clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Kevin's Photo Album | Welcome to Detroit

Did you know that TOH TV host Kevin O'Connor is a skilled amateur photographer? And that he often brings his camera with him to the TOH job site? This season, we'll be sharing Kevin's favorite behind-the-scenes photos from the Detroit house. This is the first gallery in a series of weekly photo albums, so make sure you check in for more of Kevin's photos all season long. The Detroit house starts airing on PBS on March 30, 2017. Check local listings.

Meet the Polk Family

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

Welcome to the Detroit season of TOH TV! Homeowners Frank and Tamiko Polk met in the city as children and considered leaving. While contemplating a move to North Carolina, the couple came across the Detroit Land Bank Authority and decided to purchase this home instead.

Shown: Frank and Tomiko Polk are pictured here between two of their three children (Monet and Christian) and Frank’s mother, Carolyn O’Bryant.

The Detroit House

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

The Land Bank auctions and sells abandoned and foreclosed homes in Detroit. They currently sell at a rate of three houses per day, chipping away at an inventory of 26,000 residential structures and 66,000 parcels of vacant land. The Polks snagged this 1,700-square-foot home in the Russell Woods neighborhood. The two-story house was built in 1939 and has plenty of its original architectural features. But, the place was previously abandoned for four years- and it shows.

Kevin's Favorite Features

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

“This house has many notable features,” says TOH TV host Kevin O’Connor. “The brick construction stands up well, and the bay window in the front is just spectacular.” This inside view spotlights the leaded glass windows adorned with stained glass crests across the top.

"The window was probably a specific choice of the homeowners," Kevin explains. The most common question about the Detroit house is about the style of the home, which isn’t clearly Colonial, Victorian, or Tudor. There's a reason for that; as part of this planned development, original homeowners were essentially presented with a “house menu” and had the option of several different house styles and features. The home next door to the Polk’s, for example, has a second-story bay above the first-story bay window. Down the street, there’s a Tudor-style home.

Restoring Old-House Character

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

The cabinets in this kitchen are original to the home, as far as Kevin and the TOH crew could tell, making them nearly 80 years old. Though the tile work is dated, it is also original to the home, showing just how much care previous owners had given.

Arguably, though, there was a break in preservation-minded home improvement with the decision to cover the floors and countertops with linoleum. “That’s a classic thing we find all the time,” Kevin says. “The evolution of what others have done in a home over time.” Kevin and the TOH crew scratched their heads at the choice of using linoleum, but plan to make it right.

Crown Molding and Details

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

Here, Kevin’s photo shows the view from the landing at the bottom of the stairs, through the archway to the front living room. Though the crown and molding details in the front foyer show disrepair, “if you look beyond it, it’s worthy of saving,” Kevin says.

Undoing Water Damage

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

Looking back into the front foyer from the living room, it’s easy to see the extent of the water damage accumulated during the four years that the home was abandoned. The ceiling, walls, and floor suffered from the leaking bathroom above. But that’s all part of the “beauty of the challenge of what has to be done,” Kevin says. And, the TOH team looks forward to doing it!

In for the Long Haul

If Frank and Tamiko had decided to pack up and leave Detroit instead of purchasing from the Land Bank, they wouldn’t have been alone: Detroit’s population has declined from 950,000 in 2000 to 677,000, a drastic change also from its peak population of 1.8 million in 1950. Although the square mileage of the city is larger than the geographic size of Boston, San Francisco, and Manhattan combined, Detroit’s current population pales in comparison to those places.

To rebuild, it takes dedication, commitment, strength, and perseverance. These traits shine through with the Polks, and the all of the people in their community who offered assistance in this renovation.

Keeping it in the Family

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

In addition to the help from the community, many of the projects will be completed by Frank and Tamiko’s family. Their son, Christian, is an artist. He'll assist in adding some final detail work to the updated crown molding. Their daughter, Monet, will also lend a hand this season. We'll meet the Polks' third child, Justin, later in the season.

Additionally, Frank’s sister, Caryl Polk, will help with the front steps. Tamiko’s father, Donnie, will also assist in the renovation and restoration.

Come to Detroit with TOH

Photo by Kevin O'Connor

TOH TV is back with the Detroit House debut on March 30. Check your local listings.

Don't forget to check in weekly for new photo galleries from TOH TV host Kevin O'Connor! In the meantime, check out his Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more photography.