Why Hamtramck

Hamtramck: Here's the rest of the story
by Christopher M. Singer
The Detroit News

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

"Hamtramck: The Driven City" by Greg Kowalski (Arcadia Publishing,
160 pages, $24.99) is about the 2.1-square-mile city that used to be labeled
"the Polish enclave of Hamtramck" or "Dodge City" in newspaper headlines.
But after 70 years of providing jobs and tax revenue, the gigantic Dodge Main
complex that had defined Hamtramck was closed in 1980 by Chrysler.
The consequences make up important sections of Kowalski's chronicle.
The struggles of former Mayor Robert Kozaren to make up the loss and the controversial
construction of General Motor Corp.'s 400-acre Detroit Hamtramck Assembly --
lliterally atop the remains of Dodge Main -- is told from a Hamtramck point of view.
Eventually, Hamtramck in December 2000 became the first municipal government
in Michigan history to be turned over to an emergency financial manager by the state.

Highland Park and Flint have since followed.

"The story in there isn't just about Hamtramck," Kowalski said. "It's about education,
the labor movement, politics, even the Communist Party."
Kowalski is a lifelong resident of Hamtramck, a graduate of St. Florian High
School, which is now closed, and Wayne State University. He worked at the
Hamtramck Citizen weekly newspaper from 1974-1981, serving as editor during
1977-81, a period of huge change to the city. Kowalski currently is editor of the
Birmingham and West Bloomfield editions of the The Observer & Eccentric Newspapers.
He has chaired the Hamtramck Historical Commission since its creation by the
City Council in 1998.
Former City Council President Phillip J. Kwik was the author of the legislation
that created the historical commission.
"I think there was a need for such a book," Kwik, a senior librarian at the
Troy Public Library, said. "That was part of the thinking that led to the
historical commission being created: To pull together a history that is quickly
being lost and to make history accessible."
Kowalski recounted how the book came to be. "I was familiar with Arcadia
books and someone mentioned they were looking for a history of Hamtramck,"
Kowalski said. "That was in November. I signed a contract in December and
had it done by March. For a while there, I was writing 1,200 words a day.
The book was published about a month ago. "We've never had a complete history
of Hamtramck," Kowalski said. "I wanted it to be extremely readable and lively."

Hamtramck history itself is pretty lively.

Kowalski writes of a plan by the original German farmers in the Village of Hamtramck
to get Hamtramck annexed by Detroit. That would have neutralized the growing vote
by Polish Catholic newcomers. They were thwarted by moves by the Polish residents
that involved incorporating into a city in 1922, because a city could not be annexed by
another city.
Included in the history is a look at Hamtramck's lurid reputation when members of the
Purple Gang lounged about and brothels, speakeasies and gambling grew to be second
industries during Prohibition.
One Hamtramck mayor was convicted of operating brothels and sent to prison. When
he got out, happy voters celebrated his arrival at the train station and promptly re-elected
him mayor.
Kowalski chronicles the key role Hamtramck and Dodge Main played in the rise of
the UAW and the labor movement. And he describes the bold innovations in bilingual
and special education made back in the '20s by Hamtramck Public Schools Superintendent
Dr. Maurice Keyworth that were copied across the United States.
"We're always on the verge of doing something great," Kowalski said.
"But we never seem to do it."
Erin Fanning is a freelance writer in Millersburg, Mich.

The above article reprinted from:

Hamtramck: Here's the rest of the story - The Detroit News
by Christopher M. Singer
The Detroit News, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

American Profile
by Erin Fanning
American Profile - Celebrating Hometown Life
341 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067
March 10, 2002 - March 16, 2002

From the air, homes and businesses in Hamtramck, Mich.,blend in with the
landscape of Detroit's other neighborhoods, but at street level, Hamtramck is
proudly--and predominately--Polish.
Home to thousands of Polish immigrants in the early to mid-1900s, Hamtramck's
main street still is dotted with Polish bakeries and eateries, where powdered-sugar
chruscikis (pastry) and fresh kielbasa (sausage) are served and Polish words punctuate conversations.
At the Polish Market, ethnic delicacies such as plump paczkis (custard-filled doughnuts)
sit next to the cash register, and imported cookies, Polish coffee, and pierogis (dumplings)
pack the shelves.
"You can't find what my store carries outside of Hamtramck," says owner
Krzysztof Obrzut, who immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1987.
Settled by French Canadians in 1798, Hamtramck is named after Col. Jean Francois
Hamtramck, a Revolutionary War hero of German-French extraction. The town's first
Polish residents didn't arrive until the early 1900s with the opening of a Dodge Brothers
automobile factory, whose jobs attracted workers of many nationalities.
Between 1914 and 1920, Hamtramck's population swelled from 3,589 to 45,615, in
part because of the large influx of newly arrived Poles. By 1930, about 85 percent of
the city's 56,000 residents were of Polish extraction, and the community--which
measures just over 2 square miles--was the most densely populated city in the United States.
Today, about half of Hamtramck's 22,976 residents claim some Polish ancestry.
Physical isolation from Detroit has helped Hamtramck retain its Polish personality.
To the east are railroad tracks, to the west is Interstate 75, and to the south are factories.
The north is the only opening to Detroit without an obstacle.
"Hamtramck has always been a little island within Detroit," says Greg Kowalski,
chairman of the Hamtramck Historical Commission.
Hamtramck's Polish influence, however, is felt beyond its borders. Paczki Day,
a Polish celebration that marks the beginning of Lent, draws crowds to Hamtramck's
bakeries for the rich doughnuts that give the event its name. On Labor Day, polka bands
play and Polish dancers twirl during Hamtramck's Polish Day Parade.
Hamtramck's Polish heritage brought Pope John Paul II to the city in 1897 and a
monument to the first Polish leader of the Roman Catholic Church stands in a
downtown park. Among the city's other religious masterpieces are the 1928 St. Florian
Roman Catholic Church, designed by Ralph Adams Cram, America's premier
Gothic Revivial architect in the early 1900s. St. Florian is one of more than a dozen
churches, synagogues, and mosques in Hamtramck.

"People mortgaged their homes to build churches," Kowalski says.

Polish culture is responsible for Hamtramck's success, says Joan Bittner, who with
her husband, Raymond, owns the Polish Art Center, a store featuring handmade
arts & crafts from Poland. Wooden boxes show off intricate designs, delicately painted
pisanki (Easter eggs) fill a glass case, and Polish costumes, worn by local dance troupes,
fill a rack toward the rear of the store.
"The most impressive thing for me is when Polish residents bring their friends and family,"
she says. "Polish-Americans are proud to be Polish when they come here."
Hamtramck also boasts other ethnic groups, including large Albanian, Ukrainian,
Yemenese, and African-American communities. "It wasn't uncommon in the 1930s for
African-Americans to own a home here and rent a flat to whites," Kowalksi says.
Hamtramck also was progressive in other social issues, such as having the first school
district in the United States to offer education for special needs students.
"Growing up here I never realized how different it was from other cites," Kowalski says.
"But today I realize what a great sense of community Hamtramck has."

"That is what keeps me here," he adds.

Erin Fanning is a freelance writer in Millersburg, Mich.
The above article reprinted from:
American Profile - Celebrating Hometown Life
by Erin Fanning
341 Cool Springs Blvd., Suite 400, Franklin, TN 37067
March 10, 2002 - March 16, 2002

Hamtramck: Hip clubs and hangouts blend with Old World style.
by Matthew Miller | NOISE

February 11, 2003

On the map, Hamtramck looks like a postage-stamp-sized
blip in the middle of Detroit's urban abyss. On the ground, you'll know it when you see it.
You'll know it by its big neon sausage.
Driving east on Holbrook Avenue, the sausage, a sign hanging from the side of the
Kowalksi Sausage Company, welcomes you to Hamtramck's overheated mix of
Old World style and bohemian sensibility.
The 2.2-square-mile city is post-modernity in action. It holds a mind-boggling mix
of ethnicities -- 47 according to the 2000 census -- ranging from the Poles who gave
the town its reputation -- and built the statue of Pope John Paul II in a park along
Joseph Campau Street -- to more recent arrivals from Bangladesh, Bosnia and Yemen.
It's got darned near the highest number of bars per by square foot of any city in the
country, a veritable booze-hound's wonderland of dimly lit corner dives and friendly
neighborhood hipster joints.
And, despite a dearth of galleries, it's home to a deeply entrenched art scene. Even
Mayor Gary Zych is a painter.
Hamtramck has been hip for a long time. As far back as 1997, the Utne Reader
pegged it as one of the 15 hippest neighborhoods in the United States and Canada.
Even though the city has recently lost two of its mainstays -- Lili's 21 Club, an early
home for Detroit's punk rock scene, and Motor, the near-legendary electronic music
club -- Hamtramck is still out in front of most of the competition.
"Diversity. Tight community. Those are really the two things that make Hamtramck
what it is," said owner, as she straightened coffee cups behind the bar at
Urban Break Coffeehouse.
If you're looking to sink yourself into the Hamtramck scene, Urban Break wouldn't
be a bad place to start. The bright, if smoke-filled, cafe along Joseph Campau is the
daytime hangout for a lot of the city's artists and writers, and a place for live jazz and
poetry slams at night. The back of the cafe is cluttered with board games. There's a
rack filled with 'zines and a map turned pin cushion sporting the question, "Where
were you born?" And if Europe and the U.S. are the most pinned up, Africa, Asia
and the Middle East aren't doing too badly.
You can find an older version of Hamtramck just down the street. Under the Eagle
is one of several traditional Polish restaurants in the city, a place to get warm cabbage
soup and mushroom blinzes (the house specialty) from waitresses in something approx-
imating native dress. It's a place where the town's older residents chat casually in Polish
amid some fine Old World kitsch.
"People come here from all over," said Jerry Wandolowski, a former city councilman
and the guy behind the "I Love Hamtramck" campaign from the 1970s, as he took a
last swig from an afternoon cup of coffee. "We're home."
As for the nightlife, that depends on your taste. You can go done-up and lounge-ready
at Lush, a dance club with some fine music and awfully hard abs. You can hang casual
with the local cool kids at Small's, a friendly neighborhood bar with a solid jukebox
and flatteringly dim lighting. Or go hard-drinking and blue-collar at some of the smokiest,
shabbiest, most beautiful dive bars Detroit has to offer -- where the people have a
different take on Hamtramck's appeal.
"Beer and a shot," said "Fast" Eddie, owner of the Norwalk Bar for more than 60
years. "There you go."
Matthew Miller is a Staff writer for Lansing Noise [email protected].

The above article reprinted from:
Lansing Noise
by Matthew Miller
February 11, 2003

Retailers mirror city's diversity
By Michelle O. Jiompkowski
Special to The Detroit News
The Detroit News, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Exotic choices abound in enclave's melting pot

Just as at the start of the last century, new generations of immigrants are calling Hamtramck
home in the 21st century. They come from Europe and Asia with hopes of creating brighter
futures for themselves and their families in America.
In their homes, businesses and places of worship, they sustain ethnic traditions, which include
exotic shopping destinations for Metro Detroiters of any background. Neighborhood retailers, including some newcomers, reflect the diversity of Hamtramck's growing population, drawn
from around the world and now exceeding 23,000 people. This market tour represents a
sampling of the small ethnic food sellers and other merchants on the main thoroughfares of
Caniff, Jos. Campau and Conant.
Miron's Grocery Mini Market
This grocery on Caniff carries fresh and imported foods, particularly Polish specialties.
Tortes and other pastries, meats, fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, beer, wine and phone
cards are available.
It's run by the Gubanski family, originally from Poland -- parents Miron and Mieczyslawa,
and sons Krzystof and Waldemar. The store has ornate chandeliers, originally installed
because they dreamed of opening a restaurant -- the type of business Mieczyslawa
Gubanski ran in the central Polish city of Bydgoszcz for 16 years. When the initial plans
didn't work out, the immigrants opened a market instead.
Customer Tom Schemanski of Hamtramck likes the small, convenient shop. "They're
always friendly," he said. "They have fresh meat and make homemade pierogi. And their
prices are decent." His wife, Stella Szczesny, added: "The tortes are out of this world."

The former restaurant owner Gubanski creates the nut and chocolate tortes, using real cream.

Low prices on some items are another draw, with a gallon of milk usually at $2.29.

Mesnica Meat Market
A short walk from Miron's, Mesnica Meat Market also caters to residents and visitors
seeking specialty foods, especially butcher-cut veal, lamb, beef and chicken. In fact,
mesnica in Bosnian means butcher, owner Nihad Jakupovic said.

He runs the small shop with his wife, Rujka, and son Emil, along with a few other workers.

"We have a specialty called chevapi, beef sausage without casing," said the son,
adding that customers find it great for grilling. Chicken is baked daily on the premises,
along with burek -- a generous pocket of bread filled with meat, red onion, garlic, salt
and other seasonings.
"From our home country of Bosnia, we carry dobrova duvec, a mixture of vegetables,"
Emil Jakupovic said. "We have a lot of products to add to the flavor of baked chicken,"
the youngest family member continued as he described rows of pickled peppers, salsa
and tomato sauce from Croatia. "Most of the items are from the Balkans."
A tasty round bread, lepine, is freshly baked on site. For dessert lovers, Jadro chocolate
wafers and Sorini Italian chocolate bonbons are popular.

The family plans a fruit and vegetable section.

Ksiegarnia Eden (Eden Bookstore)
This month-old shop has an extensive collection of classic and popular Polish literature,
newspapers and magazines.
For example, "Harry Potter" and "Lord of the Rings" are available in Polish editions,
along with the classic "Quo Vadis?" by Henryk Sienkiewicz.
"Everything is from Poland," owner Danuta Trojanowicz said. She plans to stock
more English cookbooks on Polish cuisine.

Kasia Stachelek, a niece, and nephew, Sebastian Szczepanski, help with the business.

Besides the reading material, Eden carries Bibles, prayer books and paintings of a religious
nature, as well as crystal and amber jewelry -- including the newly popular light-green
variety of amber.
Bengal Spices
Zakaria and Ahbab Ahmed, brothers from Bangladesh, opened in 1988 as Hamtramck's
first Indian grocery store. They also run the Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine Restaurant and the
Bengal Hall and Auditorium, both on Caniff.
Their exotic, hard-to-find spices and teas from India draw suburban patrons and occasional
visitors from Ohio.
Special items are curry powder and live Amish chicken from Indiana. Fresh meat and fish,
including buffalo carp and catfish, also are sold. Large sacks of rice are stacked up --
basmati from India, kalijeera from Bangladesh.

Orders are accepted by mail and phone.

Fresh Valley Fruit Market
"Bustling" is an apt word to describe Fresh Valley, owned by Tarric Naksho from Syria.

Dill, white radish, fresh horseradish root, English cucumbers and chestnuts are among
produce in stock. More than 20 kinds of coffee await coffee lovers. Phone cards offering
reduced-rate access to all parts of the world form a modern type of wall covering.

The gregarious manager Dhia Ahmed from Yemen boasted of having "the best grapes in town."

Customer Naima Melkic, originally from Bosnia, likes the smoked beef and wafer cookies.
"He's very good," she said of Ahmed.
Indeed, the multilingual manager Dhia Ahmed speaks Arabic, English and Bosnian and
understands bits of Polish and Russian.
According to him, customers include new Americans who came from Bosnia, Yugoslavia,
Russia, Hungarian, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Ukraine, Albania and other countries.
Another employee, Ismet Balija, immigrated from Bosnia three years ago. "This is the best
job," he said. "I got a good boss and good co-workers."
Hera Fish Market
On Holbrook Avenue, Hera Fish Market opened last year because fish is a dietary staple
for people from Bangladesh, said owner Mohammed Rahman, also from that area.
Hera Fish Market carries three dozen frozen fish varieties from Bangladesh, Myanmar
(formerly Burma) and Thailand, plus 10 types of fresh catches from Canada. "We're
looking strictly for quality fish," Rahman said.

Fully dressed catfish costs $2.50 a pound and white bass is $1.99 at a pound.

Halal meat and fresh vegetables are also specialties.

Michelle O. Jiompkowski is a Metro Detroit free-lance writer.
The above article reprinted from:

Retailers mirror city's diversity - Special to The Detroit News

By Michelle O. Jiompkowski
The Detroit News, 615 W. Lafayette, Detroit, MI 48226
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Hamtramck Disneyland
by Jack Lessenberry
Metro Times and metrotimes.com
733 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226
January 15, 2003 08:00 AM

A now-vanished city still tantalizingly there.

When you think of Detroit, what pops into your head? The skyline from Windsor?
Tiger Stadium? The giant, limp-wristed fist? I’m not sure of the best postcard image,
but I think I’ve found the one most appropriate for our times.
The creator calls it Hamtramck Disneyland. Suburban pseudo-liberals like myself can
take I-75 south, get off at Caniff, take Joseph Campau north, then duck through the
alley between Sobieski and Klinger Streets.
And there it is, rising to the sky, filling wires and rooftops, suspended above
Dmytro Szylak’s back yard. Wheels and propellers and flags; merry-go-round figures
and Disneyland characters, and lights and music when the proprietor turns them on.
Sort of a gentler, kitschier and cheerier version of Tyree Guyton. And I can’t think
of a better place to contemplate the coming war we intend to launch against Iraq and
the nuclear madness with North Korea. Or to remember that precisely four years ago,
we thought the nation’s biggest issue was our media-manufactured outrage that the
president had engaged in high-schoolish sexual fumblings with a plump young woman.
Let nobody say old Dmytro’s reality is out of whack. Hamtramck itself, however, is
a bubble or two off plumb. World-famous for decades as a little Poland in exile,
Hamtramck drew politicians such as John F. Kennedy and even merited a visit in 1987
from the world’s first Polish pope. It was famous for Dodge Main, artery-killing paczki
doughnuts at Lent, quaint shops and, in recent years, trendy clubs and bars.
Politics were always entertaining, and more than one local statesman went from City Hall
to the slam and back again. But now Hamtramck is, like Poland for much of its history,
a captive, under a dictatorship the locals are powerless to do anything about. And the
dictator is about as culturally alien as you could imagine; he’s a no-nonsense
Republican from Waterford, a man of German (!) heritage named Louis Schimmel.
Free speech still exists, and there is an elected mayor, Gary Zych, and a city council,
but when it comes to how money is spent and city services are run, Schimmel is Der Law.
Fourteen months ago, Metro Times’ Lisa M. Collins wrote what is still the deepest
and best portrait of Hamtramck under the Schimmel regime (“Czar wars,” Metro Times,
Nov. 21-27, 2001).
Now, the man who really is the historical memory of Hamtramck, Greg Kowalski,
has written a new book, Hamtramck: The Driven City (Arcadia, $24.99), a
captivating journey through the saga of this incredible town. Kowalski, a former
editor of the Hamtramck Citizen, tends to agree with those who find Schimmel high-
handed and sometimes pig-headed. But he has to admit the city is better than before.
"I have to say that I am a little afraid of what will happen" if and when the governor
decides to turn the city back over to its residents, he admits. To put it gently, the
politicians who ran Hamtramck made drunken sailors look like financial planners.
It’s important to note that it doesn’t have to be this way. Hamtramck isn’t
Bloomfield Hills. But it would be a grave mistake to lump it with Detroit’s other
enclave city, Highland Park. Both cities are in economic receivership. But
Highland Park simply no longer has the resources to be a city. The best thing would
be for the admittedly cash-strapped state to offer incentives for Detroit to absorb
Highland Park.
Hamtramck, however, has a pulse. In fact, waves of new immigrants, most from
places other than Poland, swelled the population by nearly a quarter in the 1990s.
Driving around the streets, one sees people working on their modest, densely packed
houses. Motor is gone, but Planet Ant is still going strong, and there are young artists
moving in; plenty of coffeehouse life and poetry slams.
What Hamtramck needs to do, frankly, is to get its gowno together. There are few
more fascinating towns. Like Detroit, it was a wide spot in the road that suddenly
boomed with the coming of the assembly line. What was unique was that throngs
of Polish immigrants flocked here and stayed here. Except for ruins, like the
disgracefully neglected Model T plant, Detroit and Highland Park today bear no
resemblance to the cities they were. Hamtramck is still recognizably the same place.
Poles are no longer a majority, but they outnumber every other nationality, and
there are still people living in houses their grandfathers built in 1920.
Kowalski has dedicated himself to preserving Hamtramck history, which he does
from an office at City Hall, 3402 Evaline, Hamtramck 48212. Incredibly, few of the
old-timers seem to have cared very much about their times; their sights were set on
the future.
Records and artifacts are scanty. Kowalski does his best, collecting as he can,
assembling a portrait of a now-vanished city still tantalizingly there. “If you have
anything that relates to Hamtramck, we want it,” he says. He’s now working on
a book of pictures from Hamtramck’s past, glorious and otherwise.
Even if their leaders have trouble with their checkbooks, there may be a lesson in
Hamtramck for all of us. Somehow, this place has endured, though things are seldom
entirely as they seem. The original Hamtramck, for example, didn’t have a drop of
Polish blood in his veins. He was a French-Canadian who fought in the American
The Polish-Americans who put his hamlet on the map didn’t care. Nor did they try
to change their city’s name to Pilsudski. Instead, they went and found ol’ Jean-François Hamtramck‘s bones, dug him up, and planted him in town.
Which makes him as Polish as apple pierogi. That’s a lesson for everyone in greater
Detroit. But will his namesake town make it in the end? Kowalski is sure it will, even
though he gets as mad at local idiocy as anyone.
"Hamtramck always survives in spite of itself. It just seems that every so often, the
state has to take us over for a while," he tells me.

There’s probably a lesson in that too.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail comments to [email protected].
The above article reprinted from:

Jack Lessenberry
Metro Times and metrotimes.com
733 St. Antoine, Detroit, MI 48226
January 15, 2003 08:00 AM