Detroit Then and now – 5397 Oregon

blended house blog
My son James sitting on the porch of our house as it is now in 2016. My mother and I sitting next to him in 1963.

Recently my son James was in Detroit and visited many of the sites that were important in my life and my family’s life. He was lucky enough to have historian Paul Lee and Sala Adams as guides.  I have matched photographs from the 1960s with some of the photos that they took last week.

Today’s photographs were taken at 5397 Oregon, on the West Side of Detroit. Ten years ago when I went around taking photos of places I had lived, there were people living here. Today the house and many in the area are wrecks. In one photo not shown here, I could see holes in the roof. The house on the left still has someone living there. The two houses to the right are also falling to pieces. It’s tragic.

I would never have imagined that this area would look like this when I lived there some 48 years ago. Today I’ve been looking at the house I live in right now and thinking about which parts would fall apart first if it were vacant for a decade. I doubt it would be in as good a shape as this one because it was built with much cheaper materials.

You can read about my life in this house here “O” is for Oregon Street.  This is the first of a series.

My father and I sitting in the living room in 1966 while Paul Lee takes a photograph in 2016.
My father and I sitting in the living room in 1966 while Paul Lee takes a photograph in 2016.


Around the dining room table in 1963 amidst the crumbling house of 2016.
Around the dining room table in 1963 amidst the crumbling house of 2016.


My mother in the kitchen in 1963, with the present day shambles around her.
My mother in the kitchen in 1963, with the present day shambles around her.
stairs w- james-1963blog
Me looking over the railing in 1963 while James walks across the room in 2016
My sister and I looking out of the living room window. 1963
My sister and I looking out of the living room window. 1963


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41 thoughts on “Detroit Then and now – 5397 Oregon

  1. Kris, you are, if I may say so, frighteningly good at matching, or merging, historical and contemporary photographs. The fact that you’re able to do this when, in this instance, James and I did NOT have the historical photos as references is positively miraculous! Thanx for helping us to, in effect, live in your time. I certainly feel grateful to share this time with you!

    1. I discovered a new tool in photoshop that lets me bend the photos in different ways that make them match even if they don’t. Thank you for giving me the photos to work with.

  2. In Jackson, Mississippi, there are areas where houses are empty and crumbling. It seems no one has interest in investing. There is another area where the housing is about the same age, the area is flourishing with young people, businesses. It’s the artsy area of Jackson. My current neighborhood is in decline and I wonder what will become of it in 20 years or less. A loss of desirability equals empty homes and loss equity.

    1. Thank you. I had to do it once they shared all those photos with me and I could just see how it was when we lived there and how it was now. I always used to wonder who lived in empty, falling down places.

    1. Thanks Elaine. It wasn’t as enjoyable as it is sometimes to match past and present because the present is so depressing, but I felt like I had to do it to show what used to be.

  3. It is incredible how you were able to merge the photos. It tells a story that goes across the time periods in a compelling bittersweet way.

    1. Especially since they didn’t have copies of the old photos when they took the new ones. I had no idea they would be going inside the buildings. I just thought there would be outside photos. They are a lot more daring than I am.

  4. So nostalgic Kris. I agree with you – those old houses are so unsafe. I’m just glad no one was hurt.

  5. Fascinating that you could do this, but also depressing with regard to the home’s current state of decay, as you say.

  6. Very nice, feel like im living in both times when look through the pictures. Glad able to get them while buildings still there. A little amazed we took right picture s without having seen the 1963 versions. Almost like the acestors were guiding our cameras…

  7. Oh, Kristin — what a stunning post; I’ll carry this one around within me for a long, long time!

  8. James and I didn’t plan to go into the Oregon home, or any of the other former Cleage properties. I sent Kris the photos that we shot of the inside of the former from the front porch window. Then I decided to shoot photos of the side door — only to find it wide open! That’s when we decided to go inside. However, James had a feeling that the stairs to the second floor weren’t safe. I climbed them halfway up, where I confirmed that he was right. I’m sorry that they were in such bad shape because I really wanted to shoot the upstairs bedrooms for his mother. The basement steps were much were, so we had to miss that part of the house, too.

    Kris, you are a magician, pure and simple. I’m stated it before and I’m going to state it again: Your blog sets the bar for all other blogs dealing with genealogy and family history, and it’s a HIGH bar, too! Thanx!

    P. S.: The merged photo of James on the porch with his Mama and Grandma is one of my all-time favs!

  9. That is my favorite too. My mother never got to see James. She died soon after he was born.

    Don’t feel bad about not going upstairs or to the basement. Strangely, there were no photographs taken in either place. I did do some sketches of my bedroom and the bathroom, but there were no photographs.

    The shots you took through the window must be those that are sort of dark and fuzzy. I wondered why they were different.

  10. What a fantastic creative idea! Yet I know it must be heartbreaking to see the house in such a condition. A while back I looked up one of your Detroit homes on Zillow and was dismayed to see the house values in the neighborhood. Thankfully your readers know well that once upon a time this was not just a house but a Home.

    1. And the thing is that this is true of all those houses that are now wrecks in Detroit and other cities. Being able to do this project took me away from just being sad about it, even though it didn’t change anything physical.

  11. How sad to see your former home in such a state. I found the farmhouse where my great grandfather had been born in 1852, and that was in a sorry state too, with paint peeling and the front garden overgrown. I made a second visit some years later and I felt sure it would be knocked down and a housing estate built on the land – but no! It had been renovated with new windows , doors and a revitalised garden. I just wonder what might have been found in the original houses’s loft. I shall never know what family memorabilia might have lurked there.

    1. Yes, too bad you didn’t have my team to go in there. I don’t think I would have ever done that if I had been there. It’s good the house was saved though you lost the memorabilia, if it was there.

  12. Several years ago I had the opportunity to see the home where I grew up. The new owners had made some very different changes to it which I didn’t like at all, but at least the house looked well taken care of even if I didn’t like how it looked, and people were living in it. The neighborhood also – though quite a bit changed from how I remembered it – still looked well cared for and lived in. I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I saw my old home in total disrepair and falling apart. Probably pretty sad.

    1. Some of the old places are still standing with other people in them and that is okay. Most of the time anyway. There are several houses I never want to visit or see again because I don’t want to see other people living there. It’s when they are falling apart that it’s so sad.

  13. WOW! Kristin, the way you superimposed your home from the with photos of how your home looks today is some fascinating work my dear! The who effect leaves me in awe and sad at the same time. I can only imagine how you felt when you saw the present day condition of a home that you and your family enjoyed while you were there.

    Great photographic work indeed!

    1. ARGH! I apologize for all the typos in my post above. That is what I get for trying to leave a comment via my smartphone. My fingers just seem to be hitting and missing keys throughout my comment to you; I so apologize!

  14. I felt the loss. It is so sad that a house that held so many wonderful memories now is fading away. What you did with the merging of pictures were like images of spirits that haunt ( in a good way) a place of the pass.

    1. I felt that way too – sort of like those lives from the past were still being lived on a different plane – while I work on the photographs.

  15. It took me a while to see the way you arranged the photo interweaving. Very clever! And these are dramatic changes from the original pictures. I can imagine how sad it is to see a place that was once full of laughter and life has become a ghost of itself.

  16. I like the one of your mum in the kitchen. She would have had it spotless no doubt so the comparison is interesting.

    1. What she would have minded most, I think, was that the cabinet counter her father built for just that spot is completely gone. I hope someone took it with them and is using it but I doubt it. She wanted to move it when we moved but it fit just into that spot.

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