Larry Pylar, July 23rd, 2016


Larry Pylar, July 23rd, 2016


In this interview, Pylar describes his upbringing in a white neighborhood on the east side of Detroit and what he witnessed during the unrest of 1967. He also provides a perspective of Detroit residents who were not directly affected by the unrest and his thoughts on the state of the city.


Detroit Historical Society




Detroit Historical Society, Detroit, MI






Oral History


Narrator/Interviewee's Name

Larry Pylar

Brief Biography

Larry Pylar was born in Detroit in 1936 and grew up on the east side, where he continued to live after he was married until 1972. He worked in IT for General Motors and Ford Motor Company.

Interviewer's Name

Hannah Sabal

Interview Place

Detroit, MI



Interview Length



Hannah Sabal

Transcription Date



HS: Hello, this is Hannah Sabal. The date is July 23rd, 2016. I am in Detroit, Michigan for the Detroit Historical Society’s Detroit 67 Oral History Project with Larry Pylar. Thank you for sitting down with me today.

LP: You’re welcome.

HS: Can you start by telling me where and when you were born?

LP: I was born in Detroit, 1936.

HS: Where did you grow up?

LP: Detroit. I was a Detroit resident until 1972.

HS: Were you in a specific neighborhood? East side? West side?

LP: East side Detroit. Most of the time it would be called, at that time, it’d be called Far East Side, the Harper/Chalmers area.

HS: What was your neighborhood like?

LP: It was probably, at the time, middle class. Middle class has changed over the years. What we call middle class today was not middle class back in the ‘40s and ‘50s. But it was a nice neighborhood. Almost exclusively single-family homes, exclusively white. Most of the people there worked, they were salesmen, tradesmen, skilled tool and die makers. There were very few college graduates at that time.

HS: What did your parents do?

LP: My father was an accountant with the Budd Wheel Company, and my mother was a legal secretary, personal secretary to a partner in a big Detroit law firm.

HS: Oh, nice. Where did you go to school?

LP: Went to parochial school through high school, St. Julianna’s on the east side, and then De La Salle, which was also on the east side. It’s since moved to Warren, but then it was by the Detroit City Airport. Then Wayne State.

HS: The parochial schools, were those integrated at all?

LP: No. As I said, there were no people of color, of any kind. Not only African Americans, but no Hispanics, no Asians—there were very few Asians in Detroit then at all—and in high school, no. De La Salle has the distinct honor of refusing admittance to Coleman Young when he applied for the school. They had their first black student in probably the late ‘70s. It was a college prep school, and it was not close to black neighborhoods. I’m not sure why Coleman Young wanted to go there.

HS: Reputation, maybe?

LP: Nah, that’s not what I’ve heard. I’ve since researched it, and that is true. They declined to accept him as a student.

HS: What was your neighborhood like?

LP: My neighborhood was typical, it was the Ozzie and Harriett neighborhood. Almost all the women stayed home. Whether or not they had children, most of them were still homemakers. Most of the fathers, again, were tradesmen or lower/middle level employees in some place, or skilled trades. This was the era before TV, before easy phone calls, that sort of thing. It was a typical white neighborhood in Detroit at that time. The only time you saw a black person in this neighborhood was perhaps, at that time they had—and I think this is originally a Jewish term, “sh**ne,” they called them. These were people who would go down the alleys looking for recyclable materials. In those days, mostly cloth and some paper, metals, I think, primarily. In the early ‘40s, at my grandmother’s house which was around 6 Mile and Van Dyke, I remember them coming down the alley, wagon and a horse and he actually had—this sounds like a stereotype—he had a brass trumpet. He would blow this trumpet as he went down the alley to let people know that he was going to be there if they had anything they wanted to get rid of, and he would take it. I think the occasional, when I lived in the Harper/Chalmers area, there was occasionally a man who came through sharpening knives. He had a little machine that he pulled behind him, he’d walk down the street, and he’d be ringing a bell, and people, if they had knives to sharpen, they’d bring them out. And that was to the extent of—let me tell you how white it really was. My mother as an immigrant was very conscious of prejudice, because there was a lot of prejudice above a certain level for eastern Europeans. So, my brother went to a high school called Salesian High School on Woodward, and it was an integrated high school. My mother was the kind of person who, in her entire life, I never heard her say a bad word about anybody, except my father’s second wife, but that’s a different story. But she never did. She worked downtown Detroit, and when I’d go down there, meet her for lunch, she’d make sure that she introduced me to a lot of the people, building employees, black people, who were janitors or elevator operators. I could just tell there was a friendship between them. They’d give my mother birthday presents, she’d give them birthday presents or something at Christmas, and she really, genuinely liked these people. Despite the fact that there were absolutely no black employees in the law firm. It was a rather large firm. One day, there’s a knock at the front door, and my mother opens the front door and there’s an African American boy at the front door, friend of my brother’s from Salesian who had taken the buses down to visit my brother. My mother was visibly disturbed, not because she didn’t like the friendship. She was concerned about what the neighbors would say about this black kid walking two blocks down and over, coming up on her doorstep. She didn’t say no, she wasn’t rude or anything, but I could see that this jolted her, “How did this happen? This doesn’t happen in this neighborhood?” So the racism is hard to explain sometimes because people you are sure would not say a nasty word, it’s deep inside. It’s part of that cultural pattern that you grew up with, you absorb. You don’t realize it’s there.

HS: Growing up in your neighborhood, did you play a lot with the neighbor kids or your siblings?

LP: Everything was outdoors. If it was raining, you might have someone over your house, but otherwise you got outside as quick as you can. We did things like play baseball in the street, sometimes football. Eastman didn’t have any lots to play football on, they were really bad. But some of the larger streets would have large easements, maybe ten, twelve feet wide off the street, and the city would periodically cut that down, but the field behind that they wouldn’t touch. We’d play football in those easements with the footballs going into the streets, sometimes getting flattened by cars. When they built a new home in the neighborhood, you’d very often start a building project, like take all the bricks and build a house, your own little house. Stack it up, build things, or play in the—one time a friend of mine, there was a really heavy rain, and the basement filled up with water; they hadn’t put the block down. Just a big hole. Filled up with water. So he decided he was going to make a boat, and he made it out of Celletex, this spongy, fibrous material they would use as backing on the studs, and also somewhat of an insulator. He made a boat out of it, sailed out into the middle of the excavation, and of course the boat immediately filled up with water, the Celletex got waterlogged, soaked, and sank. He had to swim back. But then you played, there were defined sports. Organized sports were relatively rare. I went to a Catholic school, so you had CYO 8th grade football; 7th and 8th graders could play football. The CYO had centers; there were several centers in Detroit, and there would have been organized sports there, but you didn’t have little league and football and baseball and basketball.

HS: The CYO, is that the Catholic Youth Organization?

LP: Yeah, Catholic Youth Organization.

HS: Let’s move into the ‘60s. What were you doing in the ‘60s?

LP: 1957 I got married. In ’58, moved to Detroit. Far east side, now I’m the last street in Detroit, Kingsville on the east side. Across the street is Harper Woods. So we’re the last street in Detroit. I was working at the time—let’s see, when we moved there I was working at General Motors, then I worked in downtown Detroit. I had just left my job in downtown Detroit and was working at Ford Motor Company in Dearborn.

HS: In what capacity?

LP: My whole life I worked in what’s now called IT. Computer stuff. But in those days, it was tremendously different. I’d been working a short time at Ford Motor, and I had gone up north with a couple of friends. Got somebody to watch all the kids, got away for the weekend. We’re driving back, and I think we were around the Flint area, and you could see this big column of smoke coming up from the south.

HS: We’re going to get to the riots in just a second. Before the riots though, did you notice any tensions in the city?

LP: For a person like myself? No. Even though just prior to this, like I say, I have worked five years in downtown Detroit. No, there weren’t a lot of tensions because I think the tensions were pretty much locked up in the black neighborhoods. And there was no reason for me to go to them, with one exception. I had one of my employees—a keypunch operator, someone who punched those punch cards. She was black, she had been in the army. And when she got married, she invited myself and a fellow I worked with to the wedding. So we said, “Sure, we’re going to go.” We went to it, it was at the Democratic Club off Davison on the west side. Anyway, we walked in, and we’re the only white people in the entire group. I had never been among that many black people in my entire life. They were great people. We were accepted. They were ordinary people. They were just like everybody else I knew except they weren’t white. With the exception of the mother of the bride, who was upset that we were there—she told her daughter, she said, one of her brothers told me, “My mother doesn’t understand why she had to invite white people to the wedding.”

HS: How did that make you feel, being a minority for the first time?

LP: It didn’t bother me at all.

HS: No?

LP: I thought I could understand what she’s feeling, you know, we aren’t part of the culture and everything else. On the other hand, I felt that most of the people that were there were part of my culture. They were there, everything but color. We enjoyed the same things, except dancing with her sister one time, her sister says, “You know, you white people really can’t dance very well.” But outside of that, I didn’t feel that there were differences between us, except I could understand the mother, though, having grown up in a much, much tougher environment would feel that way. It didn’t bother me. Why should it? Her daughter accepted me, and that was fine. We all agreed, and it was the first time my wife had been to anything like that either, and she agreed and said, “It was really nice. People were really great.” No difference between what they’re interested in, what they’re eating, what they’re drinking, and the rest of us. I lost my train of thought there. When I got on that second story I just sort of lost it. Pull up another question.

HS: How did you hear about the riots?

LP: Oh, now I can talk about the riots.

HS: Yes, now. Go.

LP: Driving back to Detroit from northern Michigan with friends, we saw a big plume of smoke, which I assumed was a factory fire. Big, but factory fire. Then, as we got closer to Detroit, the radio stations were saying that there’s a disturbance going on. The closer we got, of course, the more news there was. But initially there wasn’t news about a huge riot or anything, there was a disturbance and there’d been some looting, and some things had been set on fire. When we got home, and the ensuing days, it got more and more serious. How did it affect me? It didn’t affect me. I mean, I even went to work. I was no longer working in downtown Detroit, I was working in Dearborn. I had to drive 94 across town. It didn’t really affect us directly. Indirectly, there were a few things, and that’s where I have a couple of short stories to tell.

HS: Yeah, please share those stories, we’d like to hear them.

LP: Okay. There were no black people in our neighborhood of any kind. But I had a southern neighbor, and he was unemployed and drank a lot. Somehow he felt it was his mission to protect the neighborhood from rampaging black people. So he would sit out on his front porch with a loaded shotgun, drunk.

HS: Sounds about right.

LP: I was, the entire riots, the most concern I had during the entire riot period was that my next door neighbor might shoot me. What was second-most? Second-most was probably for the first week or so driving to work in Dearborn, driving in the ditch. It hadn’t extended that far north, but I was still concerned if there were some crazies out there who might want to get in one of those industrial buildings overlooking the freeway and go shooting into the freeway. I wasn’t paranoid, but it was a concern, and it lasted about a week or so. The most surprising thing I had in this was when I got to work, at Ford Motor. Guys are talking about the riots, right? More than a couple people said, “Oh, yeah, we went riding through there!” I said, “You went driving through there?!” “Oh, yeah.” “By yourself?” “No, no, wife and the kids. We went to see what was going on.” And they’re actually driving down the streets with burning buildings and people looting and the police and the National Guard with their kids and I’m thinking, this is insane! What are you doing there with your children? From their perspective, they probably thought—I don’t know why they thought they were safe, that it wouldn’t happen to them. I could not believe they were actually doing this. Outside of that, now, again, at that time, I did not about—later on, I became involved with FOCUS: Hope, but at that time I did not know about it. I had no real connection. I didn’t know people in the riot area. Did it bother me a lot? I don’t know why it should not have bothered me, but it really didn’t. A) It didn’t really affect me. My neighborhood, my family, my job. Secondly, for some reason, I felt a little sympathy—not sympathy, a little understanding of how this can come about. I’ve had several police friends, and knowing them, a couple of them, I’ve often thought the line between the crook and the policeman is very fine. They’re both sort of adrenaline junkies. They live on the edge. What makes one uphold the law, what makes one break it, I think that’s a very fine line because I had a friend who once in a while, he’d call me up and say, “Let’s go out and have a beer.” “Okay, where we going?” We ended up on Cass Avenue, at that time, a rough place. We’d go in these bars where everybody knew him, and they’re black-white bars. Everybody knew who he was, and he would sort of lord over the place. He was off-duty, but they knew he has a gun, he’s carrying a gun. They knew he’s a policeman because he’s in that area. I thought, this is not comfortable at all. At various times, I thought when they’re talking about the harassing, I thought, I haven’t personally experienced a whole lot, but I think I can know what that feels like. Now in subsequent years, I’ve had several experiences which sort of reinforced that. I’m the sort of person who’s lived my life in the middle. Bad things have happened, but not terrible things. Good things, but I’m not a millionaire. My whole life has been somewhat in the middle. I just got excused from a jury, I think, because of a couple of the experiences. One was getting thrown in jail for a traffic offense, going ten miles over. It’s a little bit of a story, but I posted it on Facebook and said, “Anybody wants to talk about this, my six hours as a con.” But [unintelligible] because you can see this whole scenario and what had played out then. Because it was short term, I was thrown in a room. This is the ‘70s. I get put in a room, mostly black people, most in there because some bad loud muffler or smoky car. In a room, terrible room. No door on the bathroom, single bathroom, men and women. Old beat up park benches to sit on. Walls are terrible. While we’re there, and right next door in the squad room, right next door, there’s a conference room. They bring in six hookers. The hookers are put in the conference room: leather chairs, nice carpet, nice table. We meanwhile are jammed in this dirty, other kind of room.

HS: When was this?

LP: This was in the ‘70s. It was after the ‘60s, but again, you understand how some of these things happen. I was aware that when I was working, from the ‘50s on—I worked at General Motors, there were no minority employees—no, I take that back, there were several Asians, several Asian PhDs. But they were it, that was the minority. There were no black or Hispanic. Not a whole lot of eastern Europeans either. Everybody was pretty much what you’d call wasp. Then when I worked downtown, it was much better. There was a little more diversification. But still, all management was white and you had a couple of female employees who were at the bottom. Secretaries, and like I said, I had a keypunch operator. When I left from there and went to Ford Motor, and there was a little more diversification. But again, in the ‘70s, there was still a lot less.

HS: Looking back on the riots, are there any other experiences aside from your very colorful neighbor that you’d like to share with us?

LP: Okay, well, the second weekend, my wife’s cousin got married. I guess it was somewhat fortunate—I’m not sure if it made any difference—but they had booked a hall which was just across the Detroit city line in Harper Woods. Her brother was supposed to stand up for the wedding, but he was in the Michigan National Guard and got called up. So the night of the reception, all of a sudden a jeep pulls up to the front door. He was a captain, so he was an officer. He gets out of the jeep, he’s got three armed guys with him, and they all come into the hall. It was sort of strange to see fatigues and weapons in the hall. Although there was nothing happening in these neighborhoods, the Detroit neighborhoods. Nothing at all happening. We were miles away from it. He was able to break loose for a few minutes and come on down. He spent about fifteen minutes or so with us. Then he had to go back to his patrolling duties; I guess that’s what they did, they were patrolling the streets. Okay, so what else did we have? Let me think back. As I said, I had very little direct—I didn’t know people, I didn’t have contact with any of the groups or activities that might have been there. It was mostly then just riding through the areas. Once in a while coming from work the freeway was jammed up, you’d take surface streets then. A little while later, everything had calmed down and you had just a residue of that.

HS: Moving past then, when you look back on the events, do you describe it as a riot, or would you call it an uprising or a rebellion, civil disturbance?

LP: A lot of my friends refer to it, white friends, refer to it as The Rebellion or The Uprising. Because it wasn’t organized, I have a little hesitation. I call it a riot only in the sense that I always felt it was totally disorganized. Totally disorganized. So I call it a riot for that, but some of my friends refer to it as an uprising. “We’ve had enough and we’re gonna do something about it.” Well, this turned out to be very counterproductive and destructive, but one of the results of that was the more rapid exit from Detroit.

HS: The white flight.

LP: Yeah, the white flight which I was part of in 1972.

HS: Why did you leave?

LP: I had children at parochial school. I told my wife, I said, “It’s getting more and more expensive. Our daughter is starting high school next year. Let’s see what the costs are. Let’s put them in a public school.” We raised them catholic and both of us always went to parochial school, that’s where we automatically sent the kids. So we sent them to the public school; that lasted for about six weeks. Now was there a problem with my kids getting in trouble? No. With the kids they bussed in? No. One of my kids said about the second week, she said, “I feel so sorry for those kids being bussed in.” I said, “Why?” She says, “Because they’re spending all their day on a bus! We can’t be friends with them because they’re gone. They walk out, we have no chance to socialize—” she didn’t say socialize, but— “we can’t—everything is just in school, and then they’re gone.” They come in in the morning and they’re tired when they get here because they had to get up extra early. Everybody else in the neighborhood, my kids walked to school. The biggest problem was the school itself. My kids had gone to a tracked parochial school, three tracks in every grade. Most of them were in first or second track. So when they went to public school, my oldest daughter said, one day we were talking to her, “How’s school going?” “Oh, it’s really boring.” I said, “What are you doing?” She said, “Well, I’m hall monitor four days a week in my English class.” My wife called the school and said, “Why is my daughter hall monitoring?” She says, “Well, we give an assignment out on Monday and your daughter does the assignment and everything, she’s got it all right and perfect, so we made her hall monitor.” My wife said, “This is silly! She’s getting bored in class!”

HS: And you’re paying for this, right?

LP: No, now we’re in public school.

HS: Oh, now we’re in public school. Okay.

LP: And she says, “Most parents, this is an honor for their kids to be the hall monitor.” We said, “No, no, she’s there to learn.” That’s case one. Case two, one of my sons came home one day and my wife says, “What’s your assignment?” He says, “I’ve gotta be able to write these ten words for spelling.” My wife says, “Then what?” He says, “That’s it.” For the week, he just had to learn how to spell them correctly. And she said, “Do you know what any of these mean?” He said, “No.” She said, “Weren’t you told to find out what they mean?” “No.” Call the school again. School said, “This is the curriculum. The teacher set it. If your kids happen to be able to pick this up very quickly, be happy about it.” Then, I’m trying to remember what the third event—oh, yeah! Third event: my wife went down to talk, and the school we went to was Our Lady Queen of Peace, that was the parochial school. My wife said to the principal now, she’s talking to the principal, she says, “This is a problem. My kids, they’re all bored! There’s nothing going on in class. Can’t you at least let the teacher make some additional assignments that they can do on their own? That they will have to do.” He says, “No, no, we can’t do that. We don’t do that here.” My wife said, “Well this is ridiculous.” The principal looked at her and said, “Were you this much a problem person at Our Lady Queen of Peace?” So with that, we said bite the bullet, pull my kids out of school. I had no problem with them being in public school, and there was no problem personality conflict. It was the education at that particular school at least was very, very poor. So we pulled them out, got all the credits we could from our work in the parish and got them back into—it was a job, because we had four of them to get back in the school—and get them back into parochial school. Then, a year later, I said, look, we’re either going to face these high bills and pay them and the tuition or we can get a bigger house. We had a 1,000 square-foot home, with seven people in it.

HS: Oh, my god.

LP: Well, maybe 1,100. I had finished the basement, I had finished the attic off, and extended the kitchen. That might have been 1,100 square feet total. I said, we can do that, so we checked around. Utica community schools had a very good reputation at the time, and we found that if we moved out far enough, houses got cheap enough that we actually, with a little struggle, could afford. We decided, we made the move out there.

HS: How have you seen the city change in the past fifty years?

LP: It’s changed a lot. Of course, downhill for many years, many years. Quite frankly, I thought that mayor Coleman Young was xenophobic when he was mayor. In 1968, there was a referendum in the city to take Belle Isle and put it in the park system, the—what is Stony Creek and all the rest of them?

HS: Metro parks.

LP: Metro park system, and it got turned down. And one of the primary reasons it got turned down was Coleman Young was dead-set against it. Nobody was going to take their park away, nobody. Well, ensuing years, lack of money and everything else, the park went downhill. Downhill terribly. I always hated it because I grew up on the island. I hated that. I blamed him for that. I thought he just had this xenophobic view of race relations in the city. On the other hand, racism was a deep part of the consciousness of the white population. I mean, I don’t think he had to be xenophobic to get people to move out. And in Michigan, it was easy to move. The land’s flat, you can extend utilities, go out there. It’s not like some cities where there are mountains and hills and it’s very expensive. It’s cheap to move out. I can remember when my uncle bought a house in Detroit, right after World War II, and it was all farms, and we’re talking south of 7 Mile Road, on the east side. All farms. And they just leveled the land, put in all the streets, plotted it, put the houses on. Anyway, it has gone downhill, and we try to keep up with it. I’m in Detroit a lot, I have friends in Detroit. Almost all white friends, interestingly. I still, to this day, do not have many black friends. I had a very good friend who was black. He grew up in the city of Detroit, then went out. He worked for IBM. I met him on one of the companies, jobs, I went to in the ‘70s. He lived in Shelby Township where I lived, and he was one of three black families in all thirty-five square miles of Shelby. He was just a great guy, but my wife used to be concerned. He had a motorcycle, was a big guy, tough-looking guy. He had a purple Yamaha 1200cc motorcycle, and he’d come roaring up our driveway, and my daughters, little blonde girls, would go, “Ray! Take us for a ride! Take us for a ride!” One at a time, they’d hop behind him.

HS: And your wife’s like, “Uh, no?”

LP: No, no, that was fine, she let them do it. She was great with this guy, his whole family, we were great friends. But she, again, deep down, “What are the neighbors, what are they gonna—?” And again, she wasn’t afraid of what they would say, she was afraid of how she would handle it, because she had no problem. I mean, she wasn’t going to say, no, this is wrong. She just didn’t know what she would do if they did. Outside of him and his family, and through things like FOCUS: Hope I’ve met a few people, but over the years I’ve had very, very few black friends. In the course of that time, in our family, there have been what they used to call interracial marriages. Let me tell you this story from the ‘60s, because I think this fits. Friend of mine got married a little later than the rest of us, in the late 20s, and he married a Ukrainian girl. They lived on the east side of Detroit, but the family originally lived in Hamtramck. She had come from the Ukraine as a child after World War II. And he married a Ukrainian girl, we thought it was a great wedding. A real ethnic wedding, we had never seen it. This whole idea, the ritual of it, and what they did before and after was just fantastic. Well, years later, this was maybe four or five years ago, this couple’s sitting around our kitchen table, we’re talking about, “Hey, remember the days when…” and my friend said,  “You know, we almost didn’t get married.” I said, “Didn’t get married? Why?” He says, “His parents were dead-set against our getting married.” She said, “As a matter of fact, when we early started dating, my parents sent me to live with an aunt in New York for a year, hoping to break it up.” She said, “We finally got married when I told my mother and dad, I said, ‘Look, if you’re going to continue doing this, we’re just going to go to a JP, be married by a Justice of the Peace. There’ll be no big church wedding and nothing else,’ and they relented.” Now as his friends, we never saw this. He came from an Italian family, she’s Ukrainian. She said, “To tell you how serious it was that I was not marrying a Ukrainian—this is in the ‘60s—three years later my sister married a black man, and nobody said a word. I had already done all the damage by marrying someone who was not Ukrainian.” Since then, the family doesn’t have a whole lot, but there are some, just the mix. Now the family includes people from India, from the Philippines, well, the black person is actually an American and his family has been here a lot longer than mine has. It’s interesting to talk about immigrants, I used to work with some Japanese girls. Turns out their family came over in 1870. My family came over in 1911.

HS: They just took different paths.

LP: A lot longer! But there was a pattern of discrimination for them. World War II, when they interned the Japanese. You may not know this, there was a plan to intern Japanese, Italians, and Germans.

HS: I actually did know that.

LP: The Japanese were more easily interned because there were fewer numbers of them, almost all of them in California, very easily done. When congress, they looked at funding of picking up the Italians and Germans, they said, politically this is a nightmare. They had a lot of power, the Japanese had no power. And it’s an incredibly huge job, to just screen everybody, decide where they’re going to be interned, and the Japanese didn’t bother screening them; they just interned the whole population. They abandoned that. It always bothered me as a history major, why in the world did they allow all these Germans and Italians, they never did anything, and these few Japanese were the furthest away from Japan—they were twice the distance that the Europeans were—why did they let it go? I did a little research.

HS: Do you think it also had something to do with the fact that Japanese are more easily recognizable than Germans and Italians?

LP: That’s true. Back in the ‘70s, when Japanese were sending, automakers were sending people to Detroit to look at production methods and how we did things, one of the girls I worked with, she said, “Boy, I used to hate it when”—because all the wives group together, they go shopping and everything. She said, “I’d be walking down the street, and I would see these Asians, Japanese, coming down.” She said, “The first thing I do is cross the street and get away because invariably they would see me and go, ‘Somebody we can talk to!’” And she said, “I don’t speak Japanese!” She said, “I’d cross the street and get away from them so I wouldn’t have to go through all this.”

HS: Looking toward the future, where do you see the city going?

LP: Okay, every Thanksgiving—I’ve done this for eight or nine years, my friends have done it for like twelve or thirteen—every Thanksgiving, we meet somewhere, roughly called the Core Area in Detroit, and spend nine o’clock on the morning of thanksgiving until midnight walking through a neighborhood. We’d walk through these neighborhoods. We have started at Belle Isle through the city, downtown to Wayne state, we’ve gone through Corktown, Greek town, all the communities looking at the changes. There’s a lot of them, but my feeling is that the one thing that it needs is it still needs to come up with a viable middle class. Right now you’ve got the people living along Woodward and that, and until you start getting this group of middle class people, they’re going to bring in supermarkets and all the little retail shops that you need, not much is going to happen. You can’t do it all with hut housing or heavily subsidized, because these people do not have extra money to shop. You need people who have a little disposable income. I think that’s coming. I think a big start of it is younger people—we know of several young people, like probably around your age, late 20s, early 30s, who have moved downtown. But they’ve got jobs, they can afford it, they’ve got a nice apartment that looks up. Meanwhile, if you’re out further, and we’re interested, we’d go to see the tree farm that’s out there, and the local farmers. I don’t slow roll, I’m not that steady on a bike anymore, but I have a number of friends who are at the Slow Roll group. There are several bicycling groups in the city now and come down through. Actually I think it’s getting better because it really couldn’t get any worse. It couldn’t get any worse. Detroit actually did bottom. When I was up here, we’re talking in the ‘50s, Detroit had 2 million people. Now it’s 700,000. A lot of people don’t want to understand people. Another little story. A gal I worked with, her husband was teaching in a parochial school, not a catholic, I’ll just say that, but a parochial school. And he was tired of the political infighting in this church, so he decided he had to get out. He had a Master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Michigan. He had like ten years’ teaching experience with a Master’s, so he threw his resumes all out. He kept getting them returned saying, “We’d love to have you on our staff, but we’d have to pay you at the top pay grade, and we just can’t do that.” He got three positive responses, all from the city of Detroit. He finally took one of them, Martin Luther King High School. Tough area. Van Dyke and Harper area, tough area. We thought, here’s a guy, he’s an army brat, he’s taught in these parochial environments all his life, he’s going to get eaten alive down there. The next year when I brought up the subject to his wife, I said, “How’s he doing at that school?” And she said, “He loves it.” And I said, “Really?” She says, “A lot of students couldn’t care less, but he found enough students and enough parents who are interested in their students to make the teaching job worthwhile.” We expected him not even to last a year, it turned out, last I heard, he had been there four or five years, then I lost touch with him. It had been a good experience for him. It’s a matter of getting to know people and knowing what you want, and going out and not being afraid.

HS: All right, is there anything else you wanted to share today?

LP: Let’s see, this has nothing to do with Detroit, but you speak Spanish? I have a little story that you might find interesting.

HS: All right, I’m just going to shut this off.

Original Format



38min 53sec


Hannah Sabal


Larry Pylar


Detroit, MI


Pylar, Larry.jpg


“Larry Pylar, July 23rd, 2016,” Detroit Historical Society Oral History Archive, accessed December 3, 2023,

Output Formats