History lives at Kramer Homes

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published June 25, 2014

 Construction at Kramer Homes was completed in 1947. Residents become shareholders in the nonprofit corporation and in return enjoy affordable, stable housing.

Construction at Kramer Homes was completed in 1947. Residents become shareholders in the nonprofit corporation and in return enjoy affordable, stable housing.

Photo by Brian Louwers

CENTER LINE — The seeds of what would become the Kramer Homes Co-Operative took root in 1941 as a plan to build government housing for the families of 500 defense industry workers.

More than 70 years later, the community that became known as “the Project” among its residents, as it grew out of 40 acres of farmland near Van Dyke and 10 Mile Road, is undergoing an aesthetic transformation. Buildings originally constructed from redwood — in greater supply during World War II than other wood products — housing two to 12 units, each with one to three bedrooms, are being updated for the community’s existing and future “shareholders.”

Kramer Homes Co-Operative, Inc. property manager Dennis Champine said that’s good news for new and longtime residents, who own the 500 shares in the nonprofit corporation and in return enjoy stable, affordable housing with a rich history.

“The perception of Kramer Homes is that it’s low-income housing. It’s not,” Champine said. “It’s a great place to live. It’s a great place for families to start. It’s a very affordable housing opportunity.”

The government-financed structures, completed in 1947, were designed by the father-and-son architectural team of Eliel and Eero Saarinen.  The homes were unique in their day, innovative and probably considered modern.

Champine said the development was designed to house military and civilian employees working at the nearby U.S. Army Detroit Tank Plant Arsenal and Naval Armory, who labored to supply the equipment the Allies used to defeat Germany and Japan.

When the war ended, many workers established roots in the community, and looked to the Kramer Homes Co-Operative as a place to get started.

Many families stayed for decades.

“My brother-in-law told us about it because my husband just got out of the service,” said Jean Oliveri, 92. “We had two boys. My brother-in-law said there’s a place you can move in. We checked into it. That was 1949. We’re still here.”

Oliveri said she wanted to find a place that felt like it was a home. She stayed in Kramer Homes, moving two doors down, when the couple had a daughter two-years later.

“It was great because everybody knew everybody,” Oliveri said. “I wasn’t there a week before I knew everybody on the block.”

In those days, neighborhood kids went to school inside of the community, in a building that still stands on property now owned by the Van Dyke Public Schools district. The field near the center of the complex routinely hosted league baseball games, as families converged after work, on the weekends or during the summer months when school was out.

“There was always a ballgame going on in the middle there,” Oliveri remembered.

Rosemary Sieders, 90, moved to Kramer Homes in 1946 and raised her six boys and three girls there after her husband served in the U.S. Army during World War II. They bought into the co-op when the opportunity arose in February 1949. She said she could see the slab footprints that would become the buildings at Kramer Homes from farmland blocks away before vertical construction began.

“It was great, and a great place for kids,” Sieders said of life in the community.

Champine said a “three-bedroom cottage” at Kramer Homes is 925 square feet. Shareholders buy into the co-op through a $3,000 subscription fee plus an additional $1,000-$5,000 for capital improvements. Monthly “carrying charges” average about $350 for operating costs.

He said people like Sieders who spend time keeping the neighborhood beautiful, help make Kramer Homes feel like home to so many.

“It’s just taking pride in where you live.  It’s the best part,” Champine said. “This is still a wonderful place to live.”

For more about the Kramer Homes Co-Operative and its properties call (586) 757-1240 or visit www.kramerhomesco-op.com.