Visionary, Founding Father of Back to the Bricks festival
August 20, 2021
Al Hatch was a drummer.
He was also a salesman in a variety of endeavors. What few realized is that he was also a visionary.
His notion of having a car show and festival celebrating Flint’s automobile culture, and hosting it in downtown Flint was conceived at a time that most of the buildings on Saginaw Street were boarded up. “People called it Plywood City,” Hatch says. But he saw it as an opportunity. An opportunity to play on the cities strengths, not it’s weaknesses. An opportunity to leverage the history and the past, not as wistful and sad remembrances of days gone by, but rather as fuel for the future. And that made all the difference.
So Hatch and some colleagues got their collective heads together and ‘Hatched’ a helluva plan. They decided to call it Back To The Bricks because that conjured up their youths spent cruising up and down the Saginaw Street bricks looking for a party. They’d start at the old A & W Root Beer stand which was directly across the street from the jail. Then they’d pile in to their hot rods and make the trek north on the bricks hitting The Colonels, and The Varsity, and on to Wallis drive in. Ever seen American Graffiti? Yeah? It was like that.
So from its humble beginnings in a half inhabited Flint downtown it began. There were rough patches along the way, but it survived. In fact it did better than survive, it grew—exponentially. From one day to two, two days to three, three days to four, to a full on Back To The Bricks week running up to main event. Now with their rolling cruises, car shows, preview events, and winter extravaganza “Fire and Ice”, it’s practically a year round gig.
Thanks to Al and his like minded friends and colleagues, Back to The Bricks is now an industry unto itself. According to Hatch, the most recent gross economic impact report on Back To The Bricks shows it’s economic value to the state of Michigan to be in excess of 100 million dollars.
People come from far and wide, around the county, from all parts of the state, from California to New York, North Dakota to Texas, and indeed from all over the globe. They come to take in the ambience, the culture, the food, fun and atmosphere. Some wouldn’t know a cam shaft from a camera or a drive train from a freight train. But it doesn’t matter. They love the fun of it all. The beautiful, mostly American automobiles, can be appreciated as engineering marvels, historical artifacts, shiny cool things, or like I see them - as works of art. Regardless, they are a chrome encapsulated, steel and glass wonderland of images. Hatch remembered that, and he recalled too, how it made him feel looking at them. He understood that there were plenty of others who felt the same.
But Hatch also understood that as great as the cars and car show component of the event is, it’s really about the city that gave birth to the cars. “We have to promote our auto heritage more,” Hatch correctly observes. Hatch is saying something I have long held as a mystery. Why weren’t we taught this stuff in Flint and Genesee County schools and colleges? Why was General Motors, Chevrolet, Frigidaire, and Buick savior and founder Billy Durant’s legacy buried? Why don’t people know that Chevrolet and Buick and Chrysler were all real people? Why don’t folks know that Billy, Louie, David and Walter all lived in Flint (on Garland, Root, Stevens and Kearsley Streets)? But it hardly matters. What matters is what we are doing now, and how we think of it all now.
To celebrate those men, their ideas, and the realization of their vision and products is to also celebrate our own history. Because without the men and women who hung the bumpers, built the engines, ran the wiring and hung the windshields, none of this would have happened. But they did. And it did. And it was done HERE—in Genesee County, in Flint, Michigan, and in the surrounding venues.
From the earliest days of the carriage industry to the most recently minted Corvette cruising the bricks, it has happened here on this street in the place. Al Hatch envisioned a car show and he built a revival. He conceived a festival and he launched a revitalization of a culture. A winning culture too. One that built America in to the greatest economic power on earth, invented the Arsenal of Democracy, and the American Middle Class along the way. That story has certainly changed and evolved, with good and bad by-products. But no one can deny where it all started.
As the great “Wizard of Flint” Billy Durant once said about “his baby” General Motors: “They can keep my name off of the buildings, and cars, and out of the history books. They can even kick me out of the company. But no one can take away the fact that I built it.”
You did indeed Billy.
And so did so many others build it right alongside of you. And to you Billy, and Walter, David and Louie, and all the others, that’s what Back To the Bricks celebrates.
Al Hatch is living evidence that the notion is correct that suggests, “if your reach doesn’t exceed your grasp, then what’s a Heaven for?” Al’s reach seems to be far from reaching its grasp. The past informs the future. We stand on the shoulders of giants. These are more than clichés, they are the fabric of our community. Down on the Bricks there’s plenty of chrome and steel and hot rubber to verify it.
A tiny taste of the