At 33 stories, the Millender Apartments make up one of Detroit’s tallest and best-known residential buildings. The tower rises on East Jefferson, connected to city hall and the Renaissance Center by enclosed walkways.
When Farmington Hills-based Village Green announced recently it had purchased the Millender Apartments, the company also said it planned to change the name.
The naming news received virtually no public comment. The purchase seems to be another example of the accelerating trend of new money and energy pouring into downtown, as Village Green said it would renovate the 338-unit tower and offer 24-hour concierge service.
Yet a number of people across Detroit raised their eyebrows when they heard the Millender was to be renamed. They recall the apartment’s namesake is Robert Millender, a Detroit lawyer who died in 1978.
Millender, an attorney with close to ties to labor, played a major role in establishing black political power in Detroit at a time when that was virtually nonexistent.
As his bio says at the Detroit African-American History Project:
Millender was a driving force behind the first generation of successful African-American politicians in the city of Detroit. . . . Millender’s significance to the people of Detroit is demonstrated by the naming of the Robert L. Millender Center in his honor.”
Blacks in Detroit have little economic power, but they do have political clout — though the Millender name change comes, coincidentally, just as the white-run state government has taken over city government with the appointment of the emergency manager, and as a white businessman, Dan Gilbert, seemingly assumes command of the future of downtown Detroit.
While both developments might be welcome and needed, they create a context in which the stripping of Robert Millender’s name from the apartments seems even more inappropriate.
Village Green is a private business run today by Jonathan Holtzman.
It is one of the largest privately owned, luxury multifamily housing companies in the United States, the company says on its website. Begun in Detroit in 1919, Village Green evolved from building single-family homes into owning and developing upscale rental housing. It manages, 40,000 units in 13 states.
Holtzman apparently was too busy to talk about changing the Millender name. His spokeswoman, Jacqueline Trost, noted that Village Green bought only the apartments at the Millender Center, and that the center will continue to be named Millender.
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