Tears fell last week as onlookers watched City of Detroit workers remove dolls, worn tennis shoes, and an assortment of odds and ends hung from trees along Heidelberg Street.
“Cruel!” shouted Anthony Hollis, who watched as polka-dotted pieces were hauled away. “This is the only thing that brings people down here,” he said. Hollis has lived in the blighted neighborhood 15 years.
Others complained that the city moved more quickly in dismantling artist Tyree Guyton’s controversial Heidelberg project than it did in removing the snow.
On Feb. 4, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Amy Hathaway lifted the temporary restraining order that since last year has prevented the city from tearing down Guyton’s work. Less than 90 minutes later, dump trucks, a cherry picker and five police cars lined Heidelberg Street ready to go
“Tell the mayor to shut down the three crack houses here,” said Dewand Guyton, Tyree’s brother. “They got all the cops here for this and they can’t get rid of the crack houses.”
The city’s swift pace even elicited criticism from Hathaway, who held an emergency hearing the day after the city began disassembling the project.
“The court was shocked to hear the city was so efficient,” said Hathaway, “faster than it was in getting the snow off the streets.”
Though she was critical of the city for tearing down the Heidelberg project while vacant buildings in worse shape remain standing, the judge did not reinstate the restraining order or allow a stay pending an appeal of her ruling by Guyton’s attorneys.
“The court can’t tell the city how to run the city,” said Hathaway, but can only interpret the law. “I won’t prohibit the city from going on its own property.”
The judge’s ruling allows the city to discard only the parts of the Heidelberg project that are on city-owned property, “unless there are legitimate safety and/or health concerns” regarding other aspects.
Mayor Dennis Archer’s deputy spokesperson Michelle Zdrodowski said the city is currently trying to determine whether it owns the vacant lots on which some of the project stands. She also denied that the city was unusually quick in taking down part of the project.
“I don’t believe there was a rush,” said Zdrodowski. “City Council urged us to do this for a long time, and the mayor and the City Council were concerned about the wants of the citizens and the health and safety of the citizens.”
One city resident who was glad to see the city act fast is Janice Harvey, president of the Gratiot-McDougall United Community Development Corporation, a main opponent of the Heidelberg project. Harvey said the group is pleased with the judge’s ruling.
“As we said all along, it’s an eyesore, it’s unsafe, the traffic it has created is unbearable. Even dismantling it has created more traffic,” said Harvey, who has lived in the Heidelberg neighborhood for more than 40 years.
Guyton’s attorney Deborah A. Bonner said that the city moved quickly because of the underlying litigation. Guyton and some of his supporters sued the city for damages last September after it dismantled part of his project. “They are out to get him because he filed a lawsuit,” she said.
The lawsuit claims that Guyton has a legal right to continue his project because the city has encouraged and supported it since its inception in 1984, said Bonner.
The recent events seem to have fortified Guyton, who promised to continue drawing attention to blighted areas by polka-dotting them.
“I’m happy,” he said smiling, while watching city employees dismantle his work. “It’s in times of tribulation that I create my masterpieces.”