The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center

Detroit, Michigan

Winter 2012/13.


The one Detroit priority I had during my Christmas visit was the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center.

Built between 1926 and 1929, the Rec Center was placed in a major black neighborhood of the time. It was named for Detroit's first black recreation worker, Leon Wheeler.

I didn't realize there was actually a library connected to the rec center. And it was even a Carnegie Library!

So as we explored today, and with how I hadn't seen some of these friends for a while, we spent a good hour in the Detroit Bernard Ginsburg Library, catching up.

We eventually moved downstairs to the part which I wanted to see the most - the area where Joe Louis honed his skills and grew into a world class boxer!

It was here that Joe Louis escaped the gang activity of Detroit while his mother thought he was learning violin, but he was actually becoming the first black sports hero in America, in a time where blacks still couldn't mix with whites in the military or play professional baseball.

Joseph Louis Barrow would lose his boxing debut to future Olympian Johnny Miller, but eventually won the club championship of this very rec center. He would go on to win the Detroit-wide Golden Gloves tourney, then eventually the Chicago Golden Gloves and then the National Tournament in St. Louis.

As a pro, he would be Heavyweight Champion of the World from 1937 to 1949 and is often argued against Muhammad Ali as the greatest heavyweight of all time.

Anyway, I'm not the biggest boxing fan by any stretch of imagination, but I also might be a bit more familiar with Joe Louis since the Detroit Red Wings arena is named after the guy.

We eventually moved through the remainder of the rec center.

We sat in the gym for a while, with the large windows allowing us to look outside from the grandstands.

I found it quite funny that Crawly had a mason jar of shine, which humourously made his West Virginia stories suddenly make all that much more sense to me.

The sports nerd that I am, it wasn't only Joe Louis that made me have to come here and make my own mediocre record of this building, but also because Chris Webber donated money for the basketball court & had a painted sign denoting his charitable endeavour.

(Chris Webber is a Detroit-born basketball player who was part of the University of Michigan's Fab Five, a 5-time NBA All Star, the NBA overall #1 pick & NBA Rookie of the Year.)

The rec center's surrounding neighbourhood would grow into the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects. Low-rise apartments were built beginning in 1935, while the six major, 14-story project buildings were built between 1952 and 1955.

The same problems of crime nesting and lawlessness that plagued housing projects throughout the U.S. would eventually plague these structures as well.

Two of the 14-story towers were demolished in 2003 and the remaining four were abandoned in 2009.

They are currently being prepared for demolition.

And there you have why I wanted to see the Brewster-Wheeler Rec Center so bad. The City of Detroit says it'll preserve and renovate this one historic building, but gallons of skepticism are needed whenever you have such types of municipal promises.

Nailhed & I actually went into the 6-story low rise projects while waiting for the group earlier.

These were built in the 1940s.

Having been in the 14-story towers before, these were much of the same: absolutely destroyed project buildings with a few household items left behind.

I took a grand total of 3 interior pictures. Instead, I braved the frigid wind to get pictures of the dramatic landscape, knowing that this scene wasn't long for this world (according to mayor Dave Bing).

Anyway, here's to hoping the demolition crew doesn't accidentally knock down Joe Louis teenage stomping grounds.


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1 - Wheeler Center/Brewster Center -

2 - List of Carnegie Libraries in Michigan - Wikipedia

3 - Joe Louis - Wikipedia

4 - Chris Webber - ESPN

5 - Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects - Wikipedia