Clawson: Let’s Go Shopping!!

14 Apr

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All around Metro Detroit you will find quaint little villages, historic cities and hip downtowns. Each  one a little different from the other, it’s fun to check them out and see what they have to offer.Today we are visiting Clawson, just 2.2 square miles in size, downtown can be found at the intersection of 14 Mile Rd and Main (aka Livernois). 

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We begin our visit with a stop on Rochester Rd, this is where Michigan’s largest retail candy store, Doc’s Sweets resides. Nothing fancy on the outside, the inside is a virtual wonderland of candy, they have everything here, it even smells sweet! Easter displays are front and center, chocolate bunnies, candy eggs and Peeps in every color of the rainbow await their place in your Easter basket. Plywood shelving units divide the space into wide aisles, Jelly Belly and M&M’s have huge display cases that dispense the flavor and color candy of your choice. Old-fashioned treats like those pastel colored candy buttons stuck to strips of paper bring back childhood memories as do Slo Poke, Now & Later, Zots and Laffy Taffy. Do you like Gummi Bears? How about a gummi worm, frog, shark or turtle? Licorice comes in strings, wheels and snaps, Scooby Doo, Mickey Mouse and Star Wars figures are filled with candy; for fans of chewing gum they sell Razzles, Chiclets and Fruit Stripe. Do you remember Sixlets? Not only are they available individually, like many of the items here, they can also be purchased in bulk. Employees are friendly and helpful, you can’t help feeling happy yourself surrounded by all this sweetness.

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Magic anyone? Wunderground Magic Shop on Main St is a fun place to visit even if you can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat. Wall to wall and floor to tin ceiling the space is filled with books, card tricks, magic wands, supplies and accessories for magicians of every skill level. Looking around we notice playing cards clinging to the ceiling overhead, ventriloquist puppets look ready for conversation, novelties, pranks and gag gifts make us laugh out loud. Chatting with the man behind the counter we learn the ceiling is original, the second floor of the building was originally the Ambassador Ballroom. Wednesday nights were rolling skating nights at the Ballroom, it was so popular the owner built a separate roller rink across the street in 1941.

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Across 14 Mile Rd is what used to be the Ambassador Roller Rink, a Clawson landmark for over 60 years, the building still retains the original wood floor, hockey scoreboard and over 300 pairs of roller skates. In 2006, husband and wife team Stephen and Mary Liz, opened one of the coolest stores around, Leon & Lulu in the 15,000 sq ft space. Referred to as a ‘lifestyle store’, to me it is shopping heaven. Old and new, quirky and classy, unique and classic, the variety of items and styles seems endless. Easter decor items greet us at the front of the store, vintage roller skates are dressed up with sequins on a nearby shelf, antique glass bottles from Detroit sit atop a table. Freshly popped popcorn is being kept warm in a red cart, a young woman wearing skates offers us a beverage then rolls off. Many things vie for my attention at the same time; the open ceiling shows off its wood beams, unique light fixtures glow from above, funky artwork hangs on walls. Kris and I begin roaming the store together but soon we have split off in different directions, I always have an idea of where he’s at from the sound of the camera as he snaps pictures. I take my time browsing, I am a sucker for handbags and kitchen do-dads. Kris spies an awesome vintage score keeping machine out of a bowling alley–sweet!

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Vignettes of couches, chairs and tables are beautifully laid out, I cannot resist trying a few of the pieces. Discarded items like metal doorplates, teacups and spoons have been reused to create light fixtures. I meet up with Kris and we walk around again showing each other the pieces we like best. I have been here on several occasions for special events, usually charity fundraisers, there’s always food and drink and you’re guaranteed a good time. The owners are extremely generous, last year alone they hosted 64 events, 51 of them benefiting local charities. Every time I come, the store has different merchandise, making it fun to explore. I recently learned Leon & Lulu will soon have a neighbor, the owners have acquired the old Clawson Theatre to be used as additional retail space and a bakery/cafe. Like the roller rink the theatre was built in 1941, movies were shown until 1962; like most small town theatres the building was used for other purposes and then sat vacant. To me the most exciting part of the deal is the plan to replace the original marquee to make it look like a classic downtown movie theatre again, it will add so much charm to the streetscape.

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Walking east down 14 Mile Rd we notice and old record shop, Flipside Records. Doing business here since 1983 the store sells new and used vinyl, CD’s, DVD’s, video game systems, vintage stereo equipment, posters and t-shirts. We love to browse shops that sell vintage anything, record stores always have great things to look at and listen to. T-shirts hang from the drop ceiling, like items are grouped into sections, I see my first Iggy Pop bobblehead, Kris is leafing through old albums, some of them have awesome cover art. It has been a while since I have seen stacks of 45′s, of course Elvis takes up a fair amount of space. Vintage record players make me yearn for the days when things were simple and real; you actually held the arm on the record player and placed the needle on the vinyl, sound came out of speakers instead of tiny little earbuds attached to an iPhone, ahhh, the good old days! 

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We come to a Japanese grocery store called Noble Fish, having heard only good things about their sushi we decide to give it a try. The small store has a huge selection of grocery items such as sauces, oils, rice, Sake, beer and snacks along with Japanese gifts and kitchen goods. Both of us enjoy looking at the brightly colored packages, sometimes wondering what it is, or what one does with Gingko nuts or a can of Quail eggs. Now, Pocky we know, but here in addition to chocolate and strawberry we can try almond crush. Coolers along the side of the store hold pre-made sushi boxes, fresh fish and multi-color rice cakes. All the way to the back we find the sushi counter; we fill out the order sheet, take a seat and wait for our food. 5 stools are pulled up to a counter, there are probably another 5 tables in the restaurant space, each seating two people, to say it is small is an understatement. Sushi specials are handwritten on sheets of paper and taped to the walls, be sure and look them over before placing your order. A cart holds a thermos of hot green tea and pitchers of cold water, cups and glasses are available for you to help yourself. Our sushi is delivered to our table, it looks and tastes delicious, prices are reasonable and the rolls are nice sized. A line of people has formed to place orders, as soon as we are finished we leave to make room for someone else. We take one more walk down the rows of items, certain there is nothing we need for home we head over to the register. Even Japanese grocery stores have impulse items at the check-out counter, Kris has his eye on a chocolate cookie-looking thing, the clerk tells us it is mochi filled with red bean paste, the things we thought were chocolate sprinkles are actually roasted sesame seeds, what the heck……You know, it wasn’t bad.

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7 Apr


The list of things to see, places to eat and activities to do continues to grow in Detroit. Tonight we are dining at the recently opened Grille Midtown on Woodward in Midtown. With a little bit of luck we score a parking space in front of the restaurant, Friday evening diners are beginning to filter in. The interior is quite attractive; brick walls are painted in a silvery grey, artist renderings of vintage GM concept cars are framed and hang on the walls. We follow the hostess to our seats passing vintage automotive grills mounted to the wall; nearest our table one from a Ford Econoline and another from a Lincoln Continental, both circa 1960′s. Cool car stuff is found throughout the space.

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We start with a Caprese Salad; tomatoes, prosciutto, basil and mozzarella drizzled with olive oil and a balsamic reduction, very tasty. The Smokehouse burger is a thick prime ground beef patty served on a housemade brioche bun, topped with crispy applewood smoked bacon, house bbq sauce, melted cheddar and onion strings, yum! The burger comes with gourmet fries and a McClure’s pickle. Adjacent to the Grille is the Garden Theater, designed as a movie house by C Howard Crane, it opened in 1912 and showed films until 1949. Having sat empty and unused for the last 20 years the theater has been brought back to life. We poked our heads in to have a look…….we have got to see a show here.

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Tonight Cinema Detroit is showing The Grand Budapest Hotel. Starting out as the Burton International High School, the building is nearly 100 years old, the original auditorium had all of the seats and a projection booth (built in 1924) when the Burton Theatre took over the building. Previously known as Cass City Cinema, Paula and Tim Guthat now operate Cinema Detroit at The Burton. Movie enthusiasts themselves, both Paula and Tom blog about movies. Showing contemporary, indie, cult and classic movies, the screen in theater 1 is equipped with a cinema server and NEC digital camera DCI compliant projector to enable the showing of the latest movies from Hollywood and independent producers. Tonight there is an added attraction, Angela Foster, local pastry chef and proprietor of Coffee and (_____) is preparing Courtesans au chocolat just like the ones in the movie. 

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We arrive about a half hour before the movie is scheduled to begin, parking is easy because they have their own (monitored) lot. Everything about this place is unique, we walk toward the building, a small flashing LED sign reads ‘theater’, we follow a walkway on the side of the building, then follow the next flashing sign to the entry door. Inside a pair of lines have formed, one to purchase tickets and snacks, the other to purchase the courtesans au chocolat. I take my place in line to purchase tickets, it looks like the show may be sold out, I want to make sure we get our seats. Once our coats have been placed to secure our seats we join the pastry line. Silver trays of courtesans sit atop a small table, the pastries are beautiful; made from profiterole batter they are filled with chocolate custard, held together with colorful glazes and topped with a chocolate covered coffee bean, they’re as delicious as they look! Before the movie begins Angela has sold out. If you’d like to try some of her wonderful baked goods contact her by email; watch for the re-opening of her shop on Jefferson and Chalmers June 1st.

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With a little time left before we need to take our seats, we check out some of the building, antique projectors and film equipment are cool to look at. A second theater is located on the lower level, patrons have begun to arrive for the show. Back up the stairs we settle in to watch the movie, the auditorium is quaint and comfortable, there isn’t a single open seat. The film is visually stunning, the story charming, funny, sweet.  The Grand Budapest Hotel runs through Thursday April 10th, click on the link above for details.

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We end our evening with a stop at 3rd Street Bar for a nightcap. Not too noisy or too crowded we take a table near the bar, Kris orders a Canadian Club and Diet Coke, it’s a Founders Porter for me. This place always has a cozy feel, we sip on our drinks and talk about the evening, we have checked another new place off our list, there are still so many more to try……………

ROCHESTER: Meadowbrook Hall

31 Mar

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It had been a couple of years since our last visit to Meadowbrook Hall in Rochester MI.  One of this country’s finest examples of Tudor Revival architecture it should be on your Must Do list. Before I talk about the home itself I need to lay a little groundwork, it all begins with the Dodge Brothers……..

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John and Horace Dodge were automotive pioneers who shaped Detroit’s early automotive industry. They went from working in local machine shops, to manufacturing Evans and Dodge bicycles to opening their own machine shop in 1901. Interestingly enough (at least to me it is) they began producing stove parts (remember at one time Detroit was the Stove Capital of the US), then moved on to parts for the auto industry. Their first major customer was Ransom E Olds, in 1902 Henry Ford hired them to produce everything except the body, wheels and tires for his new vehicle. At that time Ford was short on cash, he gave the brothers 50 shares of stock in the new Ford Motor Company as payment, making them 10% shareholders in the company. In 1913 John Dodge decided not to renew their exclusive contract with Ford, John stepped down as President of the company and the brothers began the process of building their own “Dodge” vehicle. In November 1914 the first Dodge rolled of the line in Hamtramck. John was a widower and father when Matilda Rausch, secretary for the Dodge brothers, caught his eye, the two were married in 1907, the marriage produced three children. In 1920 John died of influenza, leaving Matilda a (unbelievably rich) widow at age 37, at that time he was worth in excess of $100 million dollars. 1925 was a big year for Matilda, she married Alfred Wilson and she and Anna Dodge sold their holdings in Dodge Motor Company for $146 million dollars, making Matilda one of the wealthiest women in the world.

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John and Matilda had purchased a farm estate in Rochester MI years earlier as a weekend retreat, it consisted of 1500 acres and several residences. This is where Matilda and Alfred would build their family home. William Kapp (Music Hall, Players Clubhouse) of Smith, Hinchman and Grylls was hired to design the house, Matilda requested the home be large enough to entertain 250 people and the dining room be able to hold 40 people for dinner. What she got was a magnificent, 88,000 sq ft castle, (that’s right, 88 thousand square feet) reminiscent of an English country manor home. It was built between 1926 and 1929 for a cost of $4 million dollars. Matilda insisted that all materials should be American as well as the workers. The home is filled with elaborately carved wood, stone, ornate plaster, even the details have details, 27 fireplaces, 39 chimneys and lots of Tiffany glass; she was the largest purchaser of Tiffany in the country. Ok, now we can go in…..

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We enter the home and find ourselves in the expansive foyer, a fire burns bright in the massive fireplace, a bench pulled close for those who wish to warm themselves, a pair of candelabra torchieres flank the fireplace.  The tour begins on the lower level of the home, the entertainment floor, so to speak. Ralph, our guide begins by telling us a bit of family history and how the house came to be. We move into the Ballroom, the only 2-story room in the house, to me it looks straight out of a castle; gorgeous timber ceiling, stone arches, tapestries, light fixtures of wrought iron and glass, almost medieval. The Wilson’s spared no expense when they threw a party, Tommy Dorsey and his orchestra played here with a then unknown singer named Frank Sinatra. Proceeding through the room we find ourselves in the Game Room; this is where the men would go to smoke, drink, play cards, that sort of thing. The ceiling is vaulted, windows are leaded glass, the slate floor gleams, beautiful rugs and leather couches make the room feel comfortable. As with every other room in the house it is finely detailed, trim work surrounding the door is carved with shapes of chess pieces, card suits and the like, my favorite detail? The miniature pool table that serves as a door handle!

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Back on the main floor we find ourselves in the Christopher Wren Dining Room; named after the English architect for the design style. Walls are paneled in walnut, the ceiling, well, it is absolutely stunning. I have never seen another one like it, the work of Corrado Parducci, the detail is magnificent, thick plaster designs hang heavy from above; corn and wheat so detailed you can see the grains, the cherubs have eyelashes, leaves and flowers wrap the perimeter. An amazing garland of fruit, flowers and game birds hang above the fireplace, two large chandeliers anchor the room. Family photos are found throughout the house, portraits of Matilda and Alfred hang prominently. Through a narrow doorway is the Pagoda Room, this is where the children would take their meals; walls are hand-painted, lots of windows let in the natural light, an Asian-style chandelier hangs above, it’s wonderful. Down the hall we enter Alfred’s study, this is the only room in the house that does not feature American wood, being a lumber baron, he chose English Burled Oak to cover the walls. Rectangular panels are carved with scenes representing Alfred’s life from his days in Indiana through college and beyond. A fireplace makes the room cozy, the detail in the door is impressive, and what kind of door handle does Alfred have? A log of course.

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As we walk toward Matilda’s office a window offers us a glimpse of the ballroom below, what a sight! The office is lit by a Waterford Crystal chandelier, a fireplace and desk take up residence in the space, alcoves recessed into the paneled walls hold decorative pieces. The room looks quite comfortable, it is clear Matilda had a good eye and knew what she wanted. The living room is the largest room in the house, at 1340 sq ft it still manages to feel welcoming and warm. The furniture is Chinese and looks perfectly at home in the room, I love the ceiling, it is bowed to prevent cracking, the plaster pattern is lovely. At the far end of the room is another huge fireplace, behind it is a splendid sunroom; lots of windows, the ceiling is Wormy Chestnut, pretty furniture, I can see myself reading a nice thick book in this room. At the opposite end of the room a grand piano sits off to a corner, organ pipes are concealed in the walls, open grates our only clue to what lies behind the wall. A narrow hall leads us past the original organ, the floor is wide plank, the organ is both a player organ and can be played by hand; paper organ rolls are kept in boxes behind glass doors. A charming set of three stone windows catch my eye as we pass heading into the library. One of the (many) amazing things about this house is that the furnishings are all original, the books actually belonged to Alfred and Matilda, the photos are real family photos, their dishes and personal belongings are all here for us to see! 

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Our group climbs the grand staircase to the Great Hall, great is an understatement. At the top of the staircase I turn around to face the fabulous stained glass windows, from there I look up at the plaster barrel ceiling intensely covered in a brocade-like pattern, wow! A table is set as an example of how the Wilson’s entertained. To the right down a hall is the wing where the Dodge children’s bedrooms are located, bathrooms are Rookwood Tile from Cincinnati, guest rooms allowed for them to have friends stay over. The opposite wing belonged to Matilda and Alfred, each had their own room, Alfred’s masculine as expected, and for the lady of the house, French and feminine. Rose-colored silk wallpaper covers the walls, her bed rests upon a low pedestal, it is exquisite, if I heard correctly, she has 14 closets…..Also located in this wing are the bedrooms of the Wilson’s two adopted children Barbara and Richard, along with the nanny’s room. Both Barbara and Richard are still alive, Meadowbrook Hall turns 85 this year, a celebration is planned and the children are hoping to attend.

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Matilda was very active in civic affairs and the arts, generous with her time and fortune, she built the Wilson Theatre in Detroit, now known as Music Hall. In 1957 Matilda and Alfred donated their entire 1500 acre estate, their collections and an additional $2 million dollars to found Michigan State University-Oakland, renamed Oakland University in 1963. The university opened in September 1959, 570 students enrolled that year. Upon graduation Matilda presented each student with a diamond ring. The Wilson’s continued to live at the estate until their deaths, Alfred in 1962 and Matilda in 1967, today, their legacy lives on. It’s nearly impossible to capture the beauty of this home in pictures, descriptions cannot do it justice, you’ll just have to see for yourself.

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The Royal Park Hotel in Rochester seemed like the logical place to have lunch, the boutique hotel which opened in 2004 is also designed in the English Manor House style. The exterior is brick and stone, inside you will find dark wood, rich fabrics, oriental rugs and fireplaces. We take a seat in Elliots Lounge, the menu features casual meals, sandwiches, salads, charcuterie and cheeses. We start off with the specialty sausage board; a grilled chicken and organic apple sausage served with watercress salad and sundried pear and apricot mostarda, yum! Kris digs into the RPH Sliders while I enjoy the Chili Lime Chicken sandwich, everything is well prepared and delicious, service is excellent. When we have finished, we leave the world of the rich and famous and return to reality………bummer.

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PLYMOUTH: Dinner and a Movie….

24 Mar

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Just about 26 miles west of Detroit in Wayne county lies the city of Plymouth; settled in 1825 it was named after Plymouth Massachusetts. Today this quaint town of just over 2 square miles is home to shops, restaurants, cafes, Kellogg Park and lovely historic homes. It is a beautiful day, the sky is clear, the sunshine deceiving as the temperature hovers around 20 degrees. We find a parking spot central to our planned activities and drop in at the Plymouth Coffee Bean. Since 1993 this independent coffee shop in a former residence has been providing folks with coffee, espresso drinks, pastries and light fare. It is Sunday, tables are crowded with locals sipping warm beverages and reading the weekend newspaper. We amble from room to room through the house, currently there are no open tables, we will get something to go. We order our drinks at the counter, a glass case is filled with delicious looking baked goods from red velvet cake to cookies; we have something else in mind……..

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The Alpine Chocolat Haus on Main Street serves up a delectable variety of chocolates handmade in Gaylord MI. The space is long and narrow, a large front window provides natural light and a great view of downtown. A table front and center features Easter bunnies made from every variety of chocolate. Boxed candy is found on shelves and cubbies along each wall, an extensive counter displays individual varieties of truffles, barks and clusters. Further on are freezers filled with Moomers Homemade Ice Cream, made in Traverse City MI, it has been named Best Scoop in America. Bags of Chocolat Haus Chips (potato chips dipped in chocolate) and Bruce’s Gourmet Caramel Corn line shelves, both are best sellers. Today Kris and I are just looking for something chocolate to go with our piping hot coffee. Settling on dark chocolate almond bark, a sea salt caramel and a peanut butter truffle, we are pleasantly surprised at how reasonable the prices are, the chocolate itself is outstanding!

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We walk from Main Street around Kellogg Park to Penniman Ave, we are seeing “Saving Mr. Banks” at the historic Penn Theatre. The Woodward Theatre Company purchased this plot of land back in 1926 with the intention of building a first class movie palace. Over a decade later Harry Lush purchased the property and built the theatre you see today; the Penn officially opened December 4, 1941, the movie was “Weekend in Havana”. In 1964 Margaret Wilson purchased the Penn, a couple of years later she added a concession and altered the entrance to what you see today. In 2003 the doors were closed and the fate of the theatre uncertain; thanks to a group of businessmen who purchased the building in 2005, the theatre is now rented to the non-profit Friends Of The Penn for $1 a year! After much interior renovation the single screen, 402 seat,Penn re-opened in 2006 showing current second-run movies, independent and classic films and occasional live musical performances. 

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We approach the theatre, a line of movie-goers has formed from the old-fashioned ticket window down the sidewalk, we are not the only ones gripping a warm drink with gloved hands. The Art Deco facade is gorgeous, the marquis is lit up advertising today’s film, Saving Mr. Banks, All Seats $3.00. Fortunately the line moves swiftly, inside, little if anything remains from 1941, old movie posters hang on the back wall of the lobby. The theatre has three sections of seats, an aisle-way runs down each side, it’s crowded with people, we have to go down to the third or fourth row to find two empty seats. Walls in the auditorium are now covered in red pleated material that matches the grand curtain, also in red, modern light sconces recall the Art Deco design style. Without delay the movie begins, for the next two hours we are entertained by Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P L Traverse, author of the Mary Poppins novels. The story takes place in 1961, the clothes and cars are cool, the tunes are catchy and familiar, in the end, everyone lives happily ever after and the audience is left with a smile.

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Keeping with our historical theme, we drive over to Novi for dinner at Shiro. The restaurant operates out of an elegant Colonial Revival home, built in 1929 by Charles Rogers for his bride Harriet Thornton. The Rogers family made their fortune in canned milk, Rogers is actually credited with inventing condensed milk. The home was originally called White House Manor because it was built with the money made from the White House Milk Company. Charles died in 1942, after Harriet died the Crusoe family purchased the home and lived there for about ten years, the house then sat empty from 1973 to 1981. The Cervi brothers bought the home and turned it into a restaurant, this would be the story for the next many years; each of the owners reporting the sound of footsteps when no one was around, lights that would come on when the place was empty, they all said it was haunted. In 1998 Shiro Japanese Restaurant opened and has been there since.

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We snag a parking space close to the entrance, the home is stately, prominent, lavish, it has a southern feel to it with its tall columns and balcony. Inside, our attention is drawn to the elegant grand staircase with cherry wood banisters that curve to the second floor. There is hand carved wood work, stained glass windows and leaded glass doors. On the right is the sushi bar, the room is crowded with diners, we are seated in the room to the left; white tablecloths cover the tables, votive candles are a nice touch. We place our order and talk about the movie as we wait for our dishes to arrive. First out is the Shiro salad with a delicious ginger dressing, the kimchee pancake appetizer is enough for two, it has a really nice flavor. We chose three different sushi rolls, each a different flavor and texture, all were enjoyable. It has been a wonderful Sunday,we are lucky to live in an area that has so much to offer within a short distance.

DETROIT: Once Upon A Time……

17 Mar

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Have you ever been to the Thanksgiving Parade in downtown Detroit? If you live in the Metro Detroit area, chances are you have at least watched it on television; floats, marching bands, balloons all making their way down Woodward Ave, viewers anxiously awaiting the moment when Santa arrives. You can’t help but smile, everybody seems to be having such a grand time, no matter what the thermometer says. Thanks to The Parade Company you can take a behind-the-scenes tour of their enchanting paradeland, floats old and new all within arm’s reach. Group tours (10 or more) are made by reservation, since there are only two of us we are joining a Girl Scout troop for our journey through 200,000 sq ft of parade history and magic.

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We make our way to Huber Street and enter the driveway of what used to be the expansive Chrysler Lynch Road Assembly Plant. There is great history in the building alone, designed by Albert Kahn (really) and built in the late 20′s, it sat at the epicenter of Chrysler’s auto manufacturing domain in Detroit. On or within a stones throw of Lynch were two foundries, an axle plant, forge, marshaling center and transport facility, all owned by Chrysler.  In close proximity to Dodge main, Jefferson avenue, Mound Road Engine and Dodge Truck, imagine the beehive of activity. Even the little known Dual-Ghia, preferred by the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Lucille Ball, was assembled right around the corner near Grinell and Van Dyke. At one time the Lynch road plant employed over 12,000 , everything from Desoto, Dodge and Plymouth to military vehicles and parts of the Manhattan Project were built here. Most renowned for its contribution to the Muscle car era; Lynch turned out many a Road Runner, Super Bee, Charger, GTX, R/T and Superbird during its heyday. You can bet a few neighbor’s were awakened by the sounds of a 440 Six pack or 426 Hemi getting wrung out by an employee. Unfortunately, after over 50 years of production the plant became obsolete, automobiles have not been built here since the early 1980′s. Make no mistake, this plant was a major part of Detroit’s manufacturing history.

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 Our guide, Steve, introduces himself, goes over a few rules and the tour begins. A bright purple wall showcases photos of Grand Marshalls through the years; most have something to do with Michigan, Thomas Hearns, Anita Baker, Ernie Harwell and Aretha Franklin. Others such as Mickey Mouse, Lassie, Big Bird and Jessica Simpson are a few of the exceptions. We enter Studio A, this is where floats are designed and built, vibrant colors cover the walls, newspaper articles on the parade are proudly displayed. We have our first encounter with giant paper mache heads; Tom Selleck, Bo Schembechler, Sparky Anderson and Magic Johnson. We are surrounded by work spaces; a metal shop, wood shop and a station filled with enormous pieces of styrofoam. Volunteers are already busy at work creating figures for the 2014 parade. Plywood shelves hold heads of sports figures wearing baseball hats, renderings of floats show the design process from beginning to end. This former factory spreads out as far as the eye can see, bicycles and scooters are often used as a means of transportation from one end to another. 

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We get our first up close view of a float, grown-ups are just as excited as the scouts, everyone wants their picture taken in front of their favorite. We learn floats are made to be pushed, pulled or self-propelled; the Wizard of Oz is made up of several sections, we are able to peek underneath and see the automobile chassis it rides on, this is so cool! It’s hard to believe how detailed everything is, from faces to flowers it’s all beautiful. The Parade Company has built floats for such things as the Indy 500, Miracle Mile Parade, even Disney, the craftsmanship is amazing. In case you ever have a need for a float, keep in mind you can rent one for your own special occasion…… One area holds pieces of floats that have been disassembled; animals, flowers, cupcakes, pancakes and a miniature Scott Fountain all wait their turn to ride in the parade again. Small push floats representing Chevrolet automobiles are parked to one side. Crossing from Studio A to Studio B  we get a glimpse of the area where the balloons are stored. Every Thanksgiving morning at 6am they are filled and come to life; only one has ever escaped–that would be Chilly Willy who decided to head south one year. Fortunately he was recovered in Canada at Point Pelee.

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Studio B is the storage area, think of it as an enchanted kingdom straight out of a fairy tale. From the Turkey Trot float to castles, gardens, ice cream and candy, I just want to climb aboard and play. Each float is a different scene, all are assured to make you feel happy. The girls are giddy, each points out something different; then it happens–we come face to face with the old paper mache pirate heads, there are tiny shrieks and gasps, they’re kinda scary sitting there in the dark. Once assured the pirates pose no danger, we move along through floats bearing Christmas trees, elves, toys and snow, sponsored by companies such as Ford, Compuware and Quicken Loans. 

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Proceeding through the maze of floats we are coming to the end of the tour, there it is, Santa’s sleigh and nine little reindeer. I can’t tell you how many times Kris and I have awaited that sight, standing somewhere on Woodward freezing, but unwilling to leave until Santa has made his appearance. It looks so much larger here, though tempting to climb aboard the sleigh, I decide against it. This is the only parade company to design, build and store floats in the same location. Costumes are designed and manufactured here too, they have over 3,000 of them! It’s kind of quiet here today, not a lot of activity in March, but come August volunteers will work around the clock to have everything ready for the 2014 America’s Thanksgiving Parade.

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All of that walking has given us an appetite, good thing we know a place to catch lunch not far from here. Marcus Hamburgers has been at this McNichol’s location since 1929. Charles Marcus opened his doors during The Great Depression with the idea of making burgers more affordable during a difficult time. He invented an all-steak burger, rectangular shaped, that fit in a hot dog bun. He built a cast iron grill that still sits in the middle of the diner nestled between the horse shoe shaped counters. My parents used to live in the neighborhood and frequented the diner often. It doesn’t look much different today that it did back then, still serving up those famous burgers that were so popular with the local factory workers back in Detroit’s heyday. We take a seat at the counter and order up burgers and fries. Before long plates of burgers with cheese, chili, lettuce and tomato are set down before us along with bowls of finely chopped onion, relish and bottles of mustard and ketchup. As we eat, customers come and go, carry-out orders are placed and picked up, people have been eating here for over 85 years. This area of the city is nearly forgotten these days, but it’s comforting to know some things haven’t changed.

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DETROIT: Out On The Town

10 Mar

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Membership has it’s privileges….for years we have belonged to the Detroit Historical Society,  it’s enabled us to enjoy historical museums, sites and events locally and throughout the Midwest for free. Tonight we’re checking out the opening of the new exhibit “Out on the Town Drinking and Dining in Detroit Since 1920″ at the Detroit Historical Museum; the entire museum, music, food and of course, drinks, are included. Non-members need only to fork over $25 for the same treatment, well worth the price of admission… Being a member also gives us access to special exhibits, programs and discounts on Behind The Scenes Tours and Historic Houses of Worship Tours. I love historical museums, they tell the story of a place; who first settled there, how they lived, how it evolved, how it became the city it is today. Both of us are fond of this building, there’s something endearing about a historical museum housed in an older building, this one was built specifically for the museum in 1951. 

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The temperature is frigid, we score the last space in the parking lot on Kirby, it’s a short walk to the door. Inside, the building has taken on a party atmosphere, greeters direct us to the coat check, food and drinks, music plays faintly in the distance. We begin on the first floor, America’s Motor City, exhibits here tell how Detroit built cars and how cars built Detroit. Folks have already filled their plates with delicious food prepared by Holiday Catering, they sit on benches in front of the “body drop” eating and watching, others carefully balance their food and drink as they wander through. We take our place in the food line, grab brown paper cartons, forks and napkins, I scoop out servings of tasty grilled vegetables with roasted garlic aioli, a fabulous pasta salad, Caesar salad with chicken and quinoa salad laced with plump dried cherries. The next table over offers wine, beer and ice-cold bottles of water. A large jar of Dutch girl donuts rests on the dessert table, the catering staff is just starting to prepare ice cream floats; a scoop of vanilla floating in your choice of Vernor’s, Faygo Root Beer, Orange or Red Pop, now that’s how we do it in Detroit!

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Passing the gorgeous mahogany Meijer clock, we make our way to the second floor; Out On The Town is in the Booth-Wilkinson Gallery. At the top of the stairs we hear the murmur of the crowd, a band plays in one of the galleries, the rooms are crowded, people stand in front of displays pointing, nodding and smiling. A collection of menu covers hang on the wall at the gallery entrance, some names are familiar, The Mauna Loa, Topinka’s, Dakota Inn, London Chop House. Others I have never heard of; Sapphire Room, Club Three 666, Mayfair, Blue Bird Inn, Tropics. The names create a sense of what Detroit was like back then; elegant, vibrant. Each section of the gallery highlights a different time period, from the Speakeasies of the Prohibition era, working men’s watering holes to the Jazz Clubs, Night Clubs and businessmen’s lunch spots. Vignettes are positioned behind glass, mannequins wear the fashions of the day, memorabilia such as menus, glasses, matchbooks and photos give a true sense of the time and place. Starting in the early days  a re-creation of the Woodbridge Tavern features a bar tender wearing a straw hat and apron, a butcher block table and seltzer bottles. The Flame Show Bar opened in 1949 and was hugely popular. Located on the corner of John R and Canfield some of the biggest entertainers of the day performed here; Billy Holiday, Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, Della Reese, Etta James, BB King, Bo Diddly and Sam Cooke, amazing! We proceed through time and venues, jukeboxes and cigarette vending machines appear. Artifacts from nightclubs such as the Roostertail, Elmwood Club and 20 Grand Club are on display; did you know Detroit even had its own Playboy Club? A reproduction of London Chop House includes an old booth, signs and a couple of Hy Vogel’s infamous caricatures.

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Cliff Bells has set up a table off to the side, a bartender is mixing up craft cocktails, with a Manhattan in hand we hit the table of snacks Better Made has set up; pretzels, single serving bags of chips and shoestring potato chips all taste so good. Another table has an assortment of Greek finger foods; mini spinach pies, hummus, pita and salad, it looks to good to pass up. It is getting more crowded so we head down to the Streets of Old Detroit, this is probably the most popular permanent exhibit in the museum. We stroll past shop windows with bicycles and musical instruments, a showcase is filled with souvenir dishes and old Detroit postcards. A stop in the drugstore is a must, my favorite item is the antique Vernor’s dispenser. Old-fashioned street lamps light the narrow roads made of rock or logs, we pass the blacksmith, Fyfe Boots, Sanders, a barbershop and Dime store.

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We decide to take one more walk through before calling it a night. On the first floor a DJ is spinning records, modern versions of old songs, pretty cool. A large group of 20-somethings dressed to the nines arrives, all making their way to the main attraction of the evening. Back upstairs we take one last look around, we are reading about Kovac’s, Abicks, Cadieux Cafe and Anchor Bar when the Coney Islands show up. Large silver chafing dishes filled with hot dogs, buns and chili are set down on tables, chopped onions and mustard are readily available; within minutes everyone is indulging in one of Detroit’s most popular foods. What a way to end the night!

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DETROIT: Music Hall !

3 Mar

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It isn’t often we spend a Tuesday evening out on the town, tonight is special. We have tickets to see Guitar Passions at Music Hall, we are making an evening of it starting with dinner at the Detroit Seafood Market on Randolph. We park in a lot that gives us access to both Madison and Randolph, $5 and we’re good for the night. This is the Paradise Valley district, historic buildings line the streets, old-fashioned looking street lamps light our way. Inside, people have just begun filtering in, taking a seat at the bar or high-top table. We are led across the room to a private booth, curtains are open and drawn to the sides. Floor and ceiling are warm shades of wood, funky shaped booths and small tables fill the space. Contemporary in style, the colors have warm undertones, an underwater mural covers the back wall. The menu is packed with fresh fish and seafood, we dig into warm bread as we wait for our meal to arrive. Our waiter is friendly and attentive, he arrives with our food and it looks delicious. I first try a forkful of Chef Leonardo’s famous lobster mac & cheese; piled high with toasted bread crumbs, inside it is cheesy, noodles are cooked just right with tasty chunks of lobster nestled throughout. The blackened salmon with sweet chili sauce is served with jasmine rice and sautéed vegetables. We like the seasoning on the fish, the vegetables are tender and buttery tasting. We are sharing both dishes, it makes for a great combination. Kris and I bundle ourselves up, Music Hall is right around the corner, we brave the cold and walk there.

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In 1928 Matilda Dodge Wilson opened the Wilson Theatre. She hired William Kapp of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls to design the building; it was to be used for legitimate theatre and touring Broadway productions, total cost was $1.5 million dollars. Eventually the Wilson began showing motion pictures, Gone with the Wind premiered at the The Wilson in January 1940. In the mid 1940′s the Detroit Symphony Orchestra wanted its own hall, choosing The Wilson, the name was changed to Music Hall in 1946. In 1951 a new trend was sweeping the nation, Cinerama. Detroit was a huge market back then, it was the second city in the United states to have a Cinerama, New York was first, Hollywood CA was third. Alterations were made to the building, a deeply curved wide screen was installed by Cinerama engineers, at that time the cost of a movie was 95 cents, Cinerama cost $2.80; you had reserved seating and printed programs. From 1971 to 1984 Michigan Opera Theatre used the building. In 1991 a decision was made, Music Hall would be restored to its original condition. Craftsmen and artists from all over arrived on the scene, 6 stories of scaffolding filled the auditorium, the decorative ceiling was cleaned and repainted, seats were repaired and restored, in 1995 Music Hall once again opened its doors.

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The Art Deco exterior is orange and tan brick, large stone pillars are capped with traditional theatrical masks made of terracotta. Beautiful wood and glass doors grant us entry to the foyer and box office, a second set of doors leads us to the lobby. The area is surprisingly small, light-colored stone surrounds the space, chandeliers are grand, carved figures wrap the capitols of columns, exit signs are framed in brass, a portrait of Mrs. Wilson hangs prominently. From here you can either go up into the theatre or as we do, down five steps to the Jazz Cafe. Taking a seat at a table we are afforded a wonderful view of the room; walls and ceiling are cream and yellow, elegant designs painted in red and black decorate the room, Moorish arches give visitors a view into the lobby. While other patrons are finishing their cocktails, we take the stairs to the main floor of the theatre–this is one of our favorite places to see a performance, as a matter of fact we were at that very first show when Music Hall re-opened in 1995. It is as fabulous today as it was then.

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After finding our seats Kris wanders about taking photos, I sit with my head tilted back admiring the stepped ceiling beams slathered in gold leaf and colorful designs. The grand curtain hangs elegantly across the stage, the main ceiling is a series of turquoise rectangles, the back of the house is finished in walnut panels. There is one box on each side of the stage–definitely the best seats in the house; open Moorish arches are fitted with a wrought iron railing, look closely to see the W T (Wilson Theatre), a crescent wrench is formed from the T, a tribute to Matilda’s first husband John Dodge. Pendant-like fixtures hang to the side 12 lights wide, they are stunning. The lights flash, the show is about to begin.

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Tonight we are seeing Guitar Passions, three master guitarists playing Latin, Brazilian and Jazz selections, we are very fond of this type of music. The musicians are 3-time Grammy winner Sharon Isbin, guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan and Brazil’s leading guitarist Romero Lubambo. Throughout the evening each plays solo and in combination with the other players, each showcasing their own unique style of play, the selection of music is outstanding, the talent, awe-inspiring. In one piece, Stanley Jordan plays the guitar and the piano at the same time, really! Some pieces are intense, it appears as if the instruments have come to life, possessing the hands that play them creating melodies that cast a spell over the audience, mesmerizing all who watch and listen.  The last number brought the audience to its feet, applause was loud and lengthy, earning us an encore, awesome! 

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The Hilton Garden Inn is only a short walk away, we stop in at The Chrome Grille for a nightcap. The atmosphere is casual, lighting is low, as the name predicts chrome accents are found throughout. We join the handful of customers seated at the bar and order drinks, a Spanish Coffee for me and some sort of tasty orange cocktail for Kris. It’s a nice way to wind down after a show. We engage in conversation with a hotel guest, he asks us about Detroit and we share some of the highlights of the city. When the glasses are empty and the conversation ends we call it a night–and what a great night it was!

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DETROIT: Hidden Gems

24 Feb


Nestled away on Woodward near the Palmer Woods neighborhood is one of Detroit’s hidden gems, La Dolce Vita. Serving superb Italian cuisine, the building goes unnoticed by most passersby, but don’t be fooled, the restaurants excellent reputation keeps the place packed most of the time. We are having an early dinner on Friday evening, I made a reservation in advance. We turn in behind the building and are greeted by a valet, Kris hands him a $5 dollar bill, we head inside as the Jeep is whisked away. The warmth of the building is soothing, the outdoor temperature is hovering at 5 degrees. The host takes us to our table, large chandeliers light the patio-looking room, archways separate the dining area from the bar. Everything on the menu sounds delicious, we make our selections and nibble on fresh-baked bread. Windows overlook the garden area, the snow is piled high, in the summer there isn’t a prettier place in the city to have a meal than in their courtyard. Service is impeccable, our glasses are never empty and empty dishes are cleared quickly. Kris is having the Petto Di Pollo Alla Sorrentina; sauteed chicken breast, roasted eggplant, mozzarella and a veal-demi marinara sauce to die for. Truly outstanding, the chicken is so tender, no knife is needed. I ordered the Gnocchi Alla Bava, being a fan of both pasta and potatoes, I cannot resist. Without a doubt this is the best gnocchi I have ever had; tender pillows of heavenly deliciousness smothered in a six cheese cream sauce, I found myself grinning with every bite. We definitely have to come here more often!

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We have tickets to see the UDM Theatre Company perform Somebody/Nobody by Jane Martin at the Marygrove Theatre; this is the second hidden gem of the evening. In the early 1970′s the U of D Theatre Company and Marygrove consolidated their Fine and Performing Arts departments, they updated the existing theatre by extending the stage to accommodate larger productions. First, let’s talk about the building. Marygrove is an independent, Catholic, Liberal Arts College. The Liberal Arts Building, designed by Oscar D Bohlen, is a soaring Tudor Gothic structure that was built in 1927 of Bedford stone. The building contains classrooms, offices, studios, a library, bookstore, theatre and Sacred Heart Chapel. It is filled with traditional Gothic features such as pointed arches, ribbed vaults, high ceilings, carved decoration, corbels, capitals, tranceried windows…..ah, the beauty of it all!

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We have time to wander before the play begins; Tavernelle Rose marble runs from floor to ceiling in the main lobby, long arched corridors with gray Missouri marble floors lead us past classrooms. Brass lettering hangs on classroom doors identifying each subject, doorknobs and hardware are detailed, ornate and original as are the light fixtures. The chapel doors are open, we quietly amble in. Chandeliers line each side of the chapel, the ceiling of wood beams brings warmth to the neutral colored space. The altar, inset under another Gothic arch is elaborate, highly detailed, amazing. Candles flicker in glass containers giving the room a sense of peace. On the walk to the theatre we pass hand-carved Carrara marble statues tucked into niches in the wall, there are 8 throughout the building. Patterns repeat throughout the interior in stone, wood, plaster bronze and wrought iron; French fleur-de-lis, Oak leaves, acorns, harp, laurel wreath and the Cross, little has changed in the building over the last 87 years. It smells like school to me, books, paper…. posters are hung on walls, the heels of my shoes make clicking sounds as we walk.

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Inside the theatre we are shown to our seats, renovated in 2002 it radiates simple elegance. Classically styled with a proscenium stage and sprung floor it has everything budding thespians could want; dressing rooms, green room, stage manager room, rehearsal studio and box office. Wood panels are dark, the ceiling a soothing shade of blue, bare light bulbs glow in detailed metal fixtures, all very quaint. The lights are dimmed and the show begins, set in an L A apartment, we immediately meet the lead character Loli; a country girl looking for fame in the big city. Quickly, Sheena appears, a Hollywood starlet grown tired of the nonsense that comes with being a celebrity. Each longing for the other’s life, they form a unique friendship. Along the way we are introduced to an agent named Galaxy, a stalker and cousin Joe Don; the play has really funny moments and some hilarious one-liners. We love coming to this theatre, simple to get to, easy parking and beautiful, intimate surroundings.

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Detroit: Belle Isle Clubbing…..

17 Feb


It’s official, on February 10 historic Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd State Park. The DNR will now manage the island, the state will work with the Belle Isle Conservancy and the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee in decision-making and upcoming projects. I find it very exciting! The DNR has already begun removing felled and hazardous trees, a shelter has been re-roofed and several picnic tables refurbished. In the next 6 months we should see restoration and reopening of restrooms, clearing of debris on trails, expansion of picnic areas, new signage and lighting, this is only the beginning….YES!



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Today is Shiver On The River, all of the buildings on the island are open to the public, tours are being given at The Detroit Yacht Club. The DYC is one of the oldest and most prestigious private clubs in North America, located on an 11 acre private island in the Detroit River, the 96,000 sq ft Mediterranean-style building was designed by George Mason (Masonic Temple, Gem Theatre, Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island). The DYC was founded in 1868, this building is their fifth clubhouse, it was dedicated in 1923, the same year the concrete McArthur bridge opened, connecting the island to the city. C’mon let’s have a look!


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A long red carpet leads us to the front entrance, the building is lovely, custom-made revolving doors lead us to the first floor. We are greeted by our tour guide then head up the staircase with its gorgeous banister in the main lobby. In front of us windows overlook the Detroit River, floral carpet leads in all directions, Pewabic Tile medallions are placed high along the walls, a nautical theme is carried out throughout the building. First stop, the Trophy Room, the ornate fireplace takes center stage here, it was hand-carved in place, up close I spy a boat, anchor and rope among the carvings. Above it a painting maps out the private island’s place in the river. Trophy cases are filled with large silver cups, photos and memorabilia. Plaster walls are textured, common for the time period, wall sconces and chandelier are original. We are led to Peacock Alley, named after Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria where society ladies gathered for tea, this stretch of hallway oozes elegance. The Pewabic tile floor gleams, chandeliers hang by thin chains in a line, golden leaves and roses, they are delicate, feminine, and formerly inhabited Rose Terrace. Paintings line the wall, at one time this area was called the DYC Art Gallery. 




The indoor swimming pool is gorgeous, Olympic size, every square inch is covered in Pewabic Tile. Mary Chase Perry Stratton was a club member and agreed to provide all of the tile when the club was built; she retained control of all design and placement of tile within the building. Huge windows bring the outdoors in, the water sparkles in the light, colored tiles create an illusion of lanes across the floor of the pool. Walls are tiled half way up, a border of rectangular wave tile surrounds the room, individual hand painted tiles add personality; swans, fish and water scenes. The room is warm, chaise lounges linger pool-side, for a moment I forget it is February. 

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The Ballroom is the largest room in the clubhouse, 3-stories high with a spectacular wood beam ceiling, it is enchanting. I feel like I have wandered into a castle in a far-away land; staff members are busy setting up for what could only be a Fairy Tale wedding. The room is expansive; a gentleman sits at the baby grand piano, music quietly fills the air. The fireplace is enormous, it too was carved in place, the sailboat above a reminder of our proximity to the water. Circular chandeliers softly light the room and reflect off the polished wood floor, my mouth is agape as I take it all in, Kris is engrossed in picture-taking. Reluctantly, we move on to the Library, it is just one beautiful room after another, wood-paneled walls, built-in bookshelves and cozy seating areas complete with table lamps invite visitors to curl up with a good book. Passing through the bar area we are told it was originally a porch, a portrait of Gar Wood at age 70 hangs on the wall. The dining room is exquisite; detailed plaster work and terrazzo floors, the room was recently restored. A splendid fountain was discovered behind one of the walls during renovations, today it is out in the open for all to see. Bronze statues rest on tables in the lobby of the dining room, donated by Col. A Victory Seymor MD, he was a club member and surgeon.

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At one time the Board Room and Billiard room were located on the third floor, the space was converted to a meeting room in 1960, the highlight of the room is the doors that open up to the spectator balcony which overlooks the Ballroom. Here we get up close to the ornate, well-crafted, hand-painted beams we saw from the Ballroom floor, they are stunning. Boarding the elevator (added in 1960) we take it down to the first level where locker rooms, fitness center and Binnacle are located. We wander down a long hall, photos of past Commodores in custom frames cover the walls. Flags from other Yacht Clubs where members have visited wrap around the top of the bar, pictures of club history and historical boats hang on the Grill’s walls. FYI: the private island the DYC is built on was man-made…at that time Detroit was in the process of building skyscrapers downtown, the dirt was removed, then taken over to Belle Isle to create the island the clubhouse rests on today. Our tour guide was a former Commodore, he was filled with interesting stories and information that really made the history of the building come alive!




Time to grab some lunch; a fundraiser for the Belle Isle Conservancy called “Hot Soup” is being held at the Flynn Pavilion; Kris drank hot chocolate here when he was a lad, I have never been inside the building, we are curious to check it out. Built in 1949, this single story, stone facade building is often credited to Eero Saarinen, in fact, the actual architect is J Robert F Swanson. A one time partner of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, he left the firm and started Swanson Associates in 1947. His wife Pipsan Saarinen (you got it, daughter and sister of the previously mentioned Eliel and Eero) oversaw the interior designs. Built to provide shelter and amenities for Summer and Winter activities, the building is a wonderful example of Mid Century Modern Design.




Inside we are awestruck by the knotty pine plank ceiling and beams, the back wall is a grayish-colored stone that surrounds a wood fireplace surround, it’s like we’ve wandered into some cool Modern lodge somewhere up north! Horizontal bands of casement windows line the length of each wall, one side overlooks the Lake Takoma Lagoon, the other the park itself, we are stunned by what good condition everything is in. To the left big pots of soup, trays of Avalon Bread and slices of Dangerously Delicious Pies beckon to us, Stella Cafe is providing the hot chocolate. Each of us has a bowl of vegetarian chili, bread and a white chocolate Macadamia cookie, everything is delicious! What a treat the day has been, there is no end to the amazing things that can be found right here in Detroit.

DETROIT: Checkin’ Out the Fisher…

10 Feb

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Detroit has suddenly become tour-riffic; you can see the city on foot, bicycle, bus, boat or Segway. You can learn about history, architecture, where to eat or have a cocktail, you can even go behind the scenes… Today we are touring “Detroit’s largest art object” otherwise known as the Fisher Building. Built in 1928, designed by (all together now….) Albert Kahn, paid for by the Fisher brothers as a gift to the city, the building is an Art Deco masterpiece. First some stats: The building stands 28 stories tall on W Grand Blvd, it has two 11-story wings, 641 bronze elevator doors and 1,275 miles of electrical and telephone wire. It was built in 15 months by Michigan contractors and workers.

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Pure Detroit is hosting their free weekly tour, we meet our guide Ryan in the lobby, 3-stories tall with a barrel-vaulted hand-painted ceiling, it is breath-taking. Today, in a special exhibit, a group of giant paper mache heads are scattered about the main floor vying for our attention. On loan from The Parade Company, they were originally created by artists in Viareggio Italy, some date back to the 1940′s. Two clown heads greet us first, painted cartoon style, the colors are bright and glossy. Continuing on we meet a pair of reindeer, an alligator and a blue hippo, a purple bug and a bumble bee are super cute.  Further on we come face to face with the Pirates of the Big Head collection, finely detailed, they sport tattoos, gold earrings and a treasure chest. I can see the old Italian newsprint in areas where the paint has chipped away. Many are in need of restoration, the exhibit hopes to encourage individuals to ‘adopt’ a big head, making donations to support the cost of restoration.

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The tour moves onward down the long corridor, we learn the building is constructed of Minnesota granite and Maryland marble. The original theater entrance lobby with it’s fluted marble pillars is stunning; in total, 40 varieties of marble from all of the world line the interior of the building. Near the Grand Blvd entrance, three original mosaics created by Geza Morati are as beautiful as the day they were completed, a brass piece in the floor is roped off, saving it from the wear of foot traffic. On the third floor we marvel at the frescos covering the ceiling; flora, fauna, hemlock, muses and red-haired cherubs were designed by Geza Maroti and painted by Antonio and Tomas de Lorenzo, at this level we can actually touch the arches, chandeliers seem only an arms length away. Ryan tells us the back in the day the ceiling was washed with buttermilk. He goes on to explain the symbolism of the eagles, the inclusion of commerce, transportation, art, agriculture and how the building reflected the new purely American style.

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A single elevator leads to the 26th floor, we must divide into groups as the elevator cannot take everyone at once. The doors open, we find ourselves in the Reception Room; back in the day floors 25-27 had a dining room, kitchen, living room and private elevator as this is where the Fisher brothers had their offices. At one time Persian rugs and massive hand-carved desks rested on the floor, very masculine. Dark walnut paneling, scrolled plaster ceiling, a fireplace and bronze chandeliers remain, I can’t say the same for the rest of the floor. Drop ceilings cap off empty rooms, but then there’s 360 degree view of the Detroit skyline. As we move from window to window taking in the sights Ryan tells us the Fisher building was originally topped with gold-leaf faced tile. During WWII it was feared the glimmering tower would become a target for bombings, it was covered with an asphalt material; after the war, the tower was covered with green terracotta tile as you see today. The Fisher family sold the building in 1962, in 2001 the Farbman Group of Southfield purchased the structure, an interesting bit of info: David Farbman, President and CEO of the Farbman Group has a family connection to the Fisher, Albert Kahn was his Great-Grand Uncle!

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The tour ends, back on the main floor we stop in at Stella Cafe for a cup of coffee. Recently remodeled using reclaimed wood the shop is bright and pleasant. A series of 3 yellow lamps dangle above the counter, the same marble floor graces the space. Stella roasts their own coffee beans, in addition they offer a selection of teas, juices, sweets, yogurt, soup and sandwiches. We drink our coffee surrounded by the beauty of the building. Vera Jane is just around the corner, offering a unique selection of handbags, lingerie, clothing and accessories, I like to stop in anytime we are in the building. Workshop is the latest retail addition, the shop sells handmade furniture created from Detroit reclaimed lumber. Vacant houses are disassembled, the wood is removed, sanded and refinished, James Willer of Reclaim Detroit and Kevin Borsay of Pure Detroit, then create furniture from the pieces. On display are dining tables, benches, shelving and coffee tables; each piece comes with the address of the house the wood came from, cool. I also love the wallpaper which comes from The Detroit Wallpaper Co.

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We stop in at Pure Detroit to say thanks for the tour, referred to as “The Store of All Things Detroit”,  husband and wife team Kevin and Shawn were the first to create a totally Detroit-centric shop. Through the years they have grown from a single store to three, each in a landmark building, and have added Stella and Rowland Cafe to the family.Their passion for the city is obvious in everything they do. We wander among all of the clothing, books, art, Pewabic Pottery and snacks, near the counter is an awesome model of the Fisher built from Legos, groovy! Kris purchases a hat and we are off…..

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The tour and shopping have left us starving, we park in the lot at Third Street Bar to grab some lunch. The room is dimly lit, tables are made from split logs, there’s a fireplace to the left, above it logs have been sliced into thin pieces and attached to the wall creating interesting patterns. It is late afternoon, the skee ball, dart board and shuffleboard table are still. We are here for some Dangerously Delicious Pie. I walk to the back corner where I find a wall- mounted menu of savory and sweet pies, on a table, a doorbell-like button  says “press for service”, so I do. I place the order, pay the man and join Kris back at the table. Before long, two pie tins piled high with leafy green salad and a piece of pie arrive. The BBQ pork is unbelievably delicious, the meat just falls apart, it is juicy and flavorful, the crust is to die for. The ham and cheese quiche is divine, it has the same wonderful crust; you get a nice slice of pie and a generous portion of salad for just 6 bucks. As much as we would like to try a piece of one of the dessert pies, we just can’t do it. The bar is open daily, pies are served for lunch, dinner and late night, we’ll be back………

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