Westacres celebrates 75 years

Subdivision originally of coworkers founded on volunteer efforts

By: Eric Czarnik | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published August 9, 2011

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Westacres residents Pauline Pollard, left, and Carol Ruedisueli flip through a photo album July 29 during the opening celebration of the subdivision’s 75th anniversary.

WEST BLOOMFIELD — Although many communities boast a sense of family, few match up to Westacres’ credentials.

Celebrating its 75th anniversary last week, Westacres was founded with a residential requirement to volunteer, which has been embraced full force over the years and led to the subdivision sporting its own boat well, tennis courts, 6,000 feet of beach shoreline, a 74-year-old weekly newsletter, a clubhouse and a credit union.

“We have a lot of cool assets. It’s just a really unusual neighborhood,” said Diane Charles, who has lived in Westacres for 20 years. “We have people who move away and move back to raise their families. We have second, third and fourth generations living in there.”

In 1936, Westacres was created by U.S. Sen. James Couzens as a low-income housing option for auto workers, but the residents had to participate in the community by raising a garden and volunteering their time and talents. Couzens donated $550,000 to the cause and secured a $300,000 federal grant.

“We had the nation’s first private commuter bus that went to Chrysler for 40 years,” Charles said.

On 874 acres of land, 150 cinderblock houses sprang up during a six-month span along the northern shore of Middle Straits Lake, between Union Lake and Green Lake roads. Each house had three bedrooms and a one-car garage on a one-acre lot. Each cost less than $150,000 to build.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind community,” said Konrad Kohl, director of Oakland Housing Inc., a Birmingham-based real estate company, in a release. “It’s never been replicated.”

Residents said Westacres is Oakland County’s oldest planned subdivision, which paved the way for other subdivisions.

“This is a government project that worked,” said Scott Boone, a long-time resident. “It’s something that not only West Bloomfield and the state of Michigan can be proud of, but the entire nation as well.”

Over the years, Westacres residents have banded together to maintain the quality of life in their community.

“In 2009, we paid to have our own roads redone,” Charles said. “We thought, we could sit here and watch our roads turn to gravel or we can take initiative and do something.”

Charles said that commitment is what makes Westacres special. She called the volunteer work “the cornerstone of the community,” which explains why the past five years of planning for the 75th anniversary have gone smoothly, with numerous ideas coming to fruition.

Although most of the houses have been heavily renovated or had additions attached, Westacres hosted a home tour July 31 that allowed subdivision residents to tour six original houses that have not been modified over the past few decades.

“There’s maybe a handful left with the original windows that haven’t been added onto,” Charles said.

Throughout last week, a Memory Lane photo tour open house featured classic images from over the years, including the neighborhood’s 50th anniversary celebration and past Aquacade events.

Aquacade is the neighborhood’s unifying rivalry weekend. Although some athletic competitions take a north-versus-south mentality in relation to where residents live in the community, they all came together on the weekend for a corn roast on the beach, the 50th-annual costumed Aquacade Parade, and the Aquacade Dance, before wrapping up with swim events Sunday morning.

“For the last, at least quarter century, the West Bloomfield Fire Department have led the parade with their fire truck,” Charles said.

Residents volunteered to create several other memorable items for the 75th anniversary.

A time capsule was put together to be opened during Westacres’ 100th anniversary festivities.

A four-pack mug set, a DVD documentary and a 200-page book were created. The $30 book features artwork and rare photos from the past 75 years. The DVD debuted July 29 during the 75th anniversary week’s opening ceremony.

“There are no originals still living in Westacres,” Charles said, noting that a 98-year-old original resident, now from Pittsburgh, and another former resident in the Upper Peninsula are two featured in the documentary.

The subdivision even has its own website, www.westacres1936.org.

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