Blades vs Blight: Detroit Mower Gang Kicks Grass on the West Side

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Image credit: Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang

Residents at the Hammerberg Playfield depend on the Detroit Mower Gang in the fight against blight.

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Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang

I came here for the wrong reasons, but I keep coming back for the right reasons.” - Rich Corney, Detroit Mower Gang

The Hammerberg Playfield is rough shape. Located at Chicago Avenue and Wyoming Street on Detroit’s west side, it’s a sizable park that directly backs-up against the grounds of McKenzie Elementary School.

Hammerberg sees activity throughout the summer and well into fall as the home of an area football team. Detroit native and football legend Jerome Bettis — an Hall of Fame running back who spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Steelers — donated the football field there nearly 20 years ago. It’s where you can find a Detroit Police Athletic League team called The West Side Steelers sweating it out during practice on weekday afternoons. 

The Steelers’ cheer-leading team utilizes the track around the football field for practice, not only because that’s where they spend a fair amount of time during games, but because on a recent summer day, grass over two-feet-tall lined the adjacent, litter-strewn fields. While the girls ran drills and the boys did push-ups, coaches were raising their voices even louder than normal, as renegade landscape crew called the Detroit Mower Gang was on the offense.

Sources for an earlier version of this story incorrectly pointed to the City of Detroit as the caretaker of the Hammerberg Playfield. Detroit officials say the city transferred responsibilities of the park to Detroit Public Schools two years ago. A DPS spokesperson confirmed the transfer of the park and says contractors are scheduled to mow there within the week (as of July 21, 2015). 

Thanks to Tyrone Montgomery, Rich Corney, Darnell Coleman, John & Danielle Barrett.

About Owen Hammerberg 
“Owen Hammerberg was born on May 31, 1920 in the small village of Daggett in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Prior to service, Owen lived with his father downstate in Flint and worked as a shop clerk.  In 1941, he enlisted with the Navy as a diver, serving on both the Battleship USS Idaho and Sub Chaser USS Advent.  He attended Deep Sea Diving School in Washington DC in 1944 and eventually was assigned to the Pacific Fleet Salvage Force in Pearl Harbor, in the territory of Hawaii.  These experiences would prepare him for an assignment where his  bravery and skill would excel and consequently call his life to an abrupt end. His naval citation reads:  “Hammerberg by his cool judgement, unfaltering professional skill, and consistent disregard of all danger in the face of tremendous odds, had contributed effectively to the saving of his two comrades… he gallantly gave his life in the service of his country.”” More at City Literate
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang
Danielle Barrett / Detroit Mower Gang


Travis Wright, Host, CultureShift

Bringing a voice balanced by humble humor and clever cultural insight to WDET’s afternoon airwaves. Follow @talkinWright

WDET's Parks Project

This post is a part of WDET's Parks Project.

All summer long in 2015, WDET reported on how parks are impacting Detroiters and how Detroiters impacted the parks.

We asked you to be a part of this work by being the eyes and ears of your local parks. We asked you to help us find out what is going on in the parks in your city and your neighborhood. Were parks being maintained? Who were using the park, and what was happening there? Is it safe?

Detroit Park Watch is produced by WDET 101.9 FM and is powered by the Detroit Journalism Cooperative. Support for this project ccomes from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Renaissance Journalism’s Michigan Reporting Initiative and the Ford Foundation.



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