The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center was originally built in 1916 as a Detroit Public Library. This library was named the Bernard Ginsburg Branch, named after the former City of Detroit library board member. The Ginsburg Branch served the lower east-side neighborhoods and the infamous Black Bottom neighborhood, just outside of downtown Detroit. The Black Bottom neighborhood in Detroit was a deeply inpovershed area with an African-American population and all African-American owned businesses.
The Ginsburg Branch was a beautiful, brick and stone structure. The library received a lot of attention, but the patronage never reached the expected numbers. Some people think it was a bad idea to open a library in the Black Bottom neighborhood, but regardless of the reasons, the library was forced to move. In 1928, after just over a decade of existence, the library closed and the building was put up for sale.
The following year, the City of Detroit Parks & Recreation Department bought the former library and renovated the building. They added a brick, two-story structure to the original building. The addition included a swimming pool, a gymnasium, and classrooms. The former library was converted into an auditorium.
In 1929, the Central Community Center opened up to the public. The Central Community Center was a huge success, as the center offered more than 80 different programs and activities for people to join. Detroit-boxing legend Joe Louis learned how to box in the recreation center’s boxing ring in the basement. The Harlem Globetrotters came to give audiences a show in the recreation center’s gymnasium. Things were going really well for the Central Community Center.
In the 1930’s, construction began on the Brewster-Douglass homes and the Brewster Projects. The Brewter Projects were a city and government housing project that would house up to 10,000 low-income families. The Central Community Center was directly in the middle of the entire housing project. Although the recreation center was a great way for the Brewster Project residents to have some programs and activities to join, the neighborhood started to decline and the Brewster Projects became a less desirable place to live. By the 1970’s, the Brewster Project became a place infamous for drugs, crime, and prostitution. Many times, the Central Community Recreation Center was people’s only way to stay out of the streets and stay out of trouble.
In 1970, the Central Community Center was renamed the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center. It was named after the Brewster Projects (Brewster) and Leon Wheeler, who was the first manager of the recreation center from it’s opening in 1929 – 1945 (Wheeler).
The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center struggled to stay open throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s. The center relied on donations and grant money to keep them afloat. In 1996, former Detroit basketball star, Chris Webber donated a brand new basketball court to the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center. Then in 2000, Mike Tyson trained in the basement’s boxing ring for an upcoming fight at The Palace of Auburn Hills against Andrew Golota. Mike Tyson said he wanted to train where his idol, Joe Louis, had trained.
The mark of a new century was the unfortunate end for the historic Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center. By the early 2000’s, the center had reduced it’s hours and programs. In 2006, the City of Detroit Housing Comission announced that they were planning to close the Brewster Projects housing. This meant that the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center was going to close too and it most certainly did. The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center closed for good in August of 2006.
The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center was boarded up and the doors were locked, but this did little to slow the metal thieves from gaining entrance into the abandoned building. Sadly, the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center was stripped of all it’s value, including: metal, tiles, equipment, and anything else of value.
In 2013, the Brewster Projects were demolished. The former Brewster -Wheeler Recreation Center is currently the only thing left on the land.
As of 2015, it was announced that the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center was going to be converted into a restaurant and other retail space.
The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in 2008-2009:
The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in 2011:
The Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center in 2012: