DETROIT: Woodward…Under Construction

5 Sep

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Detroit’s Main Street, The All American Road, a Pure Michigan Byway, the first mile of concrete roadway in the country, M-1, all of these descriptions refer to our very own Woodward Ave. If you’ve been downtown the last several months you’ve experienced first hand the major changes taking place along the thoroughfare. First we have track construction for the M-1 Rail Streetcar line; the 3.3 mile circulating streetcar route will travel along Woodward Ave from the Central Business District (Congress), through Midtown, New Center and up to the North End neighborhoods (W Grand Blvd). There will be 20 serving stations serving 12 locations when completed. I can hardly wait. The second thing you’ll notice on Woodward is the ongoing rehab/restoration/reconstruction of historic buildings lining the avenue. 

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Today we’re taking a walk to see what’s new, what’s happening, in the rapidly changing-for-the-better district. We park the Jeep using one of those new fancy parking meters (ugh!), here’s a tip: memorize your license plate number….We start our walk just north of The Spirit of Detroit Statue, looks like the Vinton building is in line for renovation, the number of structures under construction on this block alone is mind-blowing. Scaffolding, paving equipment and orange traffic cones dictate where we can go. Office workers on break watch the progress as they relax in funky seating areas surrounding the Chase Tower–(now known as the Qube); there are so many people milling about.

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Several buildings on the west side of the street near Gratiot are in the process of being renovated; a peek through the telephoto lens of our camera reveals existing staircases with decorative wrought iron. Orange-striped barrels, chain link fence and men in hard hats make up the streetscape. We stand on the sidewalk trying to take in all the changes, luckily many buildings retain their original architectural splendor. On the next block we are amazed at the progress that has been made; just a few short weeks ago the corner building was faceless and minus windows, today it is nearly finished, stainless steel trim frames the windows and facade. A map of the new M-1 Rail line is displayed in an empty storefront.

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The Wright-Kay Building has always been one of our favorites; designed in the Queen Anne style by Gordon W Lloyd, it was completed in 1891 as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music. When the music store closed the Wright-Kay jewelry firm took over the building from 1920-1978. Six stories tall, constructed of brick and brownstone, I have always been fascinated by the corner turret reaching from the second to the fifth floor; at one time there was a ballroom on the second floor.Today the street level is home to John Varvatos, a high-end men’s clothing store–everybody should check this place out!

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The first thing you’ll notice is the huge chandelier, well, it’s actually many chandeliers wired together, creating a very dramatic effect. Everything revolves around the color black, it works fabulously; the space has a masculine, industrial, elegance, there’s so much eye candy we don’t even know where to look. Vintage accents are everywhere; display cases, tables, frames and light fixtures. Photographs of Rock-n-Roll stars hang on dark walls, they are available for purchase. Of course there’s the clothing, I don’t want to undersell that; t-shirts, jeans (made in USA), jackets, scarves and shoes are all attractively displayed, I could pick out at least a dozen items for Kris. Music is a big part of the store; a drum set, guitars and amps stacked two-high rest on a riser. We take the fancy stairway to the second floor, immediately we are greeted by guitars waiting to be played by customers. Further back a seating area surrounded by new and vintage guitars, amps, receivers, turntables, speakers and headphones welcomes us, Kris is mesmerized; I page through coffee table books about music and fashion. 

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 We pop into the David Whitney building, now the 126 room Aloft Hotel and 105 premium residences. Built in 1915 this 19-story building epitomizes America’s Golden Age. A 2-year, $92 million historical renovation has brought the original grandeur back to the building. The main attraction is the 4-story, gold-leafed atrium; lit by skylight, adorned with a fanciful clock, marble and terracotta, it truly is stunning. We exit the building and cross over to Grand Circus Park, the Russell Alger Memorial Fountain is lovely, umbrella’d tables with chairs are available on surrounding concrete. Across Woodward the Thomas Edison Memorial Fountain looks inviting; water spills over into a large basin, the sound is relaxing. Crossing back to the Whitney building our attention is diverted by a giant pink layer cake blocking Washington Ave; a crew is in the process of filming a commercial for Ford Motor Co celebrating the 10th birthday of the Fusion. We watch and we watch some more waiting for the big moment when the Fusion blasts through the cake, alas our hunger gets the best of us–guess we’ll have to wait to see it on TV.

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Central Kitchen + Bar located in the Michigan National Building has only been open a few weeks, we’re giving it a try. The lobby of the building is done in that mix of modern decor and original architectural elements that Dan Gilbert’s buildings have become known for, the lighting is super-cool, we’re fond of the whole effect. The restaurant continues with the same theme of new and old, concrete columns are left as-is, the unrepaired embossed ceiling is painted white, there’s a great black and white photo of old Detroit on one wall. We sit at a table just inside the roll-up door panels, casual seating areas reach out onto the sidewalk along with additional dining space. The lunch crowd is gone, the vibe is chill.

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Lunch arrives without delay, both of us grab a slice of the flatbread; thin crust smothered in fig jam, covered with crispy-roasted brussel sprouts, sprinkled with goat cheese crumbles and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, it’s delicious! The Chickpea burger is a thick vegetarian patty topped with tomato, feta, arugula, capped with Greek yogurt and served on a grain bun, tasty. While eating we look out over Cadillac Square, individuals peer inside the restaurant as they pass, there’s more foot traffic than vehicle traffic; something that hasn’t occurred in a very long time. Before exiting the building we drop into Roasting Plant for a post-lunch coffee. Smack dab in the center of the narrow space is the Javabot, this is where the beans are roasted, stored and blown through a series of custom-designed pneumatic tubes to be sold by the pound or the cup; you can help but be fascinated watching the process.

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Going back toward the car we dodge more barricades, stop for an up-close look at rail construction and admire the new mural on the former Compuware building before heading into Detroit Water Ice Factory .The brainchild of Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, the icy dessert shop recently opened to great fanfare, get this: every penny of profit goes back to fellow Detroiter’s through Goodwill and S.A.Y. Detroit. The menu board hangs behind the counter, eager young servers offer us samples, we comply. Flavors have catchy Detroit-ish names like Woodward Watermelon, (not Chet) Lemon, Honolulu Blue raspberry, you get the idea. I decide on the orange with a swirl of soft-serve vanilla ice cream through the middle; a delicious, refreshing treat! 

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Folks soak in the late afternoon sun on the patio of Townhouse; built out from One Detroit Center the glass enclosed space is pretty spectacular–it even has a retractable roof, you can literally dine under the stars! The decor is very modern, urban, chic. We sit at the bar, Kris has a cocktail while we people watch. We’ve seen a lot today and it all looks great, in two weeks Woodward will look different and again two weeks after that. It’s been a blast catching up on the progress, c’mon down and see it for yourself.

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