On any given day in the spring or summer, you might see Bert Pureifoy working around Woodbridge. He’s the tall guy with the Sherwin Williams shirt, white Carhartt pants, and sometimes on a ladder. Bert has been in Woodbridge wince 1980, and he’s worked for Woodbridge Company since he was 16.
If you’ve ever made your way north, up Trumbull, you’ve seen the great mural at the corner welcoming travelers to Woodbridge. That’s the Barnabas Youth Center, where Bert has worked with kids since 1983. The Center is still in action, and if Bert’s not there, he’s busy painting, restoring wood, and doing what he’s done since the early 80s to keep Woodbridge beautiful.
LIW: Are you from this area?
BP: I’m from here. I’ve been here since 1980. I stayed at 3952 Trumbull for about fifteen years and then moved out on my own and got married, but I’m still down in this area — still active in the neighborhood.
LIW: These wooden address signs sort of stand out in Woodbridge — you did all of these?
BP: We did all forty-seven of these wooden signs you see in Woodbridge; we handcrafted them at Barnabas. I started doing signs for Larry, then moved to doing interior and exterior painting. We do cleanouts, demo, wood restoration. We also take doors and trims out to Barnabas and get them in a controlled area with ventilation and masks, strip the lead paint and bring them back to refurbished wood — back to its natural beauty. We do it one piece at a time.
LIW: How did you get into doing this type of work?
BP: Since I was a kid I always liked doing woodwork. And then I was showed how to properly use tools — the routers, chisels. I was showed how to measure the thickness of the wood, the different types of wood. So, I was interested from that point. We did our first signs for Larry when I was thirteen, but I didn’t know what I was doing them for. I’ve been with him ever since and now I’m one of the lead guys in his crew.
LIW: Since the early 80s, how has this neighborhood changed?
BP: This neighborhood has changed dramatically. It’s more diverse and the people are coming out more. Before they’d all stay in but now they’re coming out into the neighborhood more. With the students, they have crazy hours. Some of them work, some of them don’t work. When they’re out they’re out, when they’re not they’re not. But you have people coming out more, so they had to beef up on security. Detroit Police and Wayne State have made it better for the community. So, people come out and they get to see our work, now.
LIW: What do you think is going to happen ten years from now?
BP: Detroit will be back on the map as the Motor City capital of the world. Everyone will be trying to move up in here — a little mecca, an oasis.
LIW: Do you think Woodbridge Company’s commitment to public art has anything to do with the resurgence?
BP: It brings a positive vibe. They get to see more than blight. They get to see beautiful art. Even in the heart of the city, where there’s blight, there’s still beauty, you just have to find it. It’s like a diamond in the rough. It’s a piece of coal when you first see it, until you magnify it.
LIW: How long do you think it will take before this community starts to connect with other neighborhoods in Detroit that are seeing a revival?
BP: Within four or five years. Everything from Downtown to Midtown is connecting now. We’re right in the heart of all that. We just don’t have that connection yet. We’re reaching out. It’s like a synapse — you know, to make that connection like a nerve. We just haven’t had that spark yet. Once we get that spark, and make that first connection it will be like a domino effect.
LIW: What is it about the buildings here that sets the neighborhood aside?
BP: These people care about the architecture and structure. They know the value of their homes and they actually put money into them. Some people don’t have the capital to put into it, and the homes just go belly up. There are grants out there, and these people know how to get to it. Woodbridge has grants, and there are community urban block grants.
A lot of neighborhoods could be like Woodbridge if there was regular upkeep of the property. You have to find out where the grants are. They are available, you just have to find out where to get them. You just have to do a little more research that’s all — a little more networking.
LIW: Talk about Barnabas Youth Center and what you do there?
Stan Edwards is the director at Barnabas Youth Center. He started us off in 1983 as a youth program. We still mentor youths down there now. We show them life skills such as what I’m doing here: woodworking, painting, plumbing, janitorial work, gardening — things you’d need to do around the house. Between Woodbridge Co. and Barnabas, this is the heartbeat of the neighborhood and this is where I’m at.
Contact Bert at: 313.505.2757