DETROIT: Cultural Center Tour

28 Sep

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Now and again we like to be ‘tourists’ in our own city; these days tours of Detroit can be taken daily, choices vary from walking and bicycle to segways and buses, today our feet will take us through Detroit’s Cultural Center. We begin our tour at the McKenzie House, a lovely 1895 Queen Ann style residence that is now Preservation Detroit’s (f.k.a. Preservation Wayne) headquarters. As Detroit’s largest and oldest historic preservation organization, members have worked tirelessly since 1975 to preserve, promote and protect the city’s rich architectural heritage. Over the years we have trekked through the streets of the city, gone inside private homes and seen amazing buildings on tours led by this all volunteer organization. We meet inside the house, a large group has gathered for this Saturday morning tour, we pay our $10 and head out the door, gathering on the Cass Ave sidewalk.

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As we make our way over to Woodward, our guide Kathleen, shares interesting stories and histories of buildings we pass, her assistant Susan adds to the conversation. On Woodward we see large historic homes, reminding us that this once was a residential neighborhood, many are currently owned by Wayne State University and used for storage and administrative purposes. We pause in front of the Maccabees Building, built in 1927 for the fraternal organization Knights of the Maccabees, the elaborately carved limestone facade is incredible. The main entryway deserves a few moments of our time, we stop and study  intricate patterns and series of solemn knights that surround  the elongated arch, I see columns and faces, two knights stand atop the door frame, above them a fanciful clock is anchored to the building.

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Just down the street we enter the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, designed by Cass Gilbert in the Italian Renaissance style, it was built in 1921 of Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim. If you have never been inside the library, you need to see it. To the right is the Children’s library, I love the fireplace. Mary Chase Perry Stratton created the tiles, large ones represent fairy tales, others shimmer in her signature luster glaze. We ascend a staircase, an ornate coffered ceiling comes into view. At the top of the stairs a barrel-vaulted ceiling is illuminated by lantern style lights hanging from a single chain. Adam Strom Hall is spectacular, a mural is painted in three sections, a man fills the center space, he holds the past in one hand and the present in the other, Kathleen has much to tell us in this room. We exit the building through the back, this is the 1963 addition to the building, do not miss the magnificent mosiac fascade.  

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The Detroit Historical Museum is our next stop, out front is Legends Plaza, a collection of hand prints set in concrete of men and women who have called Detroit home. As I listen I walk around placing my hands inside the hand prints of Al Kaline, Elmore Leonard, Lily Tomlin, Gordie Howe and Alice Cooper. Further up Woodward the George L Beecher House is being refurbished, this 3-story yellow brick and limestone home was designed by HJ Maxwell Grylls and built in 1894, one of the most outstanding features is the original Tiffany stained glass window on the east Ferry side of the home. Across the street stands the  Hecker-Smiley mansion, you have probably seen this castle-like structure as you have driven down Woodward. The once private home is marvelous, designed by Louis Kamper it is 20,988 sq ft of French Renaissance Chateauesque design, Kris and I have previously been inside, the interior is spectacular. Around the corner on Ferry Street is the former home of Charles Lang Freer, he was a Detroit industrialist with a passion for collecting art, at one time he purchased Whistler’s Peacock Room and had it installed in his home; it is now housed at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Across the street a series of four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses make up the Inn on Ferry, a lovely alternative to staying in a hotel when visiting the city. The East Ferry Avenue Historic District was originally part of the Ferry Seed Company, the neighborhood was developed in the late 1800’s into an upper-class neighborhood. The street is gorgeous, great architecture, mature trees and today, a flawless blue sky. 

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The College for Creative Studies Ford Campus is located on Kirby, buildings represent many different time periods and architectural styles, large sculptures dot the campus. Further down Kirby we arrive at the Scarab Club, the brown brick building is rich in details, home to artists studios and galleries it’s a fascinating place. We round the corner at the DIA and walk up Farnsworth, The Rackham Education Memorial Building rests here, built in 1941 for the Engineering Society of Detroit it is made of Georgia marble, black granite and features cast bronze windows. The building houses a 1000 seat auditorium on the main level and a ballroom on the lower level, darn, we can’t go in! Our attention is diverted by the sound of music and stomping feet, as we near the front of the DIA we find an outdoor stage playing host to Flamenco dancers and a guitarist, passersby marvel at the sight, some take a seat and stay awhile. Our tour group moves to the front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a wedding party poses for photos on the front stairs, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, the bridal party is quite elegant, the building entrance providing the backdrop. Rodin’s Thinker looks as if he has a lot on his mind today, bankruptcy can do that to a guy. Our tour ends here. Preservation Detroit’s tour season continues through the month of October, guides are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about Detroit. If you’d like to get a closer look at many of the places we visited today, come downtown on December 7th for Detroit’s 41st Annual Noel Night; music, art, historic buildings, authentic Christmas spirit–don’t miss it!

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My stomach rumbles as a reminder that it is lunchtime, we are heading over to the Jefferson House inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. Named after the legendary ‘Pontch’ hotel that once stood on the corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square, this hotel opened in 1965. Recently re-opened as a Crown Plaza, we are anxious to have a look. The front wall of the Jefferson House restaurant is all windows, sunlight seeps in, our table overlooks Jefferson and the reconstruction of Cobo Arena turned ballroom and convention space. The room is done up in cream and taupe with rich wood accents, the ceiling is decorated in a metallic finish and lit from the edges,adjacent to the space is the Urban Cellars Bar.  Our server is cheerful and informative, if you were visiting from out-of-town she could make great suggestions of things to see and do while in the city–a great asset to the hotel. The menu is creative, a nice variety of ingredients, we quickly decide and place our order. First to arrive is the salad; tender spinach leaves are tossed in house made dressing along with goat cheese, bacon, julienne apples and poached pears. The presentation is gorgeous, piled attractively on a rectangular plate that reminds me of slate. The veggie sandwich is a spinach wrap stuffed with sautéed vegetables then grilled, the flavors are melded together perfectly. Both items were delicious and reasonably priced, portion sizes are good too. When we are finished we walk through the lobby area; very attractive in white, long fringe type curtains divide the spaces, a cool circular inset in the ceiling has an iridescent finish, very modern, striking. The hotel is already sold out for the Auto Show in January!

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2 Responses to “DETROIT: Cultural Center Tour”

  1. Amy Sacka September 28, 2013 at 10:57 pm #

    Great post! Yum!

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