After over nine hours of driving the truck which is older than I am, I break down just two miles from Spencer's. My local contact helps me get a tow to Spencer's so that I can secure my things inside, but one of the doors is easily pushed in. I have the option of staying at a nicer house a couple blocks away, but fear leaving everything I own at this house unsecured on such a lively corner. Within the 20 minutes of hauling my belongings inside I'm approached by half a dozen people looking for handouts or offering help (for money), as well as a police officer seemingly convinced I'm insane (the tow-man had a similar look on his face upon seeing where we had him take the truck to). I spent the night at Spencer's as the only security system available.
It was a rough night, and daylight only helps reveal more issues in the house. I'm approached by another police officer, who again thoroughly questions me and forwards his concerns of safety. We talk about the neighborhood...what brought the drunkards and fiends here, what their schedules are like, where they've been and where they'll go, the city's endless battle against their gatherings, and the futility of these efforts simply as displacement. At the intersection is a gas station and a party (liquor) store. Across the street a currently being developed park, where the gatherings used to occur. And between Spencer's and the liquor store a broken up and overgrown parking lot where they have been recently.
Soon the Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood Association will be assisting with the removal of this parking lot, to be turned into a green space that will synergize with the new public program of Spencer's (sculpture park? vegetable garden?). But initially it's still only an act of displacing people to the other corner of the intersection. If that's rehabilitated too, they'll move down the street, or to another neighborhood.
After spending some time here, I feel the majority of people (drunks and addicts included) are harmless. Hired muscle might be useful in the future, and incorporating the community in the rebuilding of the neighborhood is essential in creating revitalization rather than displacement.
The building, originally a house, was transformed into a commercial building in the 60's - Spencer's Funeral Home. Some locals, all of whom seem to have known the late Mr. Spencer very well, speculate it's been vacant since his death about 15 years ago. Rumor has it he kept a body refrigerated there for an extended period of time for lack of payment, leading some locals to fearing the place as haunted.
Roof damage has quickly led to the decay of one of the back corners of the house. The collapsed second floor is dangling, possibly just by the few electrical wires that run through the joists. Above this the attic floor is collapsing too - not as bad but still far beyond saving.
Stephen's earlier visit - and what I discover from the party store owner, a short-lived effort to rehab this house last summer - leave a few rooms fairly clean. A lot of windows are broken, especially large ones, but largely the front of the house is in great shape.
Sixty "Z-Blocks," sculptural seating contrinbuted by designer Srdjan Jovanovic-Weiss of Normal Architecture Office, fill one of the front rooms. These will be used for various events and gathering under the guise of the Flint Public Art Project.
And by me to have something to sit on while on my diet of water and pretzels, both by the gallon.
To the basement
I've located myself and my things on the second floor in one of the cleaner and more put-together rooms. Though there is another, more secure house with working amenities nearby, I'm living still situating myself between the two. Establishing an early presence at Spencer's I think will go a long way in keeping vandals and thieves away from the property.