DETROIT: Historical Museum

3 Jan

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 Kris and I recently got our first look at the newly updated Detroit Historical Museum; we were happy to see old favorites like the Streets of Old Detroit spiffed up along with brand new exhibits such as the Kid Rock Music Lab. The city of Detroit has an amazing history, the museum showcases significant periods throughout more than 300 years, there’s a lot of them! Exhibits are spread out over several floors, we began at the top and worked our way down.

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A large area is currently dedicated to rail transportation in Detroit; did you know that at the turn of the 20th century Detroit had the largest regional mass transportation network in the US? Curators did a great job taking us back in time to the days when trains and trolley’s ruled the streets. Photos of old city train stations, rescued architectural pieces, signs, tickets and tokens are all on display. Vintage seats are arranged as they would be on a train, antique lanterns and crossing signs remind us of the old days. The Arsenal Of Democracy exhibit is fascinating; a glimpse into the staggering contribution Detroit manufacturing made to the war effort. Another interesting fact: Detroit produced 30% of the war materials generated in the US before the end of the war in 1945. At that time Detroit was re-invented as a military industrial center with over 700,000 people working in the factories.

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The Motor City area has been refreshed; the Body Drop is working once again, yay. Here you will find all sorts of memorabilia related to the auto industry; signs and brochures, design renderings, promo cars, even a speaker from an old drive-in; car culture sort of stuff, very cool. There’s a neat history of Woodward Ave; street signs, photos, even a parking meter. We headed down the stairs to our old favorite: The Streets of Old Detroit. If you grew up in metro Detroit, chances are you came here on a field trip in elementary school. I am happy to say not much has changed and it is looking better than ever; I love the addition of the Sanders Confectionery. Meander over streets made of brick, logs and rocks; wander in and out of 19th century businesses like the barber shop, bicycle store and of course, the corner drug store, complete with a soda fountain and Vernors. Down the hall the Glancy Trains are still running; a gift from Alfred R Glancy Jr of Grosse Pointe, these trains have been mesmerizing adults and children alike for decades. Trains glide over tracks laid out on multiple levels, tiny buildings make up towns along the route as cable cars ride along overhead. There’s a tiny amusement park and a hot air balloon; a camera mounted on the front of a train projects the passenger view onto a screen.

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The Kid Rock Music Lab highlights musical artists ranging from Bob Seger and Iggy Pop to Aretha Franklin and the White Stripes. Interactive displays make this a popular exhibit. The Allesee Gallery of Culture is an awesome new addition; photos of downtown skyscrapers cover the walls making you feel as if you are standing in the heart of the city. Large glass enclosures divide Detroit into several time periods; newspaper articles, clothing and household items define the era; iconic items such as seats from old Tiger Stadium, a drinking fountain from Hudson’s and the like bring smiles to the faces of locals. The renovations are well done and make the museum equally appealing to those familiar with Detroit and those who are not. Click HERE for museum slideshow.

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A new restaurant has opened on the corner of Woodward and Putnam in the Maccabees building, so we wanted to give it a try. The building itself is incredible! Completed in January of 1927 and designed by, who else? Albert Kahn. The exterior of the building is limestone, the entrance is a 3-story recessed barrel vault arch surrounded by fantastic carvings. The main lobby is exquisite; the barrel ceiling is a mass of gold mosaic tiles forming intense patterns. One section creates a scene complete with palm trees ripe with coconuts and deer drinking from a stream. There is a grand chandelier and then a series of smaller ones that hang from chains lining the hall, it is absolutely stunning! Walls and floors are marble each with its own distinct pattern, every surface is decorative. The hallway leading to Putnam has a wood beam ceiling covered in colorful stencil designs, don’t miss it. Elevators are shiny brass as are the door frames. The central section of the building is topped by a broadcast tower, prior to 1959 it was home to WXYZ; both the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet radio programs originated here, in the 1950’s Soupy Sales did his show from the lower level studio. WDET used the space from 1959 to 2001, Wayne State University currently owns the building. When Kris had finished taking photos we entered the restaurant section from the Woodward door.

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Maccabees at Midtown has only been open since the end of December, situated across the street from the DIA, the Detroit Public Library and steps away from the campus of Wayne State, the location is ideal. The space is gorgeous, immediately the chandeliers grab your attention. Reproductions of the originals they were made right here in Michigan. Great care was taken in transforming the space into a restaurant; the ceiling is burgundy, coffered panels are painted gold, maintaining the Romanesque style of the building. The owner greeted us at the door as we took our seats at a table near the window; we had a wonderful view of Woodward and the cultural district. The menu serves up an interesting variety of items such as potato pancake sandwiches, which of course we had to try. Ours was filled with tender roast beef, sautéed onions and a chipotle mayo, very tasty. We added the spinach salad, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and chunks of warm goat cheese fried in a crispy coating it was quite good. Their liquor license is on the way so stop in for a meal or cocktails and be sure to have a look around.

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Detroit now has it’s very own tea house in the Sugar Hill Arts District. Located on the lower level of the Garfield Building, Socra Tea serves up 50 varieties of organic teas and fresh baked goods. You can drink your tea in-house or get it to go; all loose teas are also available for purchase by the ounce. If you like tea plan on spending some time here; owner Meg was happy to open up canister after canister and let us smell the blends (much more fun for me than him). Kris and I each ordered a tea and accompanied it with a shortbread cookie. Adjacent to the tea room is a pottery studio, pieces are on display and for sale along with photography and other art work.

One Response to “DETROIT: Historical Museum”

  1. Barbara Dorda January 3, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Another great visit – thanks for taking me virtually along!

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