DETROIT: Eastern Market Holiday Style

1 Dec

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With Thanksgiving behind us it’s time to start thinking all things Christmas; what better place to begin than the Sunday Holiday Market at Eastern Market. My favorite thing about coming to this type of market is the quality and variety of merchandise, food and drink assembled under one roof; the artistry and talent is amazing. We begin in Shed 3, vendors have set up tables along the perimeter of the room, items are attractively arranged, samples are plentiful. Shoppers seem to be out in clusters; families of multiple-generations, girlfriends out for the day, couples; everyone seems to be in the holiday spirit.

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We traverse wide aisles filled with people looking for the perfect gift, we shift from table to table like some strange choreographed dance, one group leaves another steps up. I have a soft spot for hand-made things, the crocheted baby items are adorable; tiny little hats, blankets and cocoons. Displays are beautiful; gold and silver wrapped packages and tiny white lights are festive, T-shirts featuring Michigan and Detroit themes are extremely popular. Bottles and Beach Glass have been re-purposed into art, The Mc Clary Bros. table has a big selection of drinking vinegars, would you like a taste? One of the vendors is selling cranberries, fresh, sugar dusted, mixed with butter; it all looks appealing. The Eclair Tout De Sweet table stops me cold, these are not your ordinary eclairs, flavors include chocolate peppermint, gingerbread, nutella; buy one and eat it here or order a dozen for your holiday gathering. 

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Moving onward I check out gorgeous handmade jewelry, coasters and drinking glasses featuring the Mitten state or the Old English D. Vintage clothing hangs on portable racks, sweatshirts and hoodies are plentiful. I’m delighted by the Happy Heads Doll Collection from Detroit-born Marvalisa, her work is colorful, whimsical and well, happy… Artwork, earrings, Poinsettia in every color share space with a DJ, a cooking class is taking place in the community kitchen. The cutest little girl is wearing purple eye glasses and holding a sign for hand-made greeting cards. In another area an artist is hard at work painting a canvas, her completed pieces featuring Frida Kahlo are for sale. Bright colors and whimsical flowers decorate glass pieces at the Glass Garden.

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Outside the last shed has been transformed into a Christmas Tree farm. Families wander up and down the long rows of trees looking for the perfect one. It smells wonderful, a mix of fresh-cut wood and pine, it’s divine. Greens have been made into garlands and wreaths, trees stand tall in make-shift stands, the sound of a chainsaw is common. I like to watch as families narrow down their choices, when the final decision is made the tree is placed in a chute that bundles it for the ride home. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

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We cross Russell Street to get lunch at Beyond Juicery + Eatery, recently opened, it’s a great place to grab a fast, healthy lunch. I order at the counter, Kris takes a seat at the front window; good people-watching today. I hear my name and pick up my Total Energy smoothie at the counter. Strawberry, banana, honey and vanilla, it’s sweet and delicious. The food is up next, with a handful of napkins and plastic forks we busy ourselves eating the Cilantro Chicken Wrap: chicken, tomato, romaine, cheddar, avocado and a spicy cilantro sauce wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and grilled to a golden brown—yum! The Jalapeno + Lime bowl is a combination of quinoa, romaine, jalapenos, cheddar, roasted tomatoes, red onion served with lime vinaigrette; tasty. Ingredients are fresh and flavorful, service is friendly and fast.

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Holiday hours at DeVries & Company 1887 include Sunday’s from 10 am-3 pm, we haven’t been here in a while so today’s our chance. This specialty food shop started by Rudolph DeVries over 125 years ago is an Eastern Market staple. What began as specialty shop selling the highest quality butter, eggs and cheese now covers three floors and includes merchandise, locally made products, coffee, tea and chocolate. They are still best known for their extensive cheese selection with over 200 domestic and imported varieties to choose from; did I mention they have samples?

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We climb into the hand-operated elevator and take it to the third floor. To the right hand-painted windows glow in direct sunlight casting colorful shadows on walls and the floor. There’s a huge collection of Michigan and Detroit themed goods; glasses, books, cookie cutters, oven mitts. You can buy a 6-pack of Faygo pop and purchase a Faygo candle to go with it, how do you think Red Pop would smell? Maybe Rock and Rye? Wooden shelves hold glass pieces in a rainbow of colors. The second floor is home to seasonal decorations and hand-made jewelry and accessories. With so many pretty, unique necklaces to choose from, it’s hard for a girl to make up her mind, but I do…

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Back on the first floor I sample cheeses, make mental notes of the tea selection and wish there was a way I could taste everything! One rack holds holiday favorites such as fruit-filled hard candies, peppermint bark and that old-fashioned ribbon candy we all liked as kids. They have oils, vinegars, jams and jellies. I’ve never seen Fentimans soda before, they have been making botanically brewed beverages in Great Britain since 1905, did I mention they sell Vernor’s in glass bottles. Packaged cookies and crackers are stacked high on tables, pasta, rice and grains each have their place; it’s a food wonderland. You still have a few weekends left so c’mon down and check it out.

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Hamtramck: History And Holidays

25 Nov

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Today we’re in Hamtramck for the Polish Art Center open house; the shop is an emporium for all things Polish. The front windows face Joseph Campau, decorated for the holidays they feature beautiful city scenes. On the right are four entries for the Szopki contest, the winner will be announced today. Inside we enter a winter wonderland, small white cones strung together dangle from the decorative tin ceiling creating an indoor snowfall; the mood is festive. Everybody seems to know each other, greetings come in the form of smiles and hugs. A line of customers extends from the register to the back of the store, their arms overflow with merchandise.

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I hear someone playing a harp, we negotiate our way to the other side of the shop, a man sits in the center of the room, the most beautiful music fills the air as his fingers pluck strings effortlessly. We are surrounded by attractive Boleslawiec Polish Stoneware; bowls, cups, tureens, goblets and more all hand-painted in pretty patterns. T-shirts and hats have cute Polish sayings and designs, colorful Polish Folk aprons hang above. The crowd has gathered around the food table, a variety of dishes such as roast pork with winter vegetables, meatballs, bruschetta, smoked salmon with all the toppings, fruit and cheeses are offered to open-house guests; everything is delicious!

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We browse past pretty-painted wooden boxes, serving pieces, figurines, greeting cards, napkins while sipping on champagne and eating homemade truffles. Back in the first room coloring book author Catherine Macaro is busy coloring and signing books. The Christmas ornaments are lovely; snowmen, dolls, snow-covered houses and trees to name a few. Here we have a large selection of Polish cd’s, soup mixes, jams, dried mushrooms, hard candies and my favorite, chocolate. While we wait for the check-out line to die down we check out the Amber jewelry, they have a huge variety from necklaces to rings, the antique wooden display cases are almost as pretty as the jewelry.

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We have made our purchase, earlier I noticed the Hamtramck Historical Museum is open today, that’s where we’re going now. The museum is being renovated in stages so each time we come it’s different; it’s gotten much bigger since our last visit. The building was actually the first department store in the city in the 19-teens, many remember the space as the old barber college, its last incarnation before the museum was a dollar store. All aspects of the city’s history are represented, they have thousands of items ranging from documents, photos and memorabilia to films, medical records and household items. Shelves hold vintage packaging from the Holbrook Ice Cream Company, Swan soap, needles and threader, I like the name of the home permanent: Bu-Tee-Wave, kinda catchy don’t you think?

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Kris automatically gravitates to the Dodge Main display. When the Dodge brothers opened their assembly plant in 1910 immigrants from Poland flooded the area. Dodge Main occupied 67 acres, it was made up of 35 separate  buildings, it included a medical facility, test track and fire department.  Some of the cars built here include Charger, Coronet, Polara, Lancer and Monaco. Display cases are filled with photos, emblems, name badges, key chains, articles, patches, mementos and an actual brick from the factory building. By the mid-20’s factory workers made up 85% of the heads of households in Hamtramck—whoa.

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I wander past photos of the old Village Hall, concert posters, record albums, sheet music, wedding and communion photos, commemorative plates. Business advertisements are found on matchbooks, ashtrays and trinkets. I check out the antique stove, next to it a Westinghouse Electric Roaster, this was a staple in every Polish household back in the day! A cheerleader uniform from St Lads (hey, my dad went to school there), bowling pins and Hamtramck Beer are reminders of the good ol’ days.

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After reading letters, placards and newspaper articles I realize Hamtramck has always welcomed immigrants; from the early days when Detroit Stove Works and the Dodge brothers attracted men from Poland, Syria, and Lebanon continuing to this day.This 2-square-mile city is Michigan’s most internationally diverse. Families from Poland, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Albania, live side by side in peace. 27 native languages are spoken by school children. Polish Catholics, Ukranian Orthodox, Iraqi Chaldean Christians, Muslims, practice their religions in the same neighborhood. Hamtramck has hosted Presidents, the Pope, movies, famous people, the Food Network; it’s home to Kowalski, GM, Detroit City FC and, of course, Paczki. 

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Hunger has gotten the best of us, today we’re eating at Polonia Restaurant on Yemans. This charming restaurant has been around for over 40 years. The decor features art by Polish artists, artifacts, hand painted mural, old-fashioned tin ceiling and indirect lighting, giving it a homey feel.The menu is filled with traditional Polish and Eastern European specialties. Our food arrives on large white plates, the Polish plate is a combo of pierogi, golabki, kielbasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy; all of it quite tasty. The mushroom nalesniki are outstanding; paper-thin crepes stuffed with flavorful mushrooms smothered in creamy gravy and a drizzle of sour cream–wow! It’s been a wonderful day and a great way to kick off the holiday season. na zdrowie!

Birmingham Beauty

18 Nov

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As long as this beautiful Autumn lingers we’ll be outside enjoying every minute of it. Today we are in one of our favorite places to go for a walk, Birmingham. Everybody  knows about the great dining scene, trendy boutiques, cafes and shops, but few know the quiet side of this affluent city. C’mon, we’ll show you around. We park our truck on Lakeside Dr, just north of Maple and west of Old Woodward; we’re at Quarton Lake, one of Birmingham’s hidden jewels. Tucked into a prosperous neighborhood the lake is surrounded by Quarton Lake Park with a walking trail that follows the perimeter.

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Walking south we encounter joggers, babies in strollers, leashed dogs with their owners, friends carrying Starbucks cups catching up on the week’s events. It’s a truly glorious day; the sun shines in a medium-blue sky, colorful leaves still cling to towering trees, elegant homes stare out at the lake. Following the gravel trail we come across native plants and flowers gone dormant for the winter; large pods have split open, their seeds carried by the wind. The fishing pier leads us out into the lake, the water is still except for the tiniest ripple, the surrounding beauty reflected like a mirror on the surface. The combination of nature and magnificent homes along the shoreline create a spectacular view; it’s easy to forget we’re only blocks from a thriving city.

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Quarton Lake is fed by the Rouge River, remnants of an old gristmill powered by water from the mill-pond are acknowledged by a plaque; the wooden mill served local farmers for 83 years. We reach the waterfall, some of the grandest homes overlook this spot. We cross the Rouge River pedestrian bridge finding ourselves in an open, grassy area complete with benches and sculpture. When the trail ends we follow the sidewalk along Maple Rd then duck back in the neighborhood on Lake Park Dr, the other side of the lake. Residents have replaced flowering annuals with hardy mums; pumpkins and haystacks join the Autumn decor. Leaves are scattered on the lawns of stately homes; slate roofs, luxurious porches and lavish landscapes are not uncommon. We reach the far end of the lake, an opening in the trees allows us to watch the Mallards as they paddle around, squirrels chase each other from tree to tree. We reach Oak Ave and walk towards Old Woodward.

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If you read DetroitDvotion regularly you know we are fond of historic cemeteries, picturesque Greenwood Historic Cemetery resides over 8 acres on Oak Ave. This unassuming little graveyard is the final resting place for some of Oakland County’s most prominent citizens and early pioneers. In 1821 Dr Ziba Swan purchased a large parcel of land from the federal government, setting aside a half-acre for a community cemetery. In 1825 Polly Utter and her 13-year-old daughter Cynthia were brutally murdered by Imri Fish, a boarder in the family home. These were the first murder victims in Bloomfield Township, they were also the first interments. The burying ground was enlarged several times through the years; in 1946 the City of Birmingham took over the operation. Walking through it today is like reading a history book on Birmingham. 

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We roam among limestone, marble and granite monuments, mature trees provide a colorful canopy today; fallen leaves have blown and gathered into piles of red, chartreuse, burnt orange.  Headstones from the early 1800’s are worn and barely legible, the age of the deceased is listed in years, months and days. Adams, Quarton, Opdyke and Baldwin, lie within these gates, local roads bear their names. John West Hunter was the first settler to live in Birmingham, the library is named after Martha Baldwin, Elijah Willets was the founder of Birmingham; John Daniels, the city’s only American Revolutionary War Veteran is buried here. 

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We amble over to the gravesite of sculptor Marshall Fredericks, (Spirit of Detroit, Cross In The Woods, Freedom Of The Human Spirit) his Leaping Gazelle sculpture rises up toward the sky. The Booth Family plot is anchored by George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth, they established the Cranbrook Educational community; the headstone of each family member wears a symbol that identifies something unique about that person. Pewabic Pottery founder Mary Chase Stratton is buried alongside her husband, architect William Buck Stratton. Each of these people had significant impact on the face of Detroit and the surrounding communities. More recently, legendary author Elmore Leonard was laid to rest.

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We cut back through neighborhood streets, cute brick bungalows and traditional 2-story homes share real estate with newly constructed homes in a variety of styles from concrete modern to manor homes, no two are the same–I like that. As we approach Old Woodward we walk through Booth Park, this is also the start of the Booth Trail. The trail follows the Rouge River through an undeveloped part of the city, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Leaves crunch under our feet as we follow the mulched trail, the river on the left, homes built into the hillside on the right; their view must be exceptional. The trail weaves alongside the river, most of the trees are bare, shrubs are vibrant and green. Amateur photographers take advantage of the scenery, there’s plenty of it, ducks are camera-shy and swim away. Pedestrians and dogs are plentiful today, everybody wants to be outside. This trail connects to the Rouge River Trail. The mild temperature encourages us to keep walking.

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We zig and zag back through neighborhood streets, old and new homes side by side in the long-established city. Old Woodward is a haven for the hungry, so many places to choose from, the patio at The Bird & The Bread looks inviting, lets check it out. The air has taken on a little chill, without the sun to warm us we opt to eat indoors; the front of the restaurant is all windows making it the next best thing to actually being outside. I’m excited to see they’re still serving brunch, I sip on a hot cup of coffee as we wait for the food to arrive.

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The restaurant is huge, it includes a wine bar, tap-room and seasonal kitchen; there’s even a curtained-off area for small groups. Old Woodward is pretty quiet today, only an occasional car or pedestrian. Our server brings our food and a couple of side plates, I scoop out half of the biscuits and gravy as Kris divides the Quinoa pancakes with house made lemon ricotta and orange marmalade. The pancakes are light and fluffy, there’s a slight crispness on the edges, the ricotta and marmalade go perfectly together, it’s high in deliciousness. The tender buttermilk biscuits are smothered in a creamy sausage gravy, what’s not to like? It feels good to sit and relax, mind and body fully nourished. 

DETROIT: Mt. Olivet Cemetery

10 Nov

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Today we are taking a walk through Detroit’s largest cemetery, Mt. Olivet; opened in 1888 it’s part of the Mt. Elliot family of cemeteries. Located on Van Dyke, straddling Outer Drive, 300 acres of lawns and gardens are the final resting place for both notable and ordinary citizens. The names of cultural, political and business leaders are carved into headstones, mausoleums and monuments; Polish, Italians, Germans and Belgians are grouped together. Military burials date from the Civil War to Vietnam. 

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The sheer beauty of an old cemetery in Autumn makes it an extremely appealing place to take a walk. Massive Maples and Oaks are dressed in their finest colors giving us a grand finale before Winter takes hold. It’s like wandering through a park filled with stories, art and tranquility. The grass is deep green, relishing the recent rain and cooler temperatures, fallen leaves litter the ground, deep red begonias are still hanging on. Near the entrance a towering statue of Jesus on the cross overlooks the grounds, this was originally a Catholic cemetery. We traverse the uneven ground going from one private mausoleum to another; here’s a name we recognize, Albert Fisher, pioneer of the auto industry and uncle to the 7 Fisher brothers who founded Fisher Body. The simple structure has lovely ornate doors, look straight through, there’s a beautiful stained glass window with an angel.

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Most of the mausoleums are fitted with lavish doors or grates, many with unique stained glass in back, some have simple Doric columns, others look as if they’re constructed of rough rock, a few look Egyptian. Live plants still occupy urns, burning bushes are just starting to turn, squirrels run about like this is their playground. There are large family plots with one big headstone bearing the family name, blooming roses embellish the Healy family plot. The Thomas Grant obelisk is unusual in that it is rounded; time, weather and probably pollution have created an attractive shadow to the carved areas. Long, flat gravestones look like concrete doors into the Earth. There are numerous statues throughout, more so than most cemeteries I think. In many cases, it’s a group of statues, like an entire family is mourning the deceased. It’s sad to see missing hands, fingers, heads.

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We get back in the Jeep taking the narrow private road through the tunnel under Outer Drive, we’re now on the opposite side. We are greeted by the Garden Of The Rosary surrounded by finely manicured shrubs. Again we walk. We take our time, look at every detail; the ornate patterns carved into the stone, stained glass windows set into glossy white marble walls, expressions on the faces of statues, stone robes that seem to flow over the pedestal their mounted on, the way the lavish wrought iron has taken on a certain patina through the decades. There is a peacefulness here, I feel like I can just keep walking.

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Some of the more well-known people laid to rest here include Major League Baseball players Jimmy Barrett, Joe Lafata, Cass Michaels and Maurice Van Robays. Pianist Joe Hunter, 3-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers and actor Tom Tyler who played ‘Captain Marvel’ in the 1941 movie with the same name can also be found here. Politicians include congressmen Robert Clancy and senator Patrick McNamara. Race car driver William “Shorty” Cantlon was killed during the running of the 1947 Indy 500. I found this especially interesting, Rose M Gacioch, a player in the All American Girls Professional Baseball  League is here. She pitched for the Rockford IL Peaches, Rosie O’Donnell played her in the film A League Of Their Own. There is also a number of notorious crime figures here, including members of the Detroit Mob; really fascinating stuff.

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We have reached the Garden Mausoleum, the field-stone structure was constructed some time in the 1950’s. Concrete pathways lead us through the courtyards, annuals are still blooming, shrubs a perfectly shaped, this section has a statue of St Matthew. We peek into the chapel, hallways are lit by skylights, they lead us past stained glass windows, crypts and colorful mosaics. We pass from one area to the next; St Peter, St Anne, St Catherine, St Thomas and on it goes. Here and there on the walkways antique-looking jars hold lit candles, fresh flowers lay nearby; a tribute to those gone but not forgotten.

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The Polish Army Veterans Monument is situated between trees, the inscription is in Polish. We find names of other Poles in the immediate area. Meandering further we see mausoleums constructed of thickly veined marble with Art Nouveau accents–gorgeous. I see a gravestone in the distance I must get a closer look at, the large stone face is intricately carved with an entire scene; a woman prays at a grave site surrounded by towering trees, it’s amazing. These days cemeteries are much more open to the idea of people coming to enjoy the peacefulness, going for a walk, taking in the beauty. Mt Olivet even hosts the annual Sunrise Run and Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Speaking of pancakes, it’s time to eat.

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It’s just a hop and a skip to Hamtramck, Polish food sounds good, our favorite Polish restaurant is Polish Village Cafe. It’s between lunch and dinner so getting a table is easy. No need for a menu, we know it by heart. We start with bottles of Zywiec Porter, so smooth, so good. Next we eat cups of dill pickle soup, I like to dip pieces of sourdough bread in mine. We divvy up the Polish Plate and Potato Pancakes eating under white lights wrapped in leaf garland draped from beam to beam, the decor changes with the season. What never changes is the deliciousness of the food, the warmth and hospitality of the staff. It always feels like home. 

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Chrysler: Stylin’

3 Nov

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If you love cars images in this post may cause excitement, drooling, rapid heartbeat and verbal outbursts. All other readers, please take into consideration what an amazing experience it is to be able to wander around the Design Studio of a major automaker, step foot in the Design Dome, sit inside concept cars, be in the space where designs are born, put on paper and carved into clay, as I said, AMAZING! Chrysler pulled out all the stops for this open house; future and current models are on display, they dug deep into the archives pulling out and dusting off concept vehicles of different eras for our viewing pleasure.

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We have crossed the building from one end to the other finally arriving at the Design Studio, the door is open, let’s go in. From the instant we enter the studio I know I’m going to have my hands full keeping up with the boys; at the very first sight of vintage muscle car art hanging on the walls their eyes begin to glaze over, they don’t know where to look first. I see other visitors with the same affliction bumping into folks, their eyes focused only on what’s in front of them, nothing breaking their concentration. I have to admit, this is way cool… We are in the Product Design area, we come face to face with a gleaming silver luxury sportscar called “Firepower”, very sleek-looking, I love the two-tone interior. In this area walls are a deep putty color, bold, abstract-ish paintings of muscle cars pop on the neutral background. In a large open area trucks, Jeeps and cars intermix with employee work space. On the far side, glass enclosed offices belong to brand executives, we get an insiders peek at the personality of each; one has a great Pop Art poster of Virgil Exner.

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There’s stuff everywhere; photo-art of a 1960 Imperial Dash, a vintage Challenger interior. An actual clay 1970 Challenger dashboard stands on a cabinet, (Hey, I used to have a ’70 Challenger!) this is the original model from which they were made. Underneath we find shifters, switches, panels and gadgets. Renderings fill large bulletin boards, big chunks of clay and modeling tools allow kids and grown-up to try their hand at car design. A Jeep Treo is getting a lot of attention as is the also-never-produced Demon convertible. Through a doorway we enter a room with a Turbine Car, a video tells the story of this exceptional car on a screen nearby.

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There it is, the styling dome… It’s much larger than I expected, lights in the ceiling remind me of stars in the sky, droves of people mill about; Kris, our friend and I each head off in different directions. It’s like some sort of dance the way people shift from one remarkable car to the next, all the while smart phone in hand. There’s a white Challenger T/A, a blue Viper Indy Pace Car, I’m sorta fascinated by the Mopar Drag Pak Challenger, I notice Kris can’t take his eyes off the red Charger concept from back in 1999. People pose for pictures in front of one-off cars and trucks as if they are celebrities. 

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Making my way through the crowd I meet back up with the boys outside on the Design Court; a handful of unique vehicles await us. I like the Africa Jeep concept, there’s a snazzy Chrysler 300 Super S with a blue matte finish paint job, the Mopar Edition Charger looks good, the Challenger GT AWD concept looks tough with the black hood, roof, trunk, wheels and tires.

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Back inside we move on to the next area, the black 1968 Charger R/T stops us in our tracks, muscle car photo art hangs on the wall. Vehicles are scattered about; an orange Wrangler with plaid seats looks ready to hit the trails, folks climb into the grey “Stitch” Jeep, I heard the seats are actually Viper seats. A WWII military Willy’s Jeep reminds us how long they’ve been around, a half-Jeep is mounted on the wall.

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A small section is dedicated to Viper, love the far-out renderings; how about that snake-skin green? Check out the new 340 Daytona, this one has a clay front end, I like the pic Kris took of the Daytona Hemi hood decal. The futuristic drawings of the Challenger are awesome, a large board shows us examples of the Hellcat logo. Trucks are next, this is the first time I’ve seen the 2012 Lil’ Red Express Truck concept, stacks and all. The bright yellow Dodge Ram Rumble Bee truck is extremely popular, I’m glad to see the Bee is still around. A father and daughter work together on the truck clay model, this is truly a family affair.

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Work areas are dark in the next department, more great automotive art hangs about. This must be the Silver section the silver Chrysler 300 concept is stylish as is the Chrysler Nassau concept from 2007, the ME 12 Chrysler is more charcoal than silver, it’s streamlined, elegant, graceful, slick, wouldn’t it be fun to get a ride in this one? The Brilliant Blue custom Jeep plays homage to the old 1976 Cherokee’s, love the color. As I walk I notice shelves stacked with modern wheels, huge automotive photos on the walls, posters with pictures of cars and trucks and their progression through the years.  The boys and I meet up by the Renegade on the scanning machine, even thought I don’t know how it works it’s captivating to look at. We’re so impressed, enthralled and excited by everything we’ve seen, I especially like the way the vehicles are all connected through time; the past, present and future all in the same space. A big thank you to our friend for taking us on this exquisite journey and another thank you to Chrysler for the privilege of seeing the inner-workings of the company. A great time was had by all. 

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Chrysler: Testing…Testing…

30 Oct

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Recently, a friend asked if we’d like to be his guest for the 25th Anniversary open house at the Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills…Uhhh, Yeah! We assumed it would be a cursory tour, surely Chrysler wouldn’t allow people to poke around their engineering and design epicenter… man, were we in for a surprise!!??  The best news was reading “photos  allowed” in the invitation, seriously? We are so there….

Chrysler Corporation was founded June 6, 1925 by Walter P Chrysler who re-organized the Maxwell Motor Company into his namesake. Always engineering innovators they were first to mass-produced cars with four-wheel hydraulic brakes, rubber engine mounts, air conditioning, electric windows and anti-lock brakes, to name a few. They also developed a road wheel with a rigid rim designed to keep a deflated tire from flying off the wheel; this safety wheel was eventually adopted by the auto industry worldwide. Back in 1955 they built the first production car to reach the 300 horsepower mark with their aptly named Chrysler 300, yep, that’s where it came from.

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We meet our friend in the parking lot and make our way to the entrance of the mammoth building–get this: at 5.3 million sq. ft. the complex is the second-largest building in the United States in floor space, only the Pentagon is larger; as of April 2016, approximately 15,000 people work at the complex–wow! We join the crowd of visitors and take the escalator to the second floor. Carpeted corridors throughout the elongated atrium are lit by natural sunlight, hallways appear endless. I can’t even begin to describe the massiveness of this place, I’m sure you could hide the Fisher building in here; we seem to walk forever to get from one section to another. We pick up the pace passing pretzel stations (in case you get lost at least you have food!), face painting and photo booths on our way back to the first floor, bands are between sets at Tech Plaza, we pause to check out the octagonal skylight, the center point of the building I presume; the place is buzzing with activity. I’m careful not to lose our friend, Kris keeps wandering off in a daze, I’m worried his head will explode!!

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We are now in the guts of the building, rows of fluorescent lights hang overhead, our friend is familiar with the building and explains things as we go; we’ve arrived at Science Court. We trek down hallways, there’s no shortage of dynamometers. We pop in and out of labs, most have funky-shaped foam mounted to the wall for sound deadening. An engine is set up for testing, here they can detect and isolate engine noise; I’m amazed we’re able to get such an up-close look. Down a ways a clay model Ram is attached to an elevated test unit, further on a B-5 blue Scat Pack Challenger with a shaker hood is parked in the hall, with a 392 c.i. engine this beauty makes 485 horsepower. If that’s not enough get-up-and-go for you check out the Redline Red Charger Hellcat, with a horsepower rating of 707 it can go over 200 mph; perfect when we’re running behind for a show at the Fox! The Aero Acoustic Wind Tunnel is next, the vehicle they’re testing? A super-cool white, black stripe, Viper ACR. The low, sporty lines of the vehicle make for an impressive demonstration of aerodynamic testing. Again I am astounded by the enormous space; sized to accommodate cars and trucks of the American market, the turntable is 18 ft in diameter,  it took 3 years to build the tunnel, it has a maximum airflow speed of over 140 mph. In a large open area a mini van frame is constructed with different color structures, so that’s what it looks like without skin…

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In the Noise, Vibration & Harshness Lab we see a burgundy Challenger Hellcat, sweet, next to that a gorgeous Viper in red with black stripes, this is so cool! All eyes are on the Yellow Jacket T/A Challenger that was recently introduced to the public, look at that flat black hood and front spoiler, now that’s a muscle car! A silver Grand Cherokee sits with its rear wheels on rollers, this can simulate various driving conditions, I just noticed this model is right-hand drive. Adults and kids alike are attracted to the Power Wagon with the grey and red lettering and graphics, I think this is the off-road package. Over in the Electro Magnetic Compatibility Lab testing focuses on the vehicle’s electronic systems and how they operate when exposed to radio frequencies. Potential interference can come from radio and television towers, ham radios, cell phones and burglar alarms, guess I never thought about that before.  A Ram pick-up is in one of the chambers, I kind of dig those pointy cone-shaped things; a black Cherokee waits its turn in the Vehicle Shielded Test Room.

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Moving on to the Environmental Test Cells we follow a pathway through the cold test chamber, ‘cold’ is an understatement, it was freezing, which made the hot test chamber feel really good. Standing in a small room we look through a glass panel into a driving cell, the snow-maker is on kill creating blizzard-like conditions, high winds blow snow directly into the front of a Cherokee; a not-so-subtle reminder of  what we have to look forward to. Exiting the drive cell we come face to face with the refrigeration unit for all that white stuff. In another area we watch a road test simulator at work, a Cherokee is going for a test run; looks like a rough ride. A Limelight Challenger R/T and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited hang nearby waiting for their opportunity. 

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Walking to the Pilot Plant we talk about all the things we’ve seen so far, most of us have no idea how much work goes into each model vehicle; from the very first idea put on paper, to the clay model, systems testing, to the build itself— all of which happens right here in this complex; it truly boggles the mind. The Pilot Plant is basically an assembly line, new models are kept top-secret and are covered for our visit. By building the initial vehicle here any problems that come up can be ironed out before the vehicle is put into assembly at the plant. It’s fascinating to look at, bodies rest on wheeled platforms, tools and electrical cords dangle from the ceiling, parts are kept in sealed crates, in the paint booth a Wrangler wears a fresh coat of black. I think we’ve seen everything we can on the first floor, next up, Design.  

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DETROIT: St. Hyacinth

20 Oct

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We’re north-east of downtown in a section of Detroit known as Poletown; today is the annual Banana Festival at St. Hyacinth, impossible to pass up. Here’s a little history: “Polish immigrants arrived in Detroit in the 1840’s, in 1872, 70 Polish families lived in the city, by 1907 Detroit Poles numbered over 60,000; the majority living here in Poletown.” Many of the Polish families attended St. Albertus, as children grew up, married and had families of their own the need for an additional parish was undeniable; St Hyacinth Parish was founded in 1907. Through the years the parish outgrew one building after another, in 1922 local Detroit architectural firm Donaldson and Meier was hired to design a new church. 2 years and $300,000 later the first Mass was held in the stunning Byzantine Romanesque church you see on Farnsworth today; the interior decoration was not finished until 1928. Let’s have a look.

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It’s a beautiful October day, the sun sits high in a powder blue sky, fluffy white clouds seem hurried to get somewhere. St. Hyacinth looms large on the corner of Farnsworth and Mc Dougall, the orange-brick building is topped with multiple cupolas, weathered carved wood doors mark the main entrance to the Roman Catholic church. We walk around to the side entrance, the door is open, an invitation to go inside. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust from outdoors to indoors, I stand in one spot, turning myself around 360 degrees hardly able to process the beauty before me. For now it is us and the caretaker, as he lights candles and turns on chandeliers Kris is already snapping photos. Stained glass windows are placed high in the walls, each tells a story, I’m fascinated by the colors in the glass, the earthy pallet includes browns, burnt orange and goldenrod. The organ loft at the back of the church is tucked inside a blue-painted arch, as if it’s high in the sky or better yet, heaven. Organ pipes spread across the wood balcony, unusual black metal chandeliers hang from chains nearby.

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Walking through the nave, walls and ceiling are painted off-white, I note colorful mosaics on the wall, ornate plaster trim, columns with Corinthian capitals decked out in gold and silver leaf; everything is richly detailed and decorated. Large medallions occupy each of the three cupolas, figures are boldly painted on a background of gold leaf; the one nearest the sanctuary represents the New Testament, the middle cupola depicts eight Polish saints, the arches here are decorated with four small medallions representing Apostles Peter, James, Paul and Andrew. The third cupola represents the Old Testament, Patriarchs and Prophets are joined by four angels, each is amazing. Beautiful statues are found throughout the building, it is the Statue of the Immaculate Conception that stole my heart. Carved of Carrara marble from Italy  this lovely lady came to St. Hyacinth in 1980 when Immaculate Conception was demolished to make way for the GM assembly plant. Kris and I are both mesmerized by her, she’s so delicate, so serene, she looks Art Deco in style, I’m very glad they saved her.

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Standing in front of the communion rail I stare at the main altar in the Sanctuary, Corinthian columns flank the Triumphal arch, the Last Supper is engraved in the free-standing altar, further up in the Apse, two mosaics produced by craftsmen in Venice make up the entire decoration. The first encircles the altar, it has a gold background and six medallions representing the sacraments. The other mosaic in the center of the Apse is the great medallion which represents the Sacrament of the Eucharist, it’s over 10 feet in diameter. It’s hard to stop looking, there’s so much to take in; marble walls, angels holding multi-globed lights, the blue dome with its gold stenciled patterns.  In 2001 Dennis Orlowski was commissioned by the parish to paint a Polish-American Heritage mural over the main entrance doorways of the church; a gift from St. Hyacinth to the Polish community of Detroit and recognition of Detroit’s 300th birthday. The mural features each of the 6 original Polish parishes, portraits of Fr Kolkiewicz, founding pastor of St. Hyacinth, longest-serving pastor Fr Skalski, Pope John Paul II and the patroness of Poland Our Lady of Czestochowa. More and more people have entered the church, time for us to move on.

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The Banana festival is in high gear, I can tell by the number of folks carrying banana cream pies back to their car. We enter the school building which was closed after 81 years due to the lack of students. The building is alive and well today with parishioners, former students and visitors like us. Walking up the short stairway we are greeted by a table of Polish-centric items, clever graphics and sayings are found on hats and t-shirts. Classrooms are filled with items donated to the church for a rummage sale, they have everything from glassware to treadmills to old books and computers. The classroom-turned-bar is pretty popular as is the cafe area serving up kielbasa sliders and for sale banana desserts. The basement is filled with pay-to-play games and a silent auction. Growing up in a family with names that end in ski, icz, w’s that sound like v’s, j’s that sound like y’s, I feel pretty at home!

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Kris and I are fond of the surrounding neighborhood, kind of quirky, it has a distinct personality; lets take a walk and check it out. Houses in the area were built at the turn of the century, making them over 100 years old, while many working-class Detroit neighborhoods have suffered this area has managed to stay stable. It’s a quiet day with not much activity, we walk past wood-sided homes with bright-colored trim, lawns are mowed neatly, every porch is host to groups of flower pots. Empty lots have been transformed into gardens, it’s not unusual to see large hoop houses, multiple lots are combined to form what appears to be a farm; haystacks and compost piles are common sights. Rows of Swiss Chard look ready to be harvested, tomato plants cling to stakes and wire fencing. We pass a community garden and a Little Free Library. This is a close-knit neighborhood with residents who share the same lifestyle philosophy, it’s not a trend but a way of life.

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Homes are whimsical, artistic, like the one painted burnt orange with a gorgeous mural covering the second story. Window frames come in red, peach and shades of blue. Big yellow dots with orange centers are scattered on a fence, artists have claimed the ground level of a commercial building. The giraffe must be the neighborhood mascot, we see him in yards, sides of houses and on buildings. We walk past bee yards, rain barrels, well-behaved dogs, blooming flowers, greens and fruit trees. Farnsworth Orchard is in this neighborhood as is Rising Pheasant Farms. Through hard work and dedication this neighborhood has survived Detroit’s ups and downs; it’s unlike any other–that’s the way residents like it. We like it too.

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We’re having lunch at Tony V’s Tavern on Cass in Midtown; parking is easy and there are plenty of open tables on the patio. The front of the building has a roll-up door making it a great destination for outdoor dining. Tony V’s specializes in New York Style thin crust pizza, now we just have to decide which one to get… There’s a bevy of activity around us, we sip on Diet Cokes as diners finish up in time to get to the football game at WSU, others take a seat at the bar to watch U of M football. Our Mediterranean pizza arrives, a thin crust topped with olive oil, feta, kalamata olives, sliced tomato and prosciutto, delicious! We take our time eating and linger on the patio for as long as we can, who knows how many days like this we have left… 

The Shores: What a View !

12 Oct

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We’re in the exceptionally scenic Village of Grosse Pointe Shores.  The Shores is the smallest of the Pointes taking up 1.1 sq. miles of land with gorgeous views of Lake St. Clair, making it a very attractive place to live. Friends have invited us to the residents-only Osius Municipal Park for a classic car show, the public is welcome. A rare opportunity to see something we normally couldn’t, let’s check it out.

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As we pass through the park gate and take in the scene; classic cars are parked single file, weeping willows hug the shoreline, stately boats fill slips in the marina, Lake St. Clair sparkles as if someone has thrown buckets of diamonds across its surface–what a beautiful location for a car show! We start at the point, towering trees provide shade for over-heated visitors, participants eat coney dogs on park picnic tables. Vintage Chrysler’s seem to outnumber every other brand; it’s only fitting since most of them were built a stone’s throw away in Detroit at Lynch Rd, Jefferson or Dodge Main in Hamtramck. A trio of Roadrunners come in Vitamin C Orange with the Dust Trail stripe, the white one with a cool air-grabber hood is still wearing its Wayne State decal from its days as a test car and a silver sleeper with a blue interior powered by a monstrous Hemi engine; they all look great. 

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The South African Valiant is interesting; hey, the steering wheel is on the wrong side… Vintage drag racing enthusiasts will recognize the
Motown Missile; it’s getting a fair share of attention. The 1965 New Yorker and 1967 Imperial (built at Jefferson) remind us what a luxury car
really is. A bright red Mangusta sits low to the ground, this sleek Italian sports car is powered by a Ford drive train. Speaking of Ford, a yellow Model A from 1930 and a green 1926 Model T represent the early era of cars. I take in red-line tires, raised white letters, racing stripes, hood scoops and vinyl tops, there are convertibles and a station wagon; the silver 1969 GTX looks awesome with a red interior. A deep red Corvette has a funky custom paint job–very 1970’s style with stripes in orange, yellow and blue, the interior even matches!

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Our walk through the park leads us to the marina; a long dock takes us past fancy boats and elegant yachts. The warmth of the sun has built up during the day, a breeze coming off the lake refreshes us. On one side we see the backs of stately homes that reside on Lakeshore Dr, dozens of boats have dropped anchor just off shore while passengers take a swim or enjoy the view with a cold beverage. To our right a steady stream of boaters come and go from the marina, Scarab, Formula and Fountain are all represented, the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club can be seen in the distance.  Suddenly our attention is focused on an Intrepid Center Console, as it makes its turn toward the open water we catch a glimpse of the quadruple motors with American flag decals; at 627 hp each these are the most powerful outboards made today–that’s one serious boat. Sitting on a bench we hang out a while longer, a freighter passes in the distance as more boats come out to play. We walk back through the park past scenic overlooks and take in the exceptional vehicles one last time before we go.

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Here in Michigan we know how to appreciate beautiful days like today; one way is to dine al fresco with a commanding water view. Brownie’s On The Lake, up the road on Jefferson provides just that. We take the long driveway all the way to the water, there is ample parking today. The restaurant itself is actually a vintage Quonset hut; today we’re eating outside. The large patio welcomes patrons, umbrellas shelter diners from the harsh sun. Servers hustle from table to table serving ice-cold beer, Bloody Mary’s, Fish and Chips and the famous Brownie Burger. We’re having the Rustica Flatbread; basil pesto, bacon, blue cheese, caramelized onions drizzled with a cherry balsamic reduction, a great combination of flavors. The sweet potato waffle fries are addicting, crispy outside, moist inside–yum! We take our time savoring the flavors and the scenery; boaters continue their trek to and from Lake St. Clair, you have to make the most of a day like today.

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We’re extending our day with one more stop, Baffin Brewing Company on Jefferson in St. Clair Shores has been open about a year now and already has a large contingent of loyal customers. Today the brewery is decked out in Autumn decor; cornstalks and haystacks join Hops across the front of the building. The interior is an open space, beer-making is taking place in large kettles on the left, the bar is sort of zig-zag shaped to the right. I choose a spot with a straight-on view of the chalkboard beer list, today there are 10 to choose from. After a few samples and a lot of questions I choose the Backcrossing Brown-a nitrogen poured chestnut honey brown made with local chestnuts; mellow and tasty its smoothness really won me over. Kris is having the Don’t Tell Scotty, a Scotch Ale, which he enjoys. As we sip our beer and munch on popcorn we have light conversation with one of the owners and the bartender, I ask about the wall of mugs, turns out each one of those mugs belongs to a customer who drank 150 beers in a year; we’d better get drinking… 

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Eastern Market: Still, More to Come….

4 Oct

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We’re in the Eastern Market District on a Thursday evening; shops, galleries, cafes and soon-to-open businesses are open late. People fill the sidewalks and streets; special events are taking place as artists from Detroit to Paris put the finishing touches on murals throughout the district. We’re on the Fisher Fwy service drive, Cheap Charlies wears Cey Adams’ mural Mighty Love, next to that we admire the artwork of Shades. Eastern Market has become a focal point for art; walk around any street on any given day and you’ll see what I mean. 

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Down a ways Detroit Wick is packed with people checking out art and scented goods. We squeeze inside; a DJ provides music, there’s a line for cocktails, people mill about looking at items encapsulated in lucite. Cleaning products turned art fill a table, plastic trash bags are making a statement. Over at the Scent Bar (yep, Scent Bar) I check out candles and room sprays, I like all of them; buy one of theirs or create your own. Outside the temperature is still in the 80’s, in front of Shed 2, people have gathered to listen to the Detroit Afriken Music Institution’s “Mothership Landing”, a UFO glows in LED light as Funk music entertains the crowd. We follow a group of illuminated bicycles and watch as bikes decked out in lights, baskets and all sorts of bling promenade down a runway; the audience claps, shouts and whistles for their favorites.

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Weaving through market streets we find a street party on Riopelle, food trucks feed hungry festival goers, a DJ supplies the music and Detroit City Distillery is hard at working making craft cocktails. Tonight Eastern Market Brewing Company is giving a preview of their space set to open in March of 2017. We step inside the 1929 building that until a couple of years ago was home to S&D Packing, a meat-packing plant; today the raw space is cluttered with half a dozen beer kettles, curious patrons, folding chairs, and a table selling EMBC merch. I see a table serving up beer and popcorn, to my surprise it’s free! Kris and I stand and listen to the live band while we eat and drink, they’re playing American Pie, the whole audience joins in at the chorus, the song ends and we’re back on the streets.

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We wander past murals from 2015 and 2016, the art encourages visitors to investigate the entire footprint of the district. Zak Meers is putting the finishing touches on his farm mural, a wall of silhouettes is taking shape; the creative spirit is alive and well in Detroit. Sydney James piece featuring an African-American woman addresses a timely topic, another mural is a blend of colors creating colorful background for mountains, clouds, planets and boulders that bounce across the wall. A lovely young American Indian girl is the centerpiece on the wall of Greenbriar Foods, Greg Mike’s lion head is intimidating, cartoon characters on each side, less so. It’s kind of a strange-but-good feeling to be out here at night, this area is just beginning to come back, long-empty buildings have been gutted and stabilized, they await their new purpose. 

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Pat Perry’s marching band is uniquely Detroit; band members play an exhaust pipe with muffler instead of a horn, the drummer uses a tire, another member wears a truck body and uses brake rotors for cymbals, I love it! The evening light almost portrays them as ghosts, leftovers from Detroit’s manufacturing glory days. A lighted staircase leads us down to the new section of the Dequindre Cut, freshly planted grass has taken root, trees and attractive landscaping has been put in. This is a part of the city I had never seen until the pathway was put it, vacant buildings wait for redevelopment, there’s a new bridge on Wilkins, plaza areas offer pedestrians and cyclists a place to relax. The Dequindre Cut now runs all the way from the Detroit River to Mack. Over on Wilkins Dabls mural is a work-in-progress, a multi-color wall is host to black designs and irregular-shaped mirror pieces, I can’t wait to see it when it’s done. A crowd has gathered around Clifton Perry’s mural, a spotlight draws us over to check out the many characters in the scene. 

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The Jeep is parked where we started, on the far end of the activities, right near the Detroit City Distillery Factory. Located at 1000 Maple just off Gratiot, the 20,000 sq. ft. building has an interesting history. It was built in the 1930’s by Goebel as their brewing facility, it was directly across the street from Stroh’s Brewery, the two were fierce competitors. Stroh’s acquired Goebel in the 1960’s and converted the space to make Stroh’s Ice Cream. Detroit City Distillery purchased the building and is now making their craft Bourbon and Rye right here. The parking lot is filled with cars, a vendor is cooking up sliders on an open grill, they smell delicious. Inside, the building is awash in funky lighting, make-shift bars are serving up cocktails and three varieties of punch, oversize paintings decorate the space. We climb in the hand-operated elevator and are taken to the second floor, portable screens show old music videos. Stills and barrels fill the production area ,windows look out over the city, we are free to wander. We poke around different floors, I see no remnants of either ice cream or beer, some old signs remain. It’s exciting to get a look behind-the-scenes, to see things as they take shape. 

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Eastern Market: More to Come…

28 Sep

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 It’s 85 degrees on a Thursday evening, artists from Detroit, the nation and around the world hit the streets September 15, armed with brushes, rollers, spray cans and gallons; their visions will transform building walls around the Eastern Market District. Their goal: to expand Detroit’s legacy of public art by adding 35 new murals by 50 artists in 9 days! Events throughout the year in Detroit focus on the city’s art, culture, designers and new business. Murals in the Market and Detroit Design Festival overlap in mid-September, Eastern Market After Dark gives us a chance to see the best of both events and affords us a sneak peek of to come in the Market. We start on Gratiot, New York artist Kevin Lyons is perched high in the bucket of a lift putting the finishing touches on his mural.  Round-eyed, goofy creatures in shades of turquoise and coral smile at us revealing names of Detroit Jazz giants in their teeth, Aretha Franklin, Dilla, T3, and Ron Carter are just a few represented. A block down Dalek has created a study in perspective using shades of red, black and blue; a pair of hands reach out from around the corner of the building.

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Further down Gratiot we park near the Maple Substation, Hueman has finished her piece; a mix of warm colors on the right, cool on the left, joined by a face, a hand seems to be brushing away a tear, images are layered one upon another. Nearby, a character rides his bike carrying water to those in need; it’s a magnificent scene. Around the corner a trio of artists are in the process of completing the word “Detroit” on an old Honey Bee Hardware warehouse. Black and white letters are splashed across the brick wall, pastel colors take over on the roll-up door. A few yards over NNII works his roller into gray paint blocking in large sections of his design. Everywhere I look something is happening, murals seem to be growing among the weeds and vines that have claimed the long-vacated area. Pixel Pancho’s old-fashioned portrait high upon a corner looks like it could have been here a century ago.

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We walk down alleys and streets not wanting to miss a thing. Two women sit on the ground filling in the final section on a wall that puts me in the mind of a kaleidoscope; blue, yellow, green and purple designs cover one area; red, pink, yellow, orange and lilac fill the other. We stop and talk, Kristin Farr is based in CA, her fellow artist formerly from Toronto lives here now. So far we’ve chatted with artists from NY, CA, NC and Canada; everybody is having a good time.

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An attractive group of Art Deco style buildings on the east side of Gratiot are slowly being restored; Inner State Gallery, a sponsor of Murals in the Market, has been one of the anchors as other businesses slowly open. The gallery is buzzing with activity tonight, the current exhibition features the art of the muralists working in the district. Outside, white lights are strung under an awning, Cyberoptix is hosting a soft opening of their retail space set to open in November. Inside, the tie lab displays original designs on neck ties, bow ties and scarves; Well Done Goods is also selling jewelry in the space, their retail space in the same building is currently in the works.

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SMPLFD, a Detroit-themed apparel manufacturer is the most recent shop to open. Selling unique designs focused on Detroit sports teams and cultural icons, items include t-shirts, tank tops and super-soft sweatshirts; everything I looked at was Made In The USA. They also sell headwear, sunglasses and tote bags. The building is beautiful, the space is beautiful, clothing is high quality, attractive and clever; a great addition to the neighborhood.

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We drop in at People’s Records, this is one of those shops that’s always fun to have a peek; I love the old black and white portraits that fill the wall, boxes and crates are maxed out with old vinyl. The next building is a fabulous example of Art Nouveau, the former TransLove Energies space is now Detroit Life; same owner, same great art, music and design. We traverse the building from top to bottom taking in photos by famed Detroit photographer Leni Sinclair, posters by Gary Grimshaw, both share an interesting history with the space. The second floor has a fantastic view of Gratiot, the city and the market district; darkness has fallen, traffic lights and headlights fill the lanes, buildings are dresses up in special lighting, storefronts are awash in light; I think to myself, this is so cool… The venue is constantly hosting live music and art exhibitions, we’ll be back.

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We cross Gratiot, it’s got to be 80 degrees still, the night is humid. Murals from 2015 cover several walls, tonight a gorgeous piece with 2 Native Americans is being finished, the artist working by spotlight up on a lift. We watch in amazement as he works. Walking on gravel between buildings we think we’ve covered everything new in this area. Now it’s time to head into the belly of the beast, events are going on all over the main market area; I’ll tell you all about it in the next post.

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