January 21, 2014


Photo source: practicespace.org

If you've driven down 14th Street any time in the last year, you have probably noticed this eye-catching building at the corner of 14th and Perry Streets. The windows in this former Standard Oil filling station, which had been bricked in, have more recently been replaced with the metal sculptures pictured here. This new facade symbolizes the mission of the building's current occupant, Practice·Space--the adaptive reuse and reactivation of Detroit's vacant buildings.


Two homes used to stand on this lot--a two-family flat that faced 14th Street, and a smaller house on the rear of the property adjacent to the alley. These were rental homes owned by Captain Edward John Donoghue and his wife, Ida.

Captain Donoghue was born in Clayton, New York in 1859 to Irish parents. He first sailed as a cabin boy at the age of 10 and was a captain by the age of 19. He was a survivor of the wreck of the David Dows in November of 1889, which nearly resulted in him losing his hands and feet to frostbite. Donoghue developed a reputation as as captain who ruled his ship with an iron fist, and became known by his colleagues as "the wild Irishman".

Captain Donoghue in in 1906 and in 1931.
1931 image courtesy Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library.

In 1898, Captain Donoghue married Ida M. Kerschky, a German immigrant nineteen years younger than himself. Beginning in 1906, he commanded the ship that supplied sand for the concrete in the construction of the railway tunnel to Canada, and in 1918 he joined the Detroit Fire Department as captain of a fire boat.

On August 16th, 1922, Captain and Mrs. Donoghue sold their rental homes at Perry and 14th Street to the Standard Oil Corporation of Indiana for $10,000.00. The buildings were demolished and a small filling station was built on the site, including a 914 square foot structure that survives today. Unfortunately, this building could not be located in the index to building permits, and its builder and exact date of construction could not be determined.

The northwest corner of Perry and 14th St. in 1921 and 1950. Source: Sanborn Maps.

The Filling Station

Throughout the 1930s, the city directories listed local resident Lawrence Jones as the manager of this Standard Oil Co. filling station. Few city directories after available after World War II. In 1956 this address is listed as "Ward's Standard Service Gas Station", managed by Robert B. Flenniken. In 1958 it was "Nick's Standard Service Gas Station," managed by A. L. Nickerson.

On December 31st, 1960, as part of Standard Oil's reorganization, the ownership of the property was transferred to The American Oil Company (better known as Amoco), which was a wholly owned subsidiary of Standard. Business looked bad for the old filling station, and it was listed as vacant in the remainder of the available city directories (1964, 1965, 1970, and 1973). It does appear that some effort was made to expand the business within that time period, as a 1,328 square foot addition was built in 1966.

Source: City of Detroit

Amoco lost the property from nonpayment of taxes in 1973. It was later purchased by Joseph P. Greck of Milford, Michigan at the 1977 tax sale. Ownership was officially transferred to Greck on May 11, 1979. Large additions to the building were completed in 1987. Mr. Greck is the "Joe" whose name is emblazoned on the building's exterior.

On February 25, 2005, Greck sold the property to Henry Partlow for $2,000. Two years later, on September 13, 2007, Partlow sold it to M-I-I-A, Inc. for $5,000. M-I-I-A, Inc. is owned by Detroit resident Jerry L. Esters.

Photo courtesy of Jerry Esters.


In 2013, the former garage was leased to a new business incubator called Practice·Space, founded by architect Justin Mast and designer Austin Kronig. Although there have been a growing number of incubators for tech startups in Detroit, Mast and Kronig wanted to create an organization that focused on brick-and-mortar startups--especially those that reused existing buildings. Although Detroit has an abundance of inexpensive land, vacant buildings, and people willing to put them to productive use, there are few consolidated resources to get these entrepreneurs in touch with the expertise they need. In addition to Mast and Kronig, Practice·Space's staff includes a five-member advisory panel knowledgeable in architecture, real estate, community development, and the legal and financial aspects of opening a small business in Detroit.

Practice·Space has updated the building to include studio and presentation spaces, a library, and a lounge, while preserving elements from the old auto shop. To learn more about programs offered at Practice·Space, go to practicespace.org.

Photo source: Detroit Jewish News

Photo source: the Detroit Free Press