Bay City: Part I

16 Jun

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We decided to get away for the holiday weekend, didn’t want to go somewhere that would be overly crowded, but still needed interesting things to do, good food, maybe even a water view…… let’s go to Bay City! If you haven’t been in a while (or ever) I think you will be pleasantly surprised at all this city on the Saginaw River has to offer. In the early days Bay City established itself as a major player in lumbering, milling and later ship building; destroyer escorts, guided missile destroyers and patrol craft all were built here for the Navy. These industries provided great wealth to area residents, but as we know, much of the great industry that once thrived in Michigan is now gone. I am pleased to say that Bay City appears to be on the upswing, recreating itself as an antique mecca and tourist destination; cute shops, nice restaurants, and 4 coffee houses, all downtown! Did I mention Madonna was born here?

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We began our visit at the Bay City Antiques Center on Water Street, it is said to be Michigan’s largest antique center, I don’t doubt it for a second. It is so massive I don’t even know how to begin to describe it; picture this: take every kind of antique you’ve ever seen, imagine a humongous building, put everything in there, shake the building up and down a few times, and there you have it. Whatever it is you’re looking for, it’s here, somewhere! We begin our adventure at the far end, this section is spread out over three levels, the basement contains old street signs, architectural salvage, record albums, vintage clothing, books and so much more. There is no rhyme or reason as to the way items are grouped and displayed; you have to look at everything. On the main floor a pot rack hangs from the ceiling, beautiful antique copper pieces hang aloof, old urns are spilling over with annuals in full bloom and a counter top holds box after box of antique postcards.

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We are told that this particular building was once an old department store, the third floor still retains the original ceiling fixtures. Tall cabinets with locked doors contain more expensive items; silver plate, old cameras, accordions and rare nautical pieces, there is so much to look at! We spend at least an hour and a half walking through the antique center, a “Good Vibes” drum set makes us smile with its cartoon humans decked out in bell bottoms and platform shoes. Glassware ranges from depression glass with fine patterns and pale colors to avocado green tumblers from the 70’s, cool stereo consoles share space with beer signs, automotive memorabilia, and sheet music. Salvaged doors lean against one another touching a wall, we see at least three different pianos along with pretty antique china place settings. Furniture runs the gamut from Art Deco to Colonial, Victorian to Mod, there’s a telephone booth, an awesome wood cabinet that opens up into a full bar and an Apollo 13 carafe complete with matching glasses. You want toys? How about a really old pinball machine, an A&P semi truck, baby dolls and games. Need a Speed Buggy lunch box, soda fountain, sewing machine or juke box? We spied a dining room set we still think we may have to have…….Further down Water Street, the window display at Americana Co. Antique Mall stops us in our tracks; a Mid-Century paradise of blonde furniture, quirky lamps, funky chairs and a cool TV. Here we go again….. 

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After all that visual stimulation we needed a snack, lucky for us the St. Laurent Brothers factory outlet is right across the street. Opened in 1904 the St Laurent brothers started out roasting peanuts for making natural peanut butter. Through the years demand increased to roast more kinds of nuts, today you can buy a variety from Almonds to Cashews to Macadamias. The inside still looks like an old-fashioned candy store; in addition to roasted nuts you can purchase hand-made chocolates in milk, dark and white, candied fruit, saltwater taffy, multi-colored suckers and other goodies. Feeling energized from our sugar buzz, we continue to explore Water Street. We wander in and out of little shops, I’d say most cater to antique lovers and women away for a girlfriends weekend, lots of attractive things for the home and garden. We see a coffee shop and head inside…….WOW! Beatles and Beans Coffee Emporium is a top to bottom, side to side and all the way around Beatles themed coffee shop, you have to see it to believe it. If it has the face of Paul, Ringo, John or George it’s here; photos, record albums, figurines, posters, books, trinkets, lunch boxes, British flags, even TV Guide covers. Beatles music plays in the background, retro style furniture provides patrons with a place to sit and enjoy a coffee, smoothie or sandwich. The ceiling is covered in old 45’s from multiple artists, the collection is impressive. If you are a Beatles fan, put this shop on your list of places to visit! We make a quick stop at Studio 23 The Arts Center and take a peek at the watercolor exhibit on display, the work is marvelous. The Art Center provides everything from wonderful exhibits, exhibit space and educational opportunities to the community of Great Lakes Bay Area.

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We can deny our hunger no longer, we walk further down Water St to Stein Haus for lunch. Resembling an old German pub, the place is amazing! The wood plank ceiling is painted red, beer steins hang from hooks as far as the eye can see, above the bar a fancy tin ceiling gleams in gold, old German beer signs hang on the wall, multiple cabinets are filled with antique beer steins painted with elaborate signs, drinkware and old bottles are also displayed, it’s quite a sight. Seated at a table we glance over the menu, German food is a must, as we wait for our meal to arrive we walk around a little checking out the amazing collection of steins. The food arrives quickly; the fruit and cheese plate is an assortment of sliced cheese, a dollop of goat cheese, fresh fruit and a variety of crackers, it’s all good. The Stein Haus Schnitzel is a lightly breaded pork cutlet sautéed in butter, it’s tender and tasty. Served with hot German potato salad and sweet and sour Red cabbage, it makes a great combination. We make quick work of eating and are back outside in no time.

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A short walk away on Washington stands the State Theatre, built in 1908, it started life as the Bijou and was host to both Vaudeville acts and burlesque. In 1930 the building was renovated, they called on C Howard Crane to do the job. If you’ve ever been to the Fox Theatre in Detroit you have seen Crane’s work. The exterior of the building is brick with intermittent Mayan symbols, a vertical sign spelling out STATE rises from the marquis. The box office is located in the lobby, a young woman named Ashley greets us and asks if we need assistance. We explain we are in from Detroit and love old theatres, we wondered if we might have a look around. Of course, she says, and proceeds to turn on all the theatre lights, seriously.  The theatre has recently undergone a $4 million dollar renovation, it’s stunning! The auditorium is made to look like a Mayan Temple, golden walls are highly textured and resemble individual bricks, the grand curtain is currently closed, areas surrounding the stage are colorful and highly detailed. Matching cut-outs on side walls are striking and glow in red, tiles featuring faces and symbols are scattered in the walls, the colors are warm shades of terra cotta, olive green, chocolate brown and a medium blue, opulent sconces direct light up and down. The ceiling is spectacular; divided into three sections and divided by a large molding, the middle section is covered in hieroglyphics, while the other two are a lovely sky blue. We take the stairs to the balcony for an overall view, the hallway has sort of an angular barrel ceiling, photographs of performers hang on the walls. There are more decorative symbols up here, but further apart, details are everywhere. We enter the balcony area, it is a breath-taking sight, we have the entire 552 seat theatre to ourselves, how cool is that? Back downstairs we talk with Ashley a little more, she tells us a little about the restoration; the current carpet is a duplicate of the original, reconstructed from a scrap found in the building, at one time the auditorium had all been painted over in white, you have to wonder who thought that was a good idea….we thank her for her time. The day has passed quickly, it’s time to check into our Bed & Breakfast, the night is still young……

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