Rosa Parks House Shows How Pragmatism Killed Michigan

Ryan Mendoza and family in front of Rosa Parks House in Berlin. Image via Gordon Welters/NYT

Did you know that in 1925 the marketing slogan of the city of Detroit was, “Detroit: Where life is worth living”?

Did you know the Rosa Parks House in Detroit is now in Berlin?

The former home of Rosa Parks in Detroit fell into severe disrepair. Her niece acquired the home but couldn’t find anyone locally to fund repairs. But when Berlin-based American born artist Ryan Mendoza found out about it, he raised the funds to transport the house to Berlin and re-erect and restore it there.

Dwight Gibson, the friend I quoted in my recent Governing column on pragmatism and the Rust Belt, uses this as an example of the differences in mindset between the Midwest and his home state of Michigan (he grew up in Saginaw), and creative capitals like Berlin.

Dwight joined me for a podcast to dig more into the idea of pragmatism, mass industrialization, the difference between management and exploration, and more. It addresses a number of the topics some of my commenters raised. This is must-listen material if you are in a Rust Belt community. If the podcast doesn’t display for you, click over to listen on Soundcloud.

Subscribe to podcast via iTunes | Soundcloud.

I linked above to the New York Times piece on the Rosa Parks house in Berlin. It’s a crazy story I hadn’t heard. Here’s an excerpt:

The project came about last year, when Rhea McCauley, Ms. Parks’s niece, met Mr. Mendoza in Detroit. As part of an art project that explored his own sense of home, as well as the American subprime mortgage crisis, Mr. Mendoza successfully transported an abandoned house from Detroit to Europe, winning the trust of Detroit community members along the way. Ms. McCauley told him she had managed to buy back the family house for $500, but she could not find anyone interested in saving it from demolition.

Mr. Mendoza, who makes his living as a fine-arts painter, agreed to help. He raised a little over $100,000 by selling some of his paintings, and set out for Detroit. There, he worked with a local team to take apart the house, which had fallen into extreme disrepair.

He then shipped the wooden exterior to Berlin, where he spent the winter painstakingly rebuilding it, mostly alone, by hand. “It was an act of love,” he said.

That the house had to be shipped to Berlin to be saved is extraordinary, said Daniel Geary, a professor of American history at Trinity College Dublin, given that, “in general, in the U.S., with public heroes, there is an attempt to preserve anywhere they lived.”


from Aaron M. Renn


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