History of Hazel Park
The Early Years
The history of Hazel Park, Michigan begins with the grant of land to Shuabel Conant in 1835 from the U.S. Government. Previous to this, Native Americans had used the land as the artifacts that continue to be found demonstrate. Conant and his heirs sold off parcels of land to settlers. Among the settlers were the Lacey, Grix, Benjamine, Neusius, Meinke, Grow and Truba, families. Many street names, schools, and parks were named for pioneer families in the area (Additional information compiled by Lucille Lacey).
The origin of the name Hazel Park is attributed to Royal Oak Township Superintendent of Schools, John Benjamine. He called the area Hazel Park because of the abundance of hazelnut bushes native to the area, which attributed to the swampy soil conditions at the time. Hazel Park School District, which was formerly known as School District Number 8, was founded in 1884. The district was organized during meetings held at John Benjamine's brickyard, which was located on the site of Hazel Park Junior High.
The area remained relatively rural until Henry Ford's Highland Park plant started operations about 1914. The Hazel Park area, which was part of Royal Oak Township at the time, experienced explosive growth during the period. Subdivisions multiplied, and modest homes were built by the people attracted by the wages paid at the Ford plant in Highland Park. Because of the high cost of land in Detroit at the time, the Hazel Park area became an alternative to Detroit. Many early landowners attached family names to streets including Andresen Court.
During this time of growth, the Hazel Park School District grew as well. From the initial one room schoolhouse on the Southwest corner of John R and 9 Mile (later moved to become Frank Neusius' barber shop and store), the district embarked on a building campaign. Construction of Lacey School, United Oaks Elementary, and Wanda Elementary began. The old Hazel Park High School (which became Howard H. Beecher Junior High in 1965) was added in 1929.
Times were not easy for the residents of Hazel Park during the time of this expansion. As Hazel Park was not an incorporated city at the time, the area suffered due to lack of infrastructure. At one point, Hazel Park was the most populous unincorporated area in the country. A period account of the area's growing pains was penned by Howard H. Beecher in 1928, who later became the principal of Hazel Park High School.
Many businesses sprung up in the business district both north and south on John R, as well as on other major arteries including 8 Mile Road and Stephenson Highway. Many stores, restaurants, and theatres were constructed in the city. Boxing matches were held in an arena south of Stephenson Highway on John R. Hazel Park Bowl had a facility on John R. Many churches were also constructed, and expanded, as the population grew.
While times were tough, the citizens improved the area through their own efforts. Clubs like the Hazel Park Exchange Club were responsible for improvements including the first traffic signal, a police booth, and various other civic improvements. Through the Great Depression, the area suffered greatly. Various attempts to incorporate failed, and various attempts of annexation to either Detroit or neighboring Ferndale failed for various reasons. Newspapers came and went in the area as well, some with a purely political agenda. The Hazel Park Palladium, also known as the Hazel Park News, was one the longest lasting, publishing through 1978.
Birth of a City
The years leading to the outbreak of World War II brought about great changes to the Hazel Park area. The war effort, as in many other cities, involved scrap drives and other cooperative efforts to defeat the Axis Powers. A general consensus of the benefits of civic cooperation also took hold. The citizens began constructing a new library building on East Pearl and Rhodes. Spearheaded by John. D. Erickson, the citizens held card parties and various fundraisers to pay for the construction of the new library. In 1942, the citizens finally decided the time was right for incorporation.
After WWII, the city continued to grow in population. More homes were built, and the business district grew. The addition of the Hazel Park Raceway in 1948 was instrumental in the city's growth. By providing additional revenue, it solidified the financial situation of the city for many years. City services, such as enhanced park programs, a new recreation center, and other benefits for citizens were added during this time. A new city hall was constructed on Stephenson Highway, replacing the old city hall on 9 Mile. Though the city itself was thriving, many problems remained from the years of growth as a township. An "urban renewal" project was undertaken to rid Hazel Park of substandard housing. As a result, what is known as the Courts was constructed. These homes are, after 40 years, still a fine addition to the city.
The 60's brought a wave of change to Hazel Park. The expansion of the I-75 freeway doomed a portion of the business district along John R. The Modern Era City Hall that was built in the 50's was also doomed by this expansion. A new city hall was needed, and the city took action. As the Hazel Park Library was too small for further expansion, it was decided that a new City Hall and Library were to be constructed at the corner of 9 Mile and John R roads for a new civic center. Designed by Josh Machida of Machida and Associates, both buildings were finished by 1970.
During this same time period, Lacey school was demolished on the southwest corner, as well as three city blocks of homes and businesses on the northwest corner of 9 Mile and John R. In its place, a ten story Holiday Inn hotel was constructed, as well as what became known as Cambridge Mall, with shops and a movie theater included in the development.
The Modern Era
The city gradually became relatively stable during the 70's, 80's, and 90's. In the late 90's and early years after 2000, the city and school district undertook additional remodeling of the city landscape. Streetscape programs and repaving efforts were undertaken along John R and 9 Mile Roads, installing new decorative street lighting. The city also added a new ice arena along Woodward Heights. The school district remodeled all their elementary schools and the high school, demolished the old Beecher Junior High school and United Oaks Elementary, and constructed a new junior high (same location as the previous junior high), and a new United Oak Elementary.
Significant new home construction and a large expansion of the Hazel Park Raceway have been bright spots in Hazel Park's recent history. Remodeling of the business district continued with the addition of a new strip mall on the southeast corner of 9 Mile and John R, replacing what was remaining from the older business district. In spring of 2010, the former Holiday Inn will be demolished to make way for a new development.
The city continues to change and grow. Hazel Park has proven itself to be adaptable to change, and will continue that tradition in the coming years. While Hazel Park has had a remarkable historical legacy, the city continues to look to the future; ever mindful of our heritage.