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Ypsilanti: Calling All Cars

16 Oct

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Once upon a time in the United States over a thousand automobile manufacturers existed; storied names like Packard, Imperial, Hudson, Desoto and Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly lines in Detroit. Slowly they faded away taking factories and manufacturing jobs with them. We’re all familiar with GM, Ford and Chrysler and their recently departed subsidiaries; Pontiac, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth. In the early 1900’s there were many other big names; Studebaker, Duesenberg, Nash, Hudson, Maxwell, Stutz, on and on… Some of these were bought up by the Big Three, others were phased out over time. Today we’re celebrating their memory at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum‘s 22nd Annual Orphan Car Show, a tribute to vehicles from manufacturers that no longer exist. The featured brand is Plymouth, introduced in 1928, production was discontinued in 2001 making it 90 years old today. Plymouth was Chrysler’s entry into the low-priced market, during the Great Depression Plymouth significantly helped Chrysler survive through a decade when many other car companies failed. Let’s check them out, what do you like? The Art Deco ’39 has square headlights, daring for its time, the “Mayflower” hood ornament is way cool. The Sport Fury convertible is a beauty, love the copper interior. Maybe you’re into muscle cars, Superbird, GTX, or Duster anyone?

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When we arrive at Riverside Park, beautiful automobiles are parked as far as the eye can see. Throughout the day vehicles will do a Pass In Review; one brand at a time cars drive the park loop, each pausing in front of grandstands, the master of ceremonies speaks about the car and does a short interview with the owner, it’s really interesting to hear the stories of how long they’ve had the car or where they found it, some significant detail, that kind of stuff; Kaiser-Frazer’s are being reviewed when we arrive. Vehicles are parked in groups by brand, the first one we see is Imperial, it was originally a brand of its own till the late 60’s. Let me tell you, the coral-colored ’57 is stunning; look at the fancy lettering, the “I” of Imperial has to be nearly 6″ tall, little crown emblems are here and there, look at the rocket-ship-style taillights. The white convertible with the red interior is gorgeous; Imperials have always been one of Kris’s favorite brands. The late-model DeSoto’s are pretty sweet too, love the 2-tone paint jobs where the roof is a different color. I stand on the side looking down the row of cars, this is the finned era, massive chrome bumpers flank the front and back, space-age-like taillights, decorative chrome molding is everywhere — in those days, beauty trumped cost. Steering wheels are stylish and dashboards are dazzling, like you’re driving a juke box…

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This cluster of DeSoto’s span a decade, from the pale yellow 1940’s model to the heavily chromed grills of the 50’s, they always remind me of a mouthful of big teeth, the Firedome V8 nameplate is snazzy; how about those wide white walls?  That’s a pretty fancy glass hood ornament on the ’42 model. Zigging and zagging in the afternoon sun we see an electric vehicle, a Mercury Lynx, it’s funny, when you read the nameplates you say, oh yeah, I remember those. The Mercury Cougar convertible looks great in blue, did you know that Canadian Mercury’s were called Monarchs? The Lucerne is pretty luxe, I like the big crown badges. Seems like you could do anything back then.

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Pontiac, they always seemed so stylish. The green ’53 is gorgeous, I love the mid-century chief medallion, the hood ornament lights up too, seriously. A mid-70’s Grand Am, 1964 GTO, a red Fiero and a gold 1979 Trans Am are also representing. Oldsmobile, the pride of Lansing, a late 50’s Super 88, seemingly wearing as much chrome as paint, is glistening in the sun. The 1965 442 is a great example of Oldsmobile’s contribution to the world of musclecars. I’d bet they caused their fair share of trouble on Woodward avenue back in the day.

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The Packard plant on Grand Boulevard is well known in the Detroit area, for years urban explorers have taken clandestine trips through its hallowed halls. Tours are offered to explore the decaying remains and offer hope for the future. Somewhere along the way I wonder if the resplendent automobiles that rolled down the assembly line have been forgotten in the process.  Always known for their elegance and signature grille, Packard’s have always appealed to me. The ’31 is lovely in beige and tan, how about the Art Deco styling cues of the 1940. I could see myself in the two-tone turquoise 1956 Four-Hundred, the instrument cluster looks like it’s out of an airplane…

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In 1954 the amalgamation of Nash and Hudson Motors formed the beginnings of American Motors Corporation. At the time it was the largest merger of corporations in US history. Hard to believe that the ultra luxurious early 30’s Nash in front of me is a distant relative to the Gremlin! The burgundy Hudson Hornet looks more like a custom with its chopped fastback roofline; it must have looked really slick when it appeared in 1950. I love the medallion on the Marlin Fastback, so mid-century. I’ve got to admit, I think the Gremlin and Pacer are really cute cars; I get a kick out of the one with the Levi interior.

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There are so many cars here, so many brands…We pass a group of Corvairs, they were assembled at the Willow Run plant. In the Brass Era we see a 1913 Cole, a 1911 Ann Arbor and an EMF, none of which we’ve ever heard of before.  The 1929 Willy’s Knight is fabulous, it even has a Knight for a hood ornament. There are all kinds of Studebakers; a ’27 Roadster, a President in blue, a Super Hawk and the unusual 1963 Avanti which came with a super-charged engine from the factory. Edsels are distinct, the taillights on the 1960 Ranger unlike any others. Each vehicle is adorned with a million little details, hood ornaments are works of art, trim pieces, door handles, shifters, fabrics, wheels and dashboards are thoughtfully designed. You knew a Plymouth from a Mercury, a Nash from a Hudson. You could get practically any color of the rainbow, inside and out. The good ol’ days.

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Ypsi is home to really good restaurants, today we’re eating at Bona Sera on Michigan Ave, they serve creative Italian fare with a southern twist. Two walls of windows allow lots of natural light to fill the space, primary colors are used on the walls and in the decor, potted plants give a sense of warmth, paper lanterns and a tin ceiling add a bit of whimsy. Everything on the brunch menu sounds delicious, we order the waffle served with Calder’s whipped cream and a pile of fresh fruit. we are not disappointed. The biscuits and gravy are fantastic; buttermilk biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and topped with two over-easy eggs, it looks like I licked my bowl clean. 

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River St is bustling today, coffee shops, a food co-op and shops have livened up the district. Cultivate Coffee and Tap House serves, as you may have guessed, craft coffee and draft brews, we’re here for the coffee. I read the list of selections while I stand in line, I order two cold brews; Kris has found us seating at a community table towards the back. The space is cozy and attractive and very busy today; I’d say the sales of beer to coffee is about equal. Feeling revived after a nice meal and a coffee it’s time to hit the road.  

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Port Huron: Floating Sculpture

3 Oct

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The Michigan chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society is hosting the 2018 ACBS International Boat Show on the Black River in Port Huron. Participants began arriving earlier in the week; group activities and tours through the St Clair Flats show people around the Blue Water Region, guides tell visitors about the amazing local boating history and legendary men Christopher Smith and Gar Wood. Boaters, collectors and curious people from the United States and Canada are gathered along the length of River Street Marina, nearly 200 boats have made the trek and are on display for the public. We arrive early in the day, fog hangs low, I hope it burns off soon. A stairway leads us down to the river bank, we start at the 10th Street bridge, looking ahead we can see boats double and triple parked all the way to the Erie Street bridge, crowds of people mingle along the sidewalk, excited visitors wearing orange life jackets line up for a free ride on a classic boat.

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We don’t own a classic boat, it’s the beauty, styling and craftsmanship that brings us here today. Chris Craft outnumbers brands such as Lyman, Century, Higgins, Larson, Gar Wood; each one unique and eye-catching. Mahogany, Teak, chrome, red is a popular interior color, signs are on display listing the brand, size, motor and owner’s name. The humidity is high, the fog beginning to lift as we proceed down the river. Some owners go to great lengths with their displays; Lily has her own lily pads, “Rhubarb” is here all the way from Washington State with lots of pretty little rhubarb details, tables are set, picnic baskets are filled with goodies, antique water skis are ready to go. Boat designs reflect the automobiles of the time; steering wheels, big chrome emblems, dashboards filled with gauges, knobs and levers, tinted windshields, chrome exhaust tips. Engine compartments are open, men on docks stand and stare, fiberglass bodies are designed like automotive fins, wide stripes, bright colors, so cool!

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All shapes and sizes are present; cruisers, runabouts, classic launch and utility. The Higgins is a showstopper in red and white, I love the wrap-around windshield. The two-toned Chris Craft looks sweet with a red interior, I’m liking the wooden boats with the black-painted sides too. Kris’s favorite so far is the 21′ 1961 Chris Craft Continental with a Lincoln 275 hp motor, it’s fabulous in turquoise, gold seat inserts and funky roof supports, it screams 1960’s. A pair of silver boats are tied to a dock, they look like something Batman would drive. I’m surprised how many boats have multiple levels, I can only imagine the view from the top. The woodwork and attention to detail is exceptional, everything was thoughtfully designed, beauty was as important as function. Restoration photos always blow my mind, the time and effort put in can only be described as a labor of love. My favorite photos are the ones of the father and son, brothers, best buddies, arms around each others back, wide grins, standing in front of the finished project.

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Vendors are set up on the grass, they come from all over to sell boat-centric items from jewelry and clothing to wax and ACBS souvenirs. The most adorable boat wagons I’ve ever seen, ok, the only ones I’ve ever seen, are for sale along with rocking horse boats and wooden boat hats, all very clever. We climb up the stairs pausing on the bridge, here we have a great view of the show, a whole different visual perspective of the boats, a gorgeous sight. Following the Black River we end up at the mouth where it joins the St Clair River, boats are filled with passengers coming and going, all enjoying the deep blue water and now sunny sky. Freighters pass in the distance, a little red boat with polka dot curtains looks minuscule in comparison. The old railroad bridge still reaches straight up, it’s become a bit of an icon, a landmark, I hope they never get rid of it.

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Walking back through the show we stop at several boats to get a closer look, some of the cruisers are open to the public to come aboard. This time I notice the steering wheel of Wilgold is on the left like a car. I ask around and learn that boat propellers turn clockwise. Hulls used to be designed in such a way that when there was torque on the prop the right side of the boat would rise up. The steering wheel was put on the right so the weight of the driver would counteract that. Modern hulls don’t have that problem but the design stuck. Most racing boats have the steering wheel on the left.  A trailer contains a Lyman display, photos show the old factory in its glory days in Sandusky OH. We actually stopped in that building last summer. It’s now event space but the owners have kept a bit of the Lyman heritage alive with boats and memorabilia.

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Back at 10th Street we climb the hill towards the parking lot. A group of antique cars are on display for the festivities. Packards, Pierce Arrow, Lincoln, Auburn (a boattail of course) and even a Wills Sainte Clair join the gathering. Ernest Camera Shop has a vehicle here with antique reproduction Kodak advertising on it, looks great. Time to get some food, it has turned into a perfect September day, waterside dining is a must.

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Courses is located in the Culinary Institute of Michigan, part of the Baker College system. Students get world-class training in baking and pastry, culinary arts, food and beverage management. Students learn the art and business side of the food service industry. The building sits on a grassy hill next to the old Thomas Edison Inn, now the Double Tree Hotel, overlooking the St Clair River, Canada and the Blue Water Bridge–how’s that for scenery? Students are the hosts, servers, bartenders and chefs. A tv above the bar allows you to watch the students at work in the kitchen. There’s an open table right in front of the windows, perfect, we are greeted quickly, given menus and water.  Our server arrives with the signature bread basket, takes our order and heads to the kitchen. We satisfy our hunger with pretzel rolls, cranberry bread, bread sticks and sweet muffins topped with blue cheese. The food arrives and we dig in without hesitation. I’m having today’s pasta which is fettuccine with a vodka sauce topped with roasted vegetables, it’s wonderful. Kris has the German stew, tender chunks of meat in a rich smoky sauce with peppers and onions topped with spaetzle, very good. Courses is open Wed-Fri from 11:30 – 2:00 when classes are in session. Check the website before you come, a reservation is never a bad idea. The food is delicious, prices are fair and the view is unbeatable.

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Metamora

21 Sep

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This year Metamora Hunt is celebrating its 90th year. We’re here for the 10th Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour, a self-guided tour that allows participants an up-close, personal visit to 6 area farms. Metamora Hunt Country is the area from Ray Rd to Sutton Rd and Metamora Rd to Havens Rd; proceeds from the tour go toward maintaining the bridle paths. We start at the Hunt Kennels on Barber Rd where we purchase tickets and pick up our maps; the first stable is just down the road. Red House Farm was established in the 1880’s by the Morse family, the current owner added a horse stable and a smokehouse. As soon as we arrive we see the namesake Red House trimmed in white, porches are adorned with fancy spindles and trim, seasonal wreaths hang on the doors. The in-ground pool behind the house surprises us, it’s so inviting it’s hard not to be tempted to dive in. Perennial gardens are jam-packed with tall grasses, Black-Eyed Susan, butterfly bush and Russian sage; the Cleome are stunning.

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Old Magnolia Farm is just as beautiful as I remember it. 100 acres of riding trails, wooded areas, hay fields and of course the elegant home and stable. The grass is green and lush, the split-rail fence is black, gentle, rolling hills make up the terrain; you’d swear you were in Kentucky horse country. We stop in the tack room with its casual sitting area, cold bottles of water and sugar cookies in the shape of horses set out for guests. Horses appear content in their luxurious surroundings, they don’t seem to mind the extra attention from today’s visitors. We stroll along the covered walkway leading from the stable to the main house, mounds of Hydrangea wrap the corners of the home. Standing in the front yard we pause to take in the sight, there is tons of architectural detail, from the wrought iron on the second level to the more than a dozen arches surrounding the front porch, shrubs are perfectly manicured, flower-studded urns flank the front patio–sigh. Yeah, it’s that beautiful.

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Black Fawn Farm covers 15 acres, the stable and house match in grey with crisp white trim and black shutters. They have a great horse weathervane. Outside I visit with the animals, a donkey shares yard space with horses, he’s doing his best to get his share of attention. There are 5 fenced paddocks, a carriage barn and a horse barn with a pretty southern yellow pine interior.

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Stonehedge is home to many of the country’s top Arabian horses, it’s also a prominent breeding facility. The long, rustic-looking stable sits on wooded property, inside, horse stalls wear the name of each tenant; as I pet each one I call them by name. We wander around the barn complex into the arena, we end up in the indoor round pen designed by the owner, definitely unique.

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Stonefield Farm is 80 acres of land, the home, designed by architect John Vinci, is built in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Horizontal in nature the structure looks as if it’s built into the landscape, there are lots of windows to overlook the property, landscaping is naturalized. It’s s bit of a hike back to the barn built earlier this year. I’m going to make it up and say the barn is built of Pine, whatever kind of wood it is, it’s lovely. We enter through a sliding door and find ourselves in a cozy family room type space. That same beautiful wood makes up the interior, couches look comfy and inviting, there’s even a mini kitchen. The stable area has that same cozy touch; the wood and wrought iron stalls give the barn a very open feel, I could definitely hang out here.

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Stump Lane Farm has been owned by the same family since 1956, the name comes from the grass lane lined with tree stumps set on end, you can find more tree trunk sections embedded into the cement in the old section of the barn. The house is a beauty in white with black shutters, flowers spill from window boxes. We walk over to see the horses, the white fellow catches a glimpse of us and trots over for a visit. Before we leave we cross the road and watch the herd of cows in the pasture. The little ones seem as curious about us as we are about them.

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Let’s eat! White Horse Inn re-opened in November of 2014 after a complete restoration, with its equestrian theme and homage to the days of fox-hunting and stagecoaches it’s the only proper place to eat today. As much as I love the interior, the weather is patio-perfect. Striped umbrellas hover over wrought iron tables and chairs, the exterior of the beautiful stone fireplace and weathered cedar adds a lovely touch. We start with the Orchard Salad; mixed greens, blue cheese, diced apple, candied walnuts and dried cherries splashed with maple vinaigrette. I love the different textures and the balance of sweet and tart. There’s a grilled cheese sandwich on special today; thick bread grilled with a blend of cheeses, sautéed onions and jalapeno peppers, the bread has a nice crunch and the filling oozes out with every bite, yum! The waffle fries are excellent.

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After much anticipation Metamora General has opened right across the street. Brought to you by the same folks who own White Horse, the store is a blend of neighborhood coffee shop, convenience store, boutique and wine shop–you really have to see it to get it. It is no surprise the shop is beautiful; from the relaxing patio area with casual seating and fall decor to the interior with its opulent chandeliers, cafe tables, grey subway tile and the handmade wood floor. The shop is still in its infancy, you can get an espresso and drink it in the quaint surroundings, pick up a bottle of wine and a gift your party host, find a scarf or new handbag or grab one of Max’s donuts and a fountain drink for the road. Eventually there will be more food items and wine by the glass so stay tuned.

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One more stop… Red Barn ~ Metamora is this great home accessory, found objects, antiques, furniture, gift shop located inside of, you guessed it, a big red barn. Outside Kris checks out the old tractor, I head inside, it’s extremely charming–that may have something to do with those strings of white lights I’m always telling you about. Items range from wicker chairs, antique bed frames, art deco, old signs, bird cages, milk glass, vintage mirrors, milk glass, candles, well, you get the idea. The owner has a great eye, she chooses quality merchandise and arranges it in a very appealing way. Every time we come there’s always something new. The stable tour only happens once a year but you can take a nice scenic ride to horse country any time.

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Detroit: This is Weird….

3 Sep

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To some Weird is distasteful, uncomfortable, unpleasant. In others it piques their interest, curiosity, a sense of adventure. Kris and I definitely fall into the second group, which is why when we learned Detroit was hosting its first Weird Homes Tour we purchased tickets immediately. WHT are given in Austin, Portland, Detroit, Houston and New Orleans; 10% of gross ticket sales go to a local non-profit. Addresses are not given out until a day or two before the event. The tours are self-paced, self-driving visits to homes of artists, architects, collectors; you never know what you’ll see.  

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We decide to attack the map from east to west; I feel like I’m on a scavenger hunt, I’m really excited about what we’re going to see today, one never knows what hidden gems are right under our nose… I love when things exceed my expectations, the first house definitely does. From the art gallery just inside the front door to the art on the walls, bold colors, vintage furnishings, to the hand painted murals to the pool on the roof, all I can say is Wow! Down a narrow hall, we enter a vast space filled with great pieces of furniture arranged around a very modern and unique fireplace. The building is constructed of grey cinder blocks, huge windows make the space bright, a circular theme is carried out in the round kitchen, circular stairway and black and white spiral on the kitchen floor. The owner created much of the art work herself, including the fireplace; furniture and accessories have been collected for more than 20 years. We exit through a doorwall onto the patio, a small table and chairs rest against a mural, up a flight of metal stairs we reach the roof. On the deck another mural serves as a backdrop to a small circular pool surrounded by lounge chairs and seating areas, greenery fills planters, massive trees in the distance make us feel far away from the city. What a way to start the tour!

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The next stop couldn’t be more different. The owners of this quirky Victorian home have lived here for about 30 years. Through the Detroit Land Bank Authority the owners were able to purchase the rubble-filled side lot for $100. They’ve turned that space into a gorgeous cut flower farm called Detroit Abloom . Their office is located here along with a flower arranging shed, a hoop house and a root cellar. A few blocks away they have a larger flower farm, a few blocks from that is their vegetable garden; yep, farms, in a neighborhood, in the city. We walk under the purple pergola and step into the hoop house to find baskets of heirloom tomatoes and bars of lavender soap for sale. The place is amazing, so green and lush, so many plants, so many beautiful things. We walk next door to the multi-hued home, the purples and blues give it a whimsical feel. Inside we find all of the lovely characters of an old home, wet plaster walls, archways between rooms, built-ins, hardwood floors.

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There’s a funky little house near Eastern Market that seemed to just pop up one day out in the middle of nowhere, it’s the next house on our tour. If you’ve been to eastern Market you’ll recognize the house immediately, its covered in colorful hand-painted murals, lots of bright blue, red and a guy’s head with a house coming out of the top–yes, that one. The 900 sq. ft. home was built by Cranbrook Architectural Masters students; the home is their thesis statement. We spend a lot of time walking around the outside admiring the paint job, I really like the green and blue, lacey, spiro-graph-thingy’s all along the bottom. I learned that it is built of a mix of modern and salvaged materials and the upstairs wall is finished with tongue and flooring from a 1913 house. Want to see it for yourself? You can book a stay here through airbnb.

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You’ve probably heard about homes and businesses being built out of steel cargo shipping containers. Did you know that these containers naturally meet all building and safety codes? Using containers saves about 25% over lumber construction, buildings go up in about half the time and can cut energy costs by 70%. How do I know this? I learned it at the next house on the tour. We’re at the Model Center of Three Squared, this 2,800 sq. ft. home itself was constructed of 6 containers; 3 layers of 2 side-by side containers, 3 more were stacked to create a balcony on each level. The exterior has that sort of modern look about it, it’s attractive in olive-green and russet. The open-concept interior is well laid out, family room, kitchen, island, dining room, all well decorated; my favorite thing is the black and white photo-wallpaper of the old Corktown Neighborhood sign. It’s really nice, the corrugated walls add interest. Giant blueprints of the home line the stairway wall, this is actually 2 units, a 2-story, 2 bedroom unit (the first and second floor) and a 1-bedroom unit on the third floor. 

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How about some lunch? We go from the shipping container house to Detroit Shipping Company, a restaurant collective, beer garden like space made from 21 refurbished shipping containers on Peterboro. Right now there are three food-truck-style eateries, two full service bars, indoor and courtyard seating and a gallery. At Brujo Tacos and Tapas we order 3 of today’s tacos. I grab a table and wait for the food while Kris gets us a beer. The corn on the cob from Coop Caribbean Fusion is outstanding! Cooked perfectly it’s loaded down with tamarind aioli, toasted coconut, queso fresco and cilantro; seriously the best corn we’ve ever had. The tacos are delicious; bbq chicken, the pickles on top are a nice touch, lamb chorizo, just the right amount of spice and curry vegetable, a nice twist on a taco. When we’re done eating we take a look around, it’s a really great place, upstairs in the West Gallery the featured artist for August is Jacinto, “A Detroit State of Mind” we really like his work. We walk through lounges and exit to the balcony overlooking the courtyard, what is it about those strings of white lights that we all like so much? Armadillo Printwear does on-demand screen printing, stop in pick out a shirt, a design and bam they print it up for you while you wait. They are also responsible for all of the Detroit Shipping Co merch. A coffee and ice cream shop along with two more restaurants are in the works, come check it out.

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Back on the road we arrive at our 5th house on the tour. Wrist-banded tourists from across the country mill about the 3-story craftsman style home in a vibrant, historic neighborhood. The owners, both artists, have a fascinating collection of art and novelties like the antique pigeon racing clock from Belgium. There are mini-collections everywhere; yarn sculptures, pigs, pop bottles, lots of odd do-dads. The hand-made, stop motion, photography pieces were created by the owners.  Upstairs everyone is marveling at the beer-cap-mosaic floor in the bathroom, must have been fun getting supplies for that one…

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The Bankle Building on Woodward in Midtown Detroit is not your ordinary building. This is the half-time home of automotive designer and artist Camilo Pardo. Inside, large automotive oil paintings are a blast of color against stark white walls, a messy work table and blank canvases are a sign of works-in-progress. Tulip chairs, Egg chairs, chrome sculptures show the artist is clearly a fan of mid-century and pop art. The art in the adjoining space is more female-centric. We even get to see where he stores his ’67 Mustang.

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The next house is a little further away but worth every mile to get here.  The exterior of the home provides no clue to what we’ll see inside, kind of mysterious.  Immediately we understand the owner is a collector with an amazing talent for displaying her treasures. Every wall is a collage, each room has a theme. The yellow room is an homage to music; boom boxes are grouped together, she even has a boom box pillow, cassette tapes, vinyl albums and then the unexpected–necklaces, fun right? Every room holds another surprise; video games, religious items, Jazz, framed magazine covers, a sassy red couch. The basement is her showroom for her business Dollface Couture, along with her statement clothing we find a far-out couch, a burger telephone and a sweet doll collection. Fun and stylish indeed.

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We’ve reached the last home on the tour, as soon as we see the exterior and the vintage green Oldsmobile in the driveway we know we’re going to love it. Mid-Century and Magnificent is the description in the booklet, they nailed it. The house was built in 1963, miraculously it has made it to 2018 without any remodeling. The couple that lives here now totally get the house, they’ve embraced and furnished it just as it would have been 55 years ago; it’s awesome. Look at the fireplace, the bar, the original Nutone built in radio, the booth-seating in the kitchen, and the light fixtures…Did I mention the geometric wall of mirrors? How cool is that. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the owners have been collecting mid-century decor for a couple of decades. It has been a wild, wonderful and delightfully weird day, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Flint: We’re still here…

15 Aug

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We’re in Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event.  There’s still a ton of stuff to see and do, we better get moving…

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The Capitol Theatre opened in 1928 as a venue for live Vaudeville performances. It became a movie palace then a rock venue hosting concerts like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Green Day, it closed in 1996. The building was purchased by Uptown Reinvestment Corp and The Whiting; after a complete $37 million dollar restoration the theatre is once again hosting live music, comedy, film, dance, and it’s on today’s tour. The exterior is definitely unique, they call it Hispano-Italian style, I call it gorgeous! The terracotta form work along the top of the building is exquisite, molds were made from the existing pieces and meticulously replicated, I can’t tell the original from the new. The original ‘Capitol” blade sign and marquee were restored, I bet it looks super-cool at night. Just inside the front doors lies the outer lobby, a geometric maze of plaster painted in gold, burgundy and purple hints at what we’ll find inside. In the lobby the ceiling arches up, rosettes fill coffers, everything is trimmed out in gold. Heavily textured walls are parchment colored, the original light fixture seems small for the space, stairways lead off to the sides. We make a slight detour exiting through a side door into a long hall. Almost everything except the floor has been updated, this section is home to concessions and ticket sales.

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Now we make our entrance into the grand auditorium itself; it’s stunning. At first we’re in an area with a low ceiling, we’re actually under the balcony, the plaster work is spectacular, really chunky and with great depth. Our guide points out an original section of ceiling they left untouched during the restoration, you can see how they matched the original colors and took them up a notch, I love that they left that. Walking deeper into the theatre we have a clear view of it in its entirety, this is what they call an Atmospheric Theatre, this one is made to look like a Roman Piazza, some make-believe village in Italy. I don’t know where to look first so I start at the top. A lovely blue glow illuminates the night sky of the domed ceiling, stars twinkle in the twilight, if you look closely you can pick out constellations. My eyes travel down from there, row after row of ornate molding surrounds the stage, the proscenium arch is richly detailed. Ornate plaster is everywhere, lots of leaves, scrolls, faces. Looking at the sides gives me the feeling of being in a tiny village, lower block walls give way to mock structures with doorways, gates, windows, balconies; no two are the same. The light fixtures and sconces are opulent, all of them original and re-worked for l.e.d. bulbs. 

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The group is invited onto the stage, it has perfect sight lines to get the entire atmospheric effect, wow! Some in our group talk among themselves, I overhear them telling others about how they used to come here in their youth, others are seeing it for the first time. The rigging and lighting systems have all been updated with state-of-the art technology. Because the stage area is small, large productions such as musicals are held at The Whiting. Descending from the stage we make our way across the main floor and up the stairs to the balcony, everybody spreads out, some sit while others are busy taking photos. From here we have a completely different view of things, now it’s like we’re right in the village; I feel like I could walk through the gate or sit on one of the balconies. It took 14 months to complete the restoration, the theatre officially opened in June.

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The street level of the Capitol Theatre building is home to new businesses Shift and Floradora share a space. The boutique sells eclectic items for the home, jewelry, gifts, fun accessories and clothing; I like the funky decor. Floradora is an extension of the shops main space in the Flint Farmer’s Market. Pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers or place a custom order for that special occasion. It’s great to see new retail coming into the downtown area, shops like these really attract foot traffic to the area. Now you can shop, eat and grab a coffee or cocktail in a walkable district.

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Alley Fest is taking place in the Buckham and Brush alley’s between 1st and 2nd streets, all we have to do is follow the sound of the music. Strings of lights zig zag between buildings, artists display their wares under canopy’s, pastel portraits of iconic stars are painted on the wall. The free festival is just getting started so it’s not too crowded yet. We check out clever t-shirts, painted skateboards, large canvases and metal jewelry. A crowd has gathered in front of the band at the far stage. The festival focuses on all things Flint from the bands to the artists. There are lots of things with the image of the water tower, it gives me chills.

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A steel door is propped open, people go in and out, I want to see what’s inside. Near the door a dog lays comfortably in his bed, beyond him a set of shelves hold men’s shoes and boots, we’re inside Sutorial Boot and Shoe Makers. This place is way cool, old industrial sewing machines are put to use creating custom hand-made shoes and boots for clients. Cut-outs of soles and forms lay scattered about, the owner is talking to a group of curious people like us. There’s barely room to walk in the space that serves as showplace and workspace. It’s nice to see things being done the old-fashioned way.

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We’ve covered everything in the downtown area, we’re ready to move on a little further. As we drive over to Grand Traverse Street I read a piece of graffiti on a wall that says “The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of the evil but because of the people who do nothing about it.” The people of Flint know that all to well. Time to kick back and have a beer. Tenacity Brewing occupies a beautifully renovated brown brick building that used to be a firehouse; food trucks are parked out back, hops grow on the patio. The interior is casual, low-key, comfortable. Unique little gathering spaces are tucked away here and there, clear growlers turned into pendant lights hang above the L-shaped bar. Unable to choose one or two to share we do a flight of six; they also have cold brewed coffee and root beer on tap. We drink hard cider, stout, a smoky porter and ale, a really good variety. The stout is my favorite, Kris’s is the Honey Blu Blu Cider. By the amount of pewter mugs filling the shelves behind the bar I’d say they have a loyal following. Here’s what it says on their website: “The story is quite simple. A few of us who happen to like beer and love Flint got together and decided that our town needs a brewery. So we went to work creating one. Keeping with the resolve and determination of Flint despite its ups and downs, and because we knew opening a brewery would not be easy, we named it Tenacity Brewing.” These are the kind of people who make a difference, they change a city, change perceptions, change minds. I hope you’ll make your way to Flint soon and see all the good things happening for yourself.    

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FLINT: Touring..

3 Aug

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Today we are about 66 miles northwest of Detroit in the city of Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event. You have undoubtedly heard of the water crisis that started in 2014 and is still ongoing. Progress is being made; the city is back on the Detroit water system, lead pipes are being replaced, water is being monitored closely; it’s a process. A century and a half ago Flint was a center for the lumber industry, revenue from lumber financed the local carriage-making industry. As horse-drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles, Buick, AC Spark Plug and Chevrolet all took up residence here. By 1908 Buick became the largest manufacturer of automobiles thanks to William C Durant, founder of GM. The city thrived, beautiful buildings sprouted downtown, lovely neighborhoods were built. Then as it often happened to industrial cities, factories closed, moved away, jobs left; Flint was devastated. Today manufacturing still leads employment with medical and education not too far behind. These days the city is reaching out to the youth who attend U of M Flint, Mott, Kettering and Baker, making it more appealing for them to stay put with a revitalized downtown that includes new retail, coffee shops, cafes, trendy restaurants and breweries. We’re excited for the opportunity to show you the positive side of Flint.

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We purchase a wristband for $1 each, this gets us into historic buildings, bus tours and cultural institutions; a program lists attractions, participating restaurants and bus routes. The 7-story  Ferris Wheel Building is our first stop, built in the late 1920’s the Art Deco structure was the home to Pringle Furniture, Gainey Furniture and most recently Ferris Bros Furs; hence the name. At approximately 40,000 sq. ft. the building has been vacant for nearly 40 years. Now a shared workspace, the building is home to entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses, a community meeting space and event venue. Foster Coffee Company is located on street level in what is basically the lobby of the building, a large seating area fills the main floor of the adjoining building, tables and counter seating along the front window are in the Ferris space. We order a couple of cold brew coffees, choose a vanilla bean scone and take up residence in the front window; the scone is outstanding and pairs perfectly with the rich, smooth coffee. Kris gets up and takes photos while I peruse the program, there’s a ton of things to see and do!

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A guided tour through the building is about to begin, we join the group. Everything is painted white as far as I can see, work tables and lounge areas are scattered throughout the main floor, black and white photos show the building when it was the fur company, Flint-centric items connect the past to the present. The office of 100K Ideas is to the right, they offer budding entrepreneurs guidance and assistance to take their business from ‘napkin sketch to prototype’, a few examples of success stories are on display. The tour moves upstairs, adjustable glass panels and doors allow tenant space to be reconfigured as needed, rent is paid on a month to month basis, if you don’t need an office you can just have access to the work areas for a smaller fee; currently there are over 40 members of Ferris Wheel. Up a couple of stories floor to ceiling windows provide a panoramic view of downtown, cozy seating areas are set up near front and back windows creating a waiting area for potential customers; a community kitchen is on each floor.  There’s a bit of a buzz on this floor as models race to and fro preparing for a fashion show. We take the stairs back to the mezzanine level overlooking the main floor, a new group of tourists has assembled in the lobby. It’s good to see so many people out exploring today.

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A short walk down Saginaw St. is Cafe Rhema, they are participating in today’s event with a discount for ‘tourists’, it’s lunch time so let’s check it out. This is the former Economy Shoes building, it was the first building to be renovated in the downtown area; there’s a small marquee on the front of the building with the name of the cafe spelled out in free-standing letters above, velvet ropes and a red carpet lead us to the door. Inside it looks like a place right out of the Roaring 20’s; charming seating areas have antique furnishings, vintage lighting, black and white photos complete the decor, it’s so pretty. The cafe serves craft coffee and espresso drinks, bubble tea, baked goods, sandwiches, salads and waffles. We order at the counter, employees are dressed in period clothing–think Great Gatsby, very cool. We sit at a community table with other couples also doing the tour today, we talk about what we’ve seen so far until the food arrives. The Puttin’ On The Ritz waffle is baked with apples and cinnamon, topped with whipped cream and maple syrup, it’s really good. The Prohibition Pig is a panini with honey-roasted ham, bacon, house infused bourbon bbq sauce, cheddar, sweet and spicy mustard on bread from Crust Bakery in Fenton, delicious! On our way out we stop at the counter again just to check out the desserts, they look amazing but we can’t eat another bite. Kris notices the taps, one says Espresso Root Beer, the other Brown Sugar Bourbon, turns out they make their own soda pop too. We try a sample of each, they’re excellent. The cafe is one of those really unique places you feel lucky to have found; from the staff to the menu to the decor, everything about it is well done.

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We walk through downtown, cross the Flint River on a pedestrian bridge to Carriage Town; this is where the automotive industry got its start in Flint. It’s funny how things come together. There were men with ideas, movers and shakers; Durant, Dort, Louis Chevrolet, David Buick, Alfred Sloan. The Durant-Dort Carriage Company, founded by Josiah Dallas Dort and William Crapo Durant, became the world’s largest volume producers of horse drawn carriages, which eventually evolved into automobiles and from all of this General Motors was born in 1908. Ok, that’s extremely simplified but you get the picture. We have arrived at General Motors Durant-Dort Factory One, it’s open to visitors today, let’s see what it’s all about. Originally established in 1886 as the Flint Road Cart Company, this historic Flint GM plant is referred to as the American automakers birthplace. The red-brick building has been completely restored; it’s now home to the Kettering Archive Collection which contains about 100,000 historical documents, photos and artifacts related to Flint’s GM history and the Factory One Conference Center. Statues of Dort and Durant stand close by, keeping an eye on things.

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A National Park Service sign in the lobby dedicates the building as a Motorcities Automobile National Heritage Area, a volunteer shows us which way to go. We’re in a large museum-like room, there’s a lot to look at. Glass cabinets display Flint football memorabilia; programs, trophies, a football and a varsity letter. Framed black and white historic photographs of factory buildings, people and advertisements hang on exposed brick walls. A small collection of items belonging to David Buick are grouped together, antique automotive parts and modern pieces sit side by side, vintage advertisements rest on easels. In the reference area leather-bound manuals fill bookshelves, they even have the mini-carriage used for the Fisher Body logo–next time you’re in the Fisher Building in Detroit look for the logo. 

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In the conference center you really get a feeling for the age of the building, look at those original wooden beams; much of the original structure still exists. Beautiful antique automobiles take center stage, I like the white wheels and tires on the midnight blue Buick, I’m happy they saved the original stone lettering from the Buick factory. You had to have lots of windows to let sunlight in back in those days, the whole room is awash in natural light. A short film is about to start, we take seats at round tables to watch. The film takes us through Flints early days as a mecca of the wagon industry, how David Buick’s plumbing expertise helped him to design his internal combustion engine, how Durant bought up several automakers and brought them together under GM, did you know he lost GM not once but twice? Every time I watch a historical film like this my mind wanders to the local road names, I say to myself, oh, that’s where Dort Hwy came from or I didn’t know there was really a guy named Chevrolet. History is fascinating and we’re having fun at the same time.

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Cranbrook: Artiful…

13 May

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Cranbrook Academy of Art is known as the ‘cradle of American modernism’. In 1904 George and Ellen Booth purchased more than 300 acres of land that would eventually become Cranbrook. George Booth, newspaper baron and philanthropist, dreamed of creating a cultural institution on the property. He envisioned Cranbrook Academy as a place where students learned under the guidance of masters in their field. Eliel Saarinen was brought in to oversee the architectural and landscape development of the campus; the environment he created is one-of-a-kind. The campus is a National Historic Landmark, considered the most complete example of Saarinen’s genius, it is a treasure of architecture and horticulture. The original structures were built from the late 1920’s through 1942. Once a year Cranbrook hosts Open (Studios), today the studio doors are open to the public, we are free to wander in and out of places ordinarily off limits. Students will be on hand to answer questions, their work is on display and in many cases for sale. Let’s get started.

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We begin our journey at the Cranbrook Museum of Art (1942), water sprays skyward from Carl Milles Orpheus fountain, water ripples with sunlight in the shallow pool. Inside the museum visitors fill the galleries; Open Studios includes free admission to the art and science museums. I tend to meander in art museums, I let my eyes be my guide; from the colorful lucite display to the metal wall sculpture to the art of projected images I travel this way and that way. I enjoy the photographic light boxes, whimsical paintings and giant canvases, I find architectural models fascinating. On the lower level we check out Stephen Frykholm’s Essence Of Summer posters for the annual Herman Miller Picnic. They truly capture the essence of summer; fruits, vegetables, popsicles, red-checked tablecloths, sunny days; I bet the picnics were quite the shindig. When we finish both museum floors we head out to the studios.

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The Cranbrook Academy of Art is an independent, graduate degree-granting institution offering an intense studio-based experience where 10 artists-in-residence mentor 150 graduate students for a full-time 2-year studio-based study–no classes, no grades. At the end of the 2-year period students prepare a written Masters Statement and exhibit their work in the Graduate Degree Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum. Individual studios, shared spaces, production facilities, critique rooms, social areas and kitchens create a unique peer-to-peer community. Let’s start in the painting studio. Interiors are stark white, providing zero distraction from the art on display; from realism to abstract, small to large, multi-hued to monotone the work is amazing. Kris speaks to one artist about her work, she has taken old photographs and turned them into paintings, specifically focusing on one character in the scene, creating a whole new perspective. Katherine Adkins pieces are intriguing; bold colors and designs, funky shapes and textures, bumpy, puffy, shiny, I want to reach out and touch them.

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Here’s what I’m going to do. Kris has taken plenty of photos,  I’ll take you on a walk through studios and campus and let the photographs speak for themselves; not to mention I can’t remember which pieces are where… The next building over is the sculpture studios. Artists strike up conversations, visitors eagerly participate; we are literally surrounded by art. We are as captivated by the architecture as we are the art. Leaded glass windows open to grassy squares or courtyards, thoughtfully placed buildings form connections from one to the other. A cool spring breeze drifts in, natural light floods the space. Up stairs, down stairs, narrow halls, each turn rewarding us with another spectacular view or the outstanding creativity of artists.

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We make our way to 2D, 3D and Print studios, always glad to escape to the outdoor, enchanted kingdom that is Cranbrook. Formal courtyards, brick walkways, ornamental gates, porticos, brick and stone arches. We move from one place to another going from a closed space to an open space, from a narrow tunnel to a wide expanse. We follow arrows and signs from on building to the next, in a basement studio artists are happy to see we found our way to their space, I love the piece on the floor, it looks like a glittery land fairies would like to live. Large windows, artist sinks and storage spaces are a constant reminder these buildings were intentionally created for artists. The Academy of Art was officially sanctioned in 1932 with Eliel Saarinen as President. The artists who lived and worked inside these walls truly changed the design world; Carl Milles, Eero Saarinen, Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Marshall Fredericks, Jack Lenor Larsen, Niels Diffrient, Duane Hanson, Nick Cave, just to name a few. Some of the greatest design talents the United States has had in modern times lived here, worked here.

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The Print Media studios are closer to Lone Pine Rd, I enjoy seeing the personal side of the artists in the way they decorate their space; the Desk-O-Matic emblem is super-cool. Water colors, mixed media pieces, each telling a story, sending a message. Cabinets and drawers hold a stockpile of supplies. A group of students has moved outside to drink in the long-awaited spring air; student works are displayed on sidewalks. The Architecture studio is a good distance from where we are, we enjoy the stunning landscape as we walk. The space is somewhat garage-like, concrete floors and huge open spaces, large lights hang above work spaces. Tree stumps rest on the floor, wooden legs and table tops are on display. The Hangar Photo building is really crowded, Kris and I both like photography.

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We walk across campus paying careful attention to architectural details, even the doors are gorgeous. We pause at the Triton pool, I could look at it for hours, Kris photographs it from all angles. New Studios (2002) includes Metalsmithing, Ceramics and Fiber, it’s the last building on our list. Ceramics are my favorite, students create everything from utility items to decorative pieces. One artist has a lovely selection of bowls and cups decorated with an airbrushing of blue, another has a variety of figurines and faces that make me wonder what they’re thinking. It’s getting warmer as we walk, we’re in the area where they fire the pieces; kilns range in size and shape from floor-models to walk-ins. It’s too warm here. I have a soft spot for the stuffed animals often found in Fiber departments, these are quite hugable. We end with the metalsmithing floor, it’s a wonder what they can do with metal.

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We are having a late lunch at Market North End on a quiet section of Old Woodward. We have been by here so many times and never knew what the restaurant was called, the only visible signage is for the ABOOD Law Firm. There are open tables on the screened-in-patio, it feels good to sit. The hostess recommends their pizza, who am I to argue? Ice cold glasses of water hit the spot as we wait for the food– which doesn’t take long. The Market Chopped Salad comes out first; chopped tomato, cucumber, radishes, onion, jalapeno, radicchio, tossed with a little lemon juice and evoo. I like that everything is chopped the same size, it’s so fresh, delicious. The Quattaro pizza has a white sauce topped with ham, caramelized onion and cracked egg. I cut up the egg and evenly distribute it among the slices. We eat at remarkable speed, when finished there isn’t a crumb left. This is the first time we’ve had an egg on our pizza and I have to say it is quite good.

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It has been a remarkable day, going to a place we know so well yet seeing an entirely new side. George Booth hoped to create something of lasting value and significance, a place that would elevate the lives of those near there, those who lived there, visited there; I say he succeeded beautifully.

Highland: Pony Up…

15 Mar

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You may be surprised by the rural feel and amount of open space that still exists in Oakland County. Townships such as Highland, Milford and White Lake are home to sprawling horse farms and pastures, horse trails and training facilities. We’ll be spending the next few hours driving down natural beauty roads as we visit 6 locations on the Highland Equestrian Conservancy (HEC) Barn Tour. The mission of HEC is to conserve and protect the natural resources while preserving the rural character of and equestrian heritage in and around Highland MI. We purchase our tickets at the Huron Valley Council For The Arts, we are given a map and a tour booklet, the barns are further apart then we expected, it’s about 56 miles from first to last. We better get started.

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Our directions lead us into a Milford subdivision, we must have taken a wrong turn, we continue on the street, wait a minute there it is, Berwyck Saddle Club. That’s pretty cool, they built the sub around the saddle club. Riders have access to Berwyck Bridle Trails, Kensington Metro Park and Proud Lake State Recreation Area. The property has in indoor and an outdoor arena, a clubhouse and 43 stalls. As we approach the barn I stop to pet a couple of miniature horses, they’re so cute. Inside the stable we walk the long corridor, friendly horses peek out of their stall looking for some attention, each of them has their name posted where I can read it and call them by name. A black horse is being groomed, he looks as though he’d rather be outside. We wander over to the indoor arena, nothing going on right now.

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Next up is the Miracle Ranch and Rach Riding Academy; all styles of riding are taught here: Western, Trail, English, jumping, vaulting and Western Dressage, a demonstration is about to begin. Visitors gather in the arena, a girl dressed in a black and red costume appears on a black and white horse. Music plays as the horse circles the arena, she stands up on the horses back and does tricks, how does she stay up there? The audience applauds. Next up is a group of 4, the horses are wearing gold, the girls are in casual dress. This time the horses are doing the choreography. Music from the movie Frozen plays as horses trot, gallop and move to the rhythm of the music, moves are coordinated like synchronized swimming, it’s fascinating to watch. When the routine is finished the horses exit the arena and so do we. Outdoors a rider is practicing  jumps, she looks like she’s having fun. We walk through the stable, it’s empty right now, we head out the back to find the animals eating lunch and enjoying the afternoon sun.

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We drive through pretty countryside on our way to Karner Blue Stables in Highland Twp. We find an old hay barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, pastures and forested land, it’s picturesque. A horse farm and training facility, there are horses all over the property. I’m excited to have a chance to get up close to these magnificent animals, they are extremely friendly, lowering their heads so I can pet them. Once you pet one the others come over to see what the human has brought; the absence of carrots, apples or sugar cubes send some of them back to eating grass while others are happy for the one on one  attention. There’s an observation and tack room, a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies is offered to guests. This facility offers lessons, training and boarding.

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We travel from Highland to White Lake to Fenton visiting Tristan Manor, where 50 years ago the first symposium for the United States Dressage Federation was held bringing trainers from Europe to Michigan. Check out the rusty, old Ford tractor, I love the wheat on the emblem. In the distance I can see Sugden Lake; what beautiful countryside.

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Equinox Farm, a certified in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue works with first responders and veterinarians to safely rescue livestock from mud, ice, trailer accidents and barn fires. Lots of ponies here, they all seem content on this lovely day. The landscape is serene; the rolling hills of Highland in the distance.

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Carole Grant’s facility on Pleasant Hill Dr. Situated on 40 rolling acres she has 19 stalls, a feed room, tack room, wash stalls, grooming areas, hot walker, large indoor ring, 2 outdoor rings, all with state-of-the-art footing. It’s quite a place! The wood on the barn and stable has acquired that perfect gray, weathered look; bright red cannas and marigolds flank the sliding doors. Inside, the wood reminds me of knotty pine, it has a quaint feeling, it’s amazingly tidy for a stable. A white horse has big black patches on its coat, chest and neck, the main is braided; she even poses for the camera. Standing on the concrete walk on the side of the stable we have a panoramic view of the land, it’s so peaceful. In 2006 Highland Township was recognized as Michigan’s 1st Horse-Friendly community.

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We cross the border into Livingston County to the tiny hamlet of Parshallville. The name sounds straight out of Disney or Dr. Seuss doesn’t it? It was actually named after founder Isaac Parshall. It’s been a busy day and we could use a little pick-me-up, cider and donuts will do the trick. Historic Parshallville Cider Mill on North Ore Creek started life as a flour mill known as Success Flour oh, about 145 years ago. After that it was Tom Walker’s Grist Mill grinding grain for animal feed; today it is a charming cider mill. This is one of the few remaining water-powered mills in Michigan. Heirloom apples, local honey, apple pies, cider, spiced donuts, caramel apples and cider slush are available for purchase. We take our slush and warm donuts outside and sit near the creek. We eat to the sound of falling water, every once in a while a breeze rustles the leaves, donut-scent fills the air. This is perfect.

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Port Sanilac

30 Oct

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Michigan’s thumb coast is often overlooked, underappreciated and ignored by potential tourists residing in southeast Michigan. Meanwhile generations of families have built or maintained cottages along the St. Clair River and Lake Huron, enjoying the deep blue water, numerous beaches, quaint towns, ice cream shops, restaurants and camping… not to mention the availability of bait on nearly every street corner in town. The thumb has its own unique culture. Free Press columnist Rochelle Riley recently gushed to readers about her visit to Marine City; with so much to offer, why don’t more Detroiter’s take advantage of  the close proximity of this water-wonderland? Today we’re headed about mid-way up the thumb coast.

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The Village of Port Sanilac sits snugly on the shores of Lake Huron. About 90 minutes northeast of downtown Detroit, it was originally a lumberjack settlement; the village is home to restaurants, beaches, marinas, the Port Sanilac Lighthouse (1886) and the oldest, continuously operating hardware store in Michigan, Raymond Hardware (since 1850). We’re in town for the Antique Boat Show and Vintage Festival. Old cars, boats and trailers fill Main Street, the harbor and the park. A steady stream of sandal-wearing pedestrians gravitate toward the activity; live music is playing in the distance, the aroma of food fills the air.

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Classic cars are parked on both sides of Main St. I follow Kris’s lead and walk over to the 1961 Dodge Phoenix, this one is white with a fire engine red interior, lots of chrome, glass and push buttons, great upholstery too.  The late 1950’s Galaxie Skyliner has a retractable top, it looks great in powder blue and white. Vehicles span the decades, there’s a beautiful Model A, I like the yellow wire wheels, the 1976 black Trans Am is a limited edition celebrating Pontiac’s 50th Anniversary. The metallic orange paint on the custom Chevy truck glows in the sunlight, the mid-60’s Ford Ranchero is pretty cool too.

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We walk directly down to the water, the lake is gorgeous today, people mill about checking out the antique boats. As usual, I like to read all the names; Chrissy, Alibi, Tight Lines, oh and a boat I think is stunning, Tiger Lily. We’ve been to a lot of these antique boat shows, many of the them have become familiar but I never get tired of looking. Chris Craft seems to rule the water in this area, all of that lovely wood, simple interiors, they truly are classics.

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I have lost Kris for the moment, then I see him on a dock, City Slicker has caught his attention. The long, black off-shore is a Stinger by Chris Craft; graphics in shades of red hug the sides, loop the arch and come to a point on the ‘hood’, not to be left out, bold stripes continue across the white upholstery, slick indeed… We pass more wooden beauties, larger cabin boats are further down in the marina, they have a nice turn out today, the weather is perfect too. Tables are set up by one of the buildings, model boats are on display; I can’t get over the detail! Replicas of boats from African Queen and Jaws get a lot of attention, I think they’re all pretty amazing.

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Members of Tin Can Tourists are set up in Harbor Park, not only are the trailers kitschy-cool, the owners let you go inside–I love that. Airstream, Shasta, Trotwood, just a few of the brands present today. Generally speaking, people who have vintage trailers seem to enjoy all things vintage; bicycles, furnishings, accessories, linens, electronics, they do a great job assembling items and incorporating them into their home-on-wheels.

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Many of the trailers have beautifully restored wood paneling, along with original features people add modern conveniences and their own personal touch. One of my favorites looks like a family room out of a 1950’s home decorating magazine. Mid-Century decor is probably the most prevalent. Theme’s are always popular too, the western one with the desert mural or the 70’s style with shag carpet.  Here’s something different, a newer motor-home (relatively speaking) with the original interior; dark wood, hammered copper tabletops, back splash and accents, stained glass inserts in the cabinet doors. I really like the leaf pattern on the couch and the tropical bedspread. The couple lives in the motor-home full-time, they travel from place to place like the wind.

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We drive over to The Portly Pig for lunch. The restaurant is located in a pretty blue house trimmed in white with orange accents. There’s a definite animal theme inside; meat, of course, is the main attraction. We order at the counter then have a seat near the large front windows, teal-colored walls remind me we’re right off Lake Huron. Large quantities of food arrive, I can’t wait to dig in. The Pork Stack is a generous heap of flavorful pulled pork resting on an amazing cornbread pancake topped with coleslaw and bbq sauce, every forkful is spectacularly delicious. Sharing table space is a side of fries and coleslaw, both excellent. They have full ice cream service too; cones, cups, malts, sundaes, not possible after the lunch we just had..

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At the public beach we park the car and take a walk on the pier, the scalloped edges are unique. It feels like we’re far out into Lake Huron; we watch sailboats and pleasure boats out for a cruise, wooden boats from the show are out enjoying the lake too. Swimmers, sunbathers and beachcombers are caught up in their surroundings, waves are rolling in, sunlight sparkles off the water, it’s like a picture in tourism brochure. You don’t have to drive all day and spend a lot of money for a trip to be a vacation, in Michigan you just follow the water.

Metamora: Horse Country

20 Oct

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We’re back in Metamora for the 2017 Stable Tour; it’s our third consecutive year attending. We don’t own horses, don’t know the difference between Western and English or Dressage, the only kind of horse I can identify is a Clydesdale, thanks to the Budweiser commercials that mesmerized me as a child. There’s something so beautiful, tranquil, majestic about the horses and the stables, the rolling hills, the generosity of the people who open their private property to strangers. It’s an absolutely wonderful way to spend the afternoon, seeing a different way of life, experiencing something we otherwise wouldn’t. Metamora Hunt Country spans the area bordered by M-24 to the west, Hosner Rd to the east, Sutton Rd to the north and Oakwood Rd to the south. A drive on any of the roads in this area will treat you to scenic natural beauty.

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We begin our tour at the Cotton Top Alpaca Farm; Alpacas strut about outdoors showing off for visitors. They seem friendly, even posing for pictures; I like that each one has a different haircut. In front of the barn is an antique plow; the barn itself is finished in shades of brown with a splash of red, the building is a unique design for alpacas, the stalls and tack room surround a main open area. Inside we find more of the furry creatures hanging out, the dividers between stalls are low, they can easily chat with their neighbor.  At the front of the property is the lovely, 2-story, orange brick residence, from here they have a great view of their land. Continuing on, our next stop is Walkabout Farm, established in 1988 its focus is pleasure driving. This is quite a place! The gate between the stone columns is open, a fountain sprays water high into the air from a pond off to the right, lush green grass spreads out before us as far as we can see. The closest building is a taupe 1-story structure, inside hundreds of ribbons decorate the wood-paneled walls, an antique sled and several carriages are on display, I like the open ceiling with all of the wood trusses exposed and rope chandelier.

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The stable is next, also in taupe with crisp white trim, the interior has a brick paver floor and attractive wood walls and ceiling; it’s such a nice day all the horses are outdoors. The tack room is cozy; all wood with saddles mounted on the wall. Walking the property I see photos of chickens on large canvases, why do they look so famaliar?  Then it comes to me, last Fall Kris and I were at the Wasserman Gallery in Detroit for the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, that’s where we saw them. And here they are, black, white, brown, tan, roaming about in their enclosure, their coop matches the rest of the buildings. The white one is funny, she’s taking a dirt bath and stirring up quite a cloud of dust. Weeping willows are still, visitors walk the grounds, horses graze seemingly unaware of our presence, I like the one with the white lower legs, looks like he’s wearing socks. 

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As we drive toward the next stable Kris notices an event taking place; young girls wear black riding boots and helmets. We stop to take a peek. Numbers are fixed to the backs of the competitors, the young ladies look elegant atop their horses, one of the horses has braids. We watch in fascination as one horse after another leaps over fences, the rider almost parallel to the horse. Just another day in horse country.

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We come upon the next stable on the tour, stone horse heads grace a rock wall, split rail fencing lines the long, long gravel driveway. Free Rein Farm encompasses 80 gorgeous acres of land; two German Warmblood horses and Jalisco, an Andalusian stallion from Spain call the place home. The horses seem to be enjoying all the attention from the visitors, they eagerly lower their heads making it easier for me to pet them. The private dressage barn is empty at the moment, 3 rows of light fixtures illuminate the interior. The owners are the people who bought the White Horse Inn, renovated it and re-opened it in 2014. They’re busy with their next project, renovating the building across from White Horse and opening the Metamora General Store. Looking forward to checking it out when it opens.

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As we drive through the area on pretty dirt roads we pass another event-in-progress. A grassy parking lot is full, a long line of cars are parked along the road, participants walk their horses to the event. We turn into the driveway at New Barn Farm. Completed in 2017, the owners built the building for their daughters wedding, it’s now a wedding venue with ornamental gardens and a walking trail to the Flint River. The wood and stone building is quite fetching in dark brown and a splash of red, windows in the cupola are open as are the sliding doors. The inside is dazzling; knotty pine with a corrugated metal ceiling, teeny-tiny white lights cascade from ceiling beams, a curtain of lights flanks the doors. White tulle is draped around the balcony and doors, the lone chandelier is simple and graceful.

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While the original farmstead was established in 1860, Stonebridge Farm and Retreat was purchased in 2014. Owners Tim and Heather hope to add a hunting lodge, guest houses and an English and Western Pleasure training facility to the 73 acre property. We walk out to the pavilion, antique-looking rockers sit empty, we look out across the landscape, the view is remarkable; land rises and falls gently, black fencing divides the grass into different shapes and sizes. 

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The indoor riding arena looks freshly graded, inside the building we find ourselves back in the 1930’s, transported to Joey’s Stables, the iconic landmark restaurant that stood on W Jefferson in the Delray neighborhood from 1933-1989. The bar has been completely reassembled, Tiffany lamps glow from above, antique bar stools sit vacant. Just look at the bar, it’s magnificent; ornate carvings, acanthus leaves, the mirror and working sidelights, a work of art. I like the vintage Bar Guide, choose your drink and the recipe is displayed in the little window. What’ll you have? A Gibson, Grasshopper, Stinger, Bees Knees, Rob Roy, French 75 or Kris’s favorite, an Old Fashioned. The room is grand, stunning, fantastic, from the copper mugs to the pewter horses to the wagon wheel chandelier. You can sit in the booth and look out over the arena or climb the cupola staircase for a panoramic view of the farm.

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Our last stop on the tour is an 84 acre farm that was once a breeding farm and training facility for race horses. Today Watch Hill Farm is home to Icelandic horses. The owners are active in the Metamora Carriage Driving Club. Inside the octagon shaped building are a couple of restored carriages, knotty pine walls and a fireplace make it inviting. The stables have wood walls and ceilings and concrete floors. The indoor arena is impressive, I’m fond of the exposed wooden trusses; I don’t know what the fluffy-looking stuff is all over the ground but I’d love to take off my shoes and run through it… Outside we find more attractive horses relishing the afternoon sun, down by the water some cows sit leisurely while others munch the green grass. It’s nice being out here, having a little breathing space, taking time out to relax and unwind. Beauty often inspires peacefulness.

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The Lake Inn on Hunt Rd in Lapeer has been family owned and operated for 70+ years, this is our first visit. The inside has a bit of an ‘up north’ feel; the main attraction is the unobstructed view of Lake Nepessing. Our corner booth offers us a perfect view of the lake, a waitress greets us immediately with menus and water. After we place our order she quickly returns with my Spartan Stout beer. I’m a big fan of stouts and this is one I haven’t tried. It’s made by Ellison Brewery + Spirits out of East Lansing, it’s absolutely wonderful! I only have half left when our steak sandwich arrives. Shaved ribeye with sauteed onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and Swiss cheese stuffed into a hoagie roll, served with thick steak fries; it’s a tasty and satisfying meal. In the summertime tables on the large deck and tiki bar are at a premium, this late in the year there may only be a couple deck-worthy days left. Inside or out it’s a nice place with good food and a great view.

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