If you closed your eyes and listened to Ralph Rinaldi reminisce about the Cass Corridor that surrounds the El Moore, the way it used to be before Midtown was barely an idea, you would see it at first, then you would hear it and smell it. Then suddenly you’re there, looking around at a very different place in time. It is a counter-cultural neighborhood, but also exceptionally tolerant. A diverse neighborhood of artists, students and professors as well as junkies, pimps and prostitutes.
But there was room for them all, and somehow they made it work…
Because that’s what neighborhoods do.
This is Part 2 of a fascinating discussion with longtime Cass Corridor resident/activist Ralph Rinaldi. (Read Part 1 here.) The following is a slightly edited transcription. Mr. Rinaldi told his story better than I ever could so I just let the recorder run.
It was an exciting time. You know, music was the unifying force. It was asking questions about the politics and things of that sort. And there were a lot of young people in the area, more than now, and a lot of people were coming into this area and finding out where they wanted to go. Especially young men who were attempting to get out of the armed forces. This was a place where they could find out if they could get into Canada or Europe or find another alternative. So it was a very exciting time, it was a very challenging time, and people were wanting to know the alternative to a society that was rapidly changing. That’s the way it was.
There was all kinds and varieties of people here. You hear about how there was all kinds of crime, well, you know, you can go to Birmingham and there’s all kinds of crime there too. But I would say that, when you say tolerant, there was no problem the amount of places you could go to and people tolerated you whatever color you were, or whatever life’s work you were in. Sure there was prostitution, but women never bothered you unless you were looking for something to do. You know?
There were plenty of bars in the area. More than there are now. There was an air of whatever you wanted, you could find it, and if you were going into a bar to get something to drink, or you were looking for a hit, or a fix, you could get it. But if you wanted to be left alone, you could be left alone, and nobody would bother you. And that’s the God’s honest truth.
And the society was still racist, but you had all kinds of people, educated people living right next to people who had no money at all. And it was like that day and night. And I think the unifying force was the music that went on. There was all kinds of music in this area, more so then than now.
Cobb’s Corner was basically jazz, but you had rock and roll music and you had blues. You had country music, and a lot of the people were talented. You had a lot of people who were playing music right here. And I got involved with Alvin’s when it got started and I took pictures. I had the print shop, so I ran off a lot of their ads and stuff like that, their flyers and postcards. Alvins was one of those places that was like a mainstay for a lot of the artists of the area. They would go to Alvin’s 7 days a week.
George Cornick was a part owner of it with Barney Serowitz (sp?) and Barney bought the establishment from Alvin who eventually moved to California, and then moved to Boston. But Alvin started it, and Barney became a manager, and then George bought into it, and George was also a musician and he had a group called Shadowfax. Shadowfax was the house band. So they would play once a month and then George would select all sorts of music and musicians from here to Ann Arbor. George’s attempt was to become the prime establishment, not only in Detroit but in Southeast Michigan. Sadly he died because his ideas never really came through. And he wanted to become a professional musician too. He had a lot of great ideas, but his money never really stretched that far. He attracted a lot of artists within the community, and he had a good heart. He really cared a lot for the artists, and he cared a lot for the people in the area, and I can’t say enough kind things about him.
The Miami was one of the clubs back then. The Miami actually got started by a guy named George Kruper who’s actually living now in Crete. He’s a chef there in a hotel on the Island of Crete. He entertained all kinds of music, country, western, rock and roll, and between the Miami, Cobb’s Corner, and the Café, Detroit would have jazz on Saturday night and Sunday afternoons.
There was Song Shop Bar, which was on 3rd and Forest. And that was basically a blues bar. Blues and country.
Cass Café, it started in the mid-early 90s, it was sort of like more of a restaurant than anything else, and it still exists to this day.
The Artists, and a changing neighborhood
At that time you had all kinds of artists in this area. You name the medium: sculptors, painters, the teachers within CCS and Wayne State, and all of those professional artists lived in the area. It’s not that they just taught, but they lived in the area and had their studios in the area. Some of them still do, but not as many as used to.
It was a wonderful time. We all exchanged ideas about politics and living, and we all congregated at the same places. You’d start out maybe at the New Miami at 7 or 8 o’clock, and wind up at Alvin’s later on at night. The entertainment was the thing that connected people to the area.
The neighborhood began to change in the late ’90s. Things got rougher. The reality was a lot of artists just couldn’t make it on one job, or two jobs. Because all of the sudden the land values go up and the taxes go up and you can’t afford to stay.
As for Midtown versus Cass Corridor?
The Cass Corridor is still the Cass Corridor. It’s between the head and the armpit, or between the head and the stomach. It’s the core.