DETROIT (AP) — Detroit police said Thursday that they were seeking a person of interest in the latest in a series of fires that have damaged or destroyed houses that help make up the city's acclaimed outdoor art installation, the Heidelberg Project.
The latest fire destroyed the "Penny House," one of several abandoned buildings on Heidelberg Street or nearby roads that artist Tyree Guyton has converted into displays for art made from found objects.
Begun decades ago, the Heidelberg Project draws busloads of Michigan schoolchildren on field trips and art enthusiasts from around the world. But a series of fires have destroyed or damaged several of the houses over recent months.
Fire Capt. Charles Simms told The Detroit News that arson investigators had identified a person of interest in Thursday's fire and one earlier this month that destroyed the installation's "House of Soul." He said he was asking the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for help.
"We're paying this some special attention," Simms said. The Associated Press left a message with police Thursday night seeking an update on the investigation. After this month's fire at the "House of Soul," project officials announced plans to install security cameras and take other precautions. Last month, a fire burned the project's "Obstruction of Justice House" for the second time this year.
"It's disheartening obviously, but it doesn't seem final or tragic because it's part of it all," Heidelberg spokeswoman Katie Hearn told the Detroit Free Press. "Tyree is always talking about how you can't fully enjoy the positive if you don't have the negative."
Hearn said a Heidelberg security patrol was in the neighborhood early Thursday and noticed smoke. "My guess is maybe they were at the other end of the block," Hearn said. "They said it was very quick. They didn't actually see anyone."
The fire came on the same day as a fundraising event for the Heidelberg Project. Called "It's All About The D: Encore," the party is its fourth annual fall fundraiser. Money raised Thursday night at "Encore" will support the development and programs of the Heidelberg Project.
"If we were to lose Heidelberg, we'd lose one of the most vibrant and creative responses to the desperate hardships that often attend our urban condition," said Jerry Herron, dean of the Wayne State University Honors College and author of "Connecting the Dots," a 2007 book on the project. "Tyree quite brilliantly turned the refuse of an abandoned neighborhood into a reason to make people want to come and see and understand."
The Heidelberg Project: http://www.heidelberg.org