April 3, 2014

Ramara Flats

The Detroit Fire Department was called to the scene of a a fire at a vacant apartment building at 2628 Rosa Parks Boulevard in North Corktown in the early morning hours of April 2nd. No one was injured in the blaze, which amazingly was prevented from spreading to an occupied building just a feet away.

The owner of the ruined building is Rumzzy Ahmed Mamodesene, 30, of Silver Spring, Maryland. Taxes have not been paid on the property in several years, and Wayne County issued a notice of forfeiture in March of 2013. Mr. Mamodesene was able to redeem the property in January of this year, but it still appears that the taxes have not been paid. Although Mamodesene's name remains on the tax records, a quit-claim deed granting the property to Eddie W. Smith and Norman Smith of Detroit, dated September of 2011, was filed with Wayne County.

The Ramara Flats on April 3, 2014. The rubble was still smoldering.

These apartments were noticeable for the large, enigmatic mural on its south wall that read: "Out of a job yet? Keep voting Republican. Bet $10,000. Obama & Biden. Vote 2012." It was never clear to me exactly what the bet was.


This 105-year-old building was of frame construction with a brick veneer, and contained six apartments. It was clearly almost identical in layout to its next door neighbor. In fact, there were originally three six-apartment flats on the southeast corner of Rosa Parks Boulveard (then called Twelfth Street) and Spruce Street--the Ramara Flats, the building that just burned; the Orena Flats, the one that survives; and the Elaine Flats, which faced Spruce Street and stood behind the Orena.

Contractor William Hart purchased these lots in February of 1909 and obtained the permits to build them that same month. The estimated cost of construction was $16,000, and they were projected to be completed within three months. William Hart was the junior partner of the construction business Hart Bros., which he operated with his brother John.

The Hart brothers' parents, John and Martha Barisdale Hart, were both born in Ireland and immigrated to Canada at early ages. The younger John Hart was born in Ontario in 1861, and his brother William was born two years later after the family had immigrated to Michigan. John and William's parents died in the early 1880s, leaving the young men to take over the family farm in Southfield. In the 1890s, the men had moved to Detroit to seek better opportunities. John became a mason and William a carpenter. In 1901, they formed a contracting and real estate firm Hart Bros., operated from an office in the Chamber of Commerce Building.

Advertisement in the 1903 Detroit city directory.


Advertisement from Detroit Free Press, July 9, 1911.

Although Hart Bros. engaged in all types of home construction, they specialized in a standardized six-apartment flat, of which the Elaine, Orena, and Ramara were examples. When John Hart retired in 1917, he estimated that his firm constructed approximately 150 of these buildings throughout his career. Perhaps there are a few other survivors scattered throughout the city.

Small, middle-class families occupied these three buildings at the time of the 1910 census. They were mostly young couples, and none had more than two children. The breadwinners included clerks, managers, machinists, brass finishers, laborers, a fireman, a pharmacist, an engineer, a night watchman, a tailoress, and an auctioneer. Most were born in the United States or Canada, with just a small handful of immigrants from England and Ireland.

Detail from 1910 census, listing the residents of the Ramara
Flats (446 12th St.) and the Orena Flats (450 12th St.).

Regarding the names of the buildings themselves, I am stumped. I once researched an apartment building that was named after the contractor's mother, but the Hart brothers had no relatives named Elaine, Orena, or Ramara that I could find. Any meanings behind them--if there ever were any--may be lost forever.

Source: Detroit Free Press, August 13, 1911
Soon the remnants of the Ramara Flats will be torn down and carted off. The vacant lot will be filled in and graded, and only one lonely sibling will remain on the corner where three once stood.

As of my writing this, the surviving building is currently for sale with an asking price of $275,000.