During a time of racial reckoning throughout the United States, a historic home on the Northside of Kalamazoo, Michigan, was burned to the ground. On the evening of June 2, 2020, the home caught on fire. By June 3, the City of Kalamazoo had demolished the home as well as three adjacent structures. Not one to give up on her dream, owner and real estate agent Twala Lockett-Jones plans to continue her goal of turning that property into a space for affordable housing and a connector between Kalamazoo neighborhoods. Known as the Jabez Project, this former home will be rebuilt into an integral part of a growing Black/minority-owned business zone, sparking momentum for the continued commercial development along North Street led by efforts from the Northside Association for Economic Development (NACD) and the Kalamazoo Community Planning & Economic Development Department (CPED).
Few properties are poised to so perfectly bridge the gap between the various neighborhoods and communities in Kalamazoo. The house was sited in the Northside at the intersection of the West Douglas and Stuart neighborhoods just north of Kalamazoo College. It’s also under a mile from the shops, restaurants, and attractions of the Kalamazoo Mall and Bronson Park. It is mere steps away from the Kalamazoo River Valley Trail, a pedestrian and bike-friendly paved trail that leads into Downtown Kalamazoo as well as towards the Kal-Haven Trail leading all the way to South Haven and the shores of Lake Michigan. Through this short video, you’ll get a feel for the central location of the site, all the neighborhood has to offer, and it’s potential to serve as a connector within Kalamazoo.
At the center of it all is Lockett-Jones’ property. Currently, it’s little more than a pile of rubble hinting at the historic home that once stood proudly on the lot. But that rubble holds incredible potential, and Seven Generations Architecture + Engineering (7GAE) is grateful to be a part of the design process. 7GAE is working with Twala Lockett-Jones and her husband Kenneth Jones to create a mixed-use building that achieves many goals. First, it will provide affordable housing to people who often face challenges related to low credit, prior evictions, and high rent prices. Second, the building will serve as a community gathering place. Although it was a house before the fire, Jabez will reemerge more like the traditional corner grocery stores, pharmacies, and hardware stores that once served as the communal gathering spot for historic neighborhoods like the Northside of Kalamazoo. These kind of commercially-owned gathering spaces served as the inspiration for the current vision of Jabez.
Current design renderings reveal a ground floor layout comprised of a tea house, the headquarters for a community outreach program called Girls Build Kalamazoo, and a small retail space. Lockett-Jones hopes that the new building will offer something for a diverse crowd, bringing in Kalamazoo residents from the surrounding neighborhoods to share a cup of tea, do some shopping, or teach and equip a new generation of girls in Kalamazoo with handy skills.
Twala Lockett-Jones says “I feel this recent setback is just a setup for a great comeback. I remain encouraged that my vision will come to pass in due time.” In naming the Jabez Project, Twala was inspired by a verse in 1 Chronicles detailing that Jabez was birthed in sorrow. From the sorrow of the fire, Twala’s vision for the Northside has emerged. We couldn’t agree more, and we are more inspired than ever now that we have a collaborative rendering and plan for the space. While design changes are certainly possible, having a better idea of the space and its layout can go a long way in highlighting the incredible potential of the structure. To start, the building will contain at least four units designated for affordable housing. In a city like Kalamazoo where affordable housing inventory is limited, this is a tremendous achievement.
The planned community tea house on the ground floor of the mixed-use building is more than just a stop for those in search of caffeine. It is a place where those who live on the edges of Kalamazoo neighborhoods can cross lines and mingle with people they might not other interact with. Folks may walk in from apartments in Downtown Kalamazoo and sit with students from Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. Visitors staying at nearby Henderson Castle might sip Earl Gray or Oolong alongside local residents from the Northside. The gravitational pull of an attractive, welcoming, and inclusive tea house can bring together folks from all walks of life focused on slowing down, unwinding, and delighting in one another’s company.