The automotive widows of Cass Corridor

“This whole area was big automotive when it started.”

–Pat Dorne, Executive Director, Cass Corridor Neighborhood Development Corporation

Cass Corridor has been a lot of things throughout the years, but in those early years during the latter part of the 1800s when the area was really coming to life, the area surrounding the El Moore and the Green Garage was home to quite a few automotive dealerships. It was also an area known to be home to a fairly upper crust segment of the population, and the El Moore was one among several locations that provided comfortable lodging to such a clientele.

But as to who that clientele was, the names and faces,  there are the records…and then there are the stories. Originally built by Charles Moore in 1898 at a cost of $24,000, and designed by A.C. Varney, one of the most prominent architects in Detroit, the El Moore originally contained just eight very large, luxury-style apartments, complete with attached quarters for the servants. Legend has it that some of the earliest tenants of the El Moore were a group of women some refer to as the ‘Automotive Widows’. Pat Dorne shared the story that has been passed down, but he cautioned  “I don’t have any documentation about this. These are just the stories that have come down. But they make sense when you think about it.”

“What happened is those executives died young at 45, 50. From heart attacks. Big rage of that going on at that time, from the stress and all that stuff. So their widows got to be friends during the automobile thing, and they were rich. So they wanted their independence, but they also kinda wanted to live together. So the first actual condo, they think, for the neighborhood was the El Moore. And the way they set it up was each one had their own individual unit. And they were rich, so all the kitchens were in the basement. And they had dumbwaiters that serviced each apartment. And then in the back, you’ll see there’s no original windows in the back because that’s where the help lived. And when you go through you’ll see oak on the floors? Until you get in the back. That’s pine.  That’s the help. So the help had the pine and no windows, and the rich widows had the fireplaces and the windows. So it definitely fits with the whole pattern of wealth.

“We had another one here on Peterboro that they built like that, fireplaces and everything. 92 Peterboro was the address. It’s gone now but they got it built and then they realized they didn’t build room for their help, so they added another floor, and the windows were real small and there were six-foot ceilings (So they wanted short help…?).  So it’s not like the El Moore was the only place like that. There were a lot of places at that period of  time that had that. You know, the good old days they weren’t so good. Just for a few people they were good,  for the guys who wrote the history.”

 

About Keith Owens

Keith Owens is a freelance writer, columnist, blogger and musician whose most recent work has been featured in Model D Detroit, BLAC Detroit, and the national political affairs blog PoliticusUSA. He has also published three novels through Detroit Ink Publishing (www.detroitinkpublishing.com), the eBook publishing company he co-founded with his wife, Pamela Hilliard Owens. Keith and Pam live in a 100-year-old home in the Historic Boston-Edison District a few miles north of the El Moore.

El Moore