Fire burns ‘Birthday Cake’ house on Heidelberg Street

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Detroit — Authorities continue to investigate a suspicious fire at the “Birthday Cake” house on Heidelberg Street on the city’s east side early Tuesday.

Detroit Fire Department senior chief Jack Wiley said the first fire truck responded at about 5 a.m.

“We had two engines, a truck, a squad and a chief on site,” Wiley said. “There were no injuries, and it took about 45 minutes to put out the fire.”

Wiley said initial reports that a fire bomb or Molotov cocktail had been tossed into the house, which has an exterior decorated by painted birthday cakes, had not yet been confirmed. This is, however, the latest in a rash of fires that have occurred on Heidelberg Street in past months.

“It seems like we’re out there putting out fires at least once a month,” said Wiley. “For a long time, those houses stood without anything happening. Somebody must not like having the houses there.”

Wiley said nobody is in custody at this time.

Earlier this month, crews responded to another fire at a house near the Heidelberg Project, an art installation well-known in Detroit. A fire broke out at the house known as the Detroit Industrial Gallery. Damage was visible to the roof and ceiling. The house is decorated with figurines, placards and was painted different colors by artist Tim Burke. The house stands next to several others decorated by artist Tyree Guyton of the famed Heidelberg Project.

The Heidelberg Project dates back to 1986, when Guyton and his late grandfather, Sam Mackey, started nailing found objects onto abandoned houses as an act of social protest and artistic expression.

Several of Guyton’s Heidelberg Project houses have burned over the last year in arson fires. Houses destroyed include the “Clock House,” “War House,” “Penny House,” “Numbers House,” “Obstruction of Justice House,” “House of Soul,” and most recently the “Party Animal House.”

The ongoing arson investigation has yet to yield any new information, said Donald Dawkins, spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, last week.

In June, organizers for the Heidelberg Project announced a security upgrade of a solar-powered security and surveillance system. After securing $54,000 through online fundraising and other donations, the nonprofit had 10 surveillance cameras and several solar-powered street lights installed in the two-block art project.

On Saturday, work at the Heidelberg continued on a tribute to the "House of Soul," one of the art installations that was burned down. The vinyl-record clad house was torched in November. Dozens of United Auto Workers members and other volunteers came together to build atop the foundation of the building, literally raising up the walls from the ashes.

(313) 222-2296