Detroit’s Historic Broadway Avenue

Manhattan, Nashville, Chicago, and Detroit. While these cities are spread across the United States, they have one thing in common. Broadway. Though the word simply means, “a large open or main road,” the term has come to represent much more.

In Manhattan, Broadway Street is known for its bright lights, expert performances, and historic theatres. In Nashville, it’s full of live music, florescent lights, and bars. Chicago coined the name after New York City’s famous theater district. In Detroit, the avenue is home to the historic Detroit Opera House, but also holds an incredible cultural significance that is worth diving into.

Let’s take a look at the history of Detroit’s Broadway Avenue.

With Detroit’s population growing from just over two-hundred thousand to nearly 1.6 million between 1890 and 1930, areas of housing were forced to pop up in what was referred to as the “downtown fringes.” One of those fringes was Broadway, formerly known as Miami Avenue. The area was one of the most desirable, being that it was located exceptionally close to Detroit’s “Main Street,” also known as Woodward Avenue, and not far from what was then considered to be Detroit’s downtown and the Detroit River.

Following the population boom, in the later nineteenth century, townhomes began to be converted to shops and small-scale commercial buildings. As the conversion from residential to commercial was taking place, the Detroit News started referring to the street as “the Broadway of Detroit” and the name was officially changed to Broadway Avenue shortly after.

In 1907 the Detroit News wrote, “Observers of the development of the business section of Detroit have watched with the keenest interest the gradual evolution of Broadway from a fashionable residence street into a fashionable and popular shopping district for the women of the city.”

Yes, that’s right. Almost every building on the avenue was occupied by business that catered to women. From florists, to apron makers, hairdressers, and photography studios, Broadway became the center for women’s trade.

Then, in the mid 1900s, the street was in for another transformation as the city continued to get more dense. As the city expanded again, Broadway Avenue grew to accommodate more than just women. It gradually started to see the addition of banks and office spaces and is credited with having the first building to rent out space to African American tenants.

Following the riots in 1967 and decline of the city, Broadway forfeited many of its tenants and was left somewhat stagnant.

Today, Broadway Avenue in Detroit carries historic significance as some of the original structures and tenants remain. One of the original tenants that is still there is

The avenue is also home to some newer tenants including, the Social Club Grooming Co., that is committed to representing the traditions barbershop culture and offering high-quality experiences without the pretensions of a salon. The future of Broadway Avenue, is still being written as some vacancies remain, but the historic significance will live on.

References: “National Register Database and Research.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, www.nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/database-research.htm. 

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