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DETROIT: Kahn Artist…

24 Mar

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We’re at Lawrence Technological University’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology in Midtown. The 30,000 sq. ft. building rose from a long-empty lot in 2014; it was one of the first new structures built as part of the redevelopment of the Woodward Corridor. This building is home to the Architecture and Design programs; classrooms and meeting space allow for co-working and collaboration between students, faculty, designers and professionals.   The star attraction today is Albert Kahn At The Crossroads: The “Lost” Belle Isle Aquarium and Horticultural Building Blueprints. I’m very excited, you see, these particular blueprints are made from the original 1901 architectural drawings used to build the structures; they are the only known surviving copies of the originals and have been kept in private hands. The blueprints lead the way for the Belle Isle Conservancy’s continuous  renovation  of the aquarium and conservatory.

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We talk about Albert Kahn a lot on DetroitDvotion, he was the ‘architect of Detroit’. He is the foremost American industrial architect of his day, he revolutionized the design of industrial buildings around the world. Together with his engineer brother Julius, they developed a new style of construction using re-inforced concrete instead of wood in factory walls, roofs and supports. Kahn helped to create industrial America; designing more than 1,000 buildings for Ford, several 100 for GM, he designed 500 factories in the Soviet Union not to mention the many commercial, institutional and residential structures here in Michigan. Here’s a smattering of his buildings: The Fisher, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Packard Plant, Temple Beth-El (now the Bonstelle) SS Kresge World HQ, Cranbrook House, Detroit Athletic Club, Willistead Manor, Russell Industrial Center and multiple structures on the University Of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. That’s just the tip of the iceberg…

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We step inside the gallery, white-legged tables are covered with black cloths, we have the place to ourselves, we head up the stairs to have a look around. Long work tables sit empty in conference rooms, drawings are tacked to walls, scale buildings are in the process of being assembled. We are surrounded by glass and windows, like we’re sitting in a nest above Woodward. From the landing we can look out over the gallery, let’s take a look at those blueprints. One by one we take the cloths off the tables revealing the original blueprints under glass. We study the North and South Elevation of the buildings, the entrance of the Beaux Arts style aquarium with its spectacular pillars and carvings. Opened in 1904 this is the oldest public aquarium in North America, it is also the oldest aquarium/conservatory combo in the world. How’s this for cool; the basement of the aquarium served as a speakeasy during prohibition!

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The conservatory was originally called the Horticultural Building, this is how it is referred to on the blueprints. The oldest continually running conservatory in the U S, it was modeled after great garden pavilions of the late 19th century, specifically the Crystal Palace and Palm House at Kew Gardens in London. Moving from print to print we take in architectural ornamentation long missing from the horticultural building. Sections of the cornice, palm house, vestibule and lantern of the Palm House are all familiar to us, I really like the one of the dome. One of the drawings reveals the walkway that once connected the two buildings, the conservancy hopes to restore it making it possible to go from building to building without ever stepping outside. Black and white photos show construction of the structures from 1902, I stare at the frame of the dome before the glass was installed, another shows the progress of aquarium rotunda, fascinating!

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Outside we get our first up-close look at the QLINE in action, streetcar #288 is out on a test-run. Rock City Eatery is just across Woodward; we haven’t been to the new space since they moved from Hamtramck, I’m anxious to give it a try. The interior features a Detroit Rock theme, the space is raw with exposed rafters, Rock and Roll Icons grace the walls, patio lights are strung across the ceiling. The menu retains its creative style of offerings. We start with today’s special: BBQ Potato Chips, homemade chips loaded with bbq pork, green onions and a sprinkling of feta cheese, so good…. The Middle Eastern Pizza is topped with Harissa, date, lamb sausage, onions, goat cheese, zakatar, caramelized fennel and parsley; great combo of flavors, delicious!

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Moving on, Kris is thinking ice cream, Treat Dreams is just a block away on Cass, let’s go. We find an open space right in front of Mills Pharmacy + Apothecary, I’d like to take a look inside. Mills has been a staple in Birmingham since 1946, the Stuber-Stone building is currently their additional location while they hunt for a permanent Detroit spot. This is one of those stores that smells really good; the shop is filled with skin care items, bath and spa products, fragrances for you and your home. They carry global brands such as Mad et Len, Panier des Sens, Leonor Greyl and Korres. Products are displayed on tables, shelves racks and cabinets, labels are pretty. Soap, candles, perfume and lotion, I sniff my way through the store.

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Now for the ice cream. Treat Dreams features unique flavors of homemade ice cream, baked goods and coffee. The interior is a cheerful combo of purple and white, chalkboards call out today selections. On the ice cream board they have Holi Canoli, Blueberry Paczki and Dirty Martini to name a few; there are also vegan flavors and sorbet to choose from. Kris and I are having an espresso shake made with Salted Caramel ice cream, the woman behind the counter promises we’ll like it. Sitting at a table that overlooks Cass we drink our shake, the only words coming from our lips are about how good it is. The cup is empty faster than either of us would like, we leave the shop feeling sweetly satisfied.

DETROIT: Showtime

14 Mar

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We’re in Southwest Detroit to catch a show at the Matrix Theatre on Bagley. Founded in 1991 by Shaun and Wes Nethercot, the company’s mission is “to build community, improve lives and foster social justice. Matrix Theatre Company teaches, creates and shares theatre as an instrument of transformation”. In addition to professional theatre the company also includes the School of Theatre, Matrix Teen Company and the Community School For The Arts which teaches play writing, performance and puppetry for all ages. Members of the groups collaborate to create new plays about important community issues such as teen dating violence, bullying, gang violence, immigration/deportation, HIV/AIDS, homophobia, ethnic intimidation. They also bring awareness to the history and culture of Detroit. 

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We park in the lot adjacent to the building, for years I have admired the mural on the wall; a young girl blowing dandelion seeds into the air, her eyes closed tight concentrating on her wish, other dandelions join the dance in the breeze. The orange brick building stands 2-stories high, a wrought iron hanger holds the Matrix shingle. Inside the lobby is compact; here you can pick up your ticket, grab a candy bar and a cold pop before heading into the performance space. Intentions is sold out today, we spy two open seats next to one another and claim them. The theatre is one of those intimate spaces where the people in the front row are practically on stage; you can’t help but feel the energy from the actors.

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For the next two hours Nell, Gabe, Maya, Leif and Lou share their lives at Tillerman House with us. Tillerman is an intentional community/urban farm, the characters share common values but each one views life a little differently. The entire story takes place in the common area of the house. Playwright Abbey Fenbert has created a funny, entertaining, honest look at the effect change has on human beings. I too experienced change; I felt one way about the characters at the beginning, then as things happened and the story evolved I saw a different side of them, altering my view. Things are always shifting, we’re always looking for balance. The actors are marvelous, the story timely, what a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.

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We’re having an early dinner at Ima, a new Japanese-influenced restaurant that took over the old Rubbed space on Michigan Ave. Serving signature noodle soups, rice bowls, curries and small plates, the restaurant has received high praise from diners and critics alike. The communal tables are full but two seats have opened at the bar overlooking Michigan Ave. The menu is simple and concise, making for easy ordering. We are having the Golden Curry; silky curry sauce, root veggies, ginger pickle and roasted tofu, it’s fantastic! The Boombap is Ima’s version of Bibimbop; a fried egg, shitake, slaw, cucumber, ginger beef all served atop a bowl of rice with pepito chili sauce on the side, it’s outstanding. A line of people waiting has formed, we finish every last grain of rice and we’re off.

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Bobcat Bonnies is on the other side of Michigan Ave, something about the name has always intrigued me, tonight I finally get the chance to check it out. The space was formerly The Red Devil and O’Blivion’s after that, see those names did nothing for me… We’re stopping in at the neighborhood spot for an after-dinner-drink. We grab a couple of seats at the bar, order drinks then chat with the bartender and the couple next to us. The place has a very comfortable, chill vibe. I like the orange brick, the geometric patterns of the tile and the original wood ceiling that’s over 150 years old. This is a nice way to end the evening. Oh and I did find out about the name, Bonnie is the grandmother of one of the partners, rumor has it she likes to drive a bobcat around her farm in Ohio–sweet!

HOWELL: Gettin’ There…

3 Mar

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All across America big cities and small towns are experiencing recovery, revitalization, rejuvenation. People are drawn to the unique things each has to offer; theater, dining, craft beer and cocktails, music, recreation. Tonight we are in Livingston County, about an hour northwest of Detroit in the city of Howell. At 4.95 sq. miles this historic town has a picturesque downtown with a lively dining scene. We have the evening all planned out starting with dinner at The Silver Pig. We’re parked behind the restaurant, a swanky mural of a cabaret performer covers a corner of the wall, the piglet at her feet assures us we’re at the right place. The entrance is marked with a silver awning, a pig juts out at the corner. Inside the decor is dark, quaint, definitely urban, I like it.

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The menu and list of specials is concise, making ordering easy, the cocktail list is impressive. With a little help from our server our order is placed and cocktails served, while I sip on Strawberry Fields, enjoying the muddled strawberry, lavender and honey, Kris is relishing one of the best Old Fashioneds he’s ever had. We snack on the house Truffle popcorn until the Sweet and Sour Cauliflower arrives, absolutely delicious in a spiced orange marmalade glaze with red jalapeno. The pepperoni pizza is served on a cooling rack straight from the brick oven, it’s crisp and extra flavorful with Hungarian peppers. All around us small plates and shellfish towers are being served, everything looks great; we’re definitely coming back.

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We exit through in interior door, cross a hall and cut through the sister restaurant Diamonds Steak and Seafood, looks pretty fancy, I’m adding it to our list of things to do next time we’re in Howell. We pass through the front door out onto Grand River, it’s a lovely evening for a stroll, the Howell Opera House is about a block down and our destination. Built in 1881 the Victorian 3-story structure was once the center of entertainment for the surrounding communities. In those days live shows like Hamlet and Mikado were performed on stage, the theatre hosted speeches–Henry Ford once spoke here, dinners and graduations. In 1924 the 800-seat theatre was closed by the Fire Marshall. While the first floor was used as retail space the second-floor auditorium was used as storage space for the local hardware store; it sat dark for more than 80 years.

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The Livingston Arts Council purchased the building in 2000, in 2007 after a complete renovation of the first floor the building was reopened and is now used for public activities such as tonight’s Acoustic Cafe. Olivia Millerschin is performing at 7:30, the lobby is packed with people to see the show. The open space is set up with rows of chairs theatre-style, small tables are inserted into the rows here and there for the comfort of patrons needing a place to rest a beverage or snack purchased in the lobby. Large round tables at the back of the room are already filled with people. Icicle lights are draped around the room, a small stage is set up in front, microphones, amps and instruments are all in place. 

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At just 21 years old Olivia is already a music veteran, a singer, songwriter and musician, she’s been performing her music for years, you may have seen her on America’s Got Talent. Tonight is the CD release of her second full-length album Look Both Ways. Olivia’s been very busy, she played 200 shows across the country in 2016. Tonight we have the pleasure of hearing her music live in an intimate setting. Her show is a mix of old and new original songs, she does a cover here and there of a variety of genres from Blue Skies to Tom Jones’ She’s a Lady; her rendition of Over The Rainbow is magic. In addition to being an amazing performer she has a great rapport with the audience, you can’t help but like her. Check out her video on YouTube for “When” recorded right here at the Howell Opera House.

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After the show a small group of us are led upstairs for an informal tour of the actual theatre. Remember, this place was built before electricity, one day they closed the doors and that was that, today it sits pretty much the way it did back then. It looks and feels old, even the air smells old (not in a bad way), it’s like time just stopped in this room. The proscenium, a simple plaster arch, the original curtains are still in place, except for some water damage the painted ceiling is still in tact; the overall decor is true Victorian.  Get a look at that unusual chandelier, we’re told it’s the original, it was gas-lit and then re-worked once electricity arrived. There is no lighting system, sound system, no plush seats. The floor creeks under our weight, ordinary poles support the balconies, old screen doors left behind by Sutton’s Hardware stand in a corner. Antique showcases house original playbills and other memorabilia. Doors at the back of the auditorium lead to the original lobby; patrons would enter from street level then take the stairs to the second floor theatre. Here we see more photos of what the room looked like back in the day, it was quite lovely. Our guide tells us the theatre is haunted, they say 6 different ghosts inhabit the space… there was nothing unusual during our visit. They say it will take about $6 million to restore, funding it is a constant challenge, it will be a beauty when it’s done.

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Across the street is a sign for Fog’s Pub with an arrow pointing to the alley; we walk around the block, go down a short stairway and find ourselves in the basement of the Heart of Howell Building. The compact space is cozy and charming, reminiscent of a speakeasy; the decor is a mix of wood, stone and vintage items. They offer a full food menu, classic craft cocktails, a giant beer list, wine and of course dessert. Craving a sweet ending to our evening we are sharing the Lava Cake. The warm chocolate cake is served on a rectangular platter alongside a mound of whipped cream and fresh berries, yum!  It was a great idea to come out to Howell, we’ve had a wonderful time in the vibrant historic district. Come on out and see it for yourself!

 

DETROIT: Just Another Night…

11 Feb

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Today we’re downtown to check out a couple of new places. Our first stop is in the former Federal Reserve Building on Fort Street. The original building opened in 1927, a lovely three and a half-story example of Classical Revival architecture. An eight-story glass and marble annex designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the International Style was added in 1951. Today the building houses the Detroit News and Free Press, the Rosetti architectural firm (they did the building renovations) and our reason for being here, Maru Sushi.

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It’s late afternoon, there are only a few other diners in the 4,500 sq. ft space, sunlight pours in through two-story-tall windows. The room is designed to look like a fisherman’s net with metal netting acting as dividers and a wave-like light fixture. Japanese artwork, raw concrete walls, natural stone, marble accents, decorate the soaring, open space. The original revolving door entrance to the building has been reinvented as a private booth–sweet. The menu is filled with rolls, sashimi, nigiri, sharing plates, soups, salads and noodles. We’re having the Spicy Tuna, Flaming Crab and Archer rolls. Everything is super-fresh, nice flavor combinations and generous in size. 

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After lunch we wander around the building; the flooring is a combination of original terrazzo with new stone-like paths. A series of wooden ribs sweeps across the ceiling, the reception desk is surrounded by mirrors, rough rock makes up a portion of a wall, bright red accents add a splash of color. Gorgeous marble walls and columns are backlit creating a striking effect. The second floor is open and overlooks the lobby, here we get a birds-eye-view of the restaurant, first floor and Fort Street; sitting areas are comfortable and attractive. I’m glad to see they maintained the integrity of the original Mid-Century Modern style.

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A short walk and we’re in Capitol Park. Did you know this is where Michigan’s State Capitol Building was originally located? Detroit was the state’s capitol from 1837-1847 when it moved to Lansing–hence the name Capitol Park. We stop in at The Albert, a 12-story luxury apartment building. Designed by Albert Kahn (of course), built in 1929, it was originally called the Detroit Griswold Building. It went from an office building to senior apartments to 127 market-rate units and renamed after the architect who designed it. We take the stairs to the 3rd floor common areas; here residents can play games, watch TV, throw a party or just cozy up in a corner and read. The large open space is decorated in bold colors, the outside wall is glass with a spectacular view of Capitol Park. Sitting areas, dining areas, I love the open coffer revealing the buildings original terracotta floor slabs above. The terrace offers outdoor seating and a community BBQ, whatever somebody’s cooking sure smells good! On the main floor we take the back exit to the alley, now we just have to find the right door….

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Detroit’s newest addition to the craft cocktail scene is Bad Luck Bar. The latest offering by the Detroit Optimist Society (Sugar House, Wright & Company) is definitely unique. In the alley a red light glows beyond a glass block window, the snake drawn on the door below the address assures us we’ve found the place. The tiny lobby is separated from the bar by a velvet curtain, a neon eye symbol illuminates the space. The host leads us through the compact, elegant room and seats at the bar. Cherry wood walls are finished with a hexagonal pattern, handmade hexagonal lights hang low from the ceiling, illuminati symbols are tucked into the decor; it feels very upscale. In keeping with the Bad Luck theme there are 13 choices on the cocktail menu, rare and unusual liquors are incorporated into creative combinations. We order our drinks then sit back and watch the show. Kris is having “Death”, I can’t tell you what’s in it but when all the measuring and shaking is complete it’s poured into a skull Tiki-style glass and set on fire, how cool is that? And it tastes fantastic. I’m having the Empress, again I have no idea what it’s made with, it served in a tall fluted glass ad garnished with housemade lavender popping sugar, it’s so good! Come here for the drinks and the experience.

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LuminoCITY Detroit runs until February 18, be sure and check it out! It’s hard to describe, fortunately we have good photos to share with you. It’s called a large-scale interactive art installation experience, I call it awesome. Beautifully illuminated shapes and designs of different sizes are placed in sites around downtown, they twist and flow to a curated light show. Right here in Capitol Park is Arcade, it sort of reminds me of a roller coaster; up and down, sharp turns, each section glows in a different color. Light Weaver sits on the old Hudson’s site, horse shoe shaped structures change colors, first it’s all blue then it becomes red, pink, yellow and orange, whimsical circles dance on the surface.

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180 Beacon on Woodward is a pretty deep-blue ring, it makes me want to jump through it, which is kind of the purpose of the installation. It encourages people to walk around the city, go from one structure to the next, discover something new, stop in at a restaurant, shop or bar. In Grand Circus Park 360 Beacons is a twist of primary colors, across the street is Gateway, the largest piece of the group. A huge multi-dimensional, multi-colored, patterned rainbow greets all who pass. We stand and watch as the color palette transitions from warm to cool, textures and shapes are projected across the surface. Art, technology and design working together, making Detroit a better place.

DETROIT: Library After Dark

20 Dec

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Detroit is extremely fortunate that many of its outstanding 20th Century buildings still exist; the Detroit Public Library on Woodward is one such place. In 1912 Cass Gilbert was commissioned to construct the building; WWI and other delays slowed the completion, finally, in 1921 the amazing Italian Renaissance library opened its doors. This is the 4th largest library in the United States, it welcomes 222,000 visitors a year. 

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Tonight the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation is hosting “The Library At Night” tour. For over 70 years the Friends Foundation has provided funds, books, materials, and special programs to the library community through gifts, grants, general contributions and event fees. Tonight’s tour will highlight the architecture of Cass Gilbert, craftsmen and artists, followed by appetizers, wine, craft beer and live music in the Fine Arts room. Using the Cass Ave entrance we walk the long hall toward the front of the building, we pause at the front entrance, majestic bronze doors have been permanently folded to the sides. Wreaths, garlands, red bows and strings of white lights decorate railings, columns and stairways. We meet up with our tour group in the original Children’s Library, we’re ready to begin…

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The large room is an eclectic mix of old and new, funky lighting hangs from the ceiling, benches are upholstered in olive-green, cinnamon and navy. Original architectural elements have held their ground for over 150 years. Our guide points out the Pewabic Tile fireplace surround; done in shades of blue, tan, yellow and gold it depicts scenes from favorite childhood stories, it’s gorgeous. Above it a pictoral map of Michigan by Frederick Wiley shows the arrival of the French to the wilderness of the territory. I never noticed the little door hidden in the bookshelves, we get a peek inside the secret room. In the hall, I’m once again reminded of how much I love this building. Tonight between the holiday lighting and the darkness beyond the windows it looks extraordinary. 

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Walking from the original building to the 1963 addition we find ourselves surrounded by mid-century design. The transition between old and new is thoughtful and seamless. We enter the new Children’s Library, here stuffed animals, picture books and rhyming stories entertain youngsters; be sure to check out the mosaics hanging on the wall, kids from Detroit Public schools had a hand in making them. The library is also an art museum of sorts, beautiful art can be found everywhere and it’s all out in the open. The hall leading to the Burton Historical Collection is lined with rows and rows of card catalogs, they’re over 100 years old and span the history of Michigan and Detroit from the 1700’s to the present– there’s no plan to modernize or get rid of them, some things should stay the same. The 2-story room that holds the collection is very 1960’s in style, the tall narrow windows allow natural daylight to saturate the space. One of the highlights is Stalin’s Gift, a lovely jewel chest commissioned for the Russian Royal Family in 1883. Joseph Stalin gave it to Charles Sorensen of Ford Motor Company for Sorensen’s help establishing Russian auto plants during WWII; his widow donated it to the library.

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We’re on the move again, we pause at Frank Varga’s mosaic of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, it was donated to the library in 1974. The Friends Foundation used tour proceeds to purchase the spotlight that illuminates it tonight. The Grand Staircase is made entirely of marble, it’s exquisite, as we ascend the stairs we get glimpses of the spectacular Italian Renaissance ceiling. Throughout the building you will find gold leaf, symbols, figures, Greek and Roman motifs and themes of books, knowledge and wisdom. Every room on the 3rd floor features a ceiling designed by Frederick Wiley, most are reproductions of ones found in European palaces, all are stunning.

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The 3rd floor is my favorite, the view of the ceilings and murals is fantastic; then there’s Adam Strohm Hall… Adam Strohm was the first library director to work in the building, there’s so much beauty in one place it’s mind-blowing. Check out the bronze entrances around the doors before you step in. Immediately our attention is directed to John Stephens Coppin’s “Man’s Mobility”, the painting features three era’s of transportation from horse and buggy to rocket ships. The mural on the opposite wall is Detroit’s early history by Gary Melchers. The windows you see are not stained glass but painted, the idea was stained glass was too dark, painted windows would let in more light for reading. Then there’s the ceiling, I’d like to just lay on the floor and stare at it for a while, take in the whole room…The ceiling in the Art and Music room was a new design, it’s very simple compared to the others; Cass Gilbert liked it so much he used it again in the US Supreme Court Building.

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The tour ends in the Fine Arts Room, another gorgeous space. Tonight we’re in for a special treat, they have opened a window and allowed us access to the loggia. There are 7 mosaics underneath the loggia windows, each depicts quotes from Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from As You Like It. The mosaics were created by Mary Chase Stratton (Pewabic Pottery founder), Horace Caulkins and Frederick Wiley; you can see their names affixed in gold leaf at one end, Cass Gilbert’s at the other. Just being out here is amazing! We have a picturesque view of the DIA lit in red and green for the holidays. Most people don’t even know the loggia exists, it’s a special privilege to be standing outside, under the stars on a Friday night. One of the volunteers has removed a colored gel from the spotlight so we can see the mosaics in their true colors–awesome. We climb back in the window; a woman sings as I stand in line for appetizers and wine. Kris ducks out into the hall for pictures, he has the floor to himself. It’s been wonderful to revisit this treasure and extra special to do the tour at night.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at The Peterboro in Detroit’s historic Chinatown. We were here for the soft opening and keep meaning to come back, tonight’s the night. Serving contemporary Chinese American cuisine they offer both small and large plates.  I find the space really attractive, large red lanterns cast a warm glow over the otherwise dark room, red and white lights wrap black-painted ducts, a large canvas features a fierce looking tiger. We decide on several small plates, each arrives at the table as it’s prepared. The Seaweed salad is the first to arrive, crispy quinoa and pickled mushrooms add crunch and unique flavor. The Market Veggie Rolls are nice, I like the sweet chili sauce. Mom’s Roast Pork is boneless rib tips marinated in hoisin and honey, nice flavor, odd texture. The Crab Rangoons are our favorite dish, crabmeat and cream cheese deep fried in a crunchy shell, what’s not to like? 

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MONROE: Looking Back

9 Dec

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Today we find ourselves in the historic town of Monroe MI. Located about 25 miles south of Detroit, 14 miles north of Toledo, the city is best known for the Battle of the River Raisin in the War of 1812. It’s also the boyhood home of Civil War hero Gen. George Armstrong Custer. Other famous natives include Christie Brinkley (born here in 1954), Valerie Harper, Paul W Smith of WJR and Kaye Lani Rae Rafko, Miss America 1988. La-Z-Boy and Monroe Shocks and Struts started here and remain here today. Kris and I find the best way to get a feel for a city is by visiting the local history museum, let’s go.

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The Monroe County Historical Museum is housed in the former Post Office, this stately building was built in 1913 on the old homestead of Maj General George A Custer. We use the back entrance, the first thing we see is the Monroe Shock Absorber display. A large case is filled with advertisements, endorsements, memorabilia and promotional items. A detailed timeline takes us through the history of the company and the men who started it; Monroe products are included in the collection. The main space is one large room with exhibits that line the walls. We learn about Fred J Routledge, marksman and inventor who designed and developed the “Mo-Skeet-O” backyard trap shooting system. You can check out the Trap Thrower, Hand Trap Thrower and a Remington-Routledge Shotgun. In addition to manufacturing Mo-Skeet-O components, Routledge specialized in choke-bore for small-caliber shotguns.

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The museum is in the process of decorating for Christmas, pretty trees draped in garland are seen throughout the space. A lovely mural “Romance of Monroe” hangs high on a wall, it was painted as part of the PWA project for the post office back in 1938, good to see they kept it. Framed maps of Monroe from the 1800’s fill a small hallway. We take the elevator to the second floor, we are greeted by numerous Christmas trees, the atmosphere is festive. This level is dedicated to The Custers, one of the largest public exhibitions of Custer artifacts. It begins with the romance of George and Libbie (Elizabeth) and follows their life, George’s national fame during the Civil War, his death and Libbie’s crusade to his lasting legacy.

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There are many personal items like their family bible, photos, furniture and mementos. We see George’s letters, uniforms, boots and medals; we follow his momentous occasions to Custer’s last fight. Libbie was responsible for getting the statue of her husband designed by sculptor Edward Potter, dedicated by President Taft in 1910 erected in Monroe; be sure and see it when you’re in town. We loop around, ending up back on the first floor at the La-Z-Boy exhibit, love the cool recliners on display. Kaye Lani Rae Rafko has her own little section; photos document her life from baby to beauty queen, they even have her crown. In the 1940’s the Port of Monroe steamship took passengers from Monroe to Put-In-Bay Island Park, they have some great posters and trinkets from back in the day.

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To complete our Monroe history lesson we drive over to the National Park Service River Raisin National Battlefield Park. Here’s the description from the website: “River Raisin National Battlefield Park preserves, commemorates, and interprets the January 1813 battles of the War of 1812 and their aftermath in Monroe and Wayne counties in SE Michigan. The Battle resulted in the greatest victory for Tecumseh’s American Indian confederation and the greatest defeat for the U.S. The resulting rally cry “Remember the Raisin” spurred support for the rest of the war.” We start in the visitors center, here exhibits, maps, military items and recreations tell the story of the battle that ensued just outside the door.

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The British had taken Detroit, there were two battles at this location to retake the city, both were bloody defeats. The event that spurred the rallying cry “Remember The Raisin” happened January 23, 1813, the day after the battles of Frenchtown (Monroe) that resulted 387 Americans killed, 500 taken prisoner. After sunrise the killing and scalping of Americans resumed; Native Americans killed 30-60 American wounded prisoners as a means of revenge. It is at this point US strategy shifts from a land war to a naval war; if you remember your American history you’ll recall US Adm Perry defeated the British fleet on Lake Erie, a turning point in the war. Outside we follow a paved pathway that leads from one historic marker to another, each gives us a description of what took place on this spot; infantry campsite, battles, skirmish line, reading them gives me the chills as the information sinks in. Learning about it in school is one thing, but standing here, looking around, makes a deep impression. 

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We’re cold and we’re hungry, we head over to Public House on Monroe Street. If the building looks vaguely familiar it’s probably because this used to be a Big Boy, that’s where the similarity ends. The restaurant is a regular stop for us anytime we’re on our way back north from a southern MI or out-of-state adventure. We’re seated in a booth in the comfortable dining room, we briefly scan the menu, we’ve made up our mind on the ride over. The service is always friendly, our glasses never empty. Without delay our food arrives; the Southwest Hash is a mix of potato, green pepper, onion, and chorizo topped with 2 over-easy eggs and a side of wheat toast. The flavor combination is outstanding, the eggs perfectly cooked, I love this dish. We’re also having the Banana Caramel Nut waffles; tasty silver dollar size Belgian waffles smothered in caramel sauce and bananas, sprinkled with walnuts, so, delicious! The sweet a nice contrast to the savory dish. The menu covers Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner; everything is made in house from soups and salad dressings to desserts, they have a nice wine list and serve  Interurban Ale from Arbor Brewing Co. Check it out next time you’re in the area. We’ve just had a sampling of what Monroe has to offer, there’s so much more to explore, we’ll be back.

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DETROIT: Eastern Market Holiday Style

1 Dec

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With Thanksgiving behind us it’s time to start thinking all things Christmas; what better place to begin than the Sunday Holiday Market at Eastern Market. My favorite thing about coming to this type of market is the quality and variety of merchandise, food and drink assembled under one roof; the artistry and talent is amazing. We begin in Shed 3, vendors have set up tables along the perimeter of the room, items are attractively arranged, samples are plentiful. Shoppers seem to be out in clusters; families of multiple-generations, girlfriends out for the day, couples; everyone seems to be in the holiday spirit.

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We traverse wide aisles filled with people looking for the perfect gift, we shift from table to table like some strange choreographed dance, one group leaves another steps up. I have a soft spot for hand-made things, the crocheted baby items are adorable; tiny little hats, blankets and cocoons. Displays are beautiful; gold and silver wrapped packages and tiny white lights are festive, T-shirts featuring Michigan and Detroit themes are extremely popular. Bottles and Beach Glass have been re-purposed into art, The Mc Clary Bros. table has a big selection of drinking vinegars, would you like a taste? One of the vendors is selling cranberries, fresh, sugar dusted, mixed with butter; it all looks appealing. The Eclair Tout De Sweet table stops me cold, these are not your ordinary eclairs, flavors include chocolate peppermint, gingerbread, nutella; buy one and eat it here or order a dozen for your holiday gathering. 

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Moving onward I check out gorgeous handmade jewelry, coasters and drinking glasses featuring the Mitten state or the Old English D. Vintage clothing hangs on portable racks, sweatshirts and hoodies are plentiful. I’m delighted by the Happy Heads Doll Collection from Detroit-born Marvalisa, her work is colorful, whimsical and well, happy… Artwork, earrings, Poinsettia in every color share space with a DJ, a cooking class is taking place in the community kitchen. The cutest little girl is wearing purple eye glasses and holding a sign for hand-made greeting cards. In another area an artist is hard at work painting a canvas, her completed pieces featuring Frida Kahlo are for sale. Bright colors and whimsical flowers decorate glass pieces at the Glass Garden.

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Outside the last shed has been transformed into a Christmas Tree farm. Families wander up and down the long rows of trees looking for the perfect one. It smells wonderful, a mix of fresh-cut wood and pine, it’s divine. Greens have been made into garlands and wreaths, trees stand tall in make-shift stands, the sound of a chainsaw is common. I like to watch as families narrow down their choices, when the final decision is made the tree is placed in a chute that bundles it for the ride home. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas….

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We cross Russell Street to get lunch at Beyond Juicery + Eatery, recently opened, it’s a great place to grab a fast, healthy lunch. I order at the counter, Kris takes a seat at the front window; good people-watching today. I hear my name and pick up my Total Energy smoothie at the counter. Strawberry, banana, honey and vanilla, it’s sweet and delicious. The food is up next, with a handful of napkins and plastic forks we busy ourselves eating the Cilantro Chicken Wrap: chicken, tomato, romaine, cheddar, avocado and a spicy cilantro sauce wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla and grilled to a golden brown—yum! The Jalapeno + Lime bowl is a combination of quinoa, romaine, jalapenos, cheddar, roasted tomatoes, red onion served with lime vinaigrette; tasty. Ingredients are fresh and flavorful, service is friendly and fast.

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Holiday hours at DeVries & Company 1887 include Sunday’s from 10 am-3 pm, we haven’t been here in a while so today’s our chance. This specialty food shop started by Rudolph DeVries over 125 years ago is an Eastern Market staple. What began as specialty shop selling the highest quality butter, eggs and cheese now covers three floors and includes merchandise, locally made products, coffee, tea and chocolate. They are still best known for their extensive cheese selection with over 200 domestic and imported varieties to choose from; did I mention they have samples?

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We climb into the hand-operated elevator and take it to the third floor. To the right hand-painted windows glow in direct sunlight casting colorful shadows on walls and the floor. There’s a huge collection of Michigan and Detroit themed goods; glasses, books, cookie cutters, oven mitts. You can buy a 6-pack of Faygo pop and purchase a Faygo candle to go with it, how do you think Red Pop would smell? Maybe Rock and Rye? Wooden shelves hold glass pieces in a rainbow of colors. The second floor is home to seasonal decorations and hand-made jewelry and accessories. With so many pretty, unique necklaces to choose from, it’s hard for a girl to make up her mind, but I do…

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Back on the first floor I sample cheeses, make mental notes of the tea selection and wish there was a way I could taste everything! One rack holds holiday favorites such as fruit-filled hard candies, peppermint bark and that old-fashioned ribbon candy we all liked as kids. They have oils, vinegars, jams and jellies. I’ve never seen Fentimans soda before, they have been making botanically brewed beverages in Great Britain since 1905, did I mention they sell Vernor’s in glass bottles. Packaged cookies and crackers are stacked high on tables, pasta, rice and grains each have their place; it’s a food wonderland. You still have a few weekends left so c’mon down and check it out.

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Hamtramck: History And Holidays

25 Nov

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Today we’re in Hamtramck for the Polish Art Center open house; the shop is an emporium for all things Polish. The front windows face Joseph Campau, decorated for the holidays they feature beautiful city scenes. On the right are four entries for the Szopki contest, the winner will be announced today. Inside we enter a winter wonderland, small white cones strung together dangle from the decorative tin ceiling creating an indoor snowfall; the mood is festive. Everybody seems to know each other, greetings come in the form of smiles and hugs. A line of customers extends from the register to the back of the store, their arms overflow with merchandise.

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I hear someone playing a harp, we negotiate our way to the other side of the shop, a man sits in the center of the room, the most beautiful music fills the air as his fingers pluck strings effortlessly. We are surrounded by attractive Boleslawiec Polish Stoneware; bowls, cups, tureens, goblets and more all hand-painted in pretty patterns. T-shirts and hats have cute Polish sayings and designs, colorful Polish Folk aprons hang above. The crowd has gathered around the food table, a variety of dishes such as roast pork with winter vegetables, meatballs, bruschetta, smoked salmon with all the toppings, fruit and cheeses are offered to open-house guests; everything is delicious!

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We browse past pretty-painted wooden boxes, serving pieces, figurines, greeting cards, napkins while sipping on champagne and eating homemade truffles. Back in the first room coloring book author Catherine Macaro is busy coloring and signing books. The Christmas ornaments are lovely; snowmen, dolls, snow-covered houses and trees to name a few. Here we have a large selection of Polish cd’s, soup mixes, jams, dried mushrooms, hard candies and my favorite, chocolate. While we wait for the check-out line to die down we check out the Amber jewelry, they have a huge variety from necklaces to rings, the antique wooden display cases are almost as pretty as the jewelry.

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We have made our purchase, earlier I noticed the Hamtramck Historical Museum is open today, that’s where we’re going now. The museum is being renovated in stages so each time we come it’s different; it’s gotten much bigger since our last visit. The building was actually the first department store in the city in the 19-teens, many remember the space as the old barber college, its last incarnation before the museum was a dollar store. All aspects of the city’s history are represented, they have thousands of items ranging from documents, photos and memorabilia to films, medical records and household items. Shelves hold vintage packaging from the Holbrook Ice Cream Company, Swan soap, needles and threader, I like the name of the home permanent: Bu-Tee-Wave, kinda catchy don’t you think?

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Kris automatically gravitates to the Dodge Main display. When the Dodge brothers opened their assembly plant in 1910 immigrants from Poland flooded the area. Dodge Main occupied 67 acres, it was made up of 35 separate  buildings, it included a medical facility, test track and fire department.  Some of the cars built here include Charger, Coronet, Polara, Lancer and Monaco. Display cases are filled with photos, emblems, name badges, key chains, articles, patches, mementos and an actual brick from the factory building. By the mid-20’s factory workers made up 85% of the heads of households in Hamtramck—whoa.

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I wander past photos of the old Village Hall, concert posters, record albums, sheet music, wedding and communion photos, commemorative plates. Business advertisements are found on matchbooks, ashtrays and trinkets. I check out the antique stove, next to it a Westinghouse Electric Roaster, this was a staple in every Polish household back in the day! A cheerleader uniform from St Lads (hey, my dad went to school there), bowling pins and Hamtramck Beer are reminders of the good ol’ days.

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After reading letters, placards and newspaper articles I realize Hamtramck has always welcomed immigrants; from the early days when Detroit Stove Works and the Dodge brothers attracted men from Poland, Syria, and Lebanon continuing to this day.This 2-square-mile city is Michigan’s most internationally diverse. Families from Poland, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, Bosnia, Ukraine, Albania, live side by side in peace. 27 native languages are spoken by school children. Polish Catholics, Ukranian Orthodox, Iraqi Chaldean Christians, Muslims, practice their religions in the same neighborhood. Hamtramck has hosted Presidents, the Pope, movies, famous people, the Food Network; it’s home to Kowalski, GM, Detroit City FC and, of course, Paczki. 

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Hunger has gotten the best of us, today we’re eating at Polonia Restaurant on Yemans. This charming restaurant has been around for over 40 years. The decor features art by Polish artists, artifacts, hand painted mural, old-fashioned tin ceiling and indirect lighting, giving it a homey feel.The menu is filled with traditional Polish and Eastern European specialties. Our food arrives on large white plates, the Polish plate is a combo of pierogi, golabki, kielbasa, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy; all of it quite tasty. The mushroom nalesniki are outstanding; paper-thin crepes stuffed with flavorful mushrooms smothered in creamy gravy and a drizzle of sour cream–wow! It’s been a wonderful day and a great way to kick off the holiday season. na zdrowie!

Birmingham Beauty

18 Nov

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As long as this beautiful Autumn lingers we’ll be outside enjoying every minute of it. Today we are in one of our favorite places to go for a walk, Birmingham. Everybody  knows about the great dining scene, trendy boutiques, cafes and shops, but few know the quiet side of this affluent city. C’mon, we’ll show you around. We park our truck on Lakeside Dr, just north of Maple and west of Old Woodward; we’re at Quarton Lake, one of Birmingham’s hidden jewels. Tucked into a prosperous neighborhood the lake is surrounded by Quarton Lake Park with a walking trail that follows the perimeter.

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Walking south we encounter joggers, babies in strollers, leashed dogs with their owners, friends carrying Starbucks cups catching up on the week’s events. It’s a truly glorious day; the sun shines in a medium-blue sky, colorful leaves still cling to towering trees, elegant homes stare out at the lake. Following the gravel trail we come across native plants and flowers gone dormant for the winter; large pods have split open, their seeds carried by the wind. The fishing pier leads us out into the lake, the water is still except for the tiniest ripple, the surrounding beauty reflected like a mirror on the surface. The combination of nature and magnificent homes along the shoreline create a spectacular view; it’s easy to forget we’re only blocks from a thriving city.

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Quarton Lake is fed by the Rouge River, remnants of an old gristmill powered by water from the mill-pond are acknowledged by a plaque; the wooden mill served local farmers for 83 years. We reach the waterfall, some of the grandest homes overlook this spot. We cross the Rouge River pedestrian bridge finding ourselves in an open, grassy area complete with benches and sculpture. When the trail ends we follow the sidewalk along Maple Rd then duck back in the neighborhood on Lake Park Dr, the other side of the lake. Residents have replaced flowering annuals with hardy mums; pumpkins and haystacks join the Autumn decor. Leaves are scattered on the lawns of stately homes; slate roofs, luxurious porches and lavish landscapes are not uncommon. We reach the far end of the lake, an opening in the trees allows us to watch the Mallards as they paddle around, squirrels chase each other from tree to tree. We reach Oak Ave and walk towards Old Woodward.

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If you read DetroitDvotion regularly you know we are fond of historic cemeteries, picturesque Greenwood Historic Cemetery resides over 8 acres on Oak Ave. This unassuming little graveyard is the final resting place for some of Oakland County’s most prominent citizens and early pioneers. In 1821 Dr Ziba Swan purchased a large parcel of land from the federal government, setting aside a half-acre for a community cemetery. In 1825 Polly Utter and her 13-year-old daughter Cynthia were brutally murdered by Imri Fish, a boarder in the family home. These were the first murder victims in Bloomfield Township, they were also the first interments. The burying ground was enlarged several times through the years; in 1946 the City of Birmingham took over the operation. Walking through it today is like reading a history book on Birmingham. 

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We roam among limestone, marble and granite monuments, mature trees provide a colorful canopy today; fallen leaves have blown and gathered into piles of red, chartreuse, burnt orange.  Headstones from the early 1800’s are worn and barely legible, the age of the deceased is listed in years, months and days. Adams, Quarton, Opdyke and Baldwin, lie within these gates, local roads bear their names. John West Hunter was the first settler to live in Birmingham, the library is named after Martha Baldwin, Elijah Willets was the founder of Birmingham; John Daniels, the city’s only American Revolutionary War Veteran is buried here. 

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We amble over to the gravesite of sculptor Marshall Fredericks, (Spirit of Detroit, Cross In The Woods, Freedom Of The Human Spirit) his Leaping Gazelle sculpture rises up toward the sky. The Booth Family plot is anchored by George Gough Booth and Ellen Scripps Booth, they established the Cranbrook Educational community; the headstone of each family member wears a symbol that identifies something unique about that person. Pewabic Pottery founder Mary Chase Stratton is buried alongside her husband, architect William Buck Stratton. Each of these people had significant impact on the face of Detroit and the surrounding communities. More recently, legendary author Elmore Leonard was laid to rest.

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We cut back through neighborhood streets, cute brick bungalows and traditional 2-story homes share real estate with newly constructed homes in a variety of styles from concrete modern to manor homes, no two are the same–I like that. As we approach Old Woodward we walk through Booth Park, this is also the start of the Booth Trail. The trail follows the Rouge River through an undeveloped part of the city, it’s absolutely gorgeous. Leaves crunch under our feet as we follow the mulched trail, the river on the left, homes built into the hillside on the right; their view must be exceptional. The trail weaves alongside the river, most of the trees are bare, shrubs are vibrant and green. Amateur photographers take advantage of the scenery, there’s plenty of it, ducks are camera-shy and swim away. Pedestrians and dogs are plentiful today, everybody wants to be outside. This trail connects to the Rouge River Trail. The mild temperature encourages us to keep walking.

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We zig and zag back through neighborhood streets, old and new homes side by side in the long-established city. Old Woodward is a haven for the hungry, so many places to choose from, the patio at The Bird & The Bread looks inviting, lets check it out. The air has taken on a little chill, without the sun to warm us we opt to eat indoors; the front of the restaurant is all windows making it the next best thing to actually being outside. I’m excited to see they’re still serving brunch, I sip on a hot cup of coffee as we wait for the food to arrive.

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The restaurant is huge, it includes a wine bar, tap-room and seasonal kitchen; there’s even a curtained-off area for small groups. Old Woodward is pretty quiet today, only an occasional car or pedestrian. Our server brings our food and a couple of side plates, I scoop out half of the biscuits and gravy as Kris divides the Quinoa pancakes with house made lemon ricotta and orange marmalade. The pancakes are light and fluffy, there’s a slight crispness on the edges, the ricotta and marmalade go perfectly together, it’s high in deliciousness. The tender buttermilk biscuits are smothered in a creamy sausage gravy, what’s not to like? It feels good to sit and relax, mind and body fully nourished. 

DETROIT: Mt. Olivet Cemetery

10 Nov

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Today we are taking a walk through Detroit’s largest cemetery, Mt. Olivet; opened in 1888 it’s part of the Mt. Elliot family of cemeteries. Located on Van Dyke, straddling Outer Drive, 300 acres of lawns and gardens are the final resting place for both notable and ordinary citizens. The names of cultural, political and business leaders are carved into headstones, mausoleums and monuments; Polish, Italians, Germans and Belgians are grouped together. Military burials date from the Civil War to Vietnam. 

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The sheer beauty of an old cemetery in Autumn makes it an extremely appealing place to take a walk. Massive Maples and Oaks are dressed in their finest colors giving us a grand finale before Winter takes hold. It’s like wandering through a park filled with stories, art and tranquility. The grass is deep green, relishing the recent rain and cooler temperatures, fallen leaves litter the ground, deep red begonias are still hanging on. Near the entrance a towering statue of Jesus on the cross overlooks the grounds, this was originally a Catholic cemetery. We traverse the uneven ground going from one private mausoleum to another; here’s a name we recognize, Albert Fisher, pioneer of the auto industry and uncle to the 7 Fisher brothers who founded Fisher Body. The simple structure has lovely ornate doors, look straight through, there’s a beautiful stained glass window with an angel.

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Most of the mausoleums are fitted with lavish doors or grates, many with unique stained glass in back, some have simple Doric columns, others look as if they’re constructed of rough rock, a few look Egyptian. Live plants still occupy urns, burning bushes are just starting to turn, squirrels run about like this is their playground. There are large family plots with one big headstone bearing the family name, blooming roses embellish the Healy family plot. The Thomas Grant obelisk is unusual in that it is rounded; time, weather and probably pollution have created an attractive shadow to the carved areas. Long, flat gravestones look like concrete doors into the Earth. There are numerous statues throughout, more so than most cemeteries I think. In many cases, it’s a group of statues, like an entire family is mourning the deceased. It’s sad to see missing hands, fingers, heads.

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We get back in the Jeep taking the narrow private road through the tunnel under Outer Drive, we’re now on the opposite side. We are greeted by the Garden Of The Rosary surrounded by finely manicured shrubs. Again we walk. We take our time, look at every detail; the ornate patterns carved into the stone, stained glass windows set into glossy white marble walls, expressions on the faces of statues, stone robes that seem to flow over the pedestal their mounted on, the way the lavish wrought iron has taken on a certain patina through the decades. There is a peacefulness here, I feel like I can just keep walking.

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Some of the more well-known people laid to rest here include Major League Baseball players Jimmy Barrett, Joe Lafata, Cass Michaels and Maurice Van Robays. Pianist Joe Hunter, 3-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers and actor Tom Tyler who played ‘Captain Marvel’ in the 1941 movie with the same name can also be found here. Politicians include congressmen Robert Clancy and senator Patrick McNamara. Race car driver William “Shorty” Cantlon was killed during the running of the 1947 Indy 500. I found this especially interesting, Rose M Gacioch, a player in the All American Girls Professional Baseball  League is here. She pitched for the Rockford IL Peaches, Rosie O’Donnell played her in the film A League Of Their Own. There is also a number of notorious crime figures here, including members of the Detroit Mob; really fascinating stuff.

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We have reached the Garden Mausoleum, the field-stone structure was constructed some time in the 1950’s. Concrete pathways lead us through the courtyards, annuals are still blooming, shrubs a perfectly shaped, this section has a statue of St Matthew. We peek into the chapel, hallways are lit by skylights, they lead us past stained glass windows, crypts and colorful mosaics. We pass from one area to the next; St Peter, St Anne, St Catherine, St Thomas and on it goes. Here and there on the walkways antique-looking jars hold lit candles, fresh flowers lay nearby; a tribute to those gone but not forgotten.

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The Polish Army Veterans Monument is situated between trees, the inscription is in Polish. We find names of other Poles in the immediate area. Meandering further we see mausoleums constructed of thickly veined marble with Art Nouveau accents–gorgeous. I see a gravestone in the distance I must get a closer look at, the large stone face is intricately carved with an entire scene; a woman prays at a grave site surrounded by towering trees, it’s amazing. These days cemeteries are much more open to the idea of people coming to enjoy the peacefulness, going for a walk, taking in the beauty. Mt Olivet even hosts the annual Sunrise Run and Pancake Breakfast fundraiser. Speaking of pancakes, it’s time to eat.

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It’s just a hop and a skip to Hamtramck, Polish food sounds good, our favorite Polish restaurant is Polish Village Cafe. It’s between lunch and dinner so getting a table is easy. No need for a menu, we know it by heart. We start with bottles of Zywiec Porter, so smooth, so good. Next we eat cups of dill pickle soup, I like to dip pieces of sourdough bread in mine. We divvy up the Polish Plate and Potato Pancakes eating under white lights wrapped in leaf garland draped from beam to beam, the decor changes with the season. What never changes is the deliciousness of the food, the warmth and hospitality of the staff. It always feels like home. 

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