(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 2, 2017)
Hazel Park, MI – The Hazel Park Museum opened Thursday in what was once of the community’s libraries. Now the corner building at 45 E. Pearl displays artifacts and photographs that tell the city’s story.
The building is owned by the Hazel Park School District, and for years had been used for storage. “It was full of old computers, desks and flooring, all kinds of stuff,” said Chuck Gladue who serves on the Historical Commission. “We’ve been talking about how to start a museum for years. We’re very grateful for the Hazel Park Schools offering to let us use the space.”
Volunteers went through archives at the Hazel Park Library and selected pictures for the timeline. Hazel Park’s documented history traces back to the 1800s when farmers cleared land for crops and the Royal Oak Township School District named a school in the area Hazel Park due to the hazelnut bushes that were there.
By the 1920s development was booming. Workers from automotive factories took the streetcar to affordably-priced homes developed by Burnette Fechet Stephenson. Stephenson is the man who Stephenson Hwy. is named after.
A 1923 advertisement boasts “Traffic congestion is finding welcome relief. Much traffic which formerly used Woodward Ave. north now uses John R St. This means that both business frontage and dwelling locations along John R St. will jump in values. Recently constructed homes and stores along John R. give Hazel Park the appearance now of a settled community. But it is just in the making and you can share in the profits.”
The ad touts a population of 4,000 people and growing. “All lots 40 to 60 feet wide with generous setback. Sewers, sidewalks, stores, city water, electricity. Improved streets, schools, churches and transportation facilities, including Stevenson line and bus lines.”
In 1942 the city became chartered, with copies of the charter available for 25 cents. From the 40s until today Hazel Park has been home to businesses that have stayed in the minds of older residents. Photos show places like Big Boy, Doug’s Delight, Burger Chef, County Boy, Holiday Inn, and of course the original Harmony House Record Store.
For Historical Commission President Richard Robbins, the history of libraries is an important part of the heritage of the community. In 1912 the first library was formed in a church building at 9 Mile and John R. “We found a ledger from the Royal Oak Township Schools and the very first entry was an allocation to get the library started,” Robbins said. “That tells me it was important to them even back then.”
The second was located in the basement of Lacy School in 1936. The third was temporarily located in an office building across the street from Harmony Plaza. In 1941 it was moved to the building that is now the Historic Museum. And in 1970 the current library at 123 E. 9 Mile was constructed.
Robbins, who also serves on the Library Board, said “The Library has always been the center of the community. People would go there for advice on anything from getting taxes done, advice for when the buses run. It’s always been there, and keeping it there is vitally important.”
Gladue, who grew up in Oak Park and attended Ferndale Schools, moved to Hazel Park in 1995 due to the affordable home prices. “My earliest memories were coming to the Zap Zone arcade to play pinball in pool in the 70s. But in those days you never told people you were from Ferndale or a fight would break out,” he said. “There was quite the rivalry back then.”
Now Gladue is happy to be involved with the community. “I enjoy the Memorial Day events,” he said. “I even had a float in the parade.” Many of the vintage items – telephones, television, sewing machines etc – came from Galdue’s personal collection.
The grand opening included a special City Council meeting and ribbon cutting.
The Hazel Park Museum does not yet have regular hours, but will have open houses through the years. There will also be opportunities for students to come check out Hazel Park history, and people can visit by appointment. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org and check them out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/hazelparkhistorical/.