When I started with the police department, I rode with many veteran officers who spoke fondly of the “block” and the trouble which occurred there. The “block” was a series of bars in the 100 block of E. Ann Street. It was notorious for decades as an area known for rough bars, rough crowds and an ample supply of heroin and other drugs. Chief Krasny stated this about the block, “In the early forties and fifties a call to Ann Street tickled your spine a little bit.”
The department took many steps to try and close down the “block,” but most of these attempts did little to impact the problems. Chief Krasny stated all of the efforts of the officers were usually unsuccessful as it was like “swatting flies.” He attributed part of this to the condition of the buildings, which he described as “hellholes.” The chief thought the other part of the problem was the fact the officers were outnumbered by the “hustlers” on the block.
“It's humanly impossible to enforce all the laws because there is a great demand for police service in the total city,” said the chief. “The increase in manpower doesn't really keep up with the rise in population and miles we have to cover.” He also stated the customers themselves were not the most cooperative when officers were gathering witness statements.
“It's a question of coming up with sufficient evidence to charge them. They're pretty sharp,” he stated. “Sometimes there's a shooting and when the police arrive you've got a dead man and no witnesses.”
The Derby bar was the site of many fights, stabbings and shootings. Two murders occurred there in 1974 alone and one of them remains unsolved. It was probably the most infamous of the saloons on the street and many colorful stories originated from incidents at this bar. One of my favorite has to do with Officer Byrl Racine, a very colorful officer who was from the Upper Penisula.
When Byrl started with the department in the 1960's, the Derby was often the place where officers established their reputations. According to legend, Officer Racine was walking the beat one day and decided he needed to do just that.
Many fistfights occurred in the Derby and Officer Racine decided to address this problem directly. Officer Racine walked into the bar packed with customers, in full uniform. He hopped onto the bar, took off his gun belt and challenged any of them to a fight. He told the crowd, “I am the roughest Indian that any of you have ever met. If any of you want to challenge me to fight, lets do it.”
He stood on the bar for a few moments waiting for any takers, but there were none. With that, he put his gunbelt back on and strolled out of the bar, securing a place in the Derby Bar history.
Now some who don't know Officer Racine would say the story is one of fiction, but those that know him believe it.
In the end it was not the efforts of the police department that closed done the “block,” but the skyrocketing real estate costs which forced the bars out. Today the “Block” is a beautiful row of restored, turn of the century buildings, that once was the host to many an interesting time. These buildings are now home to apartments and businesses.