Jefferson-Chalmers Historic Business District

photo by: Jeffrey Sauger

African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund

Jefferson-Chalmers District

  • Location: Detroit, Michigan

With a commercial district which was built out primarily in the 1920s, Jefferson Avenue on the Lowereast side of Detroit was once a vibrant and thriving residential and business community. One of the primary commercial spokes radiating from the downtown hub, Jefferson Avenue ends at the City’s eastern border into the affluent suburb of Grosse Pointe.

Like most of Detroit, Jefferson-Chalmers suffered the impact of loss of manufacturing jobs and population over the last 30-40 years. Most business storefronts stand vacant, and whole blocks in the residential area are vacant fields of overgrown grass. Where blocks of housing stand, there are a significant number of vacant properties, vacant lots, and occupied homes that suffer from deferred maintenance.

Despite these hardships, the area has extraordinary assets: the southern border runs along the Detroit River, with a unique series of canals leading into residential areas; there are a substantial number of intact commercial structures from the 1920s, including the iconic Vanity Ballroom; a strong economic and community development partner in Jefferson East, Inc.; and, most importantly, residents and business owners who are invested in seeing their neighborhood transform.

The preservation community, including Preservation Detroit and the Michigan Historic Preservation Network, are aligned with the City of Detroit to support a redevelopment strategy for the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood that honors the remaining buildings and results in a healthy and vibrant community for current and future residents.

A scene from Eminem’s film 8 Mile was filmed at the Vanity Ballroom in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood.

Campaign Goals

  • Promote building reuse strategies informed by the Preservation Green Lab report for Detroit.
  • Promote commercial building revitalization informed by National Main Street Transformation Strategy recommendations.
  • Support community engagement in redevelopment approach toward a healthy and livable neighborhood.


Using our expertise in main street revitalization, community development, and the science of how good cities work, revitalize the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood and commercial district.

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