Saturday, August 30, 2014

Detroit's Ghost Town Delray and O-So Memories


O-So pop was a local Detroit soft drink sensation bottled in Delray at 8559-61 W. Jefferson Ave. Not as famous as Vernor's Ginger Ale but just as beloved. John Kar's bottling works opened in 1922, located north of Peerless Cement and just south of the old Delray Bridge onto Zug Island, also known as the "one way bridge" no longer in use.

Adults from the Baby Boomer generation remember that O-So was the bargain pop of our day. The clear glass bottled soft drinks were colorful and the flavors were fabulous. Linda J. Kulczyk remembers watching the mechanized bottle filler in action. "The place smelled like bleach and sugar water. Rock and Rye was my favorite flavor," she wrote on the Old Delray facebook site.

Other popular flavors were creme soda, lemon-lime, cherry, grape, strawberry, root beer, and orange. I don't believe they had a cola drink, though I could be wrong about that.

John A. Stavola, Jr. remembers "as a kid, they bottled the soda right there and the dude (perhaps Ed Kar, son of the founder) used to fish right out of the back window of the place." Diana Bors McPeck used to work there when she was young. Her grandparents were friends with the owners. Diana recalls, "I was paid in pop!"

One of the old timers working the same shift as me at the Zug Island coke ovens was nicknamed 'Pop'. He would buy several cases of assorted flavors of O-So pop every day in the spring and summer and roll them in from the parking lot on a hand truck (dolly) with a cooler full of ice. Pop sold the stuff for a dollar a bottle, a 400% markup. He also sold salted peanuts in the summer and fresh roasted chestnuts in the winter. On a hot day, everyone was glad to hear him call out "COLD POP." He was a door machine operator on the receiving end of the ramming machine. For the life of me, I can't remember his real name. Everybody just called him Pop.

When I worked as a laborer at Zug Island in 1967, the Delray downtown area already showed signs of two decades of neglect. Many of the shops and second story residences became little more than tenements for transient workers. After the Detroit Riots in July, the writing was on the wall for Delray. Like many other Detroit neighborhoods, white flight went into hyper-drive.

It's always sad to see an established community fall into ruin and abandonment. But almost one hundred years of history and heavy industry had taken its toll on the Delray neighborhood and turned it into what it is today, a virtual ghost town within the Detroit city limits. 

Delray lost its ethnic heart and soul in the sixties. What was once a vibrant European mixture of Hungarian, Slovakian, and Polish immigrants dispersed among the Detroit suburbs, notably the Downriver areas of Allen Park, Lincoln Park, and Wyandotte.


Now, all that's left of the Delray neighborhood are mostly memories and photographs fading in family albums. Remember any of these places? First Slovak Church (Holy Redeemer), St. John's Catholic Church, The Hungarian Village Bakery, Hevesi Cafe (with dining and dancing), Joey's Stables, Fox Hardware, Szabo's Meat Market, Delray Baking Company, Al's Bar, Kovac's Bar, and King's Chinese Restaurant. They are gone but not forgotten.

Realistically, Delray is zoned for heavy industry and will never recover as a viable residential area. But I could be wrong. What impact the new international transport bridge will have on Delray is yet to be known or felt. One thing is for certain, the area is ripe for some sort of redevelopment.

For more detailed information on the community of Delray, check out this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delray,_Detroit