Detroit; Palmer Woods, Sweetest Heart Of Mary

17 Aug

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In previous posts I have mentioned that Detroit is full of hidden gems, on Saturday Kris and I had the pleasure of visiting another of them; Palmer Woods. The Palmer Woods Historic District is located directly west of Woodward and directly north of Palmer Park. In 1915 the Palmer family sold 88 acres of land to developer Charles W Burton, hence Palmer Woods was born. This is not your ordinary “old” neighborhood; this district breaks the gridiron tradition and instead offers winding drives and wooded vistas, lots are irregular shape and size–no two are alike, there are few through streets to deter traffic. Street names such as Gloucester, Balmoral and Cumberland reflect the English influence of the magnificent homes that reside here.

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Tudor Revival is the most prevalent architectural style; these homes are fitted with heraldic stained glass, ornate twisted chimney stacks,parapets, and slate roofs. Entryways are special; You will find arched doorways with elegant wooden doors and leaded glass windows, many are endowed with opulent lanterns mounted on the sides or hanging above, lighting the way in. Interiors are spectacular; hand carved oak, ornate plaster, ceiling medallions, crystal chandeliers and rose quartz handles on a faucet, we’ve seen it all on the Holiday Home Tours! Homeowners take great pride in their abodes; vintage concrete urns overflow with flowers, the landscaping is picturesque. In addition to the Tudor style you can also see a few Spanish style residences with traditional tile roofs, arched windows and meticulous stonework. Modern architecture is represented as well; sprawling ranches with fieldstone accents, funky 50’s homes with large sections of glass, there’s a little bit of everything.

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The most significant home has to be the 62 room Bishop Gallagher residence; built in 1925 for the Fisher Brothers, this 2-story, 40,000 sq. ft. home is the largest in the city of Detroit. It was home to Bishop Gallagher until his death in 1937, and then to subsequent bishops. Upon the death of Cardinal Dearden the archdiocese sold the home to then Detroit Piston John Salley. What were they thinking?? Today the home is a private residence and is as impressive and majestic as ever.

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The weekend we were here  Palmer Woods was hosting a neighborhood wide yard sale so it was the perfect opportunity to walk the lovely streets, to take our time and really see the details. You have to remember in the early 1900’s many major executives from the auto companies built homes here and lived very wealthy lives. Families with names like Fisher, Van Dusen, Sanders, Briggs, and Prentis called Palmer Woods home. Distinct architects named Frank Lloyd Wright, Minoru Yamasaki, C. Howard Crane and Albert Kahn all designed homes here,they are irreplaceable landmarks. I invite you to come take a walk and discover Palmer Woods for yourself.

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It happens every August; great quantities of superb food, music, dancing, a rummage sale and beer, it’s the Sweetest Heart of Mary Pierogi Fest!  Polish or not this is one annual event you should attend. Lets begin with the church itself; Sweetest Heart Of Mary, commonly referred to as “Hearts”, is a Polish ethnic parish located on Russell St. in Detroit. Constructed between 1890 and 1893 at a cost of over $125,000, the very first mass was said on December 24, 1893. Hearts is the largest Roman Catholic Church in Detroit and is truly the largest and most impressive Neo/Victorian Gothic Revival cathedral churches in the Midwest.

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This place is amazing! The exterior is red brick, the lower level of the facade stone, two towers flank the entrance with identical spires reaching 217 feet into the air. The spires house three large bells named St Mary, St Joseph, and St Barbara. Enter through the main doors to the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, imposing interior, it is the prettiest church I know. It’s difficult to take it all in, the first thing to grab your attention is the High Alter, it features the immaculate conception of Mary, there are several saints and on the lower level the Crucifixion, the right and left side alters are smaller but equally detailed, outside the sanctuary are two additional alters. A marble railing with a padded kneeler allow you to linger and wonder at the rich and lavish craftsmanship. The stained glass windows are sure to catch your eye, made by Detroit Stained Glass Works they are dazzling in their rich color, imposing in their size; each tells a story. The church itself is 202 ft. long by 90 ft wide and is illuminated by more than a dozen uniquely decorated glass chandeliers strung from the 88 ft tall ceiling. Exquisiteness and splendor are everywhere you look; marble pillars topped with golden capitals, wooden pews with decoratively carved sides, the intricate mosaic ceiling, a winding staircase to the elevated pulpit. Hearts still utilizes the original 1893 Austin Opus no. 2 Pipe Organ, it is the oldest Austin Organ still in service and the oldest surviving electric organ in the state of Michigan, it has a sound all it’s own.The two angel statues that reside at the back of the church blow their horn in what seems to be a celebration. 

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Outside we purchased tickets for our Polish dinner, with a price tag of $10 you will surely get your fill of pierogi, golabki, sauerkraut, and the most tender  city chicken you will ever eat, all served up with a nice piece of bread and butter.  Since we were sharing we also bought a blueberry nalesnike and a couple of potato pancakes with a scoop of sour cream, they really know how to cook, everything was delicious! Nothing goes better with a meal like that then a nice cold Polish beer, lucky for us Okocim was being sold in one of the tents!  With our stomachs full we wandered around the rest of the festival; tables are set up both under tents and on the lawn, a stage sits under the large tent where children dress in traditional attire and dance to the music of their ancestors. Parents and grandparents alike wear their pride in the smiles on their faces, while looking for the best vantage point to take a photo.  I like to have a seat in the shade and watch families participate in the excitement, older generations always have a story or memory to share with the younger members of the group. After checking out the bake sale with it’s traditional cookies and breads we dropped by the rummage sale; lots of interesting items, well organized and priced to sell. I found a vintage juice glass I had to take home, I only wish there were more….  Before we knew it most of the day had passed and it was time to go home, but what a day it was! Both of these places are such treasures, they are surely worth a visit. 

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