PPNA Happenings

Happenings, history and news of the Prospect Park Neighborhood and Ypsilanti

Memory of the Ypsilanti Boys Club

Posted by ppna on December 23, 2007

The Following is an excerpt from my brothers’ paper, ‘Memories of an Ypsilanti Childhood.’ The time period for this memory is sometime in the mid 70s.

Gilbert House / Boys Club

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When Eric and Robert were in the 4th or 5th grade, Mom went back to work. She was no longer able to greet them as they came home from school, so it was decided that they should join the Boy’s Club. The Boy’s Club was located on Grove road, just across the street from the Bennett twins’ house, only a short walk (about ½ mile) from school. It was located in one of the scariest looking mansions one could imagine – the Gilbert House. The Gilbert house looked exactly like a haunted house. It was a dilapidated, white, three story house with a mansard roof, in much need of repair. At one time, it must have rivaled the best houses in Ypsilanti. By the time the Boy’s Club moved in, it was one rotten step away from condemnation. The house was three stories tall with an attic and a basement. The Boy’s Club offered all kinds of great activities for 10 year-old-boys like Robert and Eric. In the basement was a large wood shop. As they recall, there was plenty of free wood and adult supervision to use the power tools. They remember, vividly, the smell of sawdust upon opening the door to the basement. They must have made many projects, but they don’t remember specifically what many of them were, nor do they recall ever having them displayed around the house. The only project they distinctly remember building was a boat that had a paddle that spun around on a rubber band.

The attic was home to a great slot car track that was only opened on the weekend for races. The track was large and had many overpasses and underpasses. The cars that were used on the track were rather large slot cars. Robert and Eric would watch mesmerized, as they would race around the track lap after lap. They must have shared their enthusiasm with their parents, because one Christmas or birthday, they bought them each a new slot car (with banana colored yellow controllers, as they recall). Unfortunately, the cars were smaller than the ones that normally raced on the track, so when they took them to the track, they were outsized and overpowered, and were very difficult to control.

The main activity at the Boy’s Club was playing pool on the many pool tables. As they mentioned, the Boy’s Club was located in a mansion with many different rooms. Each room had a pool table and a pop machine. They remember that it was at the Boy’s Club that they fell in love with Faygo red pop. The kids did not have pop in the house as a kid, but Mom would give them a quarter to buy a pop to enjoy at the Boy’s Club. They became very skilled at pool. They remember that there was a young black hustler named Stewart whom they played with a lot. Stewart was a legend at bumper pool and Robert and Eric once witnessed him “running the table” to win a game (he sunk five straight balls at the beginning of the game by banking them all off of the wall and into the pocket at the other end of the table). They would spend hours playing bumper pool, 8 ball, 9 ball, and rotation (still the only pool games that they know).

One year (while they were in 2nd or 3rd grade, but before they regularly visited the Boy’s Club on their own), they were members of a basketball league at the Boy’s Club. Eric was on the Trail Blazers and Robert was on the Golden State Warriors. All they remember from that league was wearing a shirt that was so long on them that it was like a dress, and never scoring a basket. They even wore the shirts to school to play in games right after school. Robert and Eric also learned how to shoot BB guns in the basement of the Boy’s Club in events known as “Turkey Shoots.” They got pretty good at shooting and may have even won some contests.

Robert and Eric stopped going to the Boy’s Club around the time that the city built a new building to replace the aging (and probably condemned!) Gilbert House. The new building was built next door and was an ugly green box-shaped building with no windows. It had no charm at all. Half of the fun of the old building was to explore new rooms in the house. They could almost always find a free room, complete with pool table and pop machine. The new building was so open that it completely lost its mystique. Shortly after they stopped going (around 8th grade or so), the Ypsilanti Boy’s Club made national news. They had organized a trip to drive to Disney World and drove a school bus down. On the way down, the bus driver fell asleep in Georgia and ran off the road, killing three people. They remember seeing it reported on the national news that evening. In fact, the Ypsilanti Press published a rare 2nd edition of the paper that covered the event. They knew that one of their friends, Jesse Hunt, was on that bus so they were worried. It turns out that he was not injured. When he got back, he came over to their house and they remember distinctly asking, “What Happened?” His response was, “We got in an accident.” They replied, “We know that, but what happened to you?” It turns out that Jesse was riding in the back of the bus and when it landed on its side, he actually broke out the window with his bare hands (he was a big kid!).

Robert and Eric have many fond memories of the Boy’s Club. Sometime around 1990, they restored the Gilbert House and turned it into condos. Robert and Eric are glad that there are still people able to explore the old mansion as they did when they were kids. They might even still be playing pool in the same rooms that they once did!

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2 Responses to “Memory of the Ypsilanti Boys Club”

  1. […] Check out Eric and Robert A’s memories of the Boy’s club which was located in the Gilbert house in the 70s here. […]

  2. Michelle Kirwan-Woods said

    This was really great to read. I have a similar story about the club, although I attended in the 1980’s once the new club was made into the Boys & Girls club. I too, wrote a story about the club back in May of this year. I’d love to post it on this website if that’s allowed..

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