Cruisin’ Woodward…..

8 Feb

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If you appreciate fine architecture, Detroit and the Metro area have a plentiful compilation of lavish buildings. When you think of a super ornate structure, most likely the first thing that comes to mind is a church…….and with good reason. Today we are in Royal Oak, we are visiting an amazing Art Deco structure that just so happens to be a church; The National Shrine of the Little Flower. Located on Woodward and 12 Mile Rd, the first thing you notice from the street is the 104 ft Charity Crucifixion Tower, which then causes you to take notice of the rest of the building, which then makes you think, “I’d like to see the inside of that place”, at least that’s what we said; so here we are. We timed it just right; mass was over and it was several hours until the next one.We parked on a side street; the day was cold but sunny, good for taking pictures. We started by walking over to the tower, a 28 ft. high figure of Christ on the cross is carved into the upper portion, additional figures are carved into the sides. Until you are actually standing up close you can’t even imagine the array of symbols, figures and designs that adorn this Art Deco building. The roof is a combination of copper and nickel-steel details; we walk around all sides taking in the different views. The church is built with Massachusetts granite and Indiana limestone, stone blocks representing the states and territories of America bear the state name and flower. We pass several exterior doors, made of brass they are exquisite; each pair embellished with a different design.

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At the main entrance we go inside, it takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the darkness, it is quiet, peaceful. I find the interior unusual for a church of the 1930’s, it feels more modern. The sanctuary is circular; the altar, a solid block of Carrara marble from Italy, rests at the center of the church. My eyes are adjusting, I focus on a large lit piece that hangs from the center of the ceiling, the Baldacchino. Made of oak and colorful stained glass, it is trimmed in gold leaf, roses are carved into the wood, a reminder of St. Therese, the patron saint of the church. While the overall style of the church is considered Zig Zag Art Deco, there are a multitude of materials used throughout the space.  Every surface has some type of decoration; the ceiling is painted with deco designs around the edges and in the center, wood moldings are carved and painted, windows wear intricate metal coverings. Stations of the cross line the walls, be sure and see the lecturn; Corrado Parducci was hard at work here, the interior sculptural works are fine examples of his exceptional talents. Hand painted angels over the doorways are the work of artist Beatrice Wilczynski, they are lovely, as are all of her paintings, most notably the mural depicting the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

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A series of side altars are visible through octagonal shaped openings along the sides of the chapel; each represent a different saint and are unique in their design. A number of different colored marbles make up floors and walls, brass candle holders are very tall and look Art Nouveau in style, the glass a deep red, blue or green. Another small room off to the side is dedicated to baptisms; the white granite Baptismal Font, new to the church in 2001, is gorgeous, water flows gently from an upper basin into a large 8-sided pool. I’d say this room is the most Art Deco space in the interior. The church was built in two phases, the tower went up first, completed in 1931. The priest, Father Charles Coughlin has a bit of a controversial (to say the least) reputation both as a priest and radio talk show host. Thanks to his radio show, his fund-raising efforts brought in enough money to complete the church in 1936. Designed by Henry J McGill, I would say it is one of a kind.

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Further south on Woodward, in the town of Berkley is another unique building, the Vinsetta Garage.  Called the “oldest garage east of the Mississippi” it has been turned into a cool restaurant serving up great food and drinks. It’s a pretty popular place, but being Sunday, we thought we’d take our chances and see if we could get in; as luck would have it a table for two was available. What we love about this place is, there is no mistaking the fact that this was once a car repair shop; the theme is reinforced with items like a vintage dragster perched near the ceiling, a lamp made from a vintage carburetor, a metal cabinet  plastered with stickers bearing names like Cragar, Mr Gasket and TRW, photos of  funky old cars hang on the walls. Booths are vinyl button-and-tuck, the place has sort of an industrial meets 1960’s feel to it, servers are super friendly and wear Detroit themed T-shirts. The menu is filled with tempting choices, this is the same team that runs the Clarkston Union and Woodshop, so you know whatever you get it’s going to be good. We ordered the Pesto Pizza, it was out before we knew it. Coal fired chicken, lots of rocket pesto sauce, goat cheese, roasted red peppers, shallots and the house cheese blend, topping a tender thin crust, absolutely delicious!

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A bit further down Woodward in the city of Ferndale is an independent shop called Treat Dreams. Known for their innovative, or crazy, as I like to call them, flavor combinations, this is a fun place that will satisfy your sweet tooth. Serving homemade desserts like cupcakes, brownies and cookies, their house made ice cream is the star attraction. Flavors change regularly; there are usually a few flavors with a wide appeal featuring things like Oreos, M&M’s, cookie dough and the like, then there are flavors like Thanksgiving Dinner (complete with turkey & stuffing), Pistachio Wasabi, Honey Lavendar and Bananas Foster. Lots of good stuff on the menu today, I get a scoop of Chocolate Red Velvet; creamy chocolate ice cream with chunks of red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting mixed in, it is fabulous! Kris orders something with chocolate and coconut packed into a waffle cone and eats with delight. Not even the cold temperatures keep folks from coming in and getting a scoop of Salty Caramel or the vegan flavor of the day. Next time you  get an ice cream craving come check this place out.

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