were. I hope the folks that got pushed out by rent can return. One of them in particular that I talked to recently and I know that was a really big life turning point having lived on that street and becoming so entwined with the identify having to move was a weird thing.

RE: If you could get a project down in your neighborhood what would you do or what would it be?

BR: Wow. It’s weird because so many of the projects were small scaled kind of community births and people would take a community lot and turned it into a garden or a playground. And I from driving in there it looks like those places are still maintain. That’s a weird one though. Yeah you got me. I guess more funding for people in the street to kept doing what they were doing maybe if there was kind of some neighborhood fund that allowed the people to indulge in these neighborhood beautification projects that would be cool.

RE: I think we touched on this but how do you feel about the state of the city today.?

BR: There is the whole kind of common thing that Detroit is on the rebound. And there is this downtown verse the neighborhood thing. Also, gentrification is going on and all that. The answer kind go getting into what Detroit could be can be and I think that is tied you in industry and jobs. I also think there are these expectations that Amazon will come in and be one of the new big three, and I don’t know if that is feasible. Definitely amazon, is not coming in, but some kind of business like that. I feel like someone is going to come in and see that chunk of change that they were given to come in here. I hate to get to pessimistic, but I really don’t know what is going to change, and what the future of the city is going to be, and if there is a pain free way to kind of life everybody at least following the paths they are going. I would like to see the neighborhoods get faced up abut also fix the neighborhoods with people on the margins who can’t afford to live into the places of the west side. If you fix things up and those rents will go up and will force people out. It tricky.

RE: These are just some questions that I have. Could you state your name and how you spell it?

BR: My name is Brendan Roney.

RE: Do you remember the address that you lived at?

BR: 5834 Fourth Street. It was the yellow brick building on the West Side of the street about halfway. I haven’t popped in there in a bit but the new residents heard I used to live there and let me pop in and see it. It was two punk kids.

RE: Could you describe the boundaries of the neighborhood you lived in

BR: This gets back to the weirdness of the neighborhood being the block plus the alleys. Fourth Street is the center. On the far end, there is the alley to the west, and there is third-street, and third street bridge. The expressway runs under the bridge, there was a park that went to the tree line right to the medium of the expressway. We had this boundary and this constant flowof traffic. Someone once said it was like living by the ocean, this constant white noise.

On the east side is the other alley and the other expressway. To the north was Antoinette and the other side was the Burroughs parking lot.

RE: Are there other names for the neighborhood you grew up in?

BR: People embrace the “positively fourth street” after the Bob Dylan song. Someone made a sign “positively fourth street” and it showed up at the fourth street block club. On a wider spectrum, we thought of us as the campus. Midtown and Cass Corridor was more were my school. Midtown goes to the mid 20’s not only when someone was marketing the q-line and the cultural center was being pushed in the 80s.

RE: Any more stories you would like to share?

BR: Many years after I left I settled at the main art for a movie and this trailer comes on and shows this guy that I used to talk to at the volleyball games. He was kind of an interesting guy, carried a guitar and wore a leather vest. I am watching this trailer and they are saying that he died. That was me finding out Rodriguez was a big deal. He used to show up at the Fourth Street Fair. The other thing was the fair right after I moved I was there for a band who did their first outdoor performance, it was all covers. I didn’t watch them, I went out to the other side of the street to watch Mount Tie and I caught a couple of minutes of the White Stripes first outdoor set. There was a lot of other bands that made bigger impressions. Its nice to have those ties.

RE: I know you mentioned a guy named Tim Kethemann how do you spell his name?

BR: Tim Kethemann. He was an important figure on fourth street and moved a couple of block away and became Mr. Woodbridge. He had resolutions from city councils and things like that. He got really big into community projects.

Search Terms

Detroit, Michigan, Midtown, Cass Corridor, Fourth Street Fair, Wayne State University, Campus District

Citation

“Brendan Roney,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed December 2, 2020, https://detroit1967.detroithistorical.org/items/show/745.

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