Where can you get a real diner experience, especially here in Michigan? The answer is Lamy’s Diner inside Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation—an actual 1946 diner brought here from Massachusetts, restored, and operating as a restaurant in the Museum since 2012.
Now Lamy’s Diner is more authentic, more immersive, and serving more delicious food than ever! What’s behind this makeover?
In 1984, the Henry Ford Museum purchased the Clovis Lamy's diner. It took a crane to lift the diner in preparation for transporting it from Hudson, Massachusetts. Once here, it was restored to its original 1946 appearance. THF 25768
Back in the 1980s, museum staff worked with diner expert Richard Gutman to track down an intact vintage diner for the new “Automobile in American Life” exhibit. Gutman not only found such a diner in Hudson, Massachusetts (moved twice from its original location in Marlborough, Massachusetts) but also helped in its restoration and in interviewing its original owner, Clovis Lamy, about his experiences running the diner and about the menu items he served.
Diners are innovative and uniquely American eating establishments. Lamy, like other World War II veterans, was lured by dreams of prosperity and the independence that came with being an entrepreneur of his own diner. As he remarked, “during the war, everyone had his dreams. I said if I got out of there alive, I would have another diner—a brand new one.”
This photograph shows Lamy's Diner on its original site in Marlborough, Massachusetts, 1946. The diner moved three times, first to Framingham, Massachusetts, next to Hudson, Massachusetts in 1949, and finally to the Henry Ford Museum in 1984. THF 88966
Sure enough, when he was discharged from the army, he ordered a 40-seat, 36- by 15-foot model from the Worcester Lunch Car Company, a premier diner builder at that time. It boasted a porcelain enamel exterior, 16 built-in stools, six hardwood booths, a marble counter, and a stainless steel back bar. Lamy could choose the diner’s colors, door locations, and outside lettering. He and his wife Gertrude visited the Worcester plant once a week, eager to check on its construction.
Clovis Lamy stands behind the counter of his diner in Massachusetts. His favorite part of running a diner was talking to his customers. THF 114397
Lamy’s Diner opened for business in April 1946, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. As Lamy remembered, business was brisk:
We jammed them in here at noon—workers from the town’s shoe shops—and we had a good dinner trade too… People stopped in after the show…[and] after the bars closed, the roof would come off the place.
During the long hours of operation (the place closed at 2 a.m.), the kitchen turned out everything from scrambled eggs to meat loaf. To Clovis Lamy, there was no better place than standing behind the counter talking to people.
But the dream had its downside. The work day was long. He was seldom able to eat with his family. After moving the diner to Framingham, Massachusetts, he sold the business in 1950. The new owner moved it down the road to Hudson.
Lamy’s Diner exterior as it looked in the Museum in 1987. THF 77241
When Clovis Lamy and his wife viewed the diner at the 1987 opening for “The Automobile in American Life” exhibition, they confirmed that it looked as good as new. “Even the sign is the same,” he remarked later with a tear in his eye.
Lamy’s Diner interior as it looked in the Museum in 1987. THF 3869
For 25 years, no food was served at Lamy’s Diner in the museum. It was interpreted as a historic structure, until the opening of the new “Driving America” exhibit in 2012, when museum staff decided to once again serve diner fare there. Delicious smells of toast and coffee wafted out of its doors, while the place hummed with activity. Museum guests sat in the booths, on stools at the counter, or at tables on the new deck with accessible seating. They could choose entrees, beverages, and desserts from a menu that was loosely inspired by diner fare of the past.
Then, in 2016, Lee Ward, the new Director of Food Service and Catering, came to me and posed the question, what if we served food and beverages at Lamy’s that more closely approximated what customers would have actually ordered here in 1946? The diner is already an authentic, immersive setting. What if we took it even further and truly transported guests to that time and place? I have always believed in the power of food to both transport guests to another era and to serve as a teaching tool to better understand the people and culture of that era. Over the years, I’ve helped create Eagle Tavern, the Cotswold Tea Experience, the Taste of History menu, the Frozen Custard Stand, and cooking programs in Greenfield Village buildings. So I excitedly responded, sure, we could certainly do that!
But, as the chefs and food service managers at The Henry Ford began to ply me with endless questions about the correct menu, recipes, and serving accoutrements for a 1946 Massachusetts diner, I realized I needed help.
Dick Gutman talking to Lamy’s staff.
Fortunately, help was forthcoming, as Richard Gutman—the diner expert who had found Lamy’s Diner for us in the 1980s—was overjoyed to return to the project and give us ideas and advice. And the 300-some diner menus he owned in his personal collection didn’t hurt either. In fact, they became our best documentation on diner foods and what they were called in 1946, as well as the graphic look of the menus.
Cookbooks of the era offered actual recipes for the dishes we saw listed on the menus, while historic images of diner interiors provided clues as to what the serving staff might wear, what kinds of dishes customers ate on, and what was displayed in the glass cases on the counter.
All of these are reflected in the current Lamy’s Diner experience. Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll encounter when you visit Lamy’s after its recent makeover:
New Lamy’s Diner menu, front and inside
New England Clam Chowder, a signature dish in New England diners and here at Lamy’s
Chicken salad sandwich,using arecipe from the 1947 edition of the Boston Cooking School Cookbook, a pioneering cookbook that offered practical recipes for the average housewife.
Meat loaf plate,using Clovis Lamy’s original meatloaf recipe
Milkshake, which in Massachusetts isa very refreshing drink made of milk, chocolate syrup, and sometimes crushed ice (no ice cream), shaken until it is creamy and frothy.
Peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich, a New England specialty based upon Archibald Query’s original marshmallow creme invention and later called “Fluffernutter”
Prices are, by necessity, modern, but typical prices of the era can be found on the menu boards mounted up on the wall, based upon Lamy’s original menu and prices.
So, for a fun, immersive, and delicious experience, check out the makeover at Lamy’s Diner!
In Other Food News... A Taste of History: Now featuring recipes and menu items guests might see prepared in Greenfield Village historical structures, such as Firestone Farm and Daggett Farmhouse. Mrs. Fisher's Southern Cooking: The menu is based solely on Mrs. Fisher's 1881 cookbook or authentic recipes.
American Doghouse: New regional hot dog options are available, from the Detroit Coney and Chicago dogs to the California dog wrapped in bacon and avocado, tomato and arugula.
Donna R. Braden, Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford and author of this blog post, has decided that her new favorite drink is the refreshing Massachusetts version (without ice cream) of the chocolate milkshake. She thanks Richard Gutman and Lee Ward for their enthusiasm and support in making this makeover possible.
Jacket, Worn by Robert H. Hendershot, circa 1890. THF 155871
In the 1880s and 1890s, Civil War veteran Robert Hendershot wore this elaborate jacket when he played his drum at Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) events and at other community gatherings. The accompanying “souvenir” card is actually an advertisement, letting interested parties know Hendershot was available for hire.
Trade Card from Major Robert H. Hendershot, "The Original Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock," circa 1895. THF 115938
Since the 1860s, Hendershot had billed himself as “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” But was he? In December 1862, during the fighting at Fredericksburg, Virginia, reports had come of a brave young drummer boy who had crossed the Rappahannock River with the 7th Michigan Infantry under a hail of Confederate bullets. The 12-year-old Hendershot was indeed with a Michigan regiment at Fredericksburg at this time. But so were several other young drummer boys.
The controversy over who really was “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock” raged for decades among Civil War veterans—reports from members of Michigan units engaged at Fredericksburg offered conflicting stories. But Hendershot used his savvy promotion skills to keep his name before the public, receiving recognition from some GAR members and even from prominent men like newspaper editor Horace Greeley.
Hendershot may or may not have been “The Drummer Boy of the Rappahannock.” But throughout his life, he certainly used his celebrity to his advantage.
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
When a woman today prepares to go for a spin on a bicycle on a beautiful day, she might pull on jeans, shorts or even cycling shorts and a t-shirt. Women cyclists don’t think twice about this casual clothing combination—it’s comfortable and practical. Never mind that the outfit appears very much like a man’s, and that’s just fine.
Ferris “Good Sense” corset advertisement, Ladies Home Journal, June 1897. THF 133356
However, this was hardly true a century ago, when cycling became widely popular in America. While both men and women enjoyed the sport, women found it particularly liberating (no chaperone was required) and invigorating (exercise and the looser corsets worn for cycling allowed their lungs to expand). Yet female bicyclists had a real dilemma. What in the world should they wear on the “silent steed?”
This young woman shows off her bicycle and bloomer outfit in this photograph taken in Brooklyn, New York about 1895. THF 203404
In this photograph taken about 1890, Cyclist Margaret Kirkwood wears a more modest bicycling outfit. Long skirts like these rather easily became entangled in the bicycle chain. THF 203414
This fashionable and expensive linen skirt, dating from the late 1890s, is divided into two wide leg sections. THF 29559
When the bicycling craze first began about 1890, most American women preferred long skirts. After all, real ladies—modest and upstanding—wore long skirts. However, these cyclists soon found that such long skirts got tangled in chains and sent their wearers hurtling to the ground. Those who thumbed their nose at conventional dress donned divided skirts or, even more extreme, short bloomers that cinched below the knee. While such an outfit seems quite modest today, over 100 years ago most Americans believed that if a woman dressed like a man and wore such masculine “trousers,” she risked becoming man-like and unfeminine. Bystanders might jeer at female cyclists dressed in bloomers. Fathers, brothers or beaux could not fathom that the women they loved would be so daring.
Brave female cyclists ignored the criticism and insisted on wearing these bloomers and divided skirts for safety and comfort. As more and more women found the outfit to be safe as well as rather attractive, the fashion began to catch on.
By the early 1900s, American men realized that women who wore such sporty, “masculine” outfits really were just the same old gals they had known all along. In fact, bloomers became rather popular for all sorts of sports, from canoeing to gymnastics to croquet. The "New American Girl" of the early 20th century actually became associated with sporty clothing—she was beautiful, fit due to exercise, and had some university schooling. But it had taken some perseverance to push through the prejudices about appropriate clothing for the new, more active American woman.
The move toward more rational clothing, designed to be appropriate to an activity, was part of the vast change in opportunities for women during this time.
As Demorest’s Monthly Magazine had proclaimed back in October 1882, “…there is a vast amount of real work for every woman to attend to, and her dress must have some reference to it.”
This post originally ran as part of our Pic of the Month series and was authored by Former Curator Nancy E.V. Bryk.
As we look forward to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017, our guests and staff alike enjoy reconnecting with our amazing array of historic buildings. Each of them not only represent different periods of American history, they also hold so many fascinating stories. Among the more interesting, are how they came to have new lives here in Greenfield Village. The Logan County Courthouse’s story is among my favorites.
Abraham Lincoln featured prominently in Henry Ford’s plans for Greenfield Village which revolved around the story of how everyday people with humble beginnings would go on to play important roles in American history. Henry Ford was a “later comer” to the Lincoln collecting world, but with significant resources at his disposal, he did manage to secure a few very important items. The Logan County Courthouse is among them.
Logan County Courthouse as it stands today in Greenfield Village.
Authenticated objects, related to Lincoln’s early life, were especially scarce by the late 1920s.There seemed to be an abundance of items supposedly associated and attributed to Lincoln, especially split rails and things made from them.But very few of these were the real thing. For Henry Ford, the idea of acquiring an actual building directly tied to Abraham Lincoln seemed unlikely.
Logan County Courthouse September of 1929.
But, in the summer of 1929, through a local connection, Henry Ford was made aware that the old 1840 Postville/ Logan County, Illinois courthouse, where Lincoln practiced law, was available for sale. The 89-year-old building, was used as a rented private dwelling, and was in run down condition, described by some as “derelict”. It was owned by the elderly Judge Timothy Beach and his wife. They were fully aware of the building’s storied history, and had made several unsuccessful attempts to turn the historic building over to Logan County in return for funding the restoration, and taking over its on-going care and maintenance.
View of rear section of building with shed addition, September 1929
Seeing no other options, the Beaches agreed to the sale of the building to Henry Ford via one of his agents. They initially seemed unaware of Henry Ford intentions to move the building to Greenfield Village, assuming it was to be restored on-site much like another historic properties Ford had taken over. The local newspaper, The Courier, even quoted Mrs. Beach as saying “she would refund to Mr. Ford if it was his plan to take the building away from Lincoln, as nothing was said by the agent about removal”. By late August of 1929, the entire project in West Lincoln, Illinois, had captured the national spotlight and the old courthouse suddenly had garnered a huge amount of attention, even becoming a tourist destination.
View of side currently adjacent to Dr. Howard’s Office, September, 1929. This view shows evidence of filled in window openings. The window currently behind the judge’s bench was restored.
By early September, local resistance to its removal was growing, and Henry Ford felt the need to pay a visit to personally inspect the building and meet with local officials, and the Beaches. He clearly made his case with the owners and finalized the deal. As reported, “Ford sympathized with the sentiment of the community but thought that the citizens should look at the matter from a broader viewpoint. He spoke for the cooperation of the community with him in making a perpetual memorial for the town at Dearborn, where the world would witness it. My only desire is to square my own conscience with what I think will be for the greatest good to the greatest number of people.”
Views of partitioned first floor, summer 1929.
The courthouse would indeed be leaving West Lincoln, and by September 6, Henry Ford’s crew arrived to begin the process of study, dismantling, and packing for the trip to Dearborn. Local resistance to the move continued as the final paperwork was filed, and the newly purchased land was secured by Ford’s staff. By September 11, the resistance had run its course and the dismantling process began. It was also revealed that the city, county, several local organizations, and even the state of Illinois had all been offered several opportunities to acquire the building and take actions to preserve it. They all had declined the various offers over the years. It was then understood that Judge & Mrs. Beach, in the end, had acted on what was best for the historic building and should not be “subjected to criticism.” Judge Beach would die a week later, on September 19th.
The dismantling and discovery process was closely covered by the local newspapers, and as the building came apart, its original design was revealed.
Beginning as early as the late 1840s, changes had taken place on both the exterior and interior of the building. By 1880, the building had been converted from a commercial building into a dwelling and that was the state in which it was found by Ford’s crew in 1929. The doorway and first floor interior had been radically changed and eventually, a covered porch was added to what is now the main entrance, and a shed addition to the rear. But, the most significant change, was the move off its original foundation, 86 feet forward on the lot.
In 1848, the county seat moved from Postville, to Mount Pulaski. At that time the courthouse was decommissioned, and after a legal battle between the County, and the original investor/builders of the building, it was sold to Solomon Kahn. None other than Abraham Lincoln successfully represented the County in the matter. Mr. Kahn converted the building into a general store, and ran the local post office within. It was he who moved the building to its new location. In doing so, the old limestone foundation was left behind, and the original limestone chimney and interior fireplaces were demolished. A new brick lined cellar and foundation was created, along with updated internal brick chimneys on each end of the building, designed to accommodate cast-iron heating stoves. This took place before 1850.
The oldest know photograph of the Logan County Courthouse c.1850-1880. The original door arrangement remains in place.
Photographs taken in September of 1929, show the outline of the original chimney on the side of the building where it has been re-created today. Further discoveries revealed the original floor plan of a large single room on the first-floor, and the original framing for the room divisions on the second. Second floor photographs show the original wall studs, baseboards, chair rails, window, and door frames, all directly attached to the framing, with lath and plaster added after the fact. The framing of the walls on the first floor were all clearly added after the original build. The oldest photograph of the courthouse shows it on its second site with its original window and door arrangement still in place, but with new brick chimneys. The photo dates from between 1850 and 1880.
It was some of the older inhabitants of the area that alerted Henry Ford’s staff as to the original location of the foundation. Once located, the original foundation revealed the dimensions of the original first-floor fireplace. All the stones were carefully removed and shipped to Dearborn. The courthouse rests on this foundation today. The local newspaper also reported that while excavating the foundation, a large key and doorknob were found at the edge, aligned where the front door would have been located.
View of side that currently faces Scotch Settlement School, September, 1929. Shadow of original stone chimney is visible. Patched sections of siding show that originally, the stone would have been flush with the siding until approximately the top third, which would have extended out from the building like the entire chimney currently does. The window and door are late additions.
By September 20th, the building, consisting of two car loads of material, was on its way to Dearborn. Reconstruction in Greenfield Village began almost immediately at a frenzied pace. Finishing touches were still being applied right up until the October 21st dedication of Greenfield Village. Edward Cutler oversaw the final design elements needed to restore the building along with the actual work of reconstructing it. All the first- floor details, including the fireplace, mantle, and judges bench had to be re-created. The first-floor interior trim was reproduced in walnut, and was based on the original trim that survived on the second floor. The second floor, using a large amount of original material, including flooring, was also restored to its original appearance. Even the original plaster was collected, re-ground, and used to re-plaster the interior walls.
Views of the excavated original foundation, located 86 feet back from building’s second location. Lower view shows foundation for the original fireplace. September, 1929.
Based on the oldest of the original photographs, all new windows and exterior doors were also reproduced. Where possible, the original exterior walnut siding was also restored, and re-applied to the building and secured with brass screws.This was not a period technique, but rather a solution by Cutler to ensure the original siding with its worn nail holes, would stay in place.
The result was a place where Henry Ford could now display, and share his collection of Lincoln associated artifacts, including the most famous of all, the rocking chair from the presidential booth in Ford’s theater where Abraham Lincoln was sitting when he was shot by John Wilks Booth in April of 1865.
Re-construction well under way in Greenfield Village on October, 2, 1929. The building would be complete for the October 21, dedication. The Sarah Jordan Boarding House can be seen in the distance.
The completed Logan County Courthouse in Greenfield Village as it appeared for the October 21 dedication.
The newly unpacked Ford’s Theater rocking chair in the Logan County Courthouse, January of 1930.
The interior of the completed Logan County Courthouse c.1935. It featured a display of Abraham Lincoln associated objects including Springfield furniture and the rocking chair from Ford’s Theater.
From 1929 until the mid-1980s, the building was left almost untouched as a shrine to Abraham Lincoln.
It was not until the mid-1980s that the research material was re-examined, primarily for preparations for much needed repairs to the now 50 plus year old restoration. In 1980, prior to the restoration work, the Lincoln assassination rocking chair was removed from the courthouse and placed in Henry Ford Museum. In 1984, the building underwent a significant restoration and was re-sided, the first- floor flooring was repaired, and extensive plaster repair and refinishing took place. In addition, a furnace was added (inside the judge’s bench), to provide adequate heat.
The interpretation of the building also was redefined and was re-focused away from the Abraham Lincoln shrine and more toward the stories of the history of our legal system and the civic lives of Americans in the 1840s. Gradually, many of the Lincoln artifacts were removed to appropriate climate controlled storage or display in Henry Ford Museum.
That brings us to the Greenfield Village opening of 2017. The Logan County Courthouse has now stood as long in Greenfield Village as it did in Postville, 88 years. It has had an interesting and storied history in both locations. Both the curatorial team, and the Greenfield Village programs team are excited to continue the process of ongoing research and improving the scholarship of the stories we tell there. We are working on some projects to accomplish just that for the near future and are looking forward to sharing all the details.
Jim Johnson is Curator of Historic Structures & Landscapes at The Henry Ford.
The artifacts you see when you visit Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation or Greenfield Village only represent 5-10% of our object collections, and an even smaller percentage of our archival collections. The rest of our collections live in storage, but we try to find ways to make them accessible to the public by means of temporary exhibits, our Digital Collections, and loans to other institutions.
We currently have 233 artifacts, ranging from coffee pots to airplanes, on loan to 39 different institutions around the world, and we’ve just digitized a number of artifacts, such as this circa 1955 hat worn by Elizabeth Parke Firestone, that we have loaned to the V&A Museum in London for their upcoming exhibit Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion, about fashion designer Cristóbal Balenciaga.
Many people know Steve McQueen as an actor in such popular 1960s and 1970s films as The Great Escape, Bullitt, and The Thomas Crown Affair. But McQueen was also a racecar enthusiast, to the point where he once reportedly said, "I'm not sure whether I'm an actor who races or a racer who acts.”
To help shed some light on this issue, we’ve just digitized nearly a dozen photos of McQueen visiting designer Carroll Shelby’s Shelby-American shop in Venice, California, in 1963, including this image of both men at the shop.
Visit our Digital Collections to see more images from McQueen’s visit, as well as tens of thousands more artifacts from our vast racing collections. Or, if you’re more interested in McQueen’s acting, check out our 1974 movie poster for The Towering Inferno.
Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
In the digital age, it’s easy to keep up with your favorite bands—you might sign up for their email list, follow them on social media, or get text alerts on your phone. In any of these cases, you’ll probably know when they’re coming to your town to perform.
In the mid-20th century, though, posters were a way to show potential fans which acts would be performing, where, and when. Bright colors, bold graphics, and dramatic fonts caught the attention of passers-by in cities where dozens of venues competed for audiences.
With the 50th anniversary of the Summer Of Love just a few months away, we’ve just digitized a few great examples of rock posters dating between 1969 and 1971, including this poster advertising Chuck Berry, the Sir Douglas Quintet, and Boz Scaggs at Pepperland in San Rafael, California, in 1970.
Update: This post was originally written on March 13, 2017, only a few days before Chuck Berry’s death at the age of 90. I obviously had no foreknowledge of that event to come, but this poster, out of all the ones we digitized, caught my eye because Mr. Berry holds such a large place in our collective memory, and is an artist I deeply respect and enjoy. I’m glad that The Henry Ford is able to preserve and share some of his quintessentially American legacy. Hail, hail, Chuck Berry—may you rest in peace and your music live on. –Ellice Engdahl, 3/20/17 Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
As cars became more widespread during the early 20th century, mechanized vehicles began to replace horses and wagons in wartime. While tanks were tested on the battlefield during World War I, there was also a need to remove wounded soldiers from the front quickly, safely, and efficiently. Ford Motor Company’s Model Ts were light, economical, and easy to operate, which made them perfect for this need.
We’ve just digitized dozens of photographs and drawings showing these innovative World War I–era Ford Model T ambulances, including this October 1918 demo picture, with the wartime message “On to Berlin” visible on the shoe soles of the “patient.”
Visit our Digital Collections to browse more photographs and technical drawings of Model T ambulances. Ellice Engdahl is Digital Strategy Manager, Collections & Content at The Henry Ford.
Talented African-American jazz pianists played this piano at Detroit’s Club Harlem during the mid-1930s, How did the piano acquire its ivory finish? A few years after Club Harlem closed, the Warblers moved to Allen Park. The piano went with them. Perhaps the ivory lacquer was added by Maurine Warbler—a more appropriate look, perhaps, for a piano that now resided in a suburban home THF166445 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
The quiet ivory exterior of this unassuming little piano belies its jazz-infused past. Hidden beneath the ivory lacquer are glimpses of silver that offer a clue to its former life. Not only did this piano have a “front row seat” at one of the many jazz clubs that dotted Detroit’s Paradise Valley district during the 1930s and 1940s—it was part of the show.
In March 1934, this piano left the Wurlitzer company’s DeKalb, Illinois factory for its new destination—Detroit. It was delivered to a jazz club called Club Harlem, housed in the basement of the Lawn Apartment building on Vernor at Brush. To give the piano an appropriately “jazzy” look, the club’s managers painted over the piano’s rather reserved mahogany factory finish with aluminum paint. The back of the piano—the side visible to the audience—was covered with black velvet, decorated with large glittery musical notes. The piano’s small size—only 61-keys instead of the standard 88—was likely an asset to upstart Club Harlem in what may have been tight quarters filled with patrons in this basement nightclub. Too, its small size made it more affordable than a standard upright piano. Detroit’s economy was only beginning its slow and uneven recovery from the depths of the Depression.
More Alcohol, More Jazz The timing of this new club’s opening in early 1934 was no accident. Prohibition had ended the previous December—it was again legal to manufacture, sell and transport intoxicating beverages in the United States. During the 13 years that prohibition had been in force, “underground” establishments had continued to discreetly serve patrons liquor, as well as often offering food and live shows. Now they could do it openly.
During the 1920s, jazz, a musical form rooted in the African American experience, had taken America—and the world—by storm. The fresh, lively sound of jazz was different than anything that had come before. It was the perfect “accompaniment”—in fact, helped define—this more modern era. A 1919 song, Take Me to the Land of Jazz, captured things perfectly with these lyrics, “How in every cabaret, it’s the only thing they play.”
Detroit's Paradise Valley During the 1930s, a commercial center emerged in an area of Detroit (bounded by Gratiot, Vernor, Brush and Hastings streets) that became known as Paradise Valley. Racial discrimination had sequestered the city’s African-American population into a tight-knit and vibrant community on Detroit’s near east side. Here, black-owned businesses dotted the streets and Detroit’s African-American community could shop, eat, and enjoy their leisure time. Paradise Valley--with its clubs, theaters and dance halls—would become the major entertainment spot in Detroit, as a growing number of nightspots offered places where jazz could be enjoyed. Talented African-American musicians and singers, including Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, lit up the nights.Paradise Valley experienced its most rapid growth after Prohibition ended in 1933, with many jazz clubs--including Club Harlem--added during the following decade.
During the day, Paradise Valley was predominantly black. At night and into the wee hours of the morning, Paradise Valley became more racially balanced, as many white Detroiters sought the entertainment opportunities found there. A major factor was the development of the black-and-tan nightclub, which catered to both African American and white audiences. Club Harlem, located at the northern boundary of Paradise Valley, was one of these black-and-tan jazz clubs. Many of the black-and-tan clubs in the district were owned by African-American businessmen. A few, like Club Harlem, were owned by whites.
Club Harlem Club Harlem’s owner was Morris Wasserman. Wasserman ran a loan business and owned a pawn shop. (It was said that Wasserman also had ties to Detroit’s notorious Purple Gang, criminals involved in the illegal liquor trade during Prohibition.) Wasserman hired Allen Warbler to manage the club. Warbler had previously worked for Jean Goldkette, a prominent band organizer and booking agent, at Goldkette’s popular Detroit ballroom, the Graystone, during its heyday of the 1920s. Warbler's wife, Maurine, who had worked for a theatrical booking agent, designed many of the costumes worn by the chorus performers at Club Harlem.
Among the performers who played Club Harlem was 19-year-old Milt Buckner. Orphaned at the age of 9 and adopted by members of Earl Walton’s band, Milt and his brother Ted were prominent jazz musicians in 1930s Detroit. A few years later, Milt Buckner would join Lionel Hampton’s band as pianist and key music arranger. Bands headed by Monk Culp and Ernest Cooper also played Club Harlem. Other musicians who entertained Club Harlem’s audiences were 23-year-old saxophone player Charles “Tubby” Bowen, who would later lead a band under the name Tubby Bowen and His Tubs, and 25-year-old Sammy Price, a Texas pianist who became the house pianist for Decca Records in New York City in 1938, recording with many of New York’s jazz and blues greats.
Club Harlem had a short run--it operated from just 1934 to 1935. Club Harlem’s piano, once played by musicians like Milt Buckner and Sammy Price, ended its jazz career. Allen Warbler, Club Harlem’s manager, went into the real restate business. Club Harlem’s owner, Morris Wasserman, would open the Flame Show Bar on John R in Detroit in 1949. The Flame Show Bar would become one of the city’s major jazz clubs during the 1950s.
Pianist Sammy Price in a publicity shot from the mid-1930s THF249299. (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
These young women were likely dancers in Club Harlem’s “Shim Sham Shimmy” chorus THF249293 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Allene Warbler in Remembrance of Her Parents Allen and Rene Warbler.)
Farewell to Paradise Valley From the 1930s into the early 1950s, Paradise Valley bustled. But, in the 1950s and 1960s, urban renewal projects designed to “modernize” the city while eradicating “blight,” along with freeway construction for I-75, erased this vibrant African-American community—scattering its inhabitants. Little remained of Paradise Valley and neighboring Black Bottom (named by French explorers for its rich soil), where the majority of Detroit’s African-American community resided in rundown clapboard houses built to house the flood of German immigrants who arrived in the 1850s. No efforts were made by the city to support the relocation of the African-Americans who had resided there. Detroit’s urban renewal projects—and their devastating effect on this community—helped fuel the growing resentment against racial discrimination that would culminate in the 1967 Detroit riots.
A little of Paradise Valley hung on for a few decades, though. The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from the glory days of Detroit’s Paradise Valley. The club was located at 606 E. Adams from the 1930s to the 1950s. It had featured a floor show, an orchestra, and its owner John R. “Buffalo” James as emcee. Construction of the I-75 freeway forced the club to relocate to 1907 N. St. Antoine by the early 1960s. This last vestige of Paradise Valley’s legendary jazz clubs was demolished in 2002, the building razed as part of the Ford Field construction.
The 606 Horse Shoe Lounge was the last remaining nightclub from Detroit’s legendary Paradise Valley THF166450 (From the Collections of The Henry Ford. Gift of Arthur A. Jadach.)
Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford.
Detroit Reacts to the Great Migration: Before the first World War, a majority of Detroit's African American population lived on the East Side and shared the area, known as Black Bottom, with white immigrant populations. At this time, relatively few African Americans, just 1.2% of the total population, called Detroit home. By 1930, the city’s African American population had grown by over 1,991%. The white immigrant population began to vacate the Black Bottom area and were quickly replaced with the growing population of African Americans attracted to the north by the promise of employment in Detroit’s booming auto industry and an escape from the rampant oppression of the south. As the African American population in Detroit increased, racial residential boundaries began to form, due in part to the stress on housing stock, as well as to outright discrimination in institutions such as employment and real estate.
Photographic print - "Newspaper Article, "Gold Rush is Started by Ford's $5 Offer," January 7, 1914" - Ford Motor Company
The automobile industry and Henry Ford’s highly-publicized $5-a-day helped to draw people in great numbers to the Detroit area. However, for African American workers, reality often differed from their hopes and expectations in the north. While many of the automotive manufacturers did hire African Americans, it was almost always for the lowest paying jobs, such as in the janitorial department or the foundry. Ford Motor Company led the automotive industry in its hiring of African American workers by 1919. The company paid African American workers the same rate as their white counterparts and hired for a variety of positions, including skilled labor. Across the board, however, African American workers made less money than their white counterparts, and consequently, had less income for quality housing.
Photographic print - "Pickling Metal Crankcases and Other Parts to Remove Surface Impurities, Ford Rouge Plant, 1936" - Ford Motor Company Photographic Department
Discriminatory real estate practices played a significant role in the housing issues which plagued Detroit. Racially restrictive covenants, which legally ensured the sale of property to only white buyers, became increasingly common in Detroit. Even if a restrictive covenant was not in place, the Detroit Real Estate Board warned area realtors “not to sell to Negroes in a 100 percent white area,” thereby enforcing and perpetuating Detroit’s racial geography. Further, the practice of “redlining,” or the racial categorization of areas by their perceived financial risk in home insurance and mortgage lending, effectively shut out black homebuyers from the market. The practice extended to the lending of new mortgages, but also to home loans, leading to the inability to complete home repairs and, eventually, an abundance of blighted homes in black neighborhoods. In addition, real estate agents erroneously reported to white homeowners that the presence of black families in their neighborhoods would lower their property values. White homeowners, even those without ingrained prejudices against African Americans, certainly did not want their property values to lower, so rallied against any attempt by an African American homebuyer purchasing in their neighborhoods. The infamous story of African American Physician Dr. Ossian Sweet exemplifies the discrimination and mob violence experienced by those who attempted to move into white neighborhoods.
Discrimination in the workplace meant that African Americans, as a whole, made significantly less money than their white counterparts. Redlining practices forced them into racially-segregated neighborhoods and cemented their inability to access loans for mortgages or home repairs. Yet, the promise of the north continued to draw African Americans to Detroit. Without access to capital, increasingly-crowded neighborhoods became increasingly-deteriorated. At each turn, discriminatory systems excluded an entire population from quality housing. From these conditions, Charles H. Lawrence and his family departed Detroit in search of quality housing and a better life. He became the first African American to settle in Inkster, Michigan, and hundreds soon followed.
African Americans Settle in Inkster The City of Inkster, also located in Wayne County, is approximately fourteen miles from downtown Detroit. Detroit Urban League President John Dancy fielded many housing inquiries from frustrated African American migrants to Detroit in the post-World War I period and beyond. Unable to locate sufficient housing in the City of Detroit, Dancy broadened his search outside the City with hopes that more rural areas would not have the same restrictive covenants and that lesser demand would persuade landowners to sell to African American buyers. In 1920, Dancy succeeded when he found amenable property owners in possession of 140 acres in rural Inkster. Although Inkster’s first African American residents’ settlement in Inkster preceded Dancy’s discovery, the 140 acres of available land enabled and impelled hundreds more African American families to move from Detroit to Inkster, despite the lack of a local government or basic public amenities like streetlights or sewer lines.
A Community Becomes a Project Henry Ford was vocal about his disdain for institutionalized philanthropy. He wrote an entire chapter, entitled “Why Charity?” in an autobiography, and explained, “philanthropy, no matter how noble its motive, does not make for self-reliance…A philanthropy that spends its time and money in helping the world to do more for itself is far better than the sort which merely gives and thus encourages idleness.” Henry Ford’s brand of philanthropy was characterized by helping people help themselves. During the Great Depression, Henry Ford was called upon by the City of Detroit to provide aid because the City’s welfare offices were overwhelmed. Their argument, aside from civic responsibility, was that the City was not receiving taxes from Ford Motor Company (FMC’s factories were located outside Detroit) yet as many as “36 percent of the families receiving care from the City of Detroit were former Ford employees” in 1931. The public goodwill that Ford’s $5 a day policy brought was quickly dissipating. In 1931, Ford agreed to two philanthropic ventures; he provided a low-interest, short-term $5 million loan to the City of Detroit and essentially took the then-Village of Inkster under the Ford Motor Company’s auspices.
Photographic print - "Ford Motor Company Employee Home Improvement Project, Inkster, Michigan, 1930-1944" - Ford Motor Company
Photographic print - "Ford Motor Company Employee Home Improvement Project, Inkster, Michigan, 1930-1944" - Ford Motor Company
Photographic print - "Ford Motor Company Employee Home Improvement Project, Inkster, Michigan, 1930-1944" - Ford Motor Company
Report - "Ford Motor Company Employee Home Improvement Project, Inkster, Michigan, 1930-1944" - Ford Motor Company
By 1931, a few years into the Great Depression’s hardships, the residents of Inkster were struggling. Unemployment and debt were high, public services had been cut, and many residences remained partially-completed, as the Great Depression halted progress in the young village. Controversially, Henry Ford placed FMC’s Sociological Department in charge of what became known as the Inkster Project. The Sociological Department was created in 1914 in order to manage the diverse workforce and ensure employee adherence to the company’s strict standards, which were paternalistic in nature and often crossed the home life-work life boundary. In Inkster, the Sociological Department immediately began implementing programs to comprehensively rehabilitate the village. A commissary, which sold high-quality, low-cost food and essential home goods, was established. Coal was distributed to those who needed it to heat their homes. Debtors were paid off, and a medical clinic and school were constructed. Homes deemed insufficient were rehabilitated. The inability to pay for these services was irrelevant; a type of “I.O.U,” repayable through Ford-provided work and wages, was enough to access all life’s necessities.
Photographic print - "Checking on Ford Employees Home Conditions, Views from "Factory Facts From Ford," 1917"
The Legacy of the Inkster Project Although the Inkster Project was generally highly-regarded at the time, the FMC Sociological Department’s role was often overreaching. When agreeing to Ford’s aid, an Inkster resident was also agreeing to running their household as preferred by Henry Ford. Although his funds undoubtedly helped Inkster during the Great Depression, Ford’s motives were not entirely altruistic. Besides the much-needed public relations boost he received from the Inkster Project, he also was able to assert his influence and ideals on a community that largely had no choice but to accept his aid -- with all strings attached.
The Inkster Project’s legacy is complicated; many historians criticize Henry Ford’s paternalistic nature and the perhaps forceful imposition of his will onto the desperate, but others, including former residents of Inkster, praise Henry Ford for his aid. In her reminiscences, Georgia Ruth McKay explains that Inkster became a “jungle village changed into a city” during this period and that, “without his [Henry Ford’s] help, many would not have survived.” The Inkster Project was slowly phased out, but continued to operate in Inkster until 1941 when all programs were withdrawn.
Progress report - "Village of Inkster Welfare Report, 1931-1941" - Ford Motor Company
Report - "Village of Inkster Welfare Provision Report, circa 1936" - Ford Motor Company
Katherine White is an Associate Curator of Digital Content at The Henry Ford. In writing this piece, she appreciated the research and writings of Beth Tompkins Bates’ “The Making of Black Detroit in the Age of Henry Ford”, Thomas J. Sugrue’s “The Origins of the Urban Crisis; Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit,”, and Howard O’Dell Lindsey’s dissertation, “Fields to Fords, Feds to Franchise: African American Empowerment in Inkster, Michigan.”
Events & Exhibits
Special Exhibits at The Henry Ford
Take a look at some of our resource roundups for past exhibits and special events at The Henry Ford: