Detroit Deco: Kresge & Cliff Bells

13 Feb

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On Thursday February 9th we attended the Preservation Wayne 2012 Membership Event at the former Kresge World Headquarters on Second and Cass Park. Preservation Wayne is changing their name to Preservation Detroit, with the new name there will be no mistaking what this organization is all about!  Their tours are already scheduled for the upcoming season, with more on the way. Check out their website for more information.

We never pass up an opportunity to get a look at another one of Detroit’s beautiful historic buildings.  First a little history: Sebastian S Kresge (SS Kresge) started out with two 5 & 10 Cent stores, in 1912 he incorporated the SS Kresge Corporation with 85 stores. By 1928 the company had outgrown its 18 story world headquarters at Adams and Park (now known as the Kales Building), so Sebastian hired Albert Kahn to design a larger headquarters. Opened in 1929, the result is a stunning limestone building; created in the shape of an E, the wings point away from the park, the 250,000 sq ft structure covers a city block. The central portion of the building is 5 1/2 stories tall, while the wings are only 4 stories, it is topped off with a copper-clad mansard roof and terracotta cresting, an excellent example of Art Deco design.

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The first Kmart was built in 1962, SS Kresge died in 1966 and then in 1972 the offices were moved to their new headquarters in Troy MI. The old building was donated to a vocational school by the name of the Detroit Institute of Technology. Now known as the Metropolitan Center for High Technology and owned by Wayne State University, the space is home to several small businesses and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. Ok, fast forward to Thursday.

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We parked in the fenced in lot behind the building and entered through the back; the interior is granite, the floors were polished to a high shine. We found our way to the lobby crowded with people milling about the silent auction and food tables. Music played softly in the background, the light from the large chandelier played softly off the granite and multitude of brass accents. The lobby is just lovely; inlaid walnut paneling and architectural sculptures all done by Corrado Parducci are a feast for the eyes.The ceiling is divided into a series of squares, raised medallions are painted copper and gold, large windows overlook the park. Building tours were announced; the mass of attendees moved from the lobby to the hall waiting their turn to take the elevator up to the second floor. In the hallway intricate brass rails and banisters line the stairways, gorgeous Art Deco light fixtures decorate the ceilings, the elevator doors are amazing!

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 The executive offices are located on the second floor, Mr Kresge’s on one side, the VP’s on the other, we had the opportunity to see both. The offices are finished in stunning walnut paneling, in place of sharp corners you will find curves, the same goes for the hardwood floors. The ceilings are wet plaster, a raised design goes around the perimeter giving the room a formal feel, the original light fixtures still remain in Mr Kresge’s office. Next up to the fourth floor, this area was previously used as a laboratory complex, though it is unused at the present time there is hope a new tenant will lease the space. It was interesting to see the area, the best part was the wide array of Pewabic Tile, bright colors in pretty designs, it still remains. 


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It was still early, so we thought we’d end the evening with a nightcap at Cliff Bells, if you have never been put it on the top of your list of places to go. Located on Park Ave, the exterior is easily recognizable by the lovely wood and half-circle awning entrance. Once inside it is like walking onto the set of an old movie, some swank Art Deco club straight out of the 30’s, I almost expect to see Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby or Benny Goodman appear on stage. This place is incredible; triple cove ceilings, mahogany everywhere including the bar, the cool deco stage and large light fixtures hanging from chains providing just enough light to create the perfect atmosphere. One of the unique features I really love are the bar side tables, and ladies there is even a hook to hang your purse! A mural takes up the far wall, it fits the mood of the place perfectly, vintage photos and menus are enclosed in glass and hung on the wall to be enjoyed by patrons. 

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Cliff Bell’s was opened by John Clifford Bell in 1935, the building was designed by Albert Kahn and built by the Campau family. The club itself was designed by famed architect Charles Agree, and what a wonderful  job he did. Through the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s Cliff Bell’s and the Town Pump Tavern anchored the ends of a lively district of pubs, clubs and burlesques up and down Park Ave, actually not too different from today (minus the burlesques), John ran the club until his retirement in 1958. Through the 70’s and 80’s it went through name changes including The Winery, La Cave, and AJ’s On The Park, until it closed permanently in 1985. In 2005 it was purchased by the current owners and a six-month restoration began. It re-opened as Cliff Bell’s and the rest as they say is history. 

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Recently discovered in a Detroit warehouse, the club is now home to a vintage Steinway Grand Piano that was purchased in 1960 by the City Of Detroit for Cobo Hall. After being stored for 25 years and 6 months of restoration it now sits on  stage. In addition to great Jazz  they also serves French-inspired cuisine for lunch, dinner and brunch, they offer great Happy Hour specials. If you are looking for an Ultra-Cool night on the town give Cliff Bell’s a try !

2 Responses to “Detroit Deco: Kresge & Cliff Bells”

  1. bob February 14, 2013 at 6:43 pm #

    The pizza at the old winery club was delicious. Does anyone know where to find a pizza like that today.

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