Nineteen years ago, Steve LaFraniere was invited to a party in Woodbridge, and he loved it so much he decided he’d never leave.
The Workers of Woodbridge Interview Series isn’t complete, nor would it ever be without a few words from the man responsible for so taking care of much of Woodbridge’s simple yet unique plant life. You’ve probably seen him outside the Hanwell building on the corner of Commonwealth and Hancock, with a rake, clippers, anything it takes to keep the greenery up.
SL: I’ve been in the neighborhood for about 19 years. Originally I’m from Brightmoor. I went to Redford High.
TL: Is that still there?
SL: No, they tore that down and put a Meijer there.
TL: How did you end up here in Woodbridge?
SL: I got invited over here for a party. I fell in love with the neighborhood, found an apartment. Larry asked me to do some work for him and it’s been a great relationship since then.
TL: When did you get involved with Larry John and Woodbridge Company?
SL: Probably about two years after I moved here. I was renting a place further down on Commonwealth and so, I would say, probably 1999. I painted a deck for him and he asked me to do some landscaping and I’ve been working for him ever since. It’s something I really enjoy doing and some months I can cover a whole months rent. I lived here (points at the Hanwell building on the corner) for probably fifteen years.
TL: Do you work on all of the Woodbridge Company properties?
SL: I take care of mostly just this section down to the south side of Warren. I used to them all but now there’s so many I just can’t keep up. Actually, when I moved in here, there was just these two bushes in front. Then, I put all the rest of this in. These beds were here but they weren’t really planted.
I do mostly landscaping, planting, maintenance in buildings. When people move out, I go in and clean — get ’em ready for the next tenant. Really, anything that needs to be done.
TL: Is this what you do exclusively?
SL: I’m actually a chef. I work for the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. I’ve been the chef there for twenty-two years. So, that’s a full-time job and then, you know, it’s non-profit, so I do this to supplement my pay. I love my job but I’ll never get rich doing it.
TL: Well, you’re rich in another way.
SL: Like I said, I got invited here to the neighborhood and fell in love with it. Larry’s done so much in the last few years. He’s started doing so much more — the bike racks, the mosaics, all the art. You don’t meet a lot of landlords like him.
TL: How have the tenants in the Hanwell building or in Woodbridge’s rental properties changed over the last fifteen years?
SL: This whole neighborhood is sort of changing. It used to be a lot of young college students. One of these places would rent and it would be five or six students. Now, it’s more graduate students and professionals. The “live in Midtown” thing offers them an incentive, so it’s more professional and not just kids partying on the porch. I remember one unit, down there (points south), we had to get a dumpster and clean it out. That’s how bad it was. Now you go in and they’re practically clean already.
Like this building (Hanwell), I think we have three or four medical students in it right now. It used to be a lot more artists and musicians, not that that’s bad, you know, but these guys are a lot quieter.
Also, some of these people have been here as long as I have. They move like me. Since I’ve been with Larry, I’ve moved three times. I was down the street. I lived over on Trumbull, etc.
TL: Are you responsible for the bergamot in front of 1524 Hancock?
TL: What else do you have planned?
SL: Well, I’ll tell ya. You can ask any of my neighbors and they’re like “What’s he gonna do this year?” I try to do something different every year. I’ve done castor bean plants. I’ve done sunflowers. I’m not sure what I’m gonna do next year. I like to go down to Eastern Market and get what’s on sale, bring it back here and plant it. And when I get tired of it here, I rip it up and put it somewhere else. Next year we’re gonna to do this whole corner here.
TL: Do you think the art in Woodbridge is a part of why some people seem to be gravitating towards the area?
SL: I think it has a lot to do with it. People look on the website, and ride through here on their bikes. We have people doing tours around here. You see that people take care of their properties, you see the art, you see the bike racks. It makes it inviting.
Even our alleys — Larry painted the garages. The next door down, he put sunflowers on the fences. Last year I planted 65 sunflowers throughout the neighborhood, and next year I’m shooting for 200.
Contact Steve at: cheff248 at sbcglobal DOT NET