DETROIT: Shiver On The River

8 Feb

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Saturday February 4th was the Annual Shiver On The River on Belle Isle. Sponsored by the Friends of the Detroit River, Shiver celebrates Belle Isle and the incredible Detroit River. For this single afternoon each building on the island is open to the public, with the Casino building acting as the headquarters for the event.  When I say Casino, I do not mean a gambling type establishment, it is simply a place for public gatherings. This building  was designed by Albert Kahn in the Renaissance Revival style, built in 1907, it is constructed of brick and terracotta and is absolutely gorgeous. With its balcony, porches and numerous windows, it’s perfectly situated to enjoy a breeze off of the river.

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The interior is just lovely; beautiful terrazzo floors lead to a mosaic tile pattern in the center of the main floor with 1907 in the middle. If you stand here and look straight up you will notice a duplicate circular pattern of glass block in the floor above, and directly above that on the second floor is a gorgeous skylight, each level allowing sunlight in to brighten the space.  Take the marble stairs to the second floor to see the skylight, peer through the windows taking in the stunning view of the city in the distance. The building was filled with exhibits, displays, refreshments, arts and crafts and live entertainment. The casino is the best place to begin, you can get all the information on what is taking place in the other buildings on Belle Isle.

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Resting upon the bank of the Detroit River is the Belle Isle Boat Club. Built in 1902 in the Spanish Colonial style, the white stucco and red tile building is eye-catching. The building is owned by the city of Detroit, since 2001 the Detroit Boat Club Crew has undertaken the task of refurbishing the building.  The Detroit Boat Club was established in 1839 and is the oldest rowing club in North America. The interior of the building is in need of repair, at first you may be surprised by the peeling paint, crumbling plaster, and general disarray. Take a closer look; Beautiful walnut railings line the stairway with seahorses carved into the wood for the spindles, ornate plaster work decorates the walls and ceilings, the ballroom retains an air of elegance with its timber ceiling  adorned with stencils. It just so happened that on this Saturday the building was overflowing with activity;  Motown Madness, the Detroit Indoor Rowing Regatta was taking place, and there was standing room only! We came in on ground level, which is sort of the basement of the building; this is where they store the sculls. You can peek your head in and have a look at these long slender boats. I hope the term boat isn’t offensive…..They are really quite something to see. We took the stairs to the main level where all of the activity was going on, the ballroom had been transformed into an indoor rowing facility. Crowds of people were jammed in cheering on their teams, while the next group of competitors were warming up. The main floor is composed of several rooms, some private and cozy, others large enough for a banquet, all are being used by the Boat Club Crew. The second level has a balcony that overlooks the lobby and main entrance, along with an archway that allows you to view the ballroom from above. This is the best place to get a good look at the timber ceiling I told you about, it’s fabulous! There are more rooms for gatherings here and a really cool bar complete with anchor decor and swinging doors. The building is incredible, I can only imagine how opulent is was back in its heyday. The Boat Club continues to occupy and care for the building, they understand what a treasure it is.

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We had heard the Coast Guard was doing an Ice Rescue demonstration, so we drove over to the building. A couple of boats were sitting in the garage, so we checked them out before going inside; we did a quick walk through, then back out to watch the demonstration. A good size crowd had gathered; first a dummy was placed in the water, coast guard members boarded their boat, paddled out to the victim, then proceeded with the rescue. It was interesting to see the type of equipment they have and the difficulty involved in a water rescue, not to mention the cold. Of course it was a success, the crowd rewarded their effort with a round of applause.

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The Belle Isle Nature Zoo is home to family nature programs, locally found species of turtles, snakes, fish and birds and yes, the Fallow Deer. One of the things many people fondly remember about Belle Isle are the Fallow Deer that used to roam freely around the island. The 15 deer now call a one acre enclosure and barn home year round. I like to walk out and visit with them, if I’m lucky I get there at feeding time and have even had the pleasure of feeding them once. The nice day brought lots of folks out to the island and many of them came to see the deer. While a few seemed as interested in us as we were in them, most of them just seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and warm temperature. Back inside we made the loop around the nature center checking out the animals and exhibits. It was wonderful to see so many people having a good time, many discovering the center for the first time.

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I would have to say Shiver On The River 2012 was a great success, I have never seen so many people come out for the event. I suppose the fact that it wasn’t really shiver type weather helped. We tried to get into the aquarium, which re-opened for the day, but the line reached out of the building and down the sidewalk past the conservatory! I hope if it re-opens, people will continue to show it support, it is such an amazing building both inside and out. There is always something going on in Detroit, get out and join the fun!

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I have a secret to share with you: I had never been to American Coney Island on Lafayette before Saturday…..It seems we have always been a Lafayette  family. In the spirit of the new year and trying new things it was decided we would have lunch at American. Opened in 1917 by Constantine “Gust” Keros, the restaurant is still run by the Keros family. Decked out in red, white and blue, the place was bustling with patrons of all ages. Plates of coney islands and french fries were lined up on the counter, waiters skillfully deliver them to the tables. These days in addition to the traditional coney you can also have homemade spinach pie, Greek salads, soup and gyros, they even serve breakfast now. We stuck with the original coney island and a loose hamburger; they arrived lightning fast. As good of a coney as I have ever had, the natural casing dog had that nice crunch on the initial bite, a generous topping of chili, mustard and onion all held together in a steamed bun…Yum! We sat way up front at the table right in the window, the perfect spot to watch the activity indoors and out. American Coney Island has been featured in numerous articles and on the Food Network, guests include movie stars, politicians, musicians and sports stars, it has been a Detroit favorite for decades.

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