Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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Tonight we’re just wandering around Detroit; we’ll dip our toe into Noel Night, visit the downtown Holiday Markets and finish up with dinner and drinks in Southwest. All of the featured places are new to Detroit’s growing list of places to eat, drink and shop. Let’s begin with Noel Night, being seasoned veterans of this event we tend to steer clear of  the crowds at larger venues such as the DIA, Library, Science Center and the like. Instead we head over to Third Street, the Detroit Design Center has a sculpture park next to the building, one-of-a-kind pieces decorate the open space, flood lights illuminate the art casting funky shadows on the wall. Tonight the building is open to the public, artists are busy putting on the finishing touches. Huge carbon steel sculptures reach toward the ceiling,  metal statement pieces are grounded to the floor, I’m crazy about the swing. Pieces are made of glass, metal and wood, you can purchase art for a wall, a tabletop or desk; the metal skyline organizer would look great on my counter.

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In 1949 the Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third Street, it was an entertainment hot spot featuring live Jazz. As the area declined so did the clientele; the building was closed down and padlocked in 1978. Today the building wears a fresh coat of paint, the Art Moderne exterior shines, a sign painted on the Willis side of the building announces the re-opening of this memorable venue. The Detroit Optimist Society and a group of L.A. investors plan a January 2018 re-opening, the 75-seat bar will serve 1960’s inspired cocktails and bar snacks, the stage will host live Jazz, Blues and Soul artists cabaret style. I can hardly wait!

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Does anybody remember the Hammer and Nail building on Woodward? This 12-story Mid-Century building was built in 1965, the hammer and nail was originally intended as a tribute to a local carpenter’s union. The building, now called The Plaza, recently underwent a complete restoration and is now home to 72 apartments. As part of the Noel Night festivities the building is open for tours, let’s take a look. A lovely Christmas tree adorns the lobby, through a glass doorway the neon hammer and nail have found a new resting spot on an interior wall, we are told this space will be a public bar in the future, it’s fun to see this landmark lit up again. A tour guide loads 5 of us into an elevator stopping on the 10th floor, we are seeing a 1-bedroom corner unit. From the dimly lit entrance we follow a short hall past the laundry room into the living space, one left turn and we’re looking out a wall of windows at the Detroit skyline. Everybody stops in their tracks, our host has not turned on any lights, giving us a clear look at the spectacular view, each of us gravitates toward the windows; Ford Field glows in Christmas colors to the left, Little Caesars Arena to the right, the Ambassador Bridge further in the distance–wow! We see pedestrians crowding the sidewalk on Woodward, the towers of the Renaissance Center are red, I can see Motor City Casino too. 

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Next we drive over to Capitol Park for the holiday markets; from now until January 7 a series of pop-up businesses will fill the park. At first I don’t even know where I am, I mean, I know the surrounding buildings, but the outdoor space has been completely transformed. Local shops fill terrarium-like little glass booths; you can purchase art, a toboggan, a wreath or even a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The air smells of evergreens and food, deck chairs surround a log table, people are making s’mores at the fire pit, visitors are packed into Eatori’s booth drinking cocktails by the Christmas tree. White lights are strung everywhere, zig-zagging above public spaces. We walk down State Street to Woodward and find trees tightly wrapped in miniature lights, fresh landscaping includes garlands and branches spray painted in red and white, it’s a winter wonderland.

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Campus Maritus is buzzing with activity, ice skaters fill the rink, the Christmas tree is the prettiest one yet, the line to rent skates is long, with hot chocolates in hand, nobody seems to mind. We cross over to Cadillac Square, picnic tables, deck chairs and fire pits fill the space between to long rows of glass booths. Food trucks, Detroit City Nut Company, fudge and popcorn are available to hungry spectators. The Cadillac Bier Garten is a good place to rest and take in the city, and have a beer of course. At the far end a large tent has been transformed into a Lodge; couches, comfy chairs, blankets and rugs welcome chilly pedestrians. Chandeliers are made of branches, strings of white lights make the tent festive. People are waiting in line to get in, we take a peek inside then continue walking. 

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The Woodward Esplande is gorgeous; the concrete pathway leads us though grapevine arches, surrounding landscape is lit with spotlights and miniature lights, people are taking advantage of the many photo ops along the way. The pathway opens up, here LED lights are strung above us, colors rotate from one shade to the next, it’s stunning, I feel like I’m in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The One Woodward building is decked out for the holidays; a tall, slender tree, elegant in white stands on one side of the lobby while a trio of gold and white ornaments anchors the other side. Standing at this level we overlook the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, clear igloos offer passersby food and drink, while large blocks make up an ice-cube maze; we need to get a closer look. This is amazing! In one igloo we find ping-pong and air hockey tables, another sells goodies from Good Cakes and Bakes, how about a cup of coffee from New Order? Unfortunately we’re here after most of the shops have closed for the evening. Families giggle as they make their way through the ice-cube maze, again everything lights up and changes colors, I swear the Spirit of Detroit is smiling…

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How does pizza sound? PizzaPlex opened a few short months ago on W Vernor in Southwest Detroit. It’s more than just another pizza joint, there’s a strong sense of community here from the employees to the events that take place in the adjoining space. The pizza oven came straight from Napoli, a pizza cooks in just 90 seconds, that’s good news for us, we’re starving. I order at the counter, #17, the Nikolette is a combo of fresh mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, roasted poblanos, parmigiano, basil and olive oil. I add a house salad and a pour-over coffee. In addition to tasty food, offerings also include coffee drinks and a limited selection bar. Sitting in a booth we are awash in blue LED light, basil grows on shelves mounted to the wall, a movie plays on the screen in the community room. Our food is brought to the table; the pizza is delicious, the crust the perfect amount of crisp and chewy, a nice balance of toppings, we eat the whole thing…

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Just down the street the Detroit Optimist Society has opened a Tiki-themed bar called Mutiny. Inside, the casual space has all the thing we’ve come to expect from a tiki bar; Hawiian-shirt wearing bar tenders, bamboo, the ceiling a mass of colored lights, netting, high-back wicker chairs, large paper umbrellas, thatch, framed vintage menus from high-profile bars back in the day, you get the picture. Tiki mugs and interesting serving glasses line the back bar, check out the photo of the waterfall. The tropical cocktail menu lists all your favorites, with a twist. We order drinks at the bar and watch as the bartender measures shots, shakes concoctions, pours them into specific mugs, he even sets some on fire. Kris’s drink comes in a stemmed coconut glass, mine in a fish mug advertising Plymouth Gin. The drinks are good, the atmosphere laid back; a nice ending to an incredible night.

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Hamtramck Arts Festival

3 Dec

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The Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival is a “loosely curated showcase of artists, writers and musicians living in Hamtramck and surrounding neighborhoods.” Visitors to the festival are invited to walk through downtown Hamtown and the surround streets viewing art or listening to music, in houses, on porches, in backyards, on sidewalks and in storefronts, all for free. We grab our map at Bumbo’s Bar on Holbrook, the place looks pretty cool in a vintage way but it’s packed, I make a mental note to come back on a day when it’s not so crowded. There are 38 little blue dots on the map marking places participating in today’s event, good thing it runs all day.

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We trek over to Klinger, Hamtramck Disneyland Artist-in-Residence Joanie Wind has opened her studio to festival-goers. Inside the compact home her abstract paintings hang near the entryway, I like the textures and glitter. In the family room her video art plays on a large television screen. Outside is the infamous Folk Art installation we all know and love, Hamtramck Disneyland. I’m excited because this is the first time I’ll be seeing it from inside the yard instead of from the alley. For those of you unfamiliar with the story behind the art here’s a little history: Hamtramck Disneyland is the work of artist Dmytro Szylak, it took him nearly 30 years to build it atop the 2 garages on the properties that he owned. It’s a whimsical combination of photographs, posters, found items, that together twirl, spin, illuminate, entertain. It’s Americana, kitsch and Dr. Seuss all strung together from ground to sky. We pass the Statue of Liberty on the porch and take the narrow walkway between 2 houses, crossing under the archway of horses into the backyard. 

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We see the jetliner, a rocking horse and carousel horses for the first time. A windmill turns, a duck flaps its wings, a lumberjack saws.  Real Sparrows and Chickadees are perched throughout the sculpture, not a single one is phased by the pieces dancing in the wind. The longer we look the more we discover; a bicycle rim, window fan, Mickey Mouse, propellers, sailors, miniature lights, missals and a helicopter… In the alley a fresh coat of paint has been applied to the garage and fence. After Szylak’s death residents expressed concern over what would happen to the neighborhood Disneyland, Hatch Art took ownership of the properties in 2016, their plan is to repair and maintain the installation, it’s looking better than it has in a long time. You can see Hamtramck Disneyland for yourself anytime from the alleyway between Sobieski and Klinger, north of Commor, south of Carpenter.

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Speaking of Hatch, let’s go check out their gallery on Evaline. HATCH stands for Hamtramck Art Collective, in 2008 they purchased the old police station from the city and began renovating the building as money allowed; four years later Hatch Art Gallery opened. The 2-story brown-brick building is quietly tucked away on a neighborhood street; exhibitions take up most of the first floor, there’s also classroom space, a gift shop, community dark room and an Art Library where Detroiter’s can borrow a local artists work for their home for up to 2 months. Upstairs, studios are 11 x 14, each has a window, solid door, WiFi and secure 24-hour access, not bad for $200 a month. We climb the stairs and admire the beautiful painting in the hall, wandering in and out of each private studio with an open door we see a variety of mediums and styles; oils, watercolors, portraits, clowns, dogs, plants, sculptures and encaustic pieces. Such a mix of subjects and images; some startling, others serene.

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Moving along we pass an abandoned house where the boarded up windows have become canvases for art. Inside the Ghost Light thick-framed paintings by Emily Jane Wood fill a wall, the band is setting up in the performance space. A house on Caniff has also been turned into studios, I watch as an artist works with dried flowers she grew herself. We notice a small group of people hanging out on a porch, we cross over to see what they’re doing; it’s an interactive display combining sound, art, circuits and sculpture.. Fruits are halved with wires running to a computer, a note instructs me to pick up the wired carrots and use them as drumsticks, how fun is this? Next I tap pumpkins and hard squash with my fingertips, the vegetables have become drums. My favorite thing is the jello cups, I hold the spoon and tap the jiggly concoction mimicking  the sound of a xylophone, each color is a different note, it’s like magic– I could play with this all afternoon!

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A former Chinese restaurant on the corner of Caniff and Jos Campau has been turned into a community space called Bank Suey, today it’s home to an artist market selling everything from homemade samosas to essential oils and fiber art, chair massage anyone? Oloman Cafe is showcasing black and white photography on a gallery wall. I really like the space, so open and airy. Come in for a coffee drink or tea, pastries or light fare, check out the current exhibit, relax in the lounge area; I take my coffee to go.

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The door is open at another multi-level building, we follow the sound of the voices inside. An artist is talking to a group of visitors, we check out his work then ramble through the rest of the building. Upstairs a man is deep in thought, working on a piece. His space is bright, stuff is everywhere, he makes his own material, it looks like some kind of soft plastic, he layers pieces on top of one another creating multi-dimensional works, colors drip and ooze together. His work space is almost as interesting as his work.

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Popps Packing is an artist-­run neighborhood-­based nonprofit organization founded in 2009 by husband and wife artists, Faina Lerman and Graem Whyte. Their mission is to create impactful arts programming and foster cultural exchange between local and international artist communities, while leveraging the unique features of our region, neighborhood, and personal practices.”  Whew, having gotten that about of the way I now want to tell you about Popps Back Forty. Over on Carpenter St. you will notice the house at 2037 is undergoing renovation, we enter carefully, look at the art on display then exit through the back door; what I see is completely unexpected. A wide open space, mature trees, gardens, the tallest corn I’ve ever seen in my life, a treehouse. Stepping out into the yard we wander in amazement, cabbages are still hanging on, Marigolds are finished blooming, a thick layer of mulch separates perennials and vegetables; various garden beds are found throughout the property. Kris climbs the ladder to the treehouse, what a view; I visit the chickens and turkey’s in their pen. Musicians begin arriving for the improvisational soundscape taking place on the back forty; one makes his way to the back of the lot, the boat parked on a trailer will be his stage. Further on more musicians are already making music, one on a large wooden spool another on a platform nestled into a tree. It begins to rain, we listen to ethereal sounds that seem natural in this environment, the tire swing looks lonely, colorful art installations look as if they grew from the ground up; who knew all of this was here?

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Time to eat, the cafe at the Detroit Zen Center is open again, lets get some food. Living Zen Organics, an organic health food store and cafe is located on the lower level of the center. Operated by monks, students and neighbors you can stop in to purchase bulk foods, organic teas or have a bite to eat. The large, open space has an immediate cozy feeling, exposed rafters, glazed brick walls, decorative tiles, wood tables and benches put me at ease. After taking a seat we place our order, I have a sore throat today so director and head cook Myungju Sunim is making me a special tea. I look around at Ball jars filled with dark liquids such as coconut blossom syrup and raw blue agave, others hold spices; turmeric, thyme, sage; metal cans hold dried beans and rice. Back at the table I sip on my tea, it feels good going down. Large plates hold kale salad and a vegan black bean burrito, bowls hold today’s soup. We eat slowly, the calmness dictating our pace, the food is quite flavorful, we enjoy every bite. As a treat Abbot Hwalson Sambul Sunim is making vegan ice cream for the staff, he’s kind enough to share some of it with us, the smooth and creamy banana mixture is sweet and pleasing. What better way to end the day!

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Harvest Days

22 Nov

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Back in the mid-1960’s it was apparent technology was rapidly changing rural life, there was no going back.  From sugar beets to dairy farms, soy beans to corn, Michigan’s Thumb region was largely agricultural. A group of people saw the need to preserve the past, to provide an understanding of our heritage, to present the origin and evolution of farming and rural living; in 1966 the St. Clair County Farm Museum opened about 15 miles west of Port Huron in Goodells MI. We are here for Harvest Days a 3-day event full of demonstrations of how life ‘used to be’. You can watch huge logs transformed into boards on the Port Huron Sawmill, see steam-powered threshing of wheat, listen to steam traction engines run, visit barns filled with antiques and local memorabilia and walk row after row of restored tractors. There’s something very sweet about the simplicity of those days gone by.

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From the parking lot we have a pleasant view of the property and buildings, barns are painted white with a stone base. We start at the horse barn, no there aren’t any horses here but, they do have plows, old seed advertisements and a wagon, look at the sleigh hanging in the rafters. We find animals in the next barn; a trio of horses in varying patterns of brown and white, all very friendly, a few goats and  roaming chickens. Over in the silo a ladder grips the side, I feel dizzy when I crank my neck to look all the way to the top. Buggies are posed in a row, there’s a single-seat buggy that would be pulled by one horse and a couple of larger ones. The 1903 Studebaker hearse came from a funeral home in Port Huron, all black with glass sides, it definitely looks like something out of an old (spooky) movie. Along the wall is a series of dairy equipment and cream separators, some of them were made nearby.

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The area we are in now is more of a local museum, one exhibit is filled with basic antique household items like a rocking chair, clocks, thermometers, tools and lanterns. Area business banners act as cornice boards for displays; Yale Dry Goods, Fort Gratiot Stove and Furnace, Marysville Millinery, Richmond Glass and Pottery. Around the corner the Algonac Home and Appliance Store has a really cool display of old-fashioned washing machines, wringers and vacuum cleaners, rustic is a word that comes to mind… A poster from Detroit Stove Works on Jefferson claims it is the largest stove plant in the world! Of course, it is these foundries that paved the way for the automobile industry in Detroit.The table in the dining room is set and waiting for the guests to arrive, shelves on each side of the buffet hold the china, plates balance on the dish rail, candles grace the table. Home entertainment was provided by the television, here we have an Admiral model, and of course there has always been music. Album covers hang on the wall; you can waltz with Guy Lombardo, Polka with your partner or relax with a little Lawrence Welk. Do you remember any of them?

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Outside is where the action is. Steam engines, tractors, saws and whistles create a cacophony in the air. Before us antique tractors are lined up like soldiers by brand and color; it’s a lot to take in. We’re certainly not tractor experts, they’re a lot of fun to look at in their bright colors and era-reflective designs; placards identify models and years.  First in line is a Massey Harris Challenger model from 1936, green with red spoke wheels, it’s pretty snazzy. Next to it is another Massey Harris, this one in red from 1955, I like the yellow wheels. Look at the graphics on this model, it’s a “Super” Twin-Power 101. The green Oliver 77 has a yellow-painted grill that looks Art Deco. Here’s a name I recognize, Farmall, this one’s a 1939 F-20. Ford made tractors from 1917-1964 under the name Fordson and Ford. This one is a beauty in red and white, although I must admit, white seems an unlikely color for a tractor–just sayin’. A big ol’ Minneapolis-Moline G90 machine in rusty yellow is for sale, interested?

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The red paint on the Port Huron Engine and Thresher Co. machine has nearly faded to pink, the lettering is pretty fancy. Over by the sawmill a bright orange Allis-Chalmers looks ready to go to work. We look on as logs are sawn into flat boards. Bales of hay fill the chute of the New Holland. Probably the most popular name in tractors is John Deere, there’s no shortage of them here; they’re easy to spot in their signature green. A Turbo tractor? Why not? Here’s a red International version. The Ford display has tractors in red with white and their signature blue. The ‘Ford Oval’ tool box is cool, as is the tractor pedal-car on top of the banner. So many brands, Case, Row Crop, Cub Cadet, Massey Ferguson, Agri-King.

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Walking the grounds we see tractors from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, most are restored, some are for sale, some look like they just left the field in time to make it for the show. We can’t forget the riding mowers…  The Sears Suburban has an 8-speed, the olive-green Sears Twin is so 1970’s, how about the ultra-cool Ford 120 in powder blue and white. Riding mowers and tractors from the 1960’s and 70’s took their cue from automobiles; great badges, lettering, racing stripes. Some of the mowers have been restored, others are in their original condition. By the look on Kris’s face a vintage mower may be in our future. 

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An announcement is made telling us the Horse Pulling competition is about to begin, having never seen it before our curiosity is piqued, let’s take a look. This is boat or sled pulling meaning it is a friction pull where the runners or flat bottom it has on the ground create friction with the ground it’s running against, they are pulling dead weight, in this case, concrete. A group of men lead their team of horses onto the track, the horses are all keyed up, anxious to get to work. It takes more than one try to connect the horses to the boat. As soon as the start is signaled thick-legged horses bear down, the back half of their body lowers toward the ground, I subconsciously tighten my legs, clench my hands into fists as I watch. It’s over in an instant. Today’s winners pulled 10,000 lbs.

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Walking back to the car we decide to visit the Historical Village in Goodells County Park. All of the buildings in the village have been donated and moved to the park from different parts of the county. The church is post and beam construction from 1860, it was completely dismantled, moved and reassembled here in 2011, it’s quite plain but very lovely, the is the first time I have seen white-painted pews. The Mudge Log Cabin was built in Wales Township by Isaac Mudge during the Civil War (1863), his great, great, great-grandson donated it. The contents reflect the pioneer lifestyle of rural life during that time, note the spinning wheel. The Murphy Ryan Farmhouse built in 1872 came to the park in 1998. The furnishings are all period correct; there’s a stove to warm yourself by, a piano, a pitcher and bowl for washing yourself, looks like they had everything they needed. The Schoolhouse is from 1855, all of the contents were left in place when it was moved from Yale to Goodells. The desks don’t look too comfortable, apparently blackboards have been around forever. The CC Peck and Co building was the local bank in downtown Goodells, built in 1908 it has been restored to its original appearance and is now leased by the Wales Historical Society.

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Walking through history has given us an appetite, we have just the fix. Palms Krystal Bar in Port Huron has been serving Chicken In The Rough since 1936. Chicken In The Rough was one of the first fast-food franchises in the US, by 1950 they had 250 franchised outlets across the country and around the world; today only 2 are left, this one and one in Ontario Canada. No menu is necessary, as a matter of fact when the waitress approaches she just asks, the usual? Yes. The fried chicken dinner is outstanding; large meaty pieces served in a basket of fresh-cut shoestring fries, a side of slaw and a roll with butter, DELICIOUS. Not much has changed at Palms Krystal Bar, from the aluminum entry door to the fabulous interior; pink neon, glass block, original bar and stools, very Art Deco. As Kris likes to say: Everything cool has already been done.

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DETROIT: Capitol Park

11 Nov

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When Michigan became a state in 1837, Detroit was chosen as the Capitol city. An existing courthouse on a triangular piece of land surrounded by Shelby, Griswold and State streets became the state capitol building. In 1847 when the city of Lansing became the new capitol of Michigan, the building in Detroit was used as a high school until it burned down in 1893. The land was then converted into a park with plantings, benches and a fountain; Capitol Park was born. Detroit experienced rapid growth during the late 19th and early 20th Century, buildings went up all over downtown, architectural styles include Romanesque, Colonial Revival, Victorian, Beaux-Arts and Art Deco. In Capitol Park that half-acre plot of land was soon encircled by 17 buildings for a block in each direction. Michigan’s first governor Stevens T Mason, was buried here, at age 25 he was the youngest governor in American history; Michigan’s first constitution was authored here too. Finney Hotel and Horse Barn, at the intersection of State and Griswold was one of the final stops along the Underground Railroad. Detroit thrived, offices, shops, restaurants and residents filled skyscrapers and ornate structures, sidewalks were teeming with shoppers and businessmen. And then the buildings and streets were empty.

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It’s a funny thing about Detroit, while the rest of the nation underwent Urban Renewal, much of Detroit was left untouched, the buildings and property had little value, nobody was interested in investing money in a ghost town. Because of this mindset, Detroit is left with a marvelous collection of early 20th century architecture. Capitol Park is a prime example; not much has changed since streetcars traversed city streets. Abandoned, windowless buildings stood silent as their facades slowly crumbled, witnessing the worst decline in America. Fortunately for all of us they persevered.

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Today the Capitol Park Historic District is alive and well. Buildings have been renovated or are in the process of historic renovation; scaffolding, barriers and men in hard hats are a common sight. Check out the Detroit Savings Bank building, built in 1895 it’s the oldest existing high-rise in Detroit; it’s now home to 56 loft apartments and office space, it’s gorgeous. The 38-story, Art Deco, David Stott building opened in 1929, because of the Great Depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid-1950’s. With a reddish-granite base the brick changes in color from an orangey-tan to buff as it soars skyward. You may remember the Sky Bar formerly located on the 33rd floor. 

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Griswold is our favorite street in the city, Capitol Park, our favorite district, I love the unique sense of enclosure the buildings provide. Let’s take a walk. Here on Griswold there are lots of new businesses, Bird Bee is a women’s boutique filled with trendy fashions, accessories, shoes and home goods. The interior is bright and airy, live plants are tucked into the honeycomb-shaped shelves behind the counter. The shop has a wonderful selection of clothing from casual and comfy to business and evening wear. Also located on the ground floor of the Albert Building (f.k.a the Griswold Building)Detroit Bikes  designs and sells bicycles handmade in Detroit using high-quality American chromoly steel. The building opened in 1929, showroom decor pays homage to the early 1900’s; red flocked wallpaper, antique display cabinets, a Victrola collection, vintage lighting; stunning. Bicycles come in Type A, B or C, they also have a versatile model called the Cortello. My favorite? The Faygo series, you know, the soda pop. You can pedal through the streets on an Orange, Lime, Grape, Red Pop or Cotton Candy colored bike, sweet! Detroit Bikes is investing in American manufacturing by making bicycles right here in Detroit.

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Next door is La Laterna, a pizzeria and bar featuring brick oven pizza. We step inside to peek at the menu and decide to stay for lunch. While we wait for our pizza I read an article in the April 1958 issue of Michigan Restauranteur that hangs on the wall. Edoardo Barbieri opened the original La Lanterna right across the street in Capitol Park in 1956, the family went on to open 3 Da Edoardo restaurants and Cafe Nini in Grosse Pointe. Now, almost 40 years after La Lanterna closed, Edoardo’s grandson has brought the pizzeria back to Capitol Park. The decor is simple and attractive; stainless steel, wood, 12-seat marble bar and teardrop lighting. The centerpiece of the tiny open kitchen is the Marra forni Neopolitan pizza oven. Our Primavera pizza is outstanding, the crust is tender and chewy, lots of tasty vegetables, fresh mozzarella, yum! It’s pretty cool the family business has returned to the city where it started.

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And we’re walking… The Capitol Park Building built in 1912 has been renovated into 63 apartments, Prime + Proper occupies the ground floor. The restaurant wasn’t open yet the day we were there but the staff let us take a peek inside; no expense was spared, it’s pretty luxe. If you like meat, this is the place for you. Next door on State Street, Lear completely renovated the Brown Brothers Tobacco Company Building; built in 1887 and designed by Gordon W Lloyd, it was the largest cigar factory under one roof in the world. The six-story building is now Lear’s Innovation Center. Back on Griswold the Malcomson Building has also been resuscitated, on the left side is The Ten, a nail bar, the right side is home to Eatori Market, a specialty grocer selling produce, pantry staples and prepared foods with a full bar in the front of the space. This was the original location of La Lanterna back in 1956, they managed to salvage the original metal railings and reuse them. We take seats at the L-shaped bar, the bartender offers us cocktail menus, as soon as Kris spots the distinct Blanton’s bottle his decision is made, I go for Eatori’s version of a French 75 called Violet 75, the Creme de Violet gives it a lovely violet hue, oooohh, that’s nice. We take a walk through the market area, everything looks delicious; paninis, salads, meatballs, lots of grab-and-go items. I like the “Invisible Gentleman” paintings by local artist and singer Ben Sharkey.

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Down the street the Farwell Building is in the process of being renovated; built in 1915 the interior design was that of Louis C Tiffany, they say the brass and marble elevators were unequaled in the city. The vaulted dome in the lobby was inlaid with thousands of pieces of Tiffany glass, I can only imagine how beautiful it must have been. When finished there will be 82 apartments, office spaces, retail and a restaurant. The building on the corner wraps around the south side of Grand River, originally called the Bamlet Building, it was built in 1897. After several name changes it was finally renamed Capitol Square Building in 1931, the name has stuck. The Detroit Institute of Music Education, a for-profit college for ‘serious musicians who desire a long-term professional career in modern music’, occupies the building. I’m very fond of the way the windows curve around the corner of the structure. There’s a brand new residential building kitty-corner from DIME, a sign in another building announces Cannelle Patisserie will soon open, Loverboy Hamburgers is on the way too.

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Dessert Oasis Coffee Roasters was one of the first new businesses to open during the recent Capitol Park renaissance. It’s a huge, raw, open space with large windows overlooking the park. They roast their own beans, offer a nice selection of desserts, have live performances and sell their own merch. Kris and I grab a couple of coffees and sit at the bar in the front windows. As I look outside I see people out walking their dogs, hipsters on their way to somewhere trendy, 20-somethings carrying shopping bags, bicyclists, men in suits; I feel like I should pinch myself to see if I’m dreaming. The transformation has been amazing and there’s still more to come…

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Port Sanilac

30 Oct

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Michigan’s thumb coast is often overlooked, underappreciated and ignored by potential tourists residing in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile generations of families have built or maintained cottages along the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, enjoying the deep blue water, numerous beaches, quaint towns, ice cream shops, restaurants and camping… not to mention the availability of bait on nearly every street corner in town. The thumb has its own unique culture. Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley recently gushed to readers about her visit to Marine City; with so much to offer, why don’t more Detroiter’s take advantage of  the close proximity of this water-wonderland? Today we’re headed about mid-way up the thumb coast.

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The Village of Port Sanilac sits snugly on the shores of Lake Huron. About 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit, it was originally a lumberjack settlement; the village is home to restaurants, beaches, marinas, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) and the oldest, continuously operating hardware store in Michigan, Raymond Hardware (since 1850). We’re in town for the Antique Boat Show and Vintage Festival. Old cars, boats and trailers fill Main Street, the harbor and the park. A steady stream of sandal-wearing pedestrians gravitate toward the activity; live music is playing in the distance, the aroma of food fills the air.

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Classic cars are parked on both sides of Main St. I follow Kris’s lead and walk over to the 1961 Dodge Phoenix, this one is white with a fire engine red interior, lots of chrome, glass and push buttons, great upholstery too.  The late 1950’s Galaxie Skyliner has a retractable top, it looks great in powder blue and white. Vehicles span the decades, there’s a beautiful Model A, I like the yellow wire wheels, the 1976 black Trans Am is a limited edition celebrating Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The metallic orange paint on the custom Chevy truck glows in the sunlight, the mid-60’s Ford Ranchero is pretty cool too.

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We walk directly down to the water, the lake is gorgeous today, people mill about checking out the antique boats. As usual, I like to read all the names; Chrissy, Alibi, Tight Lines, oh and a boat I think is stunning, Tiger Lily. We’ve been to a lot of these antique boat shows, many of the them have become familiar but I never get tired of looking. Chris Craft seems to rule the water in this area, all of that lovely wood, simple interiors, they truly are classics.

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I have lost Kris for the moment, then I see him on a dock, City Slicker has caught his attention. The long, black off-shore is a Stinger by Chris Craft; graphics in shades of red hug the sides, loop the arch and come to a point on the ‘hood’, not to be left out, bold stripes continue across the white upholstery, slick indeed… We pass more wooden beauties, larger cabin boats are further down in the marina, they have a nice turn out today, the weather is perfect too. Tables are set up by one of the buildings, model boats are on display; I can’t get over the detail! Replicas of boats from African Queen and Jaws get a lot of attention, I think they’re all pretty amazing.

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Members of Tin Can Tourists are set up in Harbor Park, not only are the trailers kitschy-cool, the owners let you go inside–I love that. Airstream, Shasta, Trotwood, just a few of the brands present today. Generally speaking, people who have vintage trailers seem to enjoy all things vintage; bicycles, furnishings, accessories, linens, electronics, they do a great job assembling items and incorporating them into their home-on-wheels.

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Many of the trailers have beautifully restored wood paneling, along with original features people add modern conveniences and their own personal touch. One of my favorites looks like a family room out of a 1950’s home decorating magazine. Mid-Century decor is probably the most prevalent. Theme’s are always popular too, the western one with the desert mural or the 70’s style with shag carpet.  Here’s something different, a newer motor-home (relatively speaking) with the original interior; dark wood, hammered copper tabletops, back splash and accents, stained glass inserts in the cabinet doors. I really like the leaf pattern on the couch and the tropical bedspread. The couple lives in the motor-home full-time, they travel from place to place like the wind.

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We drive over to The Portly Pig for lunch. The restaurant is located in a pretty blue house trimmed in white with orange accents. There’s a definite animal theme inside; meat, of course, is the main attraction. We order at the counter then have a seat near the large front windows, teal-colored walls remind me we’re right off Lake Huron. Large quantities of food arrive, I can’t wait to dig in. The Pork Stack is a generous heap of flavorful pulled pork resting on an amazing cornbread pancake topped with coleslaw and bbq sauce, every forkful is spectacularly delicious. Sharing table space is a side of fries and coleslaw, both excellent. They have full ice cream service too; cones, cups, malts, sundaes, not possible after the lunch we just had..

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At the public beach we park the car and take a walk on the pier, the scalloped edges are unique. It feels like we’re far out into Lake Huron; we watch sailboats and pleasure boats out for a cruise, wooden boats from the show are out enjoying the lake too. Swimmers, sunbathers and beachcombers are caught up in their surroundings, waves are rolling in, sunlight sparkles off the water, it’s like a picture in tourism brochure. You don’t have to drive all day and spend a lot of money for a trip to be a vacation, in Michigan you just follow the water.

Metamora: Horse Country

20 Oct

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We’re back in Metamora for the 2017 Stable Tour; it’s our third consecutive year attending. We don’t own horses, don’t know the difference between Western and English or Dressage, the only kind of horse I can identify is a Clydesdale, thanks to the Budweiser commercials that mesmerized me as a child. There’s something so beautiful, tranquil, majestic about the horses and the stables, the rolling hills, the generosity of the people who open their private property to strangers. It’s an absolutely wonderful way to spend the afternoon, seeing a different way of life, experiencing something we otherwise wouldn’t. Metamora Hunt Country spans the area bordered by M-24 to the west, Hosner Rd to the east, Sutton Rd to the north and Oakwood Rd to the south. A drive on any of the roads in this area will treat you to scenic natural beauty.

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We begin our tour at the Cotton Top Alpaca Farm; Alpacas strut about outdoors showing off for visitors. They seem friendly, even posing for pictures; I like that each one has a different haircut. In front of the barn is an antique plow; the barn itself is finished in shades of brown with a splash of red, the building is a unique design for alpacas, the stalls and tack room surround a main open area. Inside we find more of the furry creatures hanging out, the dividers between stalls are low, they can easily chat with their neighbor.  At the front of the property is the lovely, 2-story, orange brick residence, from here they have a great view of their land. Continuing on, our next stop is Walkabout Farm, established in 1988 its focus is pleasure driving. This is quite a place! The gate between the stone columns is open, a fountain sprays water high into the air from a pond off to the right, lush green grass spreads out before us as far as we can see. The closest building is a taupe 1-story structure, inside hundreds of ribbons decorate the wood-paneled walls, an antique sled and several carriages are on display, I like the open ceiling with all of the wood trusses exposed and rope chandelier.

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The stable is next, also in taupe with crisp white trim, the interior has a brick paver floor and attractive wood walls and ceiling; it’s such a nice day all the horses are outdoors. The tack room is cozy; all wood with saddles mounted on the wall. Walking the property I see photos of chickens on large canvases, why do they look so famaliar?  Then it comes to me, last Fall Kris and I were at the Wasserman Gallery in Detroit for the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, that’s where we saw them. And here they are, black, white, brown, tan, roaming about in their enclosure, their coop matches the rest of the buildings. The white one is funny, she’s taking a dirt bath and stirring up quite a cloud of dust. Weeping willows are still, visitors walk the grounds, horses graze seemingly unaware of our presence, I like the one with the white lower legs, looks like he’s wearing socks. 

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As we drive toward the next stable Kris notices an event taking place; young girls wear black riding boots and helmets. We stop to take a peek. Numbers are fixed to the backs of the competitors, the young ladies look elegant atop their horses, one of the horses has braids. We watch in fascination as one horse after another leaps over fences, the rider almost parallel to the horse. Just another day in horse country.

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We come upon the next stable on the tour, stone horse heads grace a rock wall, split rail fencing lines the long, long gravel driveway. Free Rein Farm encompasses 80 gorgeous acres of land; two German Warmblood horses and Jalisco, an Andalusian stallion from Spain call the place home. The horses seem to be enjoying all the attention from the visitors, they eagerly lower their heads making it easier for me to pet them. The private dressage barn is empty at the moment, 3 rows of light fixtures illuminate the interior. The owners are the people who bought the White Horse Inn, renovated it and re-opened it in 2014. They’re busy with their next project, renovating the building across from White Horse and opening the Metamora General Store. Looking forward to checking it out when it opens.

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As we drive through the area on pretty dirt roads we pass another event-in-progress. A grassy parking lot is full, a long line of cars are parked along the road, participants walk their horses to the event. We turn into the driveway at New Barn Farm. Completed in 2017, the owners built the building for their daughters wedding, it’s now a wedding venue with ornamental gardens and a walking trail to the Flint River. The wood and stone building is quite fetching in dark brown and a splash of red, windows in the cupola are open as are the sliding doors. The inside is dazzling; knotty pine with a corrugated metal ceiling, teeny-tiny white lights cascade from ceiling beams, a curtain of lights flanks the doors. White tulle is draped around the balcony and doors, the lone chandelier is simple and graceful.

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While the original farmstead was established in 1860, Stonebridge Farm and Retreat was purchased in 2014. Owners Tim and Heather hope to add a hunting lodge, guest houses and an English and Western Pleasure training facility to the 73 acre property. We walk out to the pavilion, antique-looking rockers sit empty, we look out across the landscape, the view is remarkable; land rises and falls gently, black fencing divides the grass into different shapes and sizes. 

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The indoor riding arena looks freshly graded, inside the building we find ourselves back in the 1930’s, transported to Joey’s Stables, the iconic landmark restaurant that stood on W Jefferson in the Delray neighborhood from 1933-1989. The bar has been completely reassembled, Tiffany lamps glow from above, antique bar stools sit vacant. Just look at the bar, it’s magnificent; ornate carvings, acanthus leaves, the mirror and working sidelights, a work of art. I like the vintage Bar Guide, choose your drink and the recipe is displayed in the little window. What’ll you have? A Gibson, Grasshopper, Stinger, Bees Knees, Rob Roy, French 75 or Kris’s favorite, an Old Fashioned. The room is grand, stunning, fantastic, from the copper mugs to the pewter horses to the wagon wheel chandelier. You can sit in the booth and look out over the arena or climb the cupola staircase for a panoramic view of the farm.

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Our last stop on the tour is an 84 acre farm that was once a breeding farm and training facility for race horses. Today Watch Hill Farm is home to Icelandic horses. The owners are active in the Metamora Carriage Driving Club. Inside the octagon shaped building are a couple of restored carriages, knotty pine walls and a fireplace make it inviting. The stables have wood walls and ceilings and concrete floors. The indoor arena is impressive, I’m fond of the exposed wooden trusses; I don’t know what the fluffy-looking stuff is all over the ground but I’d love to take off my shoes and run through it… Outside we find more attractive horses relishing the afternoon sun, down by the water some cows sit leisurely while others munch the green grass. It’s nice being out here, having a little breathing space, taking time out to relax and unwind. Beauty often inspires peacefulness.

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The Lake Inn on Hunt Rd in Lapeer has been family owned and operated for 70+ years, this is our first visit. The inside has a bit of an ‘up north’ feel; the main attraction is the unobstructed view of Lake Nepessing. Our corner booth offers us a perfect view of the lake, a waitress greets us immediately with menus and water. After we place our order she quickly returns with my Spartan Stout beer. I’m a big fan of stouts and this is one I haven’t tried. It’s made by Ellison Brewery + Spirits out of East Lansing, it’s absolutely wonderful! I only have half left when our steak sandwich arrives. Shaved ribeye with sauteed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and Swiss cheese stuffed into a hoagie roll, served with thick steak fries; it’s a tasty and satisfying meal. In the summertime tables on the large deck and tiki bar are at a premium, this late in the year there may only be a couple deck-worthy days left. Inside or out it’s a nice place with good food and a great view.

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DETROIT: New Center

10 Oct

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The city of Detroit was booming in the 1920’s; throngs of pedestrians crowded downtown sidewalks, elaborate movie palaces surrounded Grand Circus Park, skyscrapers began to fill the city skyline. Large plots of land were hard to come by, available lots were expensive. About 3 miles north of downtown Henry Ford was building a new hospital, railroads traversed Milwaukee Junction, the Piquette plant attracted large numbers of workers to the area. From 1900 to 1930 the city’s population swelled from 265,000 to over 1.5 million! In 1922 General Motors headquarters opened on Grand Boulevard, the Fisher brothers followed suit, the Fisher Building opened in 1928. Automobile wealth created what they hoped would become the new downtown or New Center. Professionals and executives built spacious, lovely homes, large apartment buildings housed the influx of workers in the automotive and manufacturing trades. Life was good.

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By the 1960’s the area had become run-down. Instead of moving out of Detroit, GM spent millions of dollars on a project called New Center Commons; they renovated existing homes, added new commercial development, added landscaping and then they did something really daring, they re-routed traffic around the historic neighborhood to the north of New Center, transforming Pallister Street into a scenic park. The hope was to stabilize the neighborhood and encourage executives to move back into the area. It didn’t happen. It did stabilize the neighborhood and in the long run it protected the historic houses. Let’s take a walk.

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Pallister Street is a narrow, brick, tree-lined, picturesque, pedestrian-only road surrounded by elegant, beautifully restored homes lovingly tended to by their owners. Old-fashioned street lamps add to the feeling of going back in time. No two houses are the same; Neo-Georgian, Arts and Crafts, Neo-Tudor and bungalows are rooted side by side. Ornate chimneys, leaded glass, columns, cedar shingles and decorative brick patterns adorn the homes. Bright accent colors surround windows and doors, shrubs are neatly trimmed, flower pots are bursting with color. Porches are big, ferns hang from hooks, wide overhangs protect residents from bad weather. I stand at the end of the block overlooking the street while Kris takes pictures; it’s so pretty, so unique, a treasure tucked away from the traffic of the city.

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We walk and we walk some more, up and down adjacent streets past more historic homes and apartment buildings, the architecture of the time was really quite magnificent; tile roofs, glazed brick, tile ornamentation. Squirrels are busy gathering up nuts, leaves rustle under our feet. Now a commercial and residential Historic District the work continues as more houses, apartments and buildings are being restored. General Motors moved to the Renaissance Center in 1996, their old building is now called Cadillac Place, it houses the State of Michigan Detroit offices. The QLine transports people from downtown to nearby Grand Boulevard.

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As usual I’m hungry. Avalon just opened a new cafe and biscuit bar on Grand Blvd in the 1920 Boulevard West Building. Enter through the main entrance, make a quick left and you’re there. The cafe is bright, large windows allow the sun to illuminate the space, yellow and black pop against the otherwise white room; the decor is distinctly Mid-Century. I really like the open section of the ceiling with the floating white tiles, the giant whisk light fixtures are pretty cool too. Enclosed in glass cases are the usual Avalon offerings; bread, cookies, baked goods. Here we also have light offerings such as fritattas, soba noodle salad, and the reason we’re here, BISCUITS! I stare at the chalkboard menu, mouth watering as I read. Kris and I each select a biscuit to split. While we wait I’m drawn to a piece of art made from the seat of wooden chairs arranged in a shingle-like pattern. The painted scene depicts the streetscape of the original Avalon on W Willis, the way the pieces are layered almost gives it a 3-D effect. The Food: Delicious. I mean, here we have a perfect, delicate, buttery biscuit, split and layered with creamy ricotta cheese and a mixed berry jam, the outer edge of the biscuit has that slight crispness, what’s not to like? The other biscuit is the ALT; avocado, lettuce, tomato and herb mayo, sinfully good. It was hard not to get the biscuit with vegetarian sawmill gravy… next time. The cafe also has a full coffee bar and serves all day breakfast and lunch. 

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Over on Brush Street we are visiting America’s first sustainable urban ‘agrihood’. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) has transformed a long-vacant apartment complex and about 3 acres of land into a farm in Detroit’s North End. Founded in 2011, MUFI is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization looking for solutions to urban problems such as vacant land, poor diets, nutritional illiteracy and food insecurity. General Motors, BASF, PPG, Borg Warner, Weber Shandwick, Herman Miller, Stanley Black & Decker and others are working together to turn the former apartment building (circa 1919) on the property into a community center for residents and visitors while also being a showplace of innovation and energy efficiency. The goal is to uplift and empower urban neighborhoods.

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From the moment we see it, it’s clear this is a farm. We start at the mural-covered structure; flowers, veggies, a bee, a skyscraper, all painted in pretty colors represent Detroit. A billboard of sorts credits organizations responsible for making the project happen. A strip of Zinnias add a splash of color between the sidewalk and the curb. There’s a hoop house in the distance, we follow a wooden walkway toward the orchards; a split rail fence surrounds 200 young fruit trees. A sign tells us Scott’s Miracle Gro gro1000 Initiative is a contributor. I see Bees in The D has a honeybee hive here too. Raised beds are overflowing with marigolds, an antique red tractor is parked off to the side, rows and rows of vegetables are laid out in the distance.

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More than 300 vegetable varieties are grown here, which yields about 20,000 lbs of produce annually. MUFI volunteers harvest the vegetables, the fresh produce is available on Saturdays from 10-4. The food is FREE to the more than 2,000 households, food pantries and churches within 2 sq. miles of the farm. I watch an oscillating sprinkler give thirsty plants a drink, mounds of yellow and orange marigolds grow at the end of rows. Leaf lettuce appears in deep greens and red, cabbages are green and purple varieties; I’ve never seen so many eggplant plants. Kale and Swiss Chard grow in a rainbow of colors, peppers cling to tall plants. Tomatoes are plentiful, they have their own section, plants are tall and lush, branches are heavy with unripe fruit, sizes range from the tiny grape tomato to beefsteak. A plant I’ve never seen before has piqued my curiosity, what is it that grows on these large-leafed, burgundy-stemmed, stunning white flower plants? I ask a volunteer, okra is his response. It’s absolutely gorgeous, I may have to plant some next year. As Detroit moves forward re-making itself I’m happy to see it’s honoring its past; renovating buildings, revitalizing neighborhoods, instilling a sense of community. Hazen Pingree would be proud to see all of the community gardens and farms. 

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MARSHALL: Overnight

29 Sep

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Take I-94 west out of Detroit and in just under 2 hours you will find yourself in charming, historic, Marshall MI. The National Park Service calls Marshall “the best virtual textbook of 19th Century American architecture in the country.” It’s also just a great little town to visit; stroll neighborhood streets, shop at local businesses, enjoy a nice dinner, have a cocktail in the walkable district. We plan on doing all of those things while we’re here.

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First we check into our hotel, we are staying at the National House Inn on Parkview. This Greek Revival structure was built in 1835 and has spent time as a hotel for stagecoach travelers, a wagon and windmill factory and again as an Inn. Crisp white trim surrounds the doors and windows of the red brick building, the Inn has a direct view of Fountain Circle, the parking lot is on the side. As soon as I walk in the door I can tell it’s really old–in a good way. There’s nothing like the feeling of an old building, I imagine this one has its share of stories. A large brick fireplace greets us in the center of the room, the wood-beamed mantel holds a black and white photo of George Washington. The floor is wood plank, early beams criss-cross the ceiling, an old Detroit Times rack holds current area newspapers. We check-in at the massive wooden desk.

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We are led up the stairs to the second floor. A cozy sitting area sits quietly in the center surrounded by guest rooms; there are 16 in all. A bench rests in front of the fireplace, antique pieces mingle with the comforts of the present day. Our room is lovely; floral wallpaper, dark wood, hand-embroidered pillows and a modern bathroom will suit us nicely. Our host invites us to have a look around the unoccupied rooms, we amble from one to the other, each different and distinct; I’ve always liked canopy beds. We have some time before dinner so we sit on the back porch overlooking the garden.

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I love tradition so for me there’s only 1 place to have dinner in Marshall: Win Schulers. Schulers is a Marshall institution, a family owned business for more than 100 years, the 4th generation now runs the restaurant. One of our favorite menu items is “So much more than a veggie burger”, at this time of the evening it’s only offered on the Pub menu so we head to Winston’s Pub adjacent to the Centennial Room. Dark paneling, low lights, antique photos and paintings give the room a quaint feeling. I enjoy looking at the black and white photos of the Schuler family through the years. We start with the trademark Heritage Cheese Spread and crackers, honestly, I could make a meal out of this, maybe a Schuler Brew (made for Schuler’s by Bell’s) to wash it down. It’s so good. The veggie burger is quinoa, black beans, cilantro, oats, horseradish mayo, guacamole, onion straws, tomato and greens on a homemade bun. The meal alone is worth the trip.

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After dinner we stroll through downtown; it’s a beautiful night, the sky is clear, the moon bright, the stars are twinkling. The streetscape is frozen in time; state historic markers and Michigan milestone plaques dot the landscape. These buildings have been standing here on Michigan Ave since the late 18 and early 1900’s. Businesses are closed for the night, illuminated shop windows let us peek at merchandise inside. Shelves and display cases inside Hodges Jewelers look original to the building, the neon sign for the Rexall drug store is one of our favorites. Off Skate Vintage has some great pieces, I wonder what time they open tomorrow… At the end of the block is the iconic, replica Temple of Love fountain, a gift from Harold C Brooks to the city of Marshall in 1930. It’s even prettier at night. I watch as people pass on their evening walks, stopping at the fountain, enjoying the sight and sound of the water. We make the turn onto Kalamazoo Ave following it down to Dark Horse Brewery, it’s a perfect night for a beer on their patio. People are spread out all over the outdoor space, some are playing games, others are on the deck, we choose a couple of stools at the bar. I sip on my porter, Kris on a stout enjoying a late-summer Michigan night.

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In the morning we come down the stairs to the breakfast room. Tables are set, food is placed on serving tables. Fresh fruit, cereal, Quiche, homemade coffee cake, coffee, tea, juice; it all looks delicious. Waffles are being baked in the kitchen area, Kris will have on of those. After breakfast we pack up our stuff and load the car. We have one more stop to make before we head out of town. Last night at Dark Horse we noticed Dark Horse Commons, a combination coffee roastery, bakery, candy shop and creamery. We’re going to check it out and grab a couple of coffees for the road. Everything is made on site, they even roast the coffee here. The place smells amazing inside, kind of a mixture of fresh-baked bread, coffee and something sweet . We look at the ice cream flavors: cream soda, buttered popcorn and Double Crooked Tree IPA, very unique. Loaves of sourdough, beer bread and baguette are tempting, the croissants are picture perfect. I’m happy to see cold-brew coffee on the menu, I order 2, pay at the register and we’re off!

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DETROIT: Home Sweet Home…

15 Sep

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In 2013 the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy. Abandoned buildings, broken streetlights and vacant lots were all too familiar sights to residents and visitors. What would happen next? What would Detroit look like in the future? Here we are 4 years later, let’s take a look. Tucked into a neighborhood near Grand River and 16th Street is a community of Quonset huts called True North. The development features 9 live/work units surrounded by neatly edged lawns, young trees, outdoor gathering spaces and concrete sidewalks that connect building to building. Each unit was designed with a different trade in mind; rent the space, run your business out of it by day, live there full-time.

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We park on the street then get out to have a look around. I have to tell you, I really like the way it looks, it’s refreshing to see something different, unique–kind of futuristic… Quonset huts in varying heights and widths, fluted glass, a cinder block back wall, all clustered together to form a neighborhood. Patio chairs and potted plants reside near front doors.  Mild temperatures have enticed residents to fully open their doors, we pause long enough to take a peek at each of the interiors; we pass a yoga class in session, I hear the instructor reminding students to breathe. We’re here just before an event is to start, we talk with event planners that live in one of the units, they give us permission to look around. The interiors feel pretty cozy, in winter they are kept warm by radiant in-floor heat, air conditioning units protrude from the upper levels. There are 7 full-time residences, 1 gallery space for short-term rental, one studio space and one airbnb. Units vary from 500-1600 sq. ft. True North was the winner of the 2017 Progressive Architecture Award given by Architecture Magazine. This first development is sort of a test to see how it goes, I hope it’s successful and grows.

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The Architectural Salvage Warehouse is a stone’s throw away. It’s always fun to stop in and see what they have. The gates to the yard are wide open, windows and door frames lean against the brick building. Inside shoppers mill about, I find myself standing in one place, scanning the space from ceiling to floor. Light fixtures are old, new, modern and traditional, prices are fair. Toilets in an array of colors and shapes take up a large section of floor space. From architectural pieces to decor they have a ton of stuff. Knick Knacks? Yes, they have them, today there’s a nice collection of owls. Register covers are fancy, glass lamp shades and sconces rest in boxes and on shelves. Bricks, wrought iron pieces, glass block and tin ceiling; everything is rescued from buildings before they’re demolished. Doors and more doors, wood trim, molding, planks, flooring, wainscoting, railings, banisters and spindles, if you’re restoring a house or just want something vintage, this is the place to come.

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Let’s move on to another new construction project. Cass Community Social Services has just built a neighborhood of “tiny homes” on Detroit’s northwest side. The non-profit bought 25 vacant lots from the city for $15,000, professional tradespeople built the houses, volunteer teams completed the finishing jobs such as drywalling, tiling, painting and gardening. Residents are a combination of senior citizens, college students, formerly homeless people; all of them are working, have a steady income, but qualify as low-income. Get this: Residents pay $1 per sq.ft. per month, so a 250 sq. ft. house is $250 a month, after 7 years they own their own home–it’s theirs! They can stay there, or if they wish, they can sell the home, so now if they sell it and get say $40,000 dollars, they will qualify for a loan and have money to put down on a bigger place. This is the only model of its kind in the country, they call it “Rent Then Own” instead of the usual rent-to-own. It’s life-changing. Brilliant isn’t it?

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We park on Monterey Street between the Lodge Service Drive and Woodrow Wilson, the first thing I notice is each house has its own architectural style, no 2 are the same. One has a blue metal roof, another is sided in wood shingles and has a flat roof. Annuals spill from flower pots, rose bushes are covered in blooms, lawns are freshly mowed. Each home comes with a dishwasher, washer, dryer, stove and refrigerator, some have lofts. The yellow house has fish-scale siding on the second story–charming. The crisp, white trim on the burgundy house is very attractive. The blue house has a sharply slanted roof, reminding me of mid-century design. The miniature Tudor was the first house built in the neighborhood, it’s fairy-tale like with the stone chimney and dark wood trim. Each renter must take financial literacy classes, they also have access to mental health, education and nutrition programs. They are learning how to succeed. The neighborhood consists of 7 houses with another 18 on the way. 10 slightly larger versions for families are in the future. What a wonderful way to rebuild a city.

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Time to eat! The Common Pub resides on the ground level of the beautiful Belcrest Apartments. Built in 1926 as a luxury hotel, the t-shaped, brick and terracotta building is gorgeous. The original wrought iron entry remains, the interior has been modernized and turned into apartments. It’s a lovely afternoon, was ask to be seated on the patio. Our table is (kind of) pool-side, a few residents lay in lounge chairs soaking up the sun. The menu has a lot of interesting items, we choose a few to share. While waiting for our food we duck inside an take a look around. Original plaster and opulent moldings remain in some areas. Lunch has arrived; one of today’s specials is the jalapeno corn dog, deep-fried to a golden brown the cornbread coating is crisp on the outside, moist inside and has a little kick. The Beet and Goat Cheese slider is tasty with its basil pesto and arugula. Both of these are served with duck-fat fries–delicious. The Mac and Cheese is a generous portion, the noodles are cooked perfectly, the sauce is a combo of white cheddar, manchego and smoked Gouda, we really like it.

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It’s been another pleasurable day in the city. Old and new are succeeding side by side, the future is looking bright.

Lansing: Modernism

5 Sep

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Lansing is known as a blue-collar town. In 1897 Ransom E Olds first drove a Oldsmobile down a Lansing street, soon laborers flocked to the city to work in factories. These hard-working men needed a place to go after work, somewhere they could grab a cold Amber Cream Ale; the Lansing Brewing Company was born in 1898. Prohibition closed down the brewery in 1914. Fast forward 100 years later, the city is building Camaros and Cadillacs and the Lansing Brewing Company is once again producing its Amber Cream Ale along with The Angry Mayor IPA, the Official Union Golden Ale  and a list of other craft beers. LBC is the only full-scale production brewery in the city, they also produce Vodka, Gin, Rum and Rye. And they serve food; we’re starving! Located in the Stadium District  it’s surrounded by things to see and do.  

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The spacious interior features community tables, reclaimed wood, an open ceiling and white subway tile. We choose a high-top table right in front of an open roll-up door; Kris checks out the food menu while I study the beer. After a few samples I order the Velvet Villain Ale, a Porter-Imperial/Double style beer, it’s fantastic. Overlooking the large patio we watch as people play lawn games in the afternoon sun. Our server arrives with our lunch. The Couscous Ca Choo salad is a bed of peppery arugula topped with Israeli couscous, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, queso fresco and tomatoes dressed with an orange balsamic vinaigrette, delicious. Lots of flavors and textures going on. The Hamburguesa De Desayuno is a chorizo burger loaded with queso fresco, bacon, egg, and a maple syrup and smoked pepper hot sauce, the combination just works, its fabulous; the fries are really good too.

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We’re at the Michigan History Center to see the “Minds of Modernism” exhibit. Items include architectural drawings, building models, photographs and commercial products from the Modernist Era. One of our favorite architects, William Kessler is featured along with other notable Michigan architects and designers like Saarinen, Yamasaki, Eames, Knoll, Dow. Kessler came to Michigan to work with Minoru Yamasaki in the early 1950’s, he eventually opened his own firm; as a matter of fact he designed the building we’re standing in. It was challenging to design one building to serve as the Library, Archives and Museum. He used Michigan’s natural resources like copper and white oak, a color palette of greens and blues and a White Pine planted in the center of the courtyard surrounded by a reflecting pool echoing the 4 Great Lakes that touch Michigan. Photographs, blueprints and placards take us through his career. There’s an exhibit of the bank he designed in Mt. Clemens, commonly referred to as the “Flying Nun”, it’s for sale if you’re interested… The Beckwith house in Farmington, an urban housing development in Mt. Clemens, his former residence in Grosse Pointe, he even designed the Timber Shores Travel Trailer Resort near Grand Traverse Bay.

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More than 130 modernist structures were built in Lansing and East Lansing between 1940 and 1970. We look at photos of commercial buildings and residences. Kenneth Black’s Lansing Public Library, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home designs and Alden B Dow’s Washburne House made of styrofoam and sprayed with concrete are all very cool; how about the Airplane House? Furnishings had to be re-styled to fit these new spaces, architects and designers opened their own shops; think of Saarinen’s Tulip Chair, Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia, Herman Miller. Some of the greatest Modern designers and architects were in Michigan, they won prizes from LA to Paris for their designs. A space is set up as a Mid-Century family room, I like the starburst-design clock, the wallpaper is groovy too. Have a seat on a reproduction chair and watch a full episode of the Jetson’s. Designs were very futuristic, space age, vibrant and fun. Art was part of everyday living, even playground equipment was cool, like Jim Miller-Melberg’s turtle.

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Further on in the museum we check out more Mid-Century in permanent displays like the interior of a home with its pendant lights, stone fireplace, iconic Eames lounge chair and ottoman, pink appliances in the kitchen–sweet. The replica S&H Green Stamp store has lots of modern goodies available for redemption; pastel colored dishes, one of those funky clocks, a badminton set, metal tumblers or a stand mixer. Kris is already admiring the 1957 Auto Show exhibit when I wander in. From the Faygo-orange Corvette and the Plymouth Fury to the spectacular dashboards chrome trimmed and loaded with gauges, the world was certainly a more colorful place back then.

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We leave the museum and head over to Moores River Drive, this is one of the prettiest residential areas in Lansing. We follow a street that leads to Frances Park, we get out to have a look. Dozens of rosebushes are blooming in the Memorial Rose Garden, I walk the rows breathing in the perfumed air from pink, white and red blossoms. Up ahead an arbor resides on a hill, the overlook provides a breathtaking view of the Grand River. This is a popular spot for weddings, it’s easy to see why. Canna Lilies, Caladium, tall grasses and pink annuals crowd rectangular flower beds.

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We drive around finding ourselves in the Riverside Homes Association neighborhood, you will find Lansing’s greatest collection of early 20th Century homes here. Established in 1921, this is where the wealthy built their mansions. The house on the right looks strangely familiar, wait, it’s the Airplane House we saw photos of in the museum. It has a low-pitched roof, wide-eve-overhang, there’s curved plexiglass in the end windows to give the effect of a cockpit; amazing. Mr. and Mrs. Talbert Abrams were both licensed pilots, while flying over the Atlantic they saw the shadow of their airplane on a cloud, that was the inspiration for the design of their house. Completed in 1951 it was built using the best materials and technology of the day. On the next street is the Kenneth and Mary Black house; this home was also featured in the museum exhibit. The structure is long and low, the concrete ornamentation is a combination of solids and voids, I really like it. Back when this neighborhood was platted residential lots were big, these home designs favored horizontal lines to fill the wide spaces, streets are winding; it’s really quite lovely.

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We’ve had a great time in Lansing. I have to admit I didn’t realize the amount of Mid-Century architecture that exists here; it seems each time we visit we discover something new. New shops and restaurants are opening all the time, the downtown area has a lot going on. Can’t wait to see what happens next!