I find myself running out of adjectives to describe the beautiful and architecturally significant neighborhoods in Detroit, there are just too many… You have probably heard of Indian Village, Palmer Woods and Boston Edison, one you may not be so familiar with is the University District. Deriving its name from its close proximity to UDM, the district is located west of Woodward between 6 and 7 Mile Rd; this community of roughly 1,400 homes was built mostly between the 1920′s and 30′s, often referred to as the “Golden Age of Housing”. Most residences range in size from 2,000 to 4,000 square feet and feature amazing workmanship from hand-pegged hardwood floors to highly detailed plaster work. Often 3-stories tall they also have finished basements and several fireplaces; a bit more unusual is the number of bathrooms; it is not uncommon for these homes to have 3 full bathrooms along with a half bath. Neighborhood streets are tree-lined, exteriors of houses are stone and brick, windows are made of leaded and stained glass, lush gardens create eye-catching landscapes. Architectural styles include French Provincial and American Colonial but the English Tudor is king. Every other year the district holds a spectacular home and garden tour that we’d like to share with you today.
We begin by picking up our tour booklets on Oak Dr just north of Mc Nichols; volunteers with smiling faces hand out booklets and answer questions of eager tourists; today we will be visiting 6 homes and Gesu Church. As Kris drives into the neighborhood to park in a central location, I flip through the pages of the book getting a sneak peek of the homes. We find a spot on Wildmere that suits us and head out on foot. English Tudors are the featured home on this years tour, there is no shortage of them; the neighborhood is like a jewel box, each home a jewel. We arrive at one of the homes, built in 1928 it is 3,000 sq feet; wrought iron railings, stained glass windows and a vaulted ceiling in the dining room make the place exquisite. This is not our first tour of this district and yet we are still surprised by the beauty and charm encased in the walls, the remarkable way in which the area has survived decades of economic ups and downs nearly unscathed. With our map in hand we stroll up and down Muirland, Birchcrest, Fairfield, Pickford and Parkside. We see turrets, slate floors, doors carved of Gum wood, fireplaces galore, barrel ceilings, crystal chandeliers and Pewabic tile. There are French doors, original wall sconces, spiral staircases, walnut pocket doors and intercoms to page the servants. Each address has its own distinct character with plenty to oooohhhh and aaaahhhh over.
Attending as many home tours as we do, we have encountered a type of floor tile on occasion that we knew was not Pewabic, but quite lovely just the same. Today we finally learned what it is: Flint Faience. Made by the Champion Spark Plug Company the tile business came about as a fluke. Kilns were used to fire the porcelain caps used on spark plugs, the repeated heating and cooling cycles were damaging to the kilns, to keep the kilns hot they began firing colorful tiles when not producing spark plugs, thus the Flint Faience and Tile Company was created in 1921. The tiles popularity grew far and wide through the years and more designs were added. Due to the high demand of automobiles, GM unfortunately ceased production of the tile in 1933 so the kilns could be used to produce spark plugs full time. Another contribution by the automobile industry to the Detroit area and beyond! We continue to walk through the area; Kris takes picture after picture, I wonder how we will ever choose which ones to post. The original owners of these houses were businessmen, doctors and lawyers; residents included Stanley Winkleman (remember Winklemans?), Mayor Jerome Cavanagh, the Cobo family and even Gilda Radner. These dwellings were built by the finest craftsman using only the best materials, qualities usually found in much larger homes.
After we had seen each home we drove back over to Gesu Church on Oak; built in 1934 you may find the configuration a bit unusual, that’s because it was originally built by the University of Detroit to be used as an auditorium. We stepped inside to find a largely open space; the altar takes up one wall, pews are angled to face the front of the church. The ceiling is striking, done in the Moorish style its designs are elegant and colorful. Light fixtures are suspended from long chains, glass pieces are oblong in shape. Light filters in through richly colored stained glass windows and a centrally located skylight; it is sunny today so we can see every detail. Most of the decorative features are found on the walls and ceiling; elegant sconces are made of wrought iron that twists and turns around red glass, the walls surrounding the altar are painted in lavish designs inspired by Moorish Romanesque churches architect George Diehl had seen in Spain. Entry doors are made of wood and feature a peg design. Deeply carved figures and objects representing Jesuits are focal points in the exterior columns, be sure and have a look. This year the Gesu church is celebrating its 90th anniversary, they have many activities planned for this occasion.
It was well past lunchtime; we were looking for a hearty meal and outdoor dining, Polish Village Cafe immediately came to mind. We made the short drive to Hamtramck. When we arrived we were happy to see tables available on the patio. Kris chose a table, I ran downstairs to let them know we were there. When I was offered menus I declined and asked if I could just order, as we already knew what we wanted; that done I joined my husband outside and relaxed while waiting for our meal to arrive. The restaurant opened their patio last year; they did a marvelous job with the space. Black wrought iron tables and chairs are surrounded by pretty gardens and assorted flower pots. The day had turned hazy so there was no need to put the umbrella up; flats of Pansies sat nearby waiting to be planted, their perfume recognizable. Large Hibiscus are still showing off their blooms, they have weathered the dry, hot summer well. First to arrive is the dill pickle soup and the bread basket, this is my favorite soup. That finished off quickly, our entrees arrived shortly after. The Hungarian pancake is a huge potato pancake topped off with a meaty Hungarian style stew, chunks of pork fall apart with the touch of a fork, vegetables join the meat in a rich red sauce that has a bit of a kick. The mixed plate of perogi is always delicious; today it included potato, cheese and kraut, yum! Did I mention the sour cream? It doesn’t get much better than this!