Recently, America said goodbye to radio icon Casey Kasem, longtime host of “American Top 40.” (Maybe some of our younger readers will recognize him as the voice of “Shaggy” on the Scooby Doo cartoons.)
What’s the connection to the El Moore, you ask?
As with the Green Garage, part of the research we’ve done on the El Moore includes the history of the building and its surrounding neighborhood. We wanted to know everything we could discover about the El Moore; When was it built? Who built it? Who lived in it and what did they do? Who were their neighbors?
Just a few weeks ago, Jason Peet and Keith Owens made a trip to the City of Detroit Historic Designation Advisory Board where, with the help of Janese Chapman, they were able to collect information on each structure on the Alexandrine Street block (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues) where the El Moore stands. The records they pulled dated from the 1990’s and included a photograph of each home or apartment building along with the history of the structure and names of its residents. One of these sheets had a picture of a small 1 1/2 story worker’s-style cottage common to that area. Scanning the names of its various owners, I came across that of Amin Kasem who purchased the house out of foreclosure in 1944. “Hmm, Kasem,” I thought, “I wonder…”
Knowing that Casey Kasem was a Detroit native, all it took was a Google search and a quick visit to Ancestry.com and I had my answer. Casey Kasem did indeed grow up in that small house just 2 doors down from the El Moore, on property where the El Moore greenhouse will eventually stand. The house itself was torn down in the early 1990’s. The 1940 U.S. Census record shows 7-year-old Kamel (as Casey was named) living at the residence with his parents, Amin, a native of Syria who owned a grocery store, his mother, Helen, and other family members. He would certainly have been very familiar with the old apartment building, it’s beautiful sandstone and crenellated roofline. There is no way to know if he was ever inside the building, but he surely must have passed it many times as he played in the neighborhood. Perhaps he imagined the El Moore a castle….it has that look.
We know that Kasem graduated from Northwestern HS and attended Wayne State University, and that he was deeply involved in the Arab-American community in Detroit (on that topic, you can listen here to WDET’s Ismael Ahmed remembering Casey Kasem).
Our discovery of Casey Kasem’s connection to Alexandrine Street coinciding with his recent passing adds some poignancy to our uncovering of the El Moore story. These are the stories that give us a sense of place and that connect us to the very rich past of our Detroit neighborhoods.
For more about Kasem’s life, here’s a link to the NYT’s obituary.