DETROIT; Lawrence Fisher House, Aladdin Sweets & Cafe, Lafayette Greens

25 Aug

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There is no shortage of resplendent stately homes in the city of Detroit; the Lawrence Fisher House certainly qualifies for that rank. It has been quite some time since our last visit, so we were anxious to see it again. Let me tell you a little bit about the history first; Lawrence Fisher was one of seven Fisher brothers who formed the company Fisher Body. In 1910 Fisher Body became the supplier of all closed bodies for Cadillac and Buick, by 1914 they became the worlds largest manufacturer of auto bodies. The story goes that in 1926 the brothers sold the company to General Motors for hundreds of millions of dollars, at a time when there was no personal income tax. Not bad eh?

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Lawrence Fisher was characterized as flamboyant, you can definitely see his personality reflected in his home. Designed in 1927 by famed architect C Howard Crane (think Fox Theater), no expense was spared; the exterior resembles a Mediterranean style villa, the interior: anything goes! As you enter the home you find yourself in a small foyer type space, all at once a multitude of visuals vie for your attention; a Pewabic Pottery fountain with striking red and blue tiles built into the wall, large floor tiles trimmed in real gold, light beams through the triple stained glass windows across from the top of the marble stairway. Opposing walls feature hand painted frescoes of the Italian countryside tucked into columned archways, a sizable striking lantern trimmed in wrought iron and detailed in gold hangs from a chain to light the area. Climb the stairs to the second floor to get a closer look at the carved, hand painted wooden ceiling, it is spectacular!

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At 22,000 sq. ft. and only two bedrooms, this house was built for entertaining; they say Fisher was a bit of a playboy, dating Hollywood starlets such as Jean Harlow, his parties were legendary. The once opulent 2-story ballroom has a balcony where the band would play for days on end as champagne flowed from the fountain on the first floor. Fishers quiet time was spent in his personal library; this room is striking with its carved black walnut paneling, hand painted leather wall covering and large fireplace, the beamed ceiling is a work of art. The palatial living room is impressive; beautiful wood is the main feature from the subtle floor to the breath-taking ceiling, it has a distinctly German feel to it. Three large chandeliers are spaced down the middle of the room, matching wall sconces give it a warm glow. Marvelous glass doors adorn the room, letting in an evening breeze or leading to a balcony that overlooks the grounds. Pass through intricately carved doors to the dazzling music room, Wow! The beautiful turquoise walls highlight the metal ceiling we were told was made of brass, the detail is amazing, the original organ still occupies its space. The dining room is one of my favorite rooms in the house, there is not one inch of it that is not decorative; wood-paneled walls, carved walnut columns, marble floors, crystal chandeliers, and another Pewabic fountain featuring their infamous glazed tiles.

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The bedrooms are more subtle but still gorgeous, what I find most interesting are the bathrooms, seriously! Fisher’s mother had her own room at each of her sons homes, the tile in her bathroom is Pewabic and distinctly feminine. In contrast Mr Fishers bathroom is dramatic; bold blue and black tile trimmed in real silver, you have to see it to believe it. It’s incredible from the built-in towel racks and light fixtures to the enclosed shower, there is nothing money can’t buy. This house is truly a one of a kind masterpiece. In 1975 Henry Ford’s Grandson Alfred B Ford and Elisabeth Reuther (daughter of Walter P.) purchased the home and donated it to the Hare Krishna. Now used as the Bhaktivedanta Cultural Center it has taken on a distinctly Indian tone in decor and feel, it is an active temple where people come to worship.

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Though still open for tours, it is not your typical home tour, you must bring an open mind and a sense of adventure with you. I saw a sign that listed tours Saturday and Sunday at Noon, 2:00 and 3:30, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that is accurate. You can try calling ahead, leave a message if there is no answer. We just showed up about 12:30 on a Sunday and asked about a tour, a kindly soft-spoken man said he’d be happy to show us around. They were preparing for a celebration later in the afternoon; a great quantity of food was being prepared as the fragrance of curry permeated the air, a great deal of activity was going on indoors and out. Our tour guide himself worships at the temple, so along with information on the house we learned a bit about the Hare Krishna. We were invited to stay for the party but had to decline. Sadly time has taken its toll on this grand old treasure, the money isn’t there to keep up with the maintenance on such a monumental place. Having said that, it is still definitely worth a visit, you’ll never see another one like it!

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There was only one choice for lunch, it had to be Indian food. We’ve heard about a place in Hamtramck we wanted to try called Aladdin Sweets & Cafe on Conant. We parked right out front and went inside, we were there at an off-time so it wasn’t busy. We sat in the newly added room addition with its brightly painted yellow and green walls, our server was very pleasant as he brought us water and menus. They have a great selection of Bangladeshi dishes; some we were familiar with, others, not so much. It’s always fun to order some type of combination plate so you get to taste many different flavors, we went with #56 the Aladdin Platter featuring a nice selection of meats such as Tandoori Chicken, Lamb Tikka, Shrimp, and Shish Kabob. I must have vegetarian Samosa’s whenever we eat Indian food, and theirs were good! We rounded out the meal with something called Shag Paneer; homemade cheese fried and cooked with fresh spinach, we really liked it. If you’ve never had Indian food they offer a buffet for $7.99 which gives you the opportunity to try several different dishes.

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I have been biding my time waiting for Compuware’s first Urban Garden called Lafayette Greens to open. We took a drive over to the space previously occupied by the Lafayette building next to Lafayette/American Coney Island to check on the progress. To my delight the gate was open and we were allowed in to take a look around; What a sight! This space is gorgeous! Rows and rows of waist-high raised beds abundantly filled with vegetable plants, huge yellow squash dangle from a bed, cone-shaped okra wait to be harvested, cucumber plants climb high above the surface. Flowers are mixed in here and there adding a pop of color to the otherwise lush green plants, different varieties of sunflowers add a bit of personality to the view. The garden is a 3/4 acre oasis sitting right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of downtown. The Book Cadillac is a mere stones throw away, I wonder what out-of-town guests will think as they look out their window onto this lovely green space. This years harvest which includes; lettuce, kale, cabbage, tomatoes, onions and green beans will be donated to Gleaners Food Bank, much of the work is done by employees of Compuware who donate their time. It is so unexpected and refreshing to find such a jewel in the city. The grand opening is right around the corner so watch for it, then be sure to come down and check it out!

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