Mr. Dorson's 5th Grade 'Holiday City' Tale as Relevant Today in Elk Grove as it was in '69 Lincoln Park

September 22, 2013 | In the 1930's vintage Herbert Hoover Elementary School on Howard St. in Lincoln Park, Mich., a 5th grade teac...

September 22, 2013 |

In the 1930's vintage Herbert Hoover Elementary School on Howard St. in Lincoln Park, Mich., a 5th grade teacher told a story of local hubris that has stuck with this writer for over 45 years.

It was the 1968-1969 school year and my 5th grade teacher was Mr. Dorson. Even though I was only 10-years old, I knew Mr. Dorson was young man. As the youngest of five children, I was also fully aware of the counter-culture of the 60's - it was being played out in my family with my older siblings and parents on an almost daily basis in a wide variety of ways.
Herbert Hoover Elementary, July 31, 2011.

While my older siblings fully embraced the counter culture, as did I to the extent that a 10-year old could, there was Mr. Dorson who upon reflection was maybe 24 or 25-year old and by any account was a square. Mr. Dorson wore short sleeve white shirts and a tie to class everyday, had horned rimmed Buddy Holly-style glasses and in a real anomaly for the times, sported a brush cut.

Aside from being a great teacher, Mr. Dorson taught me, and maybe some other classmates, one profound lesson by discussing a hair-brained scheme conjured-up by Lincoln Park's city fathers.

As a matter of background, Lincoln Park is a geographically small bedroom community of about 37,000 bordering the Southwest section of Detroit that was and is primarily a blue collar enclave of small tidy homes. Oh, by the way, for you fans of Journey's song Don't Stop Believin', there is no such thing as South Detroit.

One day Mr. Dorson discussed a plan hatched by the City Council and the local chamber of commerce in the early 1960's to make Lincoln Park, you guessed it, a destination city. 

Even though Detroit was still in its glory era of gas-guzzling muscle cars and the Japanese car makers hadn't yet made inroads, the Big Three had no significant presence in the city. Their goal was to create more jobs in the city by getting people to visit, shop and spend the night there.

To that end, they hatched an advertising and public relations campaign. The campaign was called according to Mr. Dorson, and to the best of my memory, Visit Lincoln Park, Holiday City!

Now mind you Lincoln Park was a bedroom community in the strictest sense of the word with no distinguishing geographic or historical attractions. How would simply calling a place Holiday City with no real attractions attract people! I doubt Oakland County high-rollers like the Romney's in Bloomfield Hills would schlep Downriver to get their country club outfits.

Furthermore, if they did visited the Sears Roebuck store on Dix Highway and Southfield Road to get some hot-roasted nuts or the J.L. Hudson budget store (which eventually morphed into Target) at the Lincoln Park Plaza, and that was a huge if, where would they stay? Lincoln Park was fully built out by that time and the few motels they had at the time were more than likely by-the-hour type establishments.

Now mind you, I have fond memories of spending the first 12 years of my life there and the city still seems to be orderly and the houses and neighborhoods tidy. But for God's sake, there is no reason for me, or anyone else for that matter, to visit that city other than for nostalgia. 

Predictably Mr. Dorson said the advertising and public relations campaign died a quick and spectacular death. Mr. Dorson's tale obviously illustrated the hubris, and dare we say stupidity of that group of men (I think we can all agree it was probably a group of Rotary Club-type men in the city government who hatched that scheme) to make Lincoln Park a destination city.

As for Mr. Dorson, who was a exemplar example of a public school teacher, a quick Google search came up with little. Even though he was square in appearance, maybe he was teaching us about critical thinking skills and to question authority. Perhaps that was his contribution to the counter-culture.

I can say that lesson from Mr. Dorson has stuck with me to this day and whenever I hear about similar schemes in the city I have called home for the last 20 years to transform it into a destination city, I can only think - Yippe! Holiday City Here We Come! 

Well at least Lincoln Park's scheme didn't cost taxpayers millions of dollars!

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2 comments

Rental investments mecca said...

Thanks for an interesting story Dan! As a bedroom community to Sacramento (which itself isn't even listed as a top California destination according to the LA Times), Elk Grove reflects the consumer-driven auto-oriented development that fueled its growth to begin with. Name the top picks by the Council to transform this city into a destination and you will see what I mean (waterpark, soccer stadium, mall, swimming pools).

Lynn said...

Dan,

Winston Churchill was quoted to say "The farther backward you can look the farther forward you can see". The story a reflection of your past and what you were taught as a 10 year old...well here we are today in Elk Grove; and you looked back and are sharing the future of Elk Grove. I have made so many good friends in this community in the past 26years who now have chosen to vote with their feet and move away because of this "destination city" concept of our elected officials which has ignored building stronger neighborhoods. One friend made the decision to move when their house was surrounded by the swat team because of a situation on their street. The city spent money(our tax dollars) on a citizen survey and yet I don't see the council's goal of "destination city" a reflection of the survey responses. Did residents report "I moved to Elk Grove because I want to live in a destination city". I don't think this is the reason people came to Elk Grove.

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