Back in the early 1990s, when Standard Federal Bank proposed a suburb-like subdivision inside this city, builders balked.
After all, single-family construction had almost ceased in Detroit during the 1980s. Some years, only one house was built in the city, and it had been 40 years since a single-family development had been built within the city limits.
If you build, will they come? Standard Federal said "yes," but many thought not.
The Troy, Mich., thrift lured the first builders with easy terms on construction loans. If the homes didn't sell, Standard Fed promised, the builders could just turn in the keys, and the thrift would dispose of the homes itself.
The first homes were shown in the spring of 1992, and were snapped up by schoolteachers, police, firefighters, and managers at local utilities and hospitals.
"It was just a huge success," recalled John Behr, a vice president at Standard Federal.
Today, the development, Victoria Park, is a tidy subdivision of 157 brick houses with neatly trimmed yards. Here and there, a basketball hoop is mounted on a garage, or a four-wheel-drive vehicle sits on a freshly paved driveway. The houses ranged in price from $80,000 to $150,000 in 1992, but some have sold for $200,000 more recently.
Mr. Behr said Standard Federal had felt all along that middle-income Detroit residents would gladly trade their cramped old homes for the modern styles and conveniences that suburban homeowners take for granted.
"You've got a certain population who didn't want to leave the city," Mr. Behr said. "They'd decided that Detroit was their home, and they wanted to live their life there."
"We believed they were being cheated out of the opportunity of having a new home," he said.
Many of Victoria Park's homes boast three or four bedrooms, master suites with walk-in closets, and bathrooms with skylights and tiled tubs.
To set this urban oasis apart, Victoria Park's builders put a black cast-iron fence around the development.
Beyond the fence, the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood is dotted with abandoned homes. Built in the 1920s, the homes once belonged to workers and managers at the nearby auto factories. Today many of the residents are elderly and hard put to keep up their aging homes. Porches sag, roofs leak, and there is a general air of disrepair.
Standard Federal has tried to shore up the neighborhood, using $450,000 in grants from the Indianapolis Home Loan Bank to help 60 homeowners make improvements to their roofs, siding, electrical wiring, and insulation.
Still, said Gloria Robinson, Detroit's director of planning and development, Victoria Park's status as an enclave of relative privilege within a decaying neighborhood has created bad feeling among the original residents, particularly since some of them were displaced to make way for the new homes.
Victoria Park "clearly has turned its back on the neighborhood by fencing itself in," Ms. Robinson said.
But by showing all sides that there is a market for new middle-income housing in Detroit, Victoria Park has spawned more such developments, even without the kind of subsidies the developers were able to coax from the city, Ms. Robinson said.
For Standard Federal, the venture has paid off on many fronts.
The thrift has helped spark a small renaissance in the city. Although it moved its headquarters to the suburbs in 1970, many executives - including chairman Thomas Ricketts - grew up in Detroit and retain ties to their old high schools.
Moreover, many of Victoria Park's homes carry Standard Federal mortgages, and homeowners have also opened checking accounts at the thrift. Charles Ware, who heads the subdivision's homeowners association, retains an account at First Chicago NBD - his wife once worked for the bank's predecessor - but said he plans to switch to Standard Federal soon.