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Architecture

Faces and their places

New book depicts homes of famous Detroiters

Illin': The former Detroit home of Mike Ilitch.
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Published 6/11/2008

Some of the faces are immediately connected to Detroit. People as diverse as Rosa Parks, Eminem and former Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad. Others are well-known, but their ties to the Motor City will come as a surprise to many. People like actor Harry Morgan of television's M*A*S*H, newsman Mike Wallace and the late singer-songwriter-turned-politician Sonny Bono.

What they all have in common is that, at one time or another, all called Detroit home. And now they are part of a new book fittingly titled Home in Detroit. The product of a 39-year-old retail executive and amateur photographer who self-published the book under the pen name T. Burton, Home is being used as a fundraiser for Motor City Blight Busters, which gets a $5 cut from the $24.95 price of every book sold. Three thousand of the books were printed initially. The plan is to produce more once the first batch sells out.

Blight Busters' founder John George says Burton worked on the book for several years before approaching George with the idea of having him help promote the book and using it to raise money for the organization.

The book covers a wide spectrum of folks, from auto magnates Henry Ford and John Dodge to aviator Charles Lindbergh to actor George Peppard and comedian Gilda Radner to Motown stars Gladys Knight and Marvin Gaye to athletes Chris Webber and Ty Cobb.

The homes they lived in are equally diverse. Some show humble beginnings. There's the house James Lipton — a writer and poet best known for hosting the television program Inside the Actor's Studio — who lived with his mother in his grandmother's house on Hague Street near Holbrook and Woodward. Sonny Bono's family lived in a small house on the near east side before heading west in the early 1940s. When they were a young married couple just getting started, Mike and Marian Ilitch — now owners of Little Caesar's Pizza, the Red Wings, Tigers (him), a casino (her), the Fox Theatre and much more — lived in a place on Chalfonte that looks to be a strong candidate for a Blight Busters demolition crew. The same is true of the home former football star Jerome "the Bus" Bettis once lived in.

Other shots show marvelous mansions, like the one on East Boston that auto company founder John Dodge lived in until he died in 1920. The one-time Boston-Edison home of Sebastian Kresge — who transformed a five-and-dime store into the Kmart empire — is particularly impressive.

There's even a scoundrel or two in the mix. Ivan Boesky — the corporate raider convicted of insider trading, sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison and fined $100 million — lived in Palmer Park. The book notes that Boesky, in a 1986 speech at the University of California, said, "I think greed is healthy." That speech, it is claimed, inspired the "greed is good" speech delivered by the character Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street. We're also reminded of John DeLorean, the former GM exec who left to start building eponymous cars with stainless steel bodies and gull-winged doors. When the company floundered, he was accused of participating in a big-time cocaine deal allegedly intended to help finance a bailout. The book notes that DeLorean, who spent much of his childhood in a tiny, one-story house on Marx Street in Highland Park, served as his own lawyer, and was found not guilty because of entrapment.

No matter how much you know about Detroit, there's something here that will surprise.

Home in Detroit can be purchased by contacting Blight Busters at blightbusters.org or 313-255-4355.

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