Jefferson-Chalmers gets historic designation to continue revitalization

Neighborhood carries designation from National Trust for Historic Preservation

DETROIT – Michigan is home to many national treasures, but only one carries that designation from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood on Detroit's east side is the first recipient of that honor in the state from a group dedicated to preserving architectural history.

The historic trust isn't the national register, and it doesn't come with restrictions and red tape. It offers a higher, national profile for the neighborhood, including bragging rights and access to technical expertise on how to preserve old buildings, like the Vanity Ballroom.

Jazz is the soul of the neighborhood, and the 1920's Vanity hosted the greats of jazz, including the Duke, Cab Calloway and rock acts like the Stooges in later years.

The historic trust chose the area over others in the state because it's at a tipping point. The trust believes landmarks like the Vanity can anchor a neighborhood comeback.

"It says to the country and the region, 'This is a neighborhood worth saving,'" said Josh Elling, of Jefferson East Inc.

The 10-year quest to get attention for the neighborhood and bring important resources is not just for the Vanity, but for the owners of historic homes.

The trust said passion and resilience from the residents sealed the deal. Cliff Berry has been in the neighborhood since 1974.

"It makes people feel like they're part of something," Berry said. "It's good for the neighborhood."

They have grants for environmental and structural studies, but what they really need is a roof and a half-million to a million dollars to stop the decay. But the new designation gives them a ray of light they can get some financing to preserve the piece of history.

Sign up for ClickOnDetroit Email Newsletters (click here) for more stories like this.

The Jefferson East re-development group already has two brownstone projects being rehabbed and it is also developing a restaurant in its former office. They're hoping phase two will include the Vanity Ballroom sometime next year, before time and elements can do more damage.