Another Heidelberg Project house hit by fire

Lauren Abdel-Razzaq
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tyree Guyton stood outside the entrance to the Heidelberg Project's Taxi House on Sunday and swept leaves from the front step while around back the burned wood of another arson had just finished smoking.

Artist Tyree Guyton works outside the “Taxi House” which became the 12th of the Heidelberg Project structures to burn Sunday November 23, 2014 in Detroit.

Although the art installation's brainchild wasn't saying much about the fire, he was sending a message by standing out front of the house cleaning up what he could: He's standing strong and not going anywhere.

"Mother Teresa said, 'what you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build it anyway,' " Guyton said. "That's all I want to say."

The 12th home to be hit by fire in the past 18 months was damaged but not destroyed "despite its age and primarily wooden construction," according to a statement from the Heidelberg Project put out on social media.

The "Taxi House" now joins a list of other creations at the city street-turned-art installation that have been destroyed or damaged by fire, including the House of Soul, Clock House, War House, Penny House, Numbers House, Obstruction of Justice House and the Party Animal House. Memorials have been raised for some of the houses.

Police and fire officials have not been able to identify the person or people believed to be responsible for the arsons. Project officials have hired private security and installed security cameras.

One of those cameras is next to the Taxi House, with a clear view of the back where the fire began. Guyton would not comment on whether anyone was caught on video.

The artist has collected discarded items and mounted them onto homes in a two-block area off Gratiot on the city's east side for nearly three decades. He also paints and decorates the homes to follow their themes.

The “Taxi House” became the 12th of the Heidelberg Project structures to burn Sunday November 23, 2014 in Detroit. The house remains standing, but is badly burned in the back and inside.

Guyton launched the project in 1986 with his first wife, Karen, and his grandfather, artist Sam Mackey, as an act of artistic protest to spotlight the blight and abandonment in the neighborhood around Heidelberg Street and Mt. Elliott where Guyton grew up.

It's become a destination for local residents and visitors from overseas. On Saturday, while Guyton steadfastly cleared leaves from the front walk, a group of urban planners from the University of Technology in Gdansk, Poland, toured the project as part of their trip to Detroit.

Gabi Rembarz said they came to see the blight in Detroit, but also how the city is turning itself around, including through public art such as the Heidelberg Project.

"Art is one of the instruments to get people to come in, to see something unusual," she said. "This is definitely unusual."

And even facing repeated arson, Guyton is determined to keep pushing forward and bringing people together with his work.

Explaining his tenacity in an interview with The Detroit News last month, Guyton said, "I hear my Grandpa Mackey, the last night he was alive. He said, 'Son, don't you stop — no matter what happens.'"

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Detroit News Staff Writer Michael H. Hodges contributed.