The New Paradise Valley

The Rosedale Park neighborhood of Detroit is the modern version of a part of the city that was lost many years ago: Paradise Valley.

At first glance, there is nothing unique about the one-mile stretch of Grand River Avenue that runs through Rosedale Park, our west side Detroit subdivision.

Like so many neighborhoods in the city, Grand River has its share of fast food restaurants, liquor stores, beauty and barber shops, nail salons and dollar stores. The CVS pharmacy attracts beggars outside the front entrance, and occasionally, long lines at the cash registers. Across the street is the Foodland market, where prices are usually higher than at the chain grocery stores in the suburbs.

Paradise Theater (Courtesy of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.)

Paradise Theater (Courtesy of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.)

A closer look, however, reveals that the strip of Grand River that stretches between the Southfield Freeway on the east and Evergreen on the west is not the typical smattering of uninspiring retail establishments common to most Detroit neighborhoods. This section of Grand River supports a robust commercial district. The street’s range of products and services is so comprehensive that I could literally meet most of my needs without leaving it. Moreover, many Rosedale Park residents can reach all this on foot or after driving less than five minutes.

That any Detroit neighborhood can make such claims is remarkable. After all, when it comes to goods and services, Detroit is – to put it mildly – lacking. Drastic loses of people, businesses and thriving neighborhoods make it necessary for Detroiters to travel miles from their homes to purchase necessities, to say nothing of extras: movie theaters, upscale restaurants, clothing stores and the like.

Somehow, without trying, Rosedale Park has become the New Paradise Valley.

Thomas J. Sugrue wrote about the original Paradise Valley in his book, “The Origins of the Urban Crisis.”

“…between Gratiot and Grand Boulevard, [on the east side] nearly a third of Detroit’s black population lived on the streets clustered around St. Antoine and Hastings. Known as Paradise Valley, the area had been the commercial center of Detroit’s black population since the World War I era.”

“In 1940,” Segrue continues, “Paradise Valley was home to most of black Detroit’s most venerable institutions, including churches, social organizations, and business associations. Among the busy storefronts along Hastings and St. Antoine Streets were Detroit’s famous jazz and blues clubs, barber shops, groceries, and clothing stores catering to black Detroiters.”

The original Paradise Valley is long gone, wiped away by urban renewal and the I-75 Expressway. Thus, it would take older heads than mine to make an accurate comparison between what was to what exists now.

Still, consider this:

Two large churches anchor the New Paradise Valley. At the intersection of Grand River and Evergreen is the Pure Word Missionary Baptist Church. On the east end of the strip, on the Southfield Freeway service drive, is the Bushnell Congregational Church. For the past couple of years, Bushnell’s parking lot has been the site of The Northwest Detroit Farmers’ Market. Locally grown produce, baked goods and other foods are sold there every Thursday, from July through October.

Between these two religious institutions are a pair of banks and a hardware store, a Powerhouse Gym, a UPS outlet, a cleaners, and a fish market.  Across the street from the newly opened coffee shop is the venerable Elisa Donut bakery.

There are two auto supply stores in the New Paradise Valley, a Belle Tire store, three gasoline stations, as well as auto repair shops. In addition to a day care center, there are offices of doctors, lawyers, dentists and realtors; medical clinics, plus two independently owned pharmacies. There is even a limousine service on Grand RiveIn addition to the farmers’ market, Rosedale Park has another special event. Every year, the residents sell their unwanted items during a one-day garage sale in June that attracts thousands of bargain hunters.

Is it a perfect commercial strip? By no means. It could use a good sports bar and better clothing stores. A Panera Bread restaurant would be nice.

On the other hand, the New Paradise Valley is better than the old one in at least one important aspect. According to Segrue:

“… Paradise Valley was hardly a promised land, for it was also an area with densely packed tenements and visible poverty, plagued by disease and crime.”

The New Paradise Valley doesn’t suffer these conditions. Indeed, while the entire city is officially bankrupt, the New Paradise Valley is rich.

The home page photo of the Forest Club, located near Hastings St. in Paradise Valley, was taken Easter Sunday, 1932. (Courtesy of The Orlin Jones Collection.)

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James E. Kenyon

James is the publisher and editor of Page One Post. He was a newspaper reporter in Detroit and Norfolk, VA, before working in the corporate communications departments at a number of Michigan companies. His last stint was 18 years at Chrysler Corporation, where he handled media relations, product and marketing PR and speech writing. He retired from Chrysler in 2007. He enjoys listening to jazz, good cigars and bourbon Manhattans, often at the same time. He and his partner, Melba, live in Detroit's Rosedale Park neighborhood.