Day Trip: Toledo, Ohio

29 Feb

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If you live in Michigan and have traveled south, chances are you have been through Toledo. Most folks simply pass through on I-75, on their way to somewhere else. Today I’d like to give you just a few reasons why Toledo is a great destination itself.  We had driven past the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library on Michigan many times, the large Art Deco structure always catching our attention, we promised to come back one day with the specific purpose of visiting the building. Today was that day, what an incredible jewel it is!

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Toledo is nicknamed the “Glass City” and for good reason; many of the largest manufacturers of glass either began here or moved here from somewhere else. The city is the site of large supplies of natural gas and high silica content sandstone, two items necessary for glass manufacturing.  Toledo was home to innovation in all aspects of the glass industry, here are a few companies you may recognize: Owens-Corning, Libbey Glass, Libbey-Owens-Ford, Therma Tru. I tell you this because  glass is the highlight and major material used in the decor of the library and is simply amazing; plate glass, glass blocks, Thermolux and Vitrolite.  There are inlays and murals, pillars and columns, glass in vibrant colors and varying textures. It is something to be seen!  We entered the Central Court from the Michigan Street entrance, one look and I stopped in my tracks. The interior is a fantastic example of Art Deco design, in this case Vitrolite (an opaque, structural, flat glass wainscoting) covers the lower section of the walls in a beautiful suntan color with black accents. A continuous  mural six feet high surrounds the room below the second floor windows. The designs are inlaid into 3/8 ” thick slabs of gray Vitrolite made by the Libbey-Owens-Ford glass company. The murals represent fields of knowledge such as literature, languages, religion, arts and sciences. The floor is terrazzo, a wonderful mix of tans, browns and rust colors. Everything here is done in the Art Deco theme, light fixtures, desks, tables and windows. As Kris took pictures I stood there with my mouth hanging open trying to take it all in. A very nice librarian came over and talked with us a bit and handed me a brochure on the Vitrolite Murals (which came in very handy for writing this piece). With a look of satisfaction and a smile on her face, she directed us up to the Children’s library, now I know what the smile was for.

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We climbed the stairs to the Children’s library, as we came through the door we had entered a child’s literary paradise.  A spaceship complete with two green aliens hovers from ceiling among planets in varied size and color, the front end of a vintage car sticks out of a wall, books are arranged by theme in in various exhibits. We walked further, through an arrangement of desks with computers, here a  front end of a jeep provides seating for two, while sheep ride in the back, a large Cat In The Hat figure stands nearby as oversized toadstools invite you to have a seat. We passed through the final set of doorways in the room and found ourselves in the land of legendary fairy tales. Here the Vitrolite is jade green, the mosaics are brightly colored depicting the tales of Pecos Bill, Paul Bunyan, Pinocchio, Pied Piper, Rip Van Winkle and the like. Knotty Pine walls and shelves make the room warm and endearing, large stainless steel light fixtures remind you this place was built long ago. The subjects used in this room came from books selected by the librarians of the department.  The Toddler room connects through a small opening, here you will find nursery rhymes and fables; Three Little Kittens, Sing A Song Of Sixpence, Little Miss Muffet……you get the idea. The detail is astonishing, all sorts of glass in more than 80 different colors and types were used in these pictures. The library has undergone expansions and changes through the years, thankfully someone had the foresight to preserve these rare and unique treasures. As I mentioned, the library underwent a huge expansion, as you walk back down the stairway you are able to view the original backside of the building. Again architects were thoughtful and preserved the original building while seamlessly blending the new addition with the old structure. Take the time to study the details, wonderful deco accents are found everywhere. Original light fixtures had been removed and stored through the years and have now been reused as tables in a lounge area. The rare book room is actually new, but you’d never know it, it has the same classic Art Deco details as the rest of the library.

Click Here for a slideshow of this incredible building.

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Lunch time had arrived; when you are in Toledo, Tony Packo’s Cafe is the place to eat. If you are of an age to have watched the TV series M*A*S*H, you have probably heard of Tony Packo’s. In the show, as in real life, Jamie Farr who played Maxwell Klinger hails from Toledo, he often mentioned Tony Packo’s, sending curious viewers to the now famed restaurant. Sticking with our classic Toledo theme, we drove to the original location on Front and Consaul. This was a Hungarian neighborhood back in the day and Tony himself was a Hungarian American, he created the Hungarian hot dog back in 1932 and it was an instant hit. At lunchtime food is served cafeteria style, head to the counter, give your order, then pay at the register.  We each had one of the infamous chili dogs; a homemade Hungarian hot dog (think sausage here), smothered in Tony’s own homemade chili, finely diced onions and a squirt of mustard, I know, it sounds like an ordinary coney island, but it’s NOT. There are all kinds of combinations available, ours came with sides and a cup of chili, the hot German potato salad is my favorite; warm and vinegar based, the potatoes are tender, not mushy, with bits of bacon mixed in. Kris’s favorite are the paprikas dumplings with gravy. We sat at a table in a small section up a few stairs, we couldn’t wait to dig in. The food was delicious as always, the hot dogs have a taste all their own. As you sit in the restaurant you will notice the walls are covered in autographed hot dog buns, yes I did say autographed hot dog buns! Back in 1972 Burt Reynolds was in town, he was the first “big name” to eat at Packo’s, when he finished his meal he signed a bun and the tradition was born. Today hundreds of buns line the walls, from movies stars and politicians to musician,s the collection of celebrities is impressive. Packo’s serves up great food with a side of  kitsch.

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The Toledo Museum of Art resides on Monroe Street in Toledo’s  historic Old West End.  The museum was founded by glass maker Edward Drummond Libbey in 1901 and moved to its current location in 1912. The building is done in the Greek Revival style and is quite lovely, the front is surrounded by gardens that include numerous sculptures. The museum boasts an impressive collection; over 30,000 works of art in 45 galleries and is internationally recognized. Me, I just like coming here and wandering around. My very favorite piece is in the west wing; Monet’s Water Lilies, I could stare at this painting all day. There are so many things I like about the TMA,  in addition to paintings they have a wonderful array of other types of art;  elegant vases, a fantastic Art Noveau fireplace surround, gorgeous crystal chandeliers and outstanding sculptures. They have furniture and entire rooms brought over from Europe, contemporary art and a charming cafe. Galleries flow from one to the next, each eye-pleasing with a mix of  art forms  creating a distinct harmony. In the 1933 museum expansion the Peristyle concert hall was added; the 1710-seat theatre is the winter home to the Toledo Symphony and Opera.  As you would expect from the Glass City the TMA has an extensive collection of glass art, the collection is now housed in the Glass Pavilion across the street……. but we’ll save that and plenty more for another day.  Toledo is just an hour drive from Detroit and makes a great day trip.

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