Detroit Deco: Kresge and Cliff Bells

29 Mar

 

Since we’re not out and about at the moment Kris and I thought we’d share some of our older posts; a reminder of the beauty and history that surrounds us. Here’s one from February 2012.  

 

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We attended the Preservation Detroit 2012 Membership Event at the former Kresge World Headquarters on Second and Cass Park. We never pass up an opportunity to get a look at another one of Detroit’s beautiful historic buildings.  First a little history: Sebastian S Kresge (SS Kresge) started out with two 5 & 10 Cent stores, in 1912 he incorporated the SS Kresge Corporation with 85 stores. By 1928 the company had outgrown its 18 story world headquarters at Adams and Park (now known as the Kales Building), Sebastian hired Albert Kahn to design a larger headquarters. Opened in 1929, the result is a stunning limestone building; created in the shape of an E, the wings point away from the park, the 250,000 sq ft structure covers a city block. The central portion of the building is 5 1/2 stories tall, while the wings are 4 stories; it’s topped off with a copper-clad mansard roof and terracotta cresting, an excellent example of Art Deco design.

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The first Kmart was built in 1962, SS Kresge died in 1966, then in 1972 the offices were moved to their new headquarters in Troy MI. The old building was donated to a vocational school by the name of the Detroit Institute of Technology. Now known as the Metropolitan Center for High Technology and owned by Wayne State University, the space is home to several small businesses and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. Ok, fast forward to the tour.

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We parked in the fenced in lot behind the building and entered through the back; the interior is granite, the floors polished to a high shine. We found our way to the lobby crowded with people milling about the silent auction and food tables, music could be heard faintly in the background, the light from the large chandelier played softly off the granite and multitude of brass accents. The lobby is lovely; inlaid walnut paneling and architectural sculptures all done by Corrado Parducci are a feast for the eyes.The ceiling is divided into a series of squares, raised medallions are painted copper and gold, large windows overlook the park. Building tours were announced; the mass of attendees moved from the lobby to the hall waiting their turn to take the elevator up to the second floor. In the hallway intricate brass rails and banisters line the stairways, gorgeous Art Deco light fixtures decorate the ceilings, the elevator doors are amazing!

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 The executive offices are located on the second floor, Mr Kresge’s on one side, the VP’s on the other, we had the opportunity to see both. The offices are finished in stunning walnut paneling, in place of sharp corners you will find curves, the same goes for the hardwood floors. The ceilings are wet plaster, a raised design goes around the perimeter giving the room a formal feel, the original light fixtures still remain in Mr Kresge’s office. Next up to the fourth floor, this area was previously used as a laboratory complex, though it is unused at the present time there is hope a new tenant will lease the space. It was interesting to see the area, the best part was the wide array of Pewabic Tile; bright colors in pretty designs, it still remains. 

 

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It was still early, so we thought we’d end the evening with a nightcap at Cliff Bells, if you’ve never been put it on the top of your list of places to go. Located on Park Ave, the exterior is easily recognizable by the lovely wood and half-circle awning entrance. Once inside it’s like walking onto the set of an old movie, some swank Art Deco club straight out of the 30’s, I almost expect to see Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby or Benny Goodman appear on stage. This place is incredible; triple cove ceilings, mahogany everywhere including the bar, the cool deco stage and large light fixtures hanging from chains providing just enough light to create the perfect ambiance. One of the unique features I really love are the bar side tables, and ladies there is even a hook to hang your purse! A mural takes up the far wall, it fits the mood of the place perfectly, vintage photos and menus are enclosed in glass and hung on the wall to be enjoyed by patrons. 

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Cliff Bell’s was opened by John Clifford Bell in 1935, the building was designed by Albert Kahn and built by the Campau family. The club itself was designed by famed architect Charles Agree, what a wonderful  job he did. Through the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s Cliff Bell’s and the Town Pump Tavern anchored the ends of a lively district of pubs, clubs and burlesques up and down Park Ave, actually not too different from today (minus the burlesques), John ran the club until his retirement in 1958. Through the 70’s and 80’s it went through name changes including The Winery, La Cave, and AJ’s On The Park, it closed permanently in 1985. In 2005 it was purchased by the current owners and a six-month restoration began. It re-opened as Cliff Bell’s and the rest as they say is history. 

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Recently discovered in a Detroit warehouse, the club is now home to a vintage Steinway Grand Piano that was purchased in 1960 by the City Of Detroit for Cobo Hall. After being stored for 25 years and 6 months of restoration it now sits on stage. In addition to great Jazz  they also serve French-inspired cuisine for lunch, dinner and brunch, they offer great Happy Hour specials. If you are looking for an Ultra-Cool night on the town give Cliff Bell’s a try !

DETROIT: Scraptastic !

25 Feb

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Here we are hanging out downtown, coffee at Madcap, lunch at Rocco’s. Driving down Woodward I gaze out the window at MOCAD and then I see it, Robolights Detroit. A quick right turn down Garfield, park in the lot then inside to get a wristband. You can always count on MOCAD to have thought-provoking, eye-catching exhibits; while we’re inside we check out the latest shows. Crossing Night features work by contemporary artists from the Southern Africa region. Organized by A4 Arts Foundation, Crossing Night explores how local politics, urban landscape and place shape personal identities through photography, video and sculpture. The photographs are quite lovely, my favorite is the one of the kids laying in the sand, I can almost feel the warmth transcending the photograph. Richard Prince’s New Portraits is a study of appropriation, it asks the viewer to consider where do our expectations and perceptions around privacy and consent lead us when using social media? What are you consenting to when posting? Reproduced and enlarged versions of Instagram posts on canvas cover gallery walls, people strike their pose, write a message; most times I feel like they are speaking a secret language. Standing there staring at their images I find myself experiencing a range of emotions; some make me smile, others make me uncomfortable. 

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With our paper wristbands installed we head out back to Robolights Detroit. Kenny Irwin Jr is the creator of this site-specific installation on the lawn of Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead. Irwin is the California artist behind the original “Robolights” project built over more than 3 decades on the property of his Palm Springs childhood home. Let’s see what he has in store for us. The phrase ‘massive found-object installation’ really didn’t prepare me for what I was going to see! Think carnival, junkyard, fun house, science-fiction movie, Christmas and Halloween all rolled into one. Tunnels, pathways, structures, thousands of Christmas lights. Inflatable Santa, robots, Pikachu, toilet seats, wreaths, Middle Eastern motifs and a snarling purple dragon; that’s just to start…

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Winding through the grounds we stare up at towers of printers and computer keyboards spray-painted solid yellow, pink, blue, purple or chartreuse; perhaps they are alien Christmas trees? Gold, plastic-faced rabbits form a ring around the trees. The gates are open on the wooden tunnel, the front is a face, we enter through its toothy mouth. Hundreds of colored lights drape the walls, plastic toys are mounted to the ceiling, I think to myself, this would be really cool in the dark. Perimeter walls are created from wood, turntables, boom boxes, stacked neatly and sprayed bright pink. Santa Claus rides an inflatable tank, an old snowmobile atop a wood platform looks out at the toilet merry-go-round, a pirate ship is manned by a crew of skeletons wearing Santa hats, snails on the roof top add a little whimsy; it’s a wacky, dizzying, dazzling display.

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Several structures lure us inside. A row of robots on the porch of the candy cane house look harmless, inside narrow hallways lead us past artwork into a room of toasters and toaster ovens, white lights and garland adorn the items. A gold robot with vacuum cleaner legs stands on guard, sword raised, there’s that purple dragon again… Behind wooden fencing a skeletal dinosaur serves dinner to her newly-hatched youngsters; Mickey Mouse anyone? Another indoor space has a floor of cords, I like the way the sun illuminates the glass-bottle window. We enter another structure through a refrigerator, this one could be tough if you’re tall. Past the train with yet another Santa is the clown house, I’m not a fan of clowns but step inside anyway; there he is, the creepy clown who gives all clowns a bad name. More clowns ride the mini ferris wheel, a couple of hairy beasts join in the fun. So much to look at.

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The Mobile Homestead is a full-scale replica of the home in which Mike Kelley grew up: a single story ranch-style house in the suburb of Westland. A companion exhibit of Sci-fi-themed pen and ink drawings by Irwin hang on plain white walls. These are amazing; the flying saucer towing the water skier makes me laugh. There are some cool automotive drawings along with outer-space scenes, the detail is incredible. We exit through the front door, taking one last look as we walk back to the car.

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Karl’s Coffee Shop is located on the second floor of the Siren Hotel. This old-fashioned diner takes us back to the days of paper place mats with crossword puzzles and local advertisements, chrome trimmed tables and chairs, salmon and turquoise colored upholstery, neon lighting. The website states: Karl’s takes inspiration from Chef Kate’s great, great grandparents and the bakery they once owned on the east side of Detroit; it certainly feels as though we have stepped into the past. The menu features diner-style food taken up a notch, which is reflected in the price. We’re just here for a drink; Spanish coffee for me, whiskey on the rocks for Kris. Slowly consuming our cocktails we complete the crossword puzzle with the provided pencil, look at black and white framed family photos, check out the view from the large windows. The ambiance is quaint, the vibe chill and the Spanish coffee is excellent!

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2019 Romeo Barn Tour

20 Jan

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Today I’m taking you back to a sunny day in September; the sky is blue, the grass is green and the breeze is warm. The Romeo Historical Society is hosting its annual Barn Tour;  for a fee of $15 you get to drive through beautiful countryside gazing at cows, horses and farm fields in addition to access to 6 local barns. What are we waiting for? Let’s go.

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 Kenrick Farms on Boardman Road is our first stop. The 350 acre farm began in the 1890’s, today it produces hay to be sold to other farms. The first barn is selling hand-made goods and refreshments, a cold lemonade sounds perfect! Our guide shows us around the property, he explains what they do here and how it’s done, farm equipment is at rest but they hope to do demonstrations if the weather cooperates. The far barn is stacked with both round and square bales of hay, the front barn has hand-hewn posts and trip-sawn boards. A hand-written sign details the difference between 3 stacks of hay; First Cutting: highest yielding, used for all livestock, second and third cutting: yields only a third of first cutting but has higher nutritional content, wheat straw: basically what’s left at the end of the season, used for bedding, archery targets and fall decorations. We thank our guide as we walk toward the Jeep. Pausing for a moment we take in the details of the Victorian home on the property, done up in grey with burgundy and black decoration she’s quite lovely.

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The Bishop Family Farm on Fisher Rd is picturesque; large white farmhouse, rolling grounds, swans gliding in a large pond, an artist paints under a shade tree, serene. You might think this charming, weathered barn has always sat on this spot, it has not. It was originally located in Oakland Twp, Oakland County. Mr. Bishop spotted the barn, at the time most of the siding had been removed, the owner agreed to part with it. The Bishop family dismantled the 30’x40′ barn, numbering all the timbers, moved it to their property and went about reassembling on a new floor. Damaged timbers were replaced with Pine cut from their property. The windows in the gables were said to have come from the Romeo train station. I think it looks perfectly at home. A new barn is in the process of being built, made of pine with a metal roof, it’s nestled into a small orchard; the apples are lookin’ good. The property is a Michigan Centennial Farm, it has been owned by the same family over 100 years.

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This next barn is full of beauty, intrigue and sheep… You can look at all of the pretty pictures Kris took while I tell you the story. Let’s start at the beginning. The main house was built by the Sibley lumber family of Detroit. In 1932 it was purchased along with 128 acres by Mr and Mrs Glen Averill of Detroit as a summer house. The couple resided in the Whittier Hotel in Detroit, he was a retired policeman, she an accountant for an architectural firm. Between 1932-1941 the couple built all of the out buildings, extensively remodeled the house, added porches, landscaping, walkways, stonework. They acquired a total of 628 acres on 5 surrounding farms, built 7 homes, purchased a Canadian retreat and a Ft Lauderdale vacation home. You might be asking yourself how does an accountant and a retired police officer afford such extravagances? Alleged embezzlement, running whiskey from Canada and black market beef. Then they got caught. They owed $11 million in unpaid taxes for 1962 alone. The government seized the property, threw Mrs Averill in jail. When she got of prison she was broke, her husband had fled to Canada, she died shortly thereafter. In 1963 George Kovacs came along, he had patented screw injection molding of plastics and had become extremely wealthy. He decided he wanted to be a farmer; he purchased all 628 acres, the homes, 400 cows, all of the farm and dairy equipment, furniture and crops for $225,000.  Mr Kovac had no idea what he’d gotten himself into, it was too much for him to keep up. The dairy herd and milk routes hung on for a few years. In 1991 his car got stuck in the snow by the 6-car garage. He didn’t want to spend money on a tow truck. He had a heart attack in his car and sadly, died with over $100,000 in his pocket.

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The current owners purchased the property from the Kovac estate in 1992. They named it Mt Bruce Station after Bruce Mountain in New Zealand where Yvonne lived–it’s a coincidence the property is also in Bruce Twp. Peter and Yvonne began restoring the badly neglected buildings, all original from 1937. They started sheep farming and added a peach orchard. We wander around the large barn, it was named Michigan Barn Preservation Networks 2019 Barn of the Year. A bake sale is going on, poster boards detail the history of the barns. Walking from one building to the next each has been beautifully restored. A small pavilion and pergola have been added and match the main house, hydrangea are in full bloom, pots of colorful annuals decorate the property, porches are lush with blooms, the main house is a beauty. At the time of our tour the house and property were for sale.

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After a short drive we’re in Leonard. Originally the Caleb and Mary Gilbert property founded in 1836, a portion of the 80-acre parcel is the highest point of Lapeer County. A grey farmhouse is surrounded my mature trees, the sun directly overhead has spurred the heat bugs into song. The owner Mike is talking to a group of visitors, we join up and listen. At one time he considered pulling down the old barn until a visitor pointed out that this was actually a historic barn. Once owned by a German family, they lost it during the Depression. The original barn rests on it’s old foundation, the hay track and hand-hewn posts can still be seen. Mike, a painter, explains that barns were traditionally red because ocher, linseed oil and rust were mixed to use as paint to make them red. Hhmm. Very interesting.

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Following the map we find ourselves on Romeo Rd in Addison Twp, a huge white barn can be seen from the driveway. With an added third floor the barn has over 10,000 square feet, did I mention it has a 13 x 22 elevator? They call this a bank barn, two stone ramps allow tractor access to the second floor. We enter on the side, the interior is vast, look straight up, the wood ceiling is amazing. Interesting things are mounted to the walls, tucked into corners, displayed on tables; tool collections, antique furniture, vintage toys, mini bikes and a snowmobile each have their place. We make our way through each floor, we get a wonderful view from the upper windows. The lower level is home to individual stalls, there’s even a whole woodworking shop inside. Our program tells us the barn was built in 1920 at a cost of $12,000, when finished it hosted a barn dance, “With floors of matched timber and the room brilliantly lighted with the Delco system of electric lights, Chinese lanterns and American flags, it was a sight to behold.” The exterior of the barn matched the pretty home on the property; white with blue trim and stone accents.

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Our last stop on the tour is Cold Frame Farm on Campground Rd. The buildings on the farm have a much more modern look to them. When we arrive Matt is leading a tour of the property, we follow along out to the recently finished family home. Dark in color, with handsome timbers the home is built with the latest energy efficient technology. Walking towards the garden beds we pass a row of green and white stacks of what look like drawers but are bee hives. Multiple garden bed fill the land growing flowers, greens and assorted vegetables; this is a USDA Organic Certified farm. Next to the produce barn are three 96 x 30 ft high tunnels, or hoop houses, inside we find tomato vines that are taller than me! The hoop houses collect energy from the sun year round without the aid of heaters or fans, vegetables are produced year-round without the use of chemicals or electricity. Inside the barn I ooh and aah, it’s super charming with lights strung from the ceiling, colorful vegetables like carrots, broccoli, eggplant and tomatoes are all for sale, bunches of garlic and flowers are hanging to be dried. Bunches of flowers drink up water in buckets placed outside for purchase, glasses of fresh lemonade with basil are selling quickly. I choose some vegetables, grab us some lemonade, hot and tired after our adventure I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

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Detroit: Still Weird…

5 Dec

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Growing up in the 1970’s I was surrounded by orange, purple, magenta and lime green. Clothing was covered in paisley or flower patterns, cereal came with a prize inside, I had the entire collection of Freakies. In other words it was a brightly colored, funky world to navigate. Today the trend leads much more towards white, grey and beige; it’s all a little plain for me. That’s probably why I love the “Weird Homes Tour” so much; unconventional and fun you never know what you’re going to find inside. Let’s get started.

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We start at a Mid-Century apartment complex in Royal Oak, The Boom Boom Museum as it’s called is a large second floor apartment decorated top to bottom, side to side, not a bare spot in the place. Kris and I step inside, awesome comes at us from every direction; we seem to naturally gravitate towards the tiki-ish bamboo bar. It’s a great room filled with south sea, palm-like, nautical things with a Mid-Century flare; I’d call it great. We follow the flow of people into a more serene sitting area with more great furnishings and original art. The family room is anchored by one orange wall, a record collection and lots of eye-catching accessories, it’s not possible to take it all in. The bedroom is a mix of mod and modern-day, the painting depicting Christine Beatty brings a laugh to everyone in the room. Down a short hall a smaller room holds another bar next to a door wall that leads to a terrace–very nice. The crowd in the kitchen has evaporated giving us a chance to look around; the chandelier is super-cute, the mushroom canisters remind me of my childhood. On the way back to the car we pause to check out the pool, it looks very inviting. It’s nice to see a place where the owners know what they have and appreciate it for what it is rather than gut the complex and modernize it.

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Still in Royal Oak our next stop is a private home in a regular neighborhood. The unassuming beige bungalow shows no hint of what resides behind the front door. From the moment we step inside it’s apparent the people who live here love art, color and design. Wall colors span the rainbow from bright green, turquoise, pink to sherbet and lemon. My favorite room is the kitchen, look at the wallpaper, all of those flowers in green, blue and purple. I’m a sucker for a Tulip table and chairs; the light fixture and centerpiece rock. Each room takes on the personality of the family who lives here; original art, baby photos, personal collections. Old, new, high end, garage sale finds, it all works together.

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Our next destination is 12087 Klinger in Hamtramck, otherwise known as Hamtramck Disneyland. We’ve taken you here before, it’s been a while so lets take another look. This is the folk art installation created by artist Dmytro Szylak atop the two garages on the property he owned. Szylak moved here from Ukraine in the 1950’s, after his retirement from GM in the 1980’s his creativity took shape into this whimsical, colorful collection of handmade and found objects, posters, photographs, kinetic structures that once lit up and played music, much to the delight of everyone who set eyes on it. A year after Szylak’s death Hatch Art took ownership of the properties and continues the legacy of Hamtramck Disneyland. Today many of the pieces have been restored, repainted and rehung. Clowns, soldiers, horses, a miniature soccer game, windmill and the old familiar airplane hang out in the backyard, wind-driven pieces look anxious to get back to work; the colors are more vibrant, it all looks a little fresher since the last time we were here. The garage is littered with paint cans, saws and hand-painted signs. Standing in the alley looking at the installation as a whole I’m reminded of the “Hidden Pictures” I used to love in the Highlight’s Magazine I used to get as a kid; how many cats do you see? Can you find the dragon, Mickey Mouse or the windmill?

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The next weird home is on Farnsworth in Detroit, completely tucked away on a quiet, tree-lined block you’d never guess what’s inside. Through the front door a normal sitting room is off to the right, artwork brightens up an ordinary wall, entering the kitchen is like walking into technicolor; have you ever seen a refrigerator painted orange, yellow and blue? The hardwood floor is laid out at an angle. My focus starts to narrow in on singular objects, the antique stove, leaded glass cabinet doors, old coffee tins, stained glass fixture, vintage pieces everywhere. We meander from room to room, the first bathroom has a spectacular herringbone pattern floor, the warm shades of the ceramic tile blend beautifully with the surrounding tones. The shower in the second bath has an angular ceiling and lovely glass baubles. In the main part of the home a large window overlooks other spaces, a couple of visitors are below checking out the pinball machine; again antiques are used to accent every available space. Then there’s the workshop… I see cool stuff everywhere. A juke box, a pulley system, an entire woodshop, industrial items and a bunch of eclectic things all surrounded by knotty pine walls. 

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If you’ve ever driven down Wilkins St near Eastern Market you may have wondered to yourself, “what are all of those metal sculptures doing there?” The answer is, this is the home of Detroit Gallery of Metals, a cultural institution established to celebrate, preserve and explore the role of metal arts in Detroit and around the world. Wandering around the fenced-in-yard we sip on wine and snack on cheese and crackers provided by our host. The pieces exhibited are fascinating to look at, I especially like the red windmill-like pieces. Our host announces the beginning of the tour, a dozen or so of us gather round and listen as he shares some Detroit history, then explains the fundamentals of his vision for the institution. We are led inside passing antique metal gates, projects, and finished pieces; this is one of the most unique places I’ve ever seen. Check out the chair, the spindles are human figures, metal statues silently greet us, stained glass windows are lit by the sun piercing the outside windows. Upstairs we are immersed in a world of metal; over 500 metal artifacts and works of art ranging from Berlin, Germany to Benin, Nigeria surround us. Ornate shelves hold a myriad of metal parts, frames, railings, statues, gates, blueprints, photographs surround us. A museum-like display sits perfectly at home in this metal wonderland, questions are asked and answered, photos taken. Until now I had no idea what this place was all about, so glad to have the opportunity to see and learn.

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The last home on our list is the Detroit Artist Test Lab on Mack. On the outside it appears to be a standard place of business, inside the space has been turned into a reception area for today’s tour. The lower floor is divided into work spaces for an artist, screen printing, a pod cast area and a bartender school. Upstairs is the owners private residence. The second floor is a combination rental photography studio and living space. Is that Mayor Mc Cheese over there? Quirky furniture shares it’s attention with hanging objects, a tiki bar, personal collections, family photos, large light fixtures and vintage pieces. The location of the sitting area is perfect, all that natural light and a view too!

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Our sole focus now is food; I hope there’s not a line when we get to Chili Mustard Onions… We park around the corner from the quaint red-brick building, I open the door and spot empty tables–whew! We are seated immediately, handed menus and asked for our drink order. We quickly decide what to have, place our order and can now relax in the nicely decorated dining room. CMO as it’s often called is a completely vegan/vegetarian restaurant, that’s right, gotta have that coney dog, craving a Big Mac but don’t eat meat? This is the place for you. The restaurant has been such a hit since opening just over a year ago that it’s hard to get a table, even at off-times. I look around at people enjoying their Beetball sub, Big Mock, Chicken Parm sandwich and gyro, fries seem to accompany every dish. Our coney dogs arrive, you wouldn’t know they’re meatless to look at them. We dig right in, alternating between bites of the coney and the waffle fries smothered with vegan cheese, bacon bits, sour cream and green onion, there’s a lot of food here! We are not vegan but enjoy all types of food, everything here was very good with generous portions and friendly service.

DETROIT: Downtown Living

9 Nov

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Location, location, location… Today we’re exploring the latest and greatest residential developments in Detroit on the Hour Detroit & Detroit Home’s Downtown Living Tour. The introduction in my tour booklet goes like this: “With more than 3,000 newly constructed and historically renovated units currently online and thousands more in development, downtown Detroit offers lifestyle options for everyone.” The residential boom in the city is mind-boggling; buildings shuttered for decades have become vibrant living spaces, new structures have sprung up from vacant lots, all in a short time span. Curiosity has lured us to today’s tour, let’s have a look.

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Advance Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. is the check-in spot; established in 1920 they are the oldest plumbing distributor in the city. The 5,000 sq. ft. showroom is stuffed with lighting and plumbing fixtures; it’s dazzling. The building itself was constructed in 1918, the facade has been restored, windows re-installed, inside some of the original terazzo floors remain. Merchandise displays are visually stunning; from sinks, faucets and tubs to lighting, vanity’s and mirrors, they have every style and color you can imagine. You can see and experience products through functional showers, tubs, toilets. faucets, steam units and lighting, how cool is that? Swag bag in hand, I grab Kris and I each a water and a cookie as we head out the door.

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The Assembly on W Fort St.  is an attractive, four-story, Neo Classical industrial building  we have admired for years. Made of reinforced concrete and dark reddish-brown brick, the 160,000 sq. ft. warehouse building was constructed in 1913 for the Edson, Moore Dry Goods company after they outgrew their former space. I think it’s interesting to note the development company hired by Edson Moore to construct the building was owned by John and Horace Dodge who in turn hired Smith, Hinchman and Grylls to design it and contracted Bryant and Detwiler Company to construct it. Edson and Moore continued to grow and evolve, they moved out in 1958. The building was sold twice more then Bedrock Real Estate purchased it in 2016 and turned it into what we see here today; a beautiful, active, useful building. We wander through attractive communal spaces offering cozy seating areas, ride the elevator and wander down long hallways making our way to several loft apartments; it’s a nice blend of historic architecture with modern comfort and style. Apartments have high ceilings, warehouse-style windows, quartz kitchen counter tops and hardwood floors. The best part is the outdoor terrace offered in some units. If you’re not lucky (or wealthy) enough to have your own private terrace, don’t worry, the top floor Residents Lounge has one large enough to share. Several seating areas, flower boxes, gas grills, fire pits, a spectacular view of the city and the West Riverfront can all be yours for a monthly rent check.

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I’m extremely excited to see the next venue. Over in Capitol Park the Art Deco Stott building soars 38-stories high into the Detroit skyline. The iconic skyscraper opened in June of 1929. The first 3 stories are faced with marble, granite and limestone, from there the slender structure is constructed of a warm-toned reddish-orange brick accented with terracotta; I love the way it tiers to the summit; architectural sculpture was done by Corrado Parducci. The Stott Realty Company built it in honor of its founder David E Stott. Due to the depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid 1950’s. You may remember the building as housing the Sky Bar back around 2011-12. It was then sold at auction in 2013 for 9 million. Unfortunately the owners didn’t bother heating it through winter; pipes burst, water flooded the building destroying everything in its path. Luckily Bedrock purchased it in 2015, pumped out 1.8 million gallons of water and completely restored the Stott to its former glory; it’s now a mixed-use tower. The lobby is stunning; ornate tiles, woodwork and lighting were saved and restored, plaster walls were repaired or replaced. Look at that gorgeous ceiling, the gloss of the marble, the brass surrounding the reception window, the letter box…

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We are directed to the elevators, back when the building was new these were some of the speediest elevators in the United States! Apartments range from 418 sq. ft. studios to 3-bedroom, penthouse-level suites with about 2,600 sq. ft. Guess which one they’re showing today. You’re right, we’re in a penthouse. Except for built-ins and appliances the space is empty, I mean why bother with furniture when you have a panoramic view of the city? Let’s all gaze out the window…

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This time we’re at the corner of Bagley and Clifford in what was formerly known as the historic Rockwell-Standard building (1965), previously the Detroit City Gas Company HQ (1918), now going by the name Philip Houze. The lobby is what I would call Modern-Industrial; funky light fixtures, bright colors and a fabulous wall treatment behind the reception desk. The building is pet-friendly and offers studio, one and two-bedroom apartments all with open floor plans. A sign at the desk tells us which units are being shown. Apartments have high open ceilings, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and are simply furnished.

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We’re off to Brush Park to see 104 Edmund Place to check out 9 condominiums in what was Lucien Moore’s Victorian mansion circa 1855. The exterior is lovely; orange brick, gold and burgundy painted accents and an elegant wood entryway. Each unit has a unique floor plan, 12-foot ceilings, exposed brick, double-pane windows and open kitchens. We walk through all of the units in the main house, the largest takes up the entire third floor. Styles and colors vary from one to the next, I like the condos with the great architectural angles, it reminds me that I’m in an old house. There are 3 additional units out back in the carriage house. From here it’s an easy walk to the QLINE, Little Caesars Arena, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s nice to see the old mansions in Brush Park brought back to life.

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The final building we’ll visit is Jeffersonian Houze at 9000 E Jefferson. If you travel Jefferson through Detroit you’ll recognize the Mid-Century Rivertown building immediately. Built in 1965 in the International style, 30 stories high and constructed of glass and steel, every unit has a private balcony with views of the city skyline and the turquoise Detroit River. Having recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation I’m curious to see what they’ve done. The lobby is still very Mid-century; large open spaces, rectangular marble columns, modern light fixtures, terazzo floor, surrounded by glass walls. The building is constructed on a slope, the Jefferson Ave entrance is 17 feet higher than the back entrance along the river. There are 410 one, two and three-bedroom units, we are seeing two of them today. Whether from the floor-to-ceiling windows or the balcony, here’s no denying the view is spectacular. From here we can gaze out into the river, Harbortown Marina and the Olympic-size swimming pool. These are both renovated units, we were hoping to get a peek at one of the classic Mid-Century units, none-the-less these are lovely. From here residents can bike or walk along the River Walk. play tennis or just hang out in the 6 acres of waterfront landscaping.

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How about a cocktail? Sounds good to me. The Monarch Club is the penthouse level of The Metropolitan Building and includes a rooftop bar. Got your attention with that didn’t I? The Neo-Gothic Metropolitan, also known back in the day as the Jewelers Building was built in 1925, designed by Weston and Ellington. It is so beautiful. From the Great Hall on ground level to the luxurious deep blue, red and gold of the bar to the elegance of the Tower Keep, it’s a spectacular place to have a cocktail. Outdoors the sweeping views of downtown Detroit are breathtaking. It’s hard to decide where to sit; if it’s a little chilly cozy up to a fire pit, love architecture, sit near the parapet, I guarantee you there’s not a bad seat to be had. I can’t think of a better way to end a day of exploring some of the best architecture in the city, can you?

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Metamora: Pony Up…

3 Oct

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There are certain events that fill the squares on my calendar from year to year; one of my favorites is the Metamora Hunt Stable Tour. Held annually in August, it’s such a wonderful tour I find I have to write a post about every time we attend. You don’t have to know anything about foxhunting, horses or riding to thoroughly enjoy the tour. You’ll simply spend the day driving on lazy dirt lanes over rolling countryside from one gorgeous stable to the next. You’re sure to encounter spectacular views, beautiful horses, friendly people and if you’re lucky, some really good snacks. C’mon along with us as we travel some of the 36 square miles in Metamora Hunt Country.

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The tour begins at The Hunt Kennels on Barber Road. Proceeds from the event help the club maintain more than 100 miles of bridel paths on private land in Metamora Hunt Country. We grab our maps, I visit with the hounds and we’re off. Our first stop is an extraordinary farm; here’s how the description begins in the tour booklet: “The owners have been creating their estate on 160 acres of prime Metamora Hunt country and have done much of the work themselves.” As pretty as it is from the road you can’t really appreciate all of the detail in the buildings until you’re up close. All of the buildings are a mix of stone and wood with great angles, a little stained glass and even an observation tower on the house. The house and barn complex overlook a pond on one side and a large open space behind. Once the house was finished they built the woodworking shop, it’s a busy place right now with the construction of the barn complex, I really like the live edge on the wood siding. We wander freely through the buildings, once inside I feel so small. Docents are on hand to answer any of our questions. As we leave we pause in front taking in the scene, Kris snaps a couple of photos and we roll on.

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Flying D Farm is next on our agenda. The property was one of the first in Metamora Hunt. Fred Alger built the barn in the 1920’s as a weekend getaway for he and his Grosse Pointe friends to go foxhunting. From the 1960’s through the 90’s it was turned into a Thoroughbred breeding facility. Today the barn and 55 acres are what remain from the past. Kris maneuvers the Jeep down the freshly-mowed path through a field until the red barn comes into view, it looks freshly painted with crisp white trim; as he makes the turn to park I swear I catch a glimpse of an airplane peeking out the large center door. Approaching the barn we get a clear view of the hand-built yellow airplane belonging to the owner. Inside this is one of the nicest barns I’ve ever seen; quaint, rustic, charming. Fresh flowers welcome today’s visitors, a cheerful woman approaches us offering mimosa’s, a buffet of cookies and banana bread is laid out on a counter. What a nice surprise. The driveway to exit the property leads us past the home, beautifully landscaped and made of stone, it looks like it belongs in the countryside of France.

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A short drive later we arrive at Horseshoe acres, a 22 acre working horse farm. Founded 28 years ago it’s home to driving horses, a trail horse, 4 dogs and 2 cats. The horses are having lunch but after a little convincing they make their way to where I’m standing at the fence. Of course they’re hoping for a treat but they settle for some petting then get back to eating hay. We wander in and out of the horse barn and indoor arena, they have an old carousel horse on display, I like the horse weather vane up on the roof too. The property also has woodland trails for carriage driving.

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Gaitway Farm has a completely different look with a paved asphalt driveway, black fencing dividing the 10-acre parcel, white stable, and lots of pink and purple flowers in pots and trailing from window boxes. A horse and donkey are the first to greet us, they seem perplexed buy the amount of humans coming and going past their gate. The current residents have been owners, breeders and exhibitors of American Saddlebred Horses for over 25 years and have owned several World Champions. Currently the farm is home to a few retired equines. Looking across the property I take in the beautiful scenery and gently rolling hills. The house matches the stable, large pots of bright pink flowers decorate the porch.

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Matador Farm was built in 2016 to be the Hunter/Jumper division of Rattlewood Farm. Situated on 260 acres the location offers a board and training business, sales program and riding school. The stable has 21 stalls, the wood is pretty enough to be used as paneling in a home, metal bars and trim are black; no two properties are alike. We visit with horses as we walk from one end of the building to the other. Just outside horses graze lazily in the sun, the breeze rustles their tail and mane, in the large outdoor arena props used for jumping sit idle. A thick tree-line is seen in the distance.

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Our last stop on the tour is Noble Hills Farm. The farm is a working Quarter Horse breeding farm named after the owners grandfather. Their hand-picked broodmares are bred to some of the best stallions in the industry. The prospects they produced have won several World Championships and compete all over the world. The building is outfitted in several shades of gray, sliding doors allow us entry into the stable. The unique interior has everyone talking; the open ceiling shows off the contrast of the metal roof and wood beams. There are no horses inside at the moment so we make our way outdoors. Horses of all colors and sizes nibble on the tender greens growing beneath their feet. Standing in the hot summer sun we watch as horses take turns going from person to person, as curious about us as we are about them. Watching them eat reminds me that it’s time for lunch.

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We arrive at Pine House Kitchen and Bar  in Dryden, originally The Chuck Wagon, a western-atmosphere-style restaurant that opened in the early 1960’s; the exterior has changed little. Through the rows and rows of televisions you can still feel the rustic mid-century vibe from days gone by. Original wagon wheel light fixtures and western decor still adorn the venue. New owners stepped in after the passing of second owner, Lenny Miller, renovated the place and opened the bar and restaurant to the delight of locals who sorely missed the dining establishment. We arrive between the lunch and dinner rush, except for one other table we have the place to ourselves. Seated near the fireplace we quickly scan the menu and make our selection.  Fortunately our food arrives quickly, I’m super hungry. The Buffalo Chicken sandwich is buffalo chicken tenders topped with lettuce, tomato and bleu cheese crumbles served on ciabatta. The chicken is tender and juicy with just enough heat, it’s delicious. Alongside the sandwich is a pile of sweet potato fries, crispy outside and soft inside they’re cooked just right. As we finish our meal the restaurant begins to fill up, looks like we timed it perfectly. 

Wheeling Around Lansing

31 Aug

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Curiosity has lured us back to REO (pronounced Rio not R-E-O) Town, Lansing’s oldest settlement, on this hot summer day. Like many districts in Midwest cities this part of Lansing had fallen on hard times. Independent businesses have breathed new life into the area where Ransom E Olds began producing automobiles in 1905. Beginning with the fancy curved-dash models, production continued with utility vehicles and finally semi-hauling big rig trucks into 1975. Today the landscape is one of small shops, sidewalk cafes, flower pots, murals and parallel parking.

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REO Town Marketplace has been open nearly 2 years, filled with all female-owned businesses, it’s a great place to wander into and have a look around; let’s do that. Original terrazzo floors lead the way to several vintage shops; Vintage Junkies has a little bit of furniture, home decor items, candles, glassware. Thrift Witch carries oddities, handbags, clothing, jewelry and art from mostly local artists. If you like spiders, you can pick up plenty of spider-inspired items. She has an outstanding collection of Care Bears too! Community Finery has the largest footprint offering retro and vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920’s to modern day. She carries sizes from 0-4x, very unusual and greatly appreciated. The owner is also a seamstress so she’s able to rescue and repair clothing that might otherwise be thrown away. She has a wide selection, you could purchase a party dress and a Halloween costume all in one trip.

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HomeMade Capital City shares the adjacent space selling industrial cabinets, unique rolling coffee tables made of pallets and creative shelving. Places like this give me great ideas for things to do in my own home. The Record Lounge is Mid-Michigan’s only all-vinyl store; they buy, sell and trade. It’s a really great space with a listening lounge, vintage stereo equipment and a ton of new and used vinyl; I love looking at the cool art work on the album covers. They even have an album from the 1958 dealer announcement show called “This Is Olds mobility” starring Bill Hayes, Florence Henderson and the original Broadway cast; I don’t think it won any Grammy’s…

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We dash across Washington Ave to Blue Owl Coffee Co. They were closed last time we were in town so we’re anxious to drop in today. The community-based coffee shop uses essential oils for flavoring instead of syrups. The interior feels light and airy with big front windows, open ceiling and exposed brick. Sitting at the counter we talk with Heather who transplanted herself here from West Africa about a year ago. We ask her advice on the many selections of Nitro and Cold Brew coffees. Goodies come from Sweetie-licious in nearby DeWitt, it’s hard to choose so we give the white-chocolate-chip orange scone a whirl. Both the coffees and the scone are excellent, as is the conversation. I love when we can connect with people in such a casual and comfortable environment. One of the baristas suggested we check out the gardens up Washington Ave so we’re off.

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We pause outside to take in the super-cool REO Town mural, I like the phrase “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” worked into the scene. Walking further up the street we cross the river coming to the Water and Light Central Substation. A narrow sidewalk follows the river alongside the building, we come to an open space, plants are clustered into a living garden wall; up ahead on the left is Scott Park and the sunken garden.  In 1907, on the corner of what is now S. Washington Ave and Malcom X streets stood the former residence of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill. Richard H Scott, former president of REO Motor Car Company purchased the residence and adjacent property. He razed the home then in 1934 used its foundation to construct the sunken garden to be enjoyed by the residents of Lansing. In 2018 as part of the construction of the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Central Substation the garden had to be moved to the west. It was disassembled and reassembled brick by brick, 99% of the plants were kept and have been replanted in the new garden. Original plants include Blanket Flower, English Lavender, Bachelor Button, Sedum and Fern-Leaf Peony. The plants are struggling a little in the heat, I expect they will thrive as soon as it cools down.

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Cooley Gardens were planted in 1938 when Eugene F Cooley gave the land to the City of Lansing for a park. The family home was demolished, a pavilion now stands on that part of the site. The design of the garden was based on the English concept of a series of outdoor rooms, it was completed in 1942. The gardens were rescued decades later from serious neglect, this is now a popular space for outdoor weddings, gatherings and formal photographs. We walk through the lower garden, past the old carriage house now used for storage. Peonies have finished blooming and are gearing up for next year. Mature plantings of Shasta Daisies, daylilies and roses are keeping the butterflies and bees busy, a sweet fragrance lingers in the air, barberry bushes are really colorful. The pavilion is lovely, I can imagine a wedding ceremony taking place. Stone pathways lead us through sun and shade. Off in the distance is an automotive plant with a big picture of a Cadillac CTS and the caption “Built Right Here”. If you want to buy local this might be the car for you.

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Our next stop is the R E Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing. I have a special connection to the museum in that they have my dad’s triple red 1979 Delta 88 Royale in their collection. Visiting the museum is like taking a tour through history. Displays begin with a young Ransom Olds and the P.F. Olds and Son company in Lansing in 1880. Things have been moved around and re-arranged since our last visit, I like when museums do that. The first section is the personal side of Ransom, black and white photos of the family and home, personal items and furniture. Throughout the museum you’ll find a wonderful collection of photos, signs, advertisements, name plates, hood ornaments, and of course automobiles.

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Most antique automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the curved-dash Oldsmobile, it was his signature and what made him different from the hundreds of other auto makers at the time. Did you know the original Lansing-made mower was designed and built by R E Olds? The man did everything (well, almost…) He patented his design for his Ideal Engine Co in 1916, he made stationary engines. Later, REO Motors got into the lawnmower business, his lawnmower engine was easily recognized by the unique slant head cylinder; his mower was driven from the cam shaft not the crank shaft. They look very stylish too! At the peak REO was the largest builder of power lawnmowers in the world. The unique REO engine was also used to power snowblowers and the one-of-a-kind Trollabout, a complete kit to convert your rowboat to an inboard-powered craft. In 1954 the mower operation was sold to Lansing’s Motor Wheel Corp. Be sure and check out all of the cool wheels on display too. See what you learn when you stop and read all of the signs.

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There are engines all over the place from stationary to experimental, about 70 in all; an engine is covered in the signatures of the people who built it. We look at old dealer signs and promotional items, old time bicycles share space with classic automobiles from 1886-2003. They can’t display all of their vehicles at the same time so they rotate the collection. The 1926 Olds 2-door Roadster is stunning in Turquoise, an old Lansing police car is guarded by a German Shepard police dog. They say the 1937 Olds Model L37 Club Coupe was really the first 98. You could get an L Model (luxury) or an F Model (standard), this was the first time in the modern era that Olds offered two models. How about the Olds Mini Toronado, a one-of-a-kind built for use as a push car.The REO Speed-Wagon takes up a lot of real estate, I like these old trucks.

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There are too many beautiful, amazing cars for me to list, you can look at the photos Kris has taken and get an idea of their superb collection. I like the names of things back then: The Olds Rocket, The Hurst Hairy Olds, trim pieces and hood ornaments are mini-sculptures, available colors span the rainbow. Look at the awesome vintage “Sun” Motor Tester, traffic lights are huge when you see them up close. I like the exhibit filled with awards for Years of Service or Retirement, they’re all automotive-themed; a mini crankshaft, engine block, rods, neat. Near the exit is a poster featuring all of the vehicles made in Lansing: Camaro, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac ATS, Buick Enclave and the Chevy Traverse; something to keep in mind next time you’re shopping for a new car.

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At last we arrive at Zoobies Old Town Tavern at the east end of Old Town, we have admired the mid-century sign outside for years. Though the current owners bought the building in 2012 it has been called Zoobies since 1973. They came in and renovated, respecting the history of the place and leaving the original 80-year-old bar. It’s a mix of styles that work well together, I’m especially fond of the Sputnik light fixtures. We focus on the Pizza Pie side of the menu settling on “The #9 in the world”, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Boursin cheese, red sauce, tasso ham, andouille sausage, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese and cajun dust, delicious! They have 14 beers on tap and are known for their unique wine selection, truffle-oil popcorn… and their pizza. Next time you’re in town for a Spartan Game or to visit your kids at school be sure and get out and explore all that Lansing has to offer.

Cars at the Crossroads…

20 Jul

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The 1960’s brought Urban Renewal to the city of Flint.  ‘Progress’ often means the demolition of historic buildings and neighborhoods; such was the case as plans for constructing I-475 meant losing important pieces of Flint and Genesee County history. The first two buildings that garnered public attention were the Buzzell house and the Wisner carriage barn. Recognizing their importance, the highway commission donated the buildings, they were moved to the Genesee County Recreation Area where they still stand today; hence Crossroads Village was born. The Sloan Museum in Flint is part local history museum, part transportation museum; it holds a unique collection of 100 vehicles and archives telling the story of the significance Flint and Genesee County have played in the development of the American automobile industry. Its namesake, Alfred P Sloan was once longtime president and Chairman of the Board of GM. The museum is currently closed for renovation therefore the 47th Annual Sloan Museum Auto Fair is being held on the grounds of Crossroad’s Village.

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We park in a large grassy area and make our way the to the village entrance in the scorching heat, at only $7 a person, it’s a bargain. We follow the dusty road into town, at first glance it appears we’ve gone back in time; 19th century buildings line the street, antique cars are parallel parked, village employees are dressed in period costumes. The first block of block of buildings includes the general store, opera house Dr. Barbour’s office and the dry goods shop; the original buildings were located in Fenton and rebuilt at Crossroads for the 1978 season. Notice the FLT in the brickwork of the opera house, it stands for the Odd Fellow’s motto: Friendship, Love and Truth. Antique cars are parked in front; there’s an old 1930’s Ford with a wood body, a 1900’s yellow Buick with brass lamps, a grey Buick from the 19-teens sits in front of the lovely T.N. North & Son bank. We traverse our way through shops, go upstairs to see the opera house, the Singing Minstrels are coming on soon. Buildings are furnished with artifacts from 1860-1880; every effort was made to make this a living village from the post Civil War era.

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Further down the street it’s nice and shady; there are over 30 structures at Crossroads, some are brick, many are white-painted wood. In front of the Clayton Town Hall a Ford Model A has yellow spoke wheels, the body is two-tone, black and green. This year’s spotlight is “A History of Stock Cars” and look, there are some right here. The green 1969 Hemi Charger 500 is gorgeous, they made less than 100 of these. I’ve always liked the orangey- butterscotch color on the 1970 Cyclone Spoiler, don’t you love the red and white 1969 Mercury Cyclone? This one is unique, it’s a Cale Yarborough Special. The checkered flag emblem on the ’55 Dodge Stock Car is super-cool, the 1970 Superbird race car looks track-ready.

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We walk past Master’s Orchard then stop in at the church to have a look around; did you know people have weddings here? Such a great venue. There’s a sign up ahead directing us to a large open area to the right, a long line of vintage tractors form an aisle. John Deere, is the most popular brand with a few other brands thrown into the mix. There’s a pretty red barn built into the hill, it has the sliding doors that are so popular now. Stretched out in front of us is a wide variety of original, custom and restored cars and trucks. Where do we start? The 1967 Charger looks great in turquoise, the 1965 Mercury Colony Park woody station wagon is awesome! Look at that wood trim, you could haul a lot of stuff with this car. We zig and zag as different vehicles grab our attention, I think I’ll stand in the shade an look at the 1967 Coronet R/T and the blue ’78 Trans Am. Custom trucks are always fun to look at, the green Chevy C-10 is well done. Oh and the luxury cars… The 1960 Buick Electra convertible is sweet.

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We wander some more, this time stopping in buildings. The Buzzell House was the first building brought here, built in 1854 by John Buzzell the home was lived in until 1968. The home and furnishings are modest but comfortable looking. The Eldridge-Hanner house is quite affluent in comparison; rooms are larger, furnishings are a bit fancier, detailed plaster is found in ceiling medallions. Blacksmiths are hard at work in the Wisner Carriage Barn. Judge Charles H Wisner built the barn in the Italianate style back in 1878. He served as the 12th Governor of Michigan and built the very first automobile ever constructed in Flint. See how amazing the history of this area is. All throughout the village you’ll find sights and sounds of what life was like back then. In the print shop we watch and listen as typesetting is demonstrated, we watch a young woman as she makes brooms, in the fall you see cider-pressing and butter churning. There’s an ice house and a meeting hall, a mid-20’s Model T is parked in front of the Mason Inn.

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Down by the lake is the 1912 Charles W Parker carousel. We step inside, the ride is still, horses anxiously await visitors. A display explains the restoration process the horses went through, there’s just something about a carousel that guarantees a smile. We loop back around, vintage motorcycles are parked on the wooden sidewalk.

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Harley and Indian models span the decades. The seat’s on the 30’s motorcycles look like they could use a little more padding… Over by the Sweet Shop a crowd has gathered around the 1956 Buick Century X. The car is one-of-a-kind, built for designer Bill Mitchell, GM’s design staff president for 18 years. I can see what all the fuss is about. The blue is an outstanding color, the interior matches it with just a splash of red on the door panels. The front seats rotate, you can turn your seat to get in and out of the car and the passenger can turn the seat to face the rear, on top of that, it’s a convertible! Mitchell and his team incorporated all kinds if unique details; the exhaust exits through the rocker panel trim, it has power headrests, a console, special Century and Buick script and trim. Current owner Don Mayton found the car back in 1991 on the west side of Michigan, he purchased it in 1995. He has been able to document that the car belonged to Bill Mitchell and spent years researching and restoring the car; well done!

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We head to downtown Flint for a late lunch, we have been meaning to try Table & Tap on Saginaw St, today’s the day. The patio is inviting but the air conditioning inside is bordering on frigid, inside it is! The restaurant offers 30 Michigan craft beers on tap and homemade BBQ smoked daily. Our server greets us quickly with menus and icy glasses of water, we order fast then decompress from the heat. Our food arrives on a metal tray, we can’t wait to dig in. I try the mac and cheese first, crispy on top, creamy sauce and el dente noodles, delicious. The cole slaw has a kick of garlic, nice. The Smoke-House sandwich is pulled pork topped with bacon and white cheddar on a brioche bun, it’s really, really good. There are 6 homemade sauces on the table, if you squirt out a puddle of each you can have a different sauce with every bite. The homemade chips dipped in the onion sauce are excellent. It’s been a fun day. Content, we can just sit and relax before we point the car south toward home.

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The Burbs: Natural History…

17 Jun

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Sometimes you just want to be out in nature; fortunately the metro area has plenty of options. Today we’ll enjoy the beauty of nature and explore some amazing local history in the Shelby Twp, Rochester area. Our journey begins at River Bends Park, covering nearly 800 acres the park offers ball fields, soccer fields, trails for walking, hiking and biking, an archery range and rental pavilions. Let’s start at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center. Just outside the building we find a beautiful garden, I can’t resist gardens. A sign tells us this section is filled with deer-resistant plants, I find that a hopeful statement… Barberry shrubs are vibrant colors, several stunning varieties of Iris are in bloom, the purple Columbine are so pretty. Inside a gated area we find an attractive combination of annuals and perennials, I’ve never seen a smoke flower before, poppies are ready to burst open, white anemone, pink hardy geraniums bloom on this late spring day.

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Inside the nature center a large stone fireplace, picture windows overlooking the woods and knotty pine make us feel like we’re up north. Aquariums hold lizards, snakes, a leopard frog (I think he’s awesome) and other amphibians. I get a kick out of watching turtles swim, two are stacked on top of each other in a roomy tank by the wall. Displays identify different species of turtles, birds and rodents. Maps mounted to a wall show us the parks of the 1920’s-30’s; have you heard of Swiss Valley, Green Glen or Broadway? Look at the way the river twists and turns. It seems the Clinton River was the top recreation spot for people living in Detroit back in the day. In the next room photos and descriptions lay out the history of the area, pretty fascinating stuff. From 1850-1864 part of the land was Spring Hill Farm. Landowners Sarah and Peter Lerich were known for their strong views on anti-slavery. Peter dug a spring for the farm and enlarged the spring house to form a cavity that could hide several people, a large Cedar tree atop the spring house was known as the Beacon Tree, marking it as a station on the Underground Railroad.

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In 1939 Joe Louis purchased Spring Hill which was then a well-known riding establishment; he was an avid horseback rider. Mr Louis made many changes to the farm; he added a track at the bottom of the hill for horse shows along with bleachers and box seats. The house was renovated and made into a restaurant and nightclub (really!) I saw a photo of an old postcard featuring the house with a map of the location, it reads: Joe Louis’ Spring Hill Farm “A Good Place To Eat And Drink”. I’ll bet it was something to see! He used the farm as a training camp to prepare for fights. He lost the property due to financial difficulties, the Michigan Conservation Department purchased the property in 1944.

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In another section of the park the first large Public Works project in Michigan was getting underway in 1838; the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal. The canal would have made it possible to cross Michigan by boat from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan. Lack of finances ended the project in 1843 after only 12 miles of the canal were completed. Evidence of the canal can be found in several places. Walking from photo to photo one in particular grabs my attention. In 1957 the farm became one of four Nike Missile Bases in the Detroit area. It was manned by members of Battery B-516th AAA Missile Battalion until 1964. In 1974 the Michigan DNR regained control of the land and added it to the Rochester/Utica state recreation area. 

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Time to get out in the fresh air. We follow the back stairway down the steep hill to the Boardwalk Trail, the sky has cleared, we are surrounded by tranquility. Mushrooms sprout from fallen trees, everything around us is green and lush, woodland flowers are in bloom, it looks as if the boardwalk will be enveloped by plants soon. The trail leads us through the Tamarack Swamp, deer travel the ridge trail above us, sweet honeysuckle scents the air. The trail ends at the river, the water level is high, we turn around, going back the way we came. Extending our time outdoors we head east following the old forgotten trail along the ridge. The terrain changes from grassy to sandy to forest. Birds sing, deer are busy eating but take off as we approach. Remnants of the past are found in piles of railroad ties, concrete pads, partial structures of things that fell down or burned down over the years. The land has come full circle and is wild again.

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It’s Tuesday, if we time it right we can get over to Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills and watch the cyclists practice at the International Velodrome. The IVBP is an outdoor, 1/8 mile/200m oval with banking from 13-44 degrees. Paid for with private donations and built by volunteers from the cycling community, it was given to the city of Rochester Hills. A lone bicyclist is taking laps on the track. We get right up to the railing and have a good look, the bank looks steep to me but the rider handles it effortlessly. Kris notices a tunnel that leads to the center of the track, we traipse down the hill, find an asphalt path and enter the interior of the track. Wow, this is cool. More riders have arrived, they’re putting on their equipment as we wander over to them. One strikes up conversation with us, he lets me lift his bike, at less than 15 lbs I’m shocked at how light it is. All three riders are out on the oval now, they stay in pack form as we watch, each lap takes them a little higher. There are races here every Friday night throughout the summer, we’ll have to come back and catch one.

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Exploring the park further we find ourselves at the stone shelter, to me it looks like an old ski lodge. Built during the depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it’s made up of big stones, wood-shingle roof, wood ceiling, the far wall is a fireplace; so charming. We walk around inside then out the back to the balcony overlooking the park; you can follow the nearly 200 steps to the bottom of the hill. Did you know there was a ski jump right around here in the 1920’s? The story goes like this, ski jumping was very popular during the roaring 20’s, 6 brothers from Ishpeming MI formed the Detroit Ski Club in 1925, purchased 11 acres of land from the Newberry Farm on Bloomer Rd then spent $40,000 to build a competition-grade ski jump standing 112 feet atop Newberry Hill’s 230 ft elevation. More than 10,000 people attended its inaugural competition. The jump was destroyed by high winds in 1934 and rebuilt, it was destroyed again by winds in the 40’s, it was never replaced. 

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I’m hungry. A few minutes later we’re standing in line at Lipuma’s Coney Island on Main Street in downtown Rochester. We’ve been coming here forever and are never disappointed. I order the food, Kris grabs a table, a moment later my tray is loaded with food. It’s beautiful out on the deck, we relax to the sound of the river flowing by and the chatter of ducks. It doesn’t take long for us to polish off our food; 2 tacos for me, a Chicago dog and a Mexican dog for Kris. This is good stuff. For dessert we head to Dino’s Cookie Dough Bar on University. With more than a dozen flavors it’s not an easy decision, thank goodness they give you samples to try; butterscotch it is. A sweet ending to a great day.

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DETROIT: The Freer House

31 May

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Many years have passed since our last visit to The Freer House, there’s a special tour today and we have tickets! First, let me tell you a little bit about the man who lived here. Charles Lang Freer made his fortune manufacturing railroad freight cars, a very lucrative business in the late 1800’s. In 1887 Freer began amassing his art collection; while other collectors purchased pieces by Rembrandt, Monet and daVinci, Freer was attracted to Asian art and works by contemporary  American artists; Dwight Tyron, Abbot Thayer, Thomas Dewing, Frederick Church and most notably, James McNeill Whistler. Freer often developed friendships with the artists he collected. At the time of his death he had accumulated 9,500 art objects, more than a thousand of them by Whistler.

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 The home, designed by Wilson Eyre Jr, was built in 1892 in the American shingle-style. Take a good look, it’s elevated slightly from the street, it definitely feels masculine to me, dark colors, leaded glass windows, stately, handsome. Step inside to a large open area, doorways lead to separate rooms. Off the front door is the parlor, if you came to visit this is where you would wait for your host. Much of the house, including this room is undergoing restoration, our docent passes around a case filled with swatches of the original paint colors. Everything was made precisely for the room, the fireplace tucked into the corner, the art in designated spaces, I like all of the unusual angles. This was not a family home, Freer never married, the house was built as the setting for his art. As his collection grew so did his home, additions were made three times. In the main room a large fireplace sits central, furniture is tucked tight against the walls creating a wide walkway to view the art, light fixtures are unique, they look like leaves and twisted vines made from metal.

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We traverse the main floor, reproductions of original art hang on the walls, it’s like being in a tiny art gallery. In a room off to the side is the only original painting to the house, Flapjacks by Frederick Stuart Church. It’s a whimsical piece with bears making and eating flapjacks; they look pretty happy. It was a housewarming gift from Church to Freer. After Freer’s death the painting changed hands several times, it recently showed up at auction, donors bid on it and brought it back home. The original doorbell; a bronze bear with his head cocked listening for the bell to ring, sits in the main room on a side table along with a sconce. In the corner is a safe built by the Detroit Safe Company; in those days people would lock up their silver, Freer also stored art in his. The dining room is a pleasant buttery yellow, just as it was originally. Each room has built-in cabinets and a fireplace along with uniquely shaped ceiling angles.

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I’m pretty excited because on today’s tour we will see the entire house. On the second level many of the rooms are occupied by the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and Wayne State University and not generally open to the public. Much of the interior has been painted that institutional taupe color, restoration work is ongoing, the hope is to one day have the rooms back to their original colors.The stairway is wide, the side is solid wood panels and a basket-weave screen, it feels very open. Pausing on the landing I notice more of the same leaf and vine light fixtures, wood beams cross the second floor ceiling, a window faces in giving the feeling of being outdoors. At the top of the stairs we have a lovely view of the home’s architectural details, lots of leaded glass windows, arches, wood and of course the art. Bedrooms are now offices, each has a fireplace, built-ins and a window seat.

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The remainder of the house is dedicated gallery space; we move from room to room, a skylight remains in one, a couple of fireplaces have Pewabic tile, leaded glass windows are decorative art themselves. In areas under renovation photographs are displayed showing the original space. We reach what used to be the Peacock Room. In 1904 Freer purchased the Whistler-painted dining room of Frederick R Leyland’s London home. Freer had the room built to the exact dimensions of the Peacock room, for many years peacock’s roamed the grounds here on Ferry Street. I love the giclee reproduction of Rose and Silver: The Princess From The Land Of Porcelain, it hangs in the exact spot the original once occupied. Color photos show how truly spectacular the room was, not only the paintings but the globe pendant gaslight fixtures, the ceiling design. In 1906 Freer donated his entire collection to the Smithsonian Institution with the agreement that everything stayed in Detroit until his death, he funded the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. at a cost of $1 million. After his death in 1919 everything was moved to the Smithsonian.

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The rain has let up enough for us to walk around the newly revitalized courtyard gardens. Trees and plants reflect Freer’s original combination of American and Asian plants. My favorite thing is the hand-carved, exact replica of the Japanese stone garden lantern. Feel free to check it out next time you’re in Midtown. It’s exciting to see the progress the Freer House members have made from reproductions of original paintings, restoration of rooms to the beautiful courtyard and landscaping. We look forward to our next visit.

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How about some lunch? Shield’s Pizza opened on Woodward across from the DIA on April 8th. For those of you who don’t know, Shield’s was one of the original Detroit-style pizzerias. Shield’s Bar opened at the corner of Davison and Shields Street in Detroit in 1937, they later began making square, deep-dish pizza; that location closed in the 1980’s as they expanded to the suburbs. The space here in the Maccabees Building has turned over several times in the last few years, it now has a completely new look; televisions, sports memorabilia, Detroit nostalgia, funky light fixtures. We sit at the bar, order a square, deep-dish veggie pizza and an antipasto salad. We have great service and the food is delicious. Crisp greens in the salad, their unique dressing, lots of meat. The pizza is that great Detroit style, a little crispy on the edges, tender crust, fresh toppings. After a 30+ year absence, we say Welcome Back!

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Not ready to go home just yet we stop in at Detroit Shipping Company on Peterboro. Located on the upper track is -320 Coffee and Creamery. Here you can get a great cup of coffee or homemade ice cream made right before your eyes with liquid nitrogen. The pizza and salad did us in, having room only for coffee Kris gets a nitro-cold brew and I enjoy a steaming hot cup o’Joe. We relax at a table overlooking the ground floor, lots of food being distributed from the 3 restaurants below. Bold colored canvases peek out from the gallery space opposite me, Kris and I walk over to check them out. Phillip Simpson’s colorful cartoon art lines the walls; I suppose with the name Simpson, you would naturally paint characters from The Simpsons. I like the different smiley-face renditions, as intended, they do their job, I’m smiling.

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