From Farm to Table

The Life of a 107-year-old Detroit Home

(r to l) Annette Baka, Maryanne Porzondek (mother), and Nancy Taylor (sister).

I wanted to be involved in Family Pictures USA in order to show how a 107-year-old home survived, transformed, and brought two families together that will be bonded forever. The house at 5528 Moran Street has survived prohibition, the depression, the 1967 riots, and urban decay, only to rise up as an urban farm.

My story began about 4 years ago. You see, my grandmother Anna Guzowski lived in this home on Moran and, every once in a while, I would drive by the house praying that her home was still there and that it hadn’t been burned down with most of the other houses on the block. Every time I would do that, I would get this horrible pain in the pit of my stomach, and then I would see her home and I would breathe a sigh of relief.

One sunny morning after going to the Eastern Market in downtown Detroit, I decided to take a quick drive by the familiar large gray house. The first thing I noticed was a new fence around the property and a beautiful woman holding a baby on her hip. I was compelled to get out of my car and yell ‘Hello, do you live here?’ The woman walked over to me and said, ‘Yes, I live here.’ You cannot understand the joy that burst into my heart. The thought that someone was actually living in my grandmother’s home was so wonderful that I immediately started to cry. I introduced myself to Carolyn, and we spoke for a while before she asked if I wanted to come inside.

Now mind you, it had been over 35 years since I walked inside my grandmother’s home. My heart wanted to immediately say yes, but instead I told Carolyn, ‘You don’t even know me and I should not be allowed into your home.’ Carolyn spoke softly and claimed, ‘It is obvious that you are emotionally attached to this house and you are more than welcome to come inside.’ I could barely contain my emotions. As I walked up the front steps, the memories came flooding back. Just writing about the event brings tears to my eyes. When I crossed the threshold, my whole childhood came back and I could feel my grandmother’s love envelop me. I looked around, and I immediately noticed that the house looked different and it had gone through some remodeling. There was a new staircase in the middle of the living room and whole remodeled kitchen, but basically, it was the same. Hell, the whole house could have been painted purple and I would not have cared. I was standing in my grandmother’s home.

After a few minutes, Carolyn’s husband, Jack, came into the house and introduced himself to me. There was such a feeling of family and love that I did not want to leave. I asked them if I could bring my mother, Mary Ann Porzondek, who grew up in the house and was now 86, with her two brothers, Frank and Ace, and they said it would be OK for them to see the house. After a few months, I was finally able to arrange a visit and about 7 people from our family invaded their home. It was a joyous occasional to say the least.

The actual beginning of this story began in 1919 when Albert and Anna Guzowski bought the home for $1,000. Now that was quite a bit of money back then, but they bought smart. Anna was quite the entrepreneur. The home was a duplex and had an apartment on the second floor. Anna rented the upstairs to pay for the mortgage. Smart woman, that Anna. Albert and Anna moved in with their oldest son, Ace. Frank and Mary Ann came later. Albert was a hi-lo driver and Anna was a seamstress by trade.

My grandfather, Albert, passed in 1946 from a heart attack – unfortunately, the first in a line of many heart problems in our families. Anna continued to live in the home. My mother, Mary Ann Guzowski, was lucky enough to actually marry the boy next door, Ralph Porzondek.

After meeting Jack Van Dyke and Carolyn Leadly, we learned much about their lives and how they came to own my grandmother’s home. As it turns out, they are farming the land they purchased and have named their farm ‘Rising Pheasant Farm’. Jack and Carolyn grow micro greens and other produce to sell to local restaurants, at Eastern Market, and at their roadside home stand. One of the most amazing things about Jack and Carolyn is that they do not own a car. They actually use a bicycle to deliver the produce to the local restaurants and to Eastern Market. They inspire me every day to cut down my own carbon foot print.

Jack Van Dyke and Carolyn Leadly with their children

You can see from their blog that they have been working very hard for the past 10 years to purchase the house, the land around them, and to build a successful, sustainable farm.

Family Pictures USA is now available to stream via PBS and on Amazon Prime.

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