The Rosa Parks Boys' skateboarder paradise
A hot trick.
Published: June 17, 2014
Right off the main drag of Michigan Avenue, there’s noise on Rosa Parks Boulevard where there hasn’t been for months. Cars are pulling in and out of a small parking lot across the street from a crumbling white brick house, bright red triangles painted on its sides. You can hear the sound of urethane wheels slapping the cracked pavement from a block away, and a group of girls in heels have stopped to watch the commotion.
It’s almost 9 p.m. on a late spring day, and there are about 80 people gathered, high-fiving and hugging the two men who made the lonely white house a home for many these past few weeks.
They call themselves the Rosa Parks Boys: a handful of twentysomething locals claiming 2051 Rosa Parks Blvd., as the home for their skate park, art gallery, movie theater, and creative space, all while living just steps away — hence the name.
Skateboards launch through what used to be a crumbling doorway to a ramp below. Either a pop-up skate shop, art gallery, or venue space tends to occupy the old white-walled garage, its doors open and visible from the street. Tonight the space is being used by People Skate and Snowboard, a shop out in Keego Harbor, and neighborhood locals are leafing through pants and shoes. The rest watch from the parking lot, beers, ice creams, or Faygos in hand, as music pours out from somewhere inside.
The property was purchased months ago, with Corktown friends Jim Tumey and François Decomble heading the project to restore it. You could call this place a weeklong house party.
“Right now this is more of a friend thing,” says Decomble, a 29-year-old who moved to Detroit four years ago from the south of France. “But I definitely want this to be a part of Corktown in the future.”
Tumey, a real estate agent, had been eyeing the 100-year-old property for a while — its location was prime and its unique floor plan promised a variety of opportunities, including garage doors that could be opened to widen the space, creating an indoor-to-outdoor environment that’s made the property a hit since it debuted May 24.
A myriad of friends, skateboarders, artists, and strangers were enlisted to assist in sprucing the place up. Most had been attending Decomble’s weekly movie nights at his apartment long before.
Ben and Jessica Clarke, owners of People Skate and Snowboard, were out painting, building, and cleaning as much as possible the past two months.
“Jim pitched this idea for a space where they could showcase aspects of skateboard culture, whether with video or art,” Ben says. “They pitched that idea to Levi’s Skateboarding, and they were into it and gave some money toward the project.”
“Some money” wound up being $7,500 toward making the property something stunning and fresh, Decomble said. Every dime was put to work, and now the space relies on citizen donations to pay rent.
Decomble said that so far, anyone who has enjoyed the property has helped with a $5 to $10 donation, and that it’s all going better than expected — especially considering that nothing similar to Rosa Parks Boys has hit the area.
“People from the neighborhood were stoked to buy shoes and pants,” Decomble says of People hosting a pop-up shop one weekend. “There isn’t anything like that around here. People who don’t skate come to hang out.”
Events have included live music and art, skateboarding and film. Each Sunday at 9 p.m., Decomble hosts a movie screening, offering ice cream bars to his guests. He recently screened Lost in Translation, and the week before it was Bagdad Cafe. They’ve featured local artists, including Nick Jaskey and photographer Casey Davis.
“Since Day One, ideas have been flowing,” Tumey says. “A lot of our friends have been doing crazy stuff around the world, and this was inspired by a lot of them.”
Inside the building there are a variety of brightly painted portable cubes and triangles, multipurpose objects Decomble says can be used as seating, a skate-able sculpture, even a table. There’s a mural of dripping ice cream cones. There are end tables made from tree logs, and a few couches.
However, most stick around outside, enjoying the parking lot with friends.
Parents, lawyers, skateboarders, strangers off the street — a surprising variety of people want to experience the intimate setting with friends in this formerly dull area.
“There’s skateboarding involved, but we tried to make this more design-oriented,” Decomble says. “There weren’t too many places for creative types to go.”
Down the road, the boys hope to host poetry readings and possibly start up a zine. Right now, they’re about getting by and growing their space.
“This really changed my perspective on the area,” says Jordan Zuppke, a lawyer and friend of the founders. “This draws me into an area I’d drive past. I discovered a whole new street.”
To follow what’s going on at the house, check out the Rosa Parks Boys’ Instagram account, @rosaparksboys.
> Email Emma Ockerman