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Detroit neighborhood to be studied for national historic designation

Ariana Taylor
The Detroit News

When the city of Detroit auctioned off a number of lots near Wyoming street in 1967, Marlena Tunstall and her husband knew they had to bid on a piece of land. That land became the starting point for their life together, the place where they built their home from the ground up and where they raised their family. 

Now, after 53 years of making memories — and passing the property down to her daughter — Tunstall's home will be at the heart of a neighborhood designated as a national historic site. 

U.S. Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, left, shares a moment with area resident Marlena Tunstall, 82, after the announcement

The Detroit City Council historic designation advisory board launched a new project Friday that will identify and list historic sites around the Eight Mile and Wyoming area in the National Register of Historic Places in Washington D.C. 

"(The project) means a lot to us... It's just a beautiful thing to see," the 83-year-old said. 

That area is the site of one of the city's oldest Black neighborhoods and the advisory board says the spot in Northwest Detroit is home to at least four historic sites. 

These include Our Lady of Victory Catholic Church, at 10113 Eight Mile; the William E. Higginbotham School, at 20119 Wisconsin St., the Detroit Urban League Center, at 20435 Northlawn St, and the Birwood Wall, at 20194 Mendota St.

"We want to make sure that we don't lose those stories," said Janese Chapman, deputy director of the advisory board. "The families pass them from generation to generation but if we can document that history... then we can make it available to our younger generation."

Area resident Virginia Langford looks at images of 8 Mile and Wyoming from the 1950s.

The project will include written documents, photos and videos of the residents in the area telling stories about the history of the neighborhood and recording issues from years ago regarding racial segregation, housing discrimination and civil rights as they relate to the sites.

The project is funded in part by the National Park Service's Underrepresented Community Grant, which is the first time this grant has been awarded in Michigan. It is expected to be completed in the next year and a half. 

Detroit City Councilman Roy McCalister Jr. and Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence hosted the kick-off event at the Oak Grove African Methodist Episcopal Church. 

A 1967 map of the Eight Mile - Wyoming Urban Renewal Plat, owned by area resident Marlena Tunstall, 82.

"This project is a recipient of our federal dollars," Lawrence said. "The reason why there's funding set aside is so when we look at historic places in America, that it's inclusive of our story."

Other locations in Detroit that are on the National Register of Historic Places include Belle Isle, the Boston Edison District, the original location of Cass Technical High School and Broadway Avenue.