On June 22, 2011, I met with a group of friends for a City Saunter photo walk through Cooley Gardens. I realized I had never been there before. We explored the beautiful Cooley Garden area and then meandered over to the Scott Sunken Garden. Walking allowed us the ability to search and find, and we were amazed at finding this immaculate sunken garden just south of Malcolm X Street. At the time I felt it was a shame that this beautiful treasure was so hidden. There were no signs visibly stating what this public beauty was. It wasn’t until walking right up to it, could we read the signs and gather the information needed to realize what it was. All the years in the area, I had always thought it was a private residents.
Now all that is different. Starting in the late winter of 2017 the plan to raze the area the Scott Sunken Garden was in, move the garden brick by brick to a new location, and build a BWL Substation, began. It was traumatic to witness, to be honest. I went on a tour of the area in the middle of construction and found it unsettling. You can read that blog here. Yesterday, after shooting lobby and publicity shots for Riverwalk Theatre, I decided to stop by the newly reopened Cooley and Scott Sunken Gardens. Since I was on the REO Town Commercial Association for four years as a board member, I was in the know about all things REO Town, and was a bit disappointed to not know about this reopening. Through those years I attended all the meetings but one, and was actively involved in important decisions regarding this location. I had been eagerly waiting to see how this new construction panned out.
As much as some folx really didn’t want this substation to go in, I must admit, for being what it is, it’s quite impressive. I recently went to a new place and their substation just sat in the middle of the city with chain link fence around it. It was ugly and prominent. Upon entering the new parking lot, it was remarkably different than the old gardens. The parking lot is pristine. It splits in two directions, one nearer the Cooley-Haze House and the other closer to the substation. Each provide walkers easy access to the new gardens. The sidewalks are beautiful, wide cemented paths. For aesthetic purposes, BWL added growing walls on the western and northern edge of the walls, which adds a distinct pop of color. Also new, are the many plaques along the walkways. Each plaque articulates the history of R.E. Olds, the Grand River, the gardens, and many other historic placemakers in this area.In this new lay-out, the Scott Sunken Garden is front and center. You can’t miss it. It has now become the crown jewel of REO Town as it always should have been. Set amongst slightly rolling hills, the only disturbing aspect is the protruding smoke stacks jutting out in the background, which I am sure will be a plus for some and a negative for others. The untouched Cooley Garden now easily compliments a multi-location attraction that brought more visitors in the twenty minutes I was there, than I have ever seen when it was over grown and unknown. I think if the substation controversy did anything, it brought attention to these two gorgeous, historic gardens. I took a quick walk through Cooley Garden, although it’s the same as it was. It was never suppose to have any changes with the build of the substation. As I turned to leave out the eastern path, I noticed my view now stretched all the way to Washington Ave. The view in the entire area is very open. As much as I loved the old growth trees on these properties, it really isolated the gardens. I circled around the Scott Sunken Garden, taking in the river view, which is now quite visible, and meandered down the new path towards Washington Ave. This is a beautiful path that leads out along the river to the plaza on the eastern edge of the substation. Again, I must say this is a drastic improvement from the chain link fence, homeless person hideaway, and over grown hill, it had been before.
Along the eastern edge is the new sidewalk on Washington Ave. and at the corner is a beautiful entryway into REO Town. I really liked it. The artwork by Michigan Imagery adds another pop of color and whimsical flare. The walk back to my car down Malcolm X Street isn’t the grassy yard and ancient tree line it once was, but I think I can get used to the clean brick facade that maybe flows a little better in an auto-industry city. There’s no mistaken that SOMETHING is here now. Scott Sunken Garden and Cooley Garden are located at 125 W. Malcolm X Street. Malcolm X Street is a one way, heading east, so access is from the west. It sits on the south side of the road. If you’ve reached Washington Ave., you’ve gone too far.
All images are © Ariniko Artistry 2019