Friday, September 18, 2009

A Hollywood Ending For Highland Park Library

A Michigan library closed since 2002 has a chance to be revived courtesy of Hollywood.

In a unique resuscitation of yet another public library drowning in a sea of red ink, a filmmaker's inspiration may accomplish what a city could not. The saga of the McGregor Public Library in Highland Park, a suburb of Detroit, captured the imagination of writer-director-producer Andrew Meieran when he learned of it while surfing the web.

The library began as a grand symbol of the industry, prosperity, and culture of a community. The village of Highland Park was incorporated as a city in 1918 to protect its tax base, including the Highland Park Ford Plant, where Henry Ford opened the first assembly line in 1913. Chrysler later chose to build its world headquarters in the suburb. In 1910 Highland Park had 4,120 residents. Between 1910 and 1920 that population increased by 1,081 percent. Good jobs were plentiful, and middle class homeowners ensured a healthy economy.

In 1918, the voters of Highland Park approved a $500,000 bond issue for library construction. The library was to be a grand architectural symbol for the proud community. At the time of the groundbreaking, Adam Strohm, head of the Detroit Public Library, advised the city government: "whatever you do, make the building attractive—beautiful inside and out—so that one gets an
uplift, a clear vision of beauty in the building. When you do that, you do
something not alone for Highland Park, but for the Nation."

The new McGregor Library was dedicated on March 5, 1926, and was the recipient of a Gold Medal for Architectural Merit by the AIA. The most outstanding of the building's many artistic flourishes was the entrance, a lavishly decorated pair of bronze doors designed by Chicago sculptor
Frederick Torrey.

The design fittingly celebrated the
automotive industry. Double doors are graced by winged figures, one a symbol of mechanics, the other a symbol of the creative spirit. Together they support the torch of knowledge.

Those magnificent doors are now concealed behind crude plywood boards. The building, a once monument to culture and literacy, is a decaying relic fallen to rack and ruin. Why the drastic reversal of fortune? In the late 1950s Henry Ford bought huge tracts of inexpensive land outside of Detroit and built new plants. When the Highland Park Plant was closed, jobs dried up and homeowners fled. A declining population and increasing poverty soon followed, accompanied by a high crime rate. In 1967 the Detroit riots dealt another blow to the

White flight from the area accelerated, and Highland Park became a city of impoverished minorities. Then Chrysler left for the suburbs, and the city had insufficient taxable income to maintain its infrastructure. That included the now dilapidated and woefully underfunded library.

Filmmaker Meieran has vowed to restore the library to its former glory, ironically to create a suitable location for depicting its decline. The film, with a working title of "Highland Park" and expected to star Danny Glover, might generate enough publicity to bring charitable donations and federal grants sufficient to reopen the building.

Dorothy Robinson, artistic director of Detroit's oldest black professional theater company hopes that comes to pass. At a recent news conference announcing the movie, Robinson sought out those in charge of the production to ask about work for her actors. "When they reopen the library, we'll know Highland Park is back."

1 comment:

  1. Do they plan to film the story backwards -- from decline to glory?


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