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Detroit, Michigan

Like other industrial megalopolises of the USA Detroit attracted a Lithuanian community since well before World War 2. Detroit Lithuanians worked at the automobile factories of what was the world automobile manufacturing capital (it still is the home for Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler). 4879 Lithuanians lived in Detroit during the 1930 census.

St. Anthony Roman Catholic Lithuanian church was built in 1920 in Southwest Detroit (1750 25th St.). The massive brick building has two floors. The main church hall is on the second floor while the first (ground) floor once housed a Lithuanian school. Later it had only a chapel where ordinary Sunday Mass was held (the diminishing parish no longer needed main upper hall and elderly people find it hard to ascend the stairs). Also on the first floor a large hall for parish meetings after the mass was located, its walls covered with pictures of Lithuanian cities, a list of people killed by Russian soldiers on January 13, 1991, and similar memorabilia. Another small room was dedicated to a museum. The church was closed in 2013.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church. The building to the left is Lithuanian Hall. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

A nicely renovated building on the opposite side of W Vernor Highway still bears the words „Lithuanian Hall“ on its facade. Now owned by real estate developer and transformed into rental offices it was once constructed by the parish and used for the community celebrations (holidays, marriages). On the surrounding private homes, you may still see names of the Lithuanians who once inhabited them.

Facade of the Lithuanian Hall building. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

But like all over Detroit some buildings are now abandoned or burned out. Detroit population more than halved after the 1967 racial riots and the city is now 85% Black with most Whites having left for suburbs. The area around St. Anthony church is now however dominated by Hispanics and is known as Mexicantown. It is safer than average Detroit area. Most of the Lithuanians moved to the suburbs, but Mexicantown still has the largest percentage of Lithuanians in Detroit area.

Like many Detroit houses, this one is abandoned. The old advertisement still reminds of the Valys Bauza (Lithuanian name) funeral home. The house was constructed in 1930 when the city and the Lithuanian district were still thriving. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

St. Anthony parish was the strongest immediately after World War 2 when a large share of the Lithuanian intellectual elite emigrated to the USA fearing Soviet persecutions. In these days the church was too small for the congregation and many people had to partake in the Mass from outside the building. In some 1985 the church was damaged by fire but repaired afterward. Until 2009 the daily mass was still celebrated (twice daily on Sundays). However, in 2009, the priest died and only a single weekly Sunday mass remained. There was no mass in any other language, therefore the building became scarcely used and its parking is used by the owners of Lithuanian Hall in weekdays. In 2011 the bishop of Detroit decided to abolish the parish, which was done in 2013.

St. Anthony Lithuanian church main hall (2nd floor) interior. Lithuanian and US flags stand beside the altar. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

In Detroit (more correctly, its suburb Southfield) there is a more lively Lithuanian parish, dedicated to Divine Providence (255335 W 9 Mile Road). This church moved together with its community. Its roots are in the St. George church within Detroit City limits (constructed in 1908). In 1949 a new God‘s Wisdom church was constructed further from the center. During the 1960s highway construction program both churches were demolished to make way for new wide roads. Bishop wanted to abolish the parishes but Lithuanians collected the necessary funds to build and support a new Divine Providence church (1972). As it is not in the poor Detroit but in the rich suburbs it is frequented by newer, younger immigrants as well. There are sports and other events, ateitininkai, šauliai, boy scouts, ethnic dance and other organizations. Lithuanian language school works on Saturdays. The church is low-roof and small, with a modern triangular leaning tower.

Divine Providence church. Extensive single-floored building for social needs is nearby. Google street view.

Interesting Lithuanian memento may be found in the eerily empty streets of downtown Detroit. On a building in Grand River Avenue and Times Square corner hangs a memorial plaque with a sole Lithuanian inscription „Čia gimė Fluxus įkūrėjas Jurgis Mačiūnas“. The English translation is not provided (it would be „The founder of Fluxus George Mačiūnas was born here“). It is likely an art object created by some follower of Mačiūnas, a Lithuanian-American avant-garde artist. In reality, Jurgis Mačiūnas was born in Kaunas, Lithuania (1931) and emmigrated to the USA in 1948. There is no information about this plaque available online – please write in the comment section if you know more about it.

False George Mačiūnas memorial plaque. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

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Map of Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest

Map of the Lithuanian heritage in eastern Midwest (Michigan, Ohio) and western Ontario.

More info on Lithuanian heritage in Ohio, Michigan, Ontario.

Click to learn more about Lithuania: Michigan, Ohio, Ontario 2 Comments