This past week, postcards have been the primary focus of the digitization team’s efforts. Several of these postcards have borne images of Detroit’s Washington Boulevard over the years. While the postcard phenomenon had been brewing in the late 1800s, it was the turn of the 20th century that introduced photo postcards. Apparently it only took a couple years for postcard photographers to turn their lenses on Washington Boulevard as this circa 1907 postcard attests. How did we arrive at that date? Well, we have another copy of this exact postcard with that year on its cancelation mark along with a thank you message for Cracker Jack, strangely written not on the back, but squeezed along the front’s lower border. 1907 was actually the first year Americans were allowed to write anything beyond the name and address of the card’s recipient on the back, making this postcard a nice example of this transition period.
The card shows what a Detroiter of 1907 would see facing north on corner of Washington Boulevard and Michigan Avenue. The green space along the median is familiar but the fountain is no more, and the statue of General Alexander Macomb, installed the previous year, is just out of frame. The buildings that tower over the street were still to come as well. Instead of the Book-Cadillac Hotel, we see the headquarters for the Edison Illuminating Company of Detroit on the right. Its predecessor, the Cadillac Hotel, would be next door, again just out of frame, awaiting the expansions of the Book Brothers in the early 1920s that would shallow the neighboring Edison Building.
The following years would be a boom period for Detroit, with the growth of the automotive, and the appearance of much of the city’s familiar skyline. And look at the difference a little over two decades make in our next postcard from sometime in the 1930s! There’s the contributions of the Book Brothers—the Book-Cadillac, and Book Tower, the Statler Hotel, General Macomb, and even somewhat obscured by the colorists’ efforts, the same two tiered street lights that still line the street.
And in recent memory Washington has continued to change. We lost the Statler, but have regained the Book-Cadillac. Gone are those red tubes and interactive lights from the once cutting edge Century of Light sculpture (as seen in this mid-80s photo from our collection), appropriately celebrating a century of the light bulb near Detroit Edison’s original site. Yet the the abstract figures of Standing Together now provide an interesting contrast to their neighbor, General Macomb. Likewise the era of the postcard is coming to a close, but you’re just a few clicks away from hundreds of vacation photos of Washington Boulevard. Perhaps one of those has been attached to an e-mail about Cracker Jack…