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LANSING: Lookin’ Around….

24 Aug

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We’re in the north end of Michigan’s capitol city, Lansing, today the Old Town District is hosting ScrapFest. Here’s how it works; back in June teams had one hour to collect up to 500 lbs of scrap from a local facility, then they have about two weeks to create their sculpture, made entirely of scrap metal. During ScrapFest pieces are displayed and auctioned off, 40% of the proceeds go to the artists, the rest is donated to the Old Town Commercial Association. It’s pretty amazing, check it out…

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The day promises to be a hot one, we arrive just as the festival opens; Turner street has been closed to traffic, artist’s tents line the street, sidewalk cafes are overflowing with diners, metal sculptures of varying heights and widths fill the remainder of the street. My eyes follow the finger of a woman pointing to someone in the distance, I zero in on the man wearing hoof shoes and a metal framed horse head for a hat. There’s so much to look at I find myself wandering with no real purpose or plan. Some sculptures are electrified, a couple of cables and a car battery do the trick. A ‘painting’ sits on an easel, look closely to see the city skyline, a church steeple, the moon and the stars, a second one features a bridge–is that the Mackinac? Kris and I marvel at the towering figure in front of us; with the turn of the wheel his arms, hands and fingers come to life.

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There’s a sculpture of a crane with a scene of cat tails that would look fabulous in my back yard. A large tree is cloaked in lovely metal flowers, there’s a piece that reminds me of antique Tiffany lamps; green glass and metal form a beautiful canopy of leaves. Each sculpture is unique, so creative, it’s hard to believe the components came from a scrap pile. The angel is getting a lot of attention,her stainless steel feathered wings are magnificent. I like the giant mobile-looking piece, do you remember the game Tip-It? That’s what I thought of when I saw it. Lots of people are taking pictures of the robot DJ with his turntables, how about the candle-powered light bulb, the Knight with his chariot, the silhouette of the horse, the gorgeous fire pit, which one would you bid on?

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We pass booths selling mini-sculptures, coasters, key chains, clothing. A line is forming at the food truck, the band is getting ready to play. Kids are making crafts, the street is filling up curious pedestrians. We’re hot and thirsty, Bloom Coffee Roasters is just up the street. Housed in an attractive orange-brick building, the small space serves as a neighborhood gathering spot offering coffee drinks from beans roasted in-house. Folks at the counter are on a first-name basis with the staff, shelves hold bags of freshly roasted beans, mugs and t-shirts. A couple of iced coffees will do the trick for us.

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Back outside the street is jam-packed with people, we make our way from Turner to Grand River on the way back to the car. Kris spots some interesting things through the window of The Gallery In Old Town so we go inside. Turns out the Gallery is an Estate Liquidator, they hold auctions and what they have left they bring to the shop to sell off, at really good prices. This particular lot had a bunch of vintage things; a funky organ, kitchen items from the 40’s and 50’s as well as some pop-style light fixtures. This is a good place to check out from time to time, you never know what you might find. A quick stop on the bridge gives a nice view of the Grand River, a lone fisherman has this part of the river to himself. 

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With art on our minds we drive over to the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum on the campus of Michigan State University. You can’t miss the building; it’s the striking pleated stainless steel and glass building visible from Grand River. Designed by architect Zaha Hadid, her buildings are getting a lot of attention since her death in 2016. The Iraqui-British architect was the first woman to receive the Pritzker Prize, she was the first and only woman to be awarded the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects and she was sometimes called the “Queen of the Curve”. I googled her to see her other buildings before I wrote this, she certainly had a way with geometry, I think her buildings are spectacular! The Broad is a parallelogram-shaped building with a distinct  lean, the structure continually changes color depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun. We enter through the west entrance into the Passage Gallery, looking around I am surrounded by curly fries, Kris corrects me, spaghetti, he says. The exhibit is called Toiletpaper Paradise, based on the magazine TOILETPAPER. “Domestic settings are re-imagined as psychedelic, subversive montages vignettes”, I’d say that sums it up. It’s pretty groovy, large pieces hang on the walls, rugs are scattered on the floor; the familiar in an unfamiliar way.

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Around the corner is a big silver tent, a docent leads us inside, a series of red light bulbs illuminate the space, a pulsing rhythm emits from speakers, live crickets chirp in their own rhythm. The docent demonstrates how the crickets will change their chirps as she alters the sound coming from the speakers. We amble through galleries, the next exhibit is The Transported Man, here ordinary objects become not-so-ordinary when you read the additional information about them. A mysterious floating table, a bar of liposuction soap, I like the elephant’s trick, looks like the cat had too much helium…a festival of the odd. We see a wall of windows, each a different color, notable artwork hangs on a cranberry-colored wall. As much as we like contemporary art, the building itself is the main attraction for us. The staircase seems to float, every hallway leads to something unexpected, it’s like an extremely sophisticated fun house.

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DETROIT: Mid Century

14 Aug

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Detroit’s Historic Palmer Woods is a 188 acre subdivision best known for its lavish homes, winding streets and early residents named Fisher, Van Dusen, Burton, Prentis, Sanders and Briggs. Landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds is responsible for the rural feel of the neighborhood; mature trees, no curbs, spacious, irregular-shaped lots, no two are the same. From the mid-teens to the late 1920’s this is where the rich built elegant (mostly) Tudor-style homes on streets called Wellesley, Suffolk, Gloucester, Balmoral and Strathcona, very England-like. After the war styles began to change; half timbers, steeply-pitched roofs, mullioned windows and high chimneys were replaced with concrete, pane glass, steel, brass and geometric patterns. Wealthy professionals were still lured to the beauty and seclusion of Palmer Woods, the houses they built distinctly reflect this new Mid-Century Modern design.

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It’s a beautiful July afternoon, we’re in Palmer Woods for the 2017 Home and Garden Tour; this year 5 Mid-Century homes and 8 gardens are open to the ticket-buying public. We pick up our tour map at the check-in station, after a quick look at the addresses we park in a central location and begin. Kris and I love mid-century design; clean lines, glass walls, open floor plans and organic curves. Homes such as this tend to be more horizontal, it’s gorgeous; deep,open spaces, the fireplace is long and low, white interior walls, columns add interest; unique sliding doors separate rooms. Glass walls bring the outdoors in, the pool and garden seem integrated into the house.

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Approaching the next house I point out the Modbox mailbox, it hints at what we will find inside… The interior is mid-century fantastic! It’s a time warp. Room decor and furnishings recreate the era perfectly, the recessed ceiling backlit in rose is outstanding. Blonde wood, slate floors, fabulous lighting, bold wallpaper, original built-in stereo, wow. Then we descend to the basement. Tiki Paradise. Seriously. Where should I begin? How about the exotic lighting, plant groupings, bamboo, thatch, tikis. How about the wall of Tiki memorabilia? More tiki mugs than I’ve ever seen in one place, hula girls, birds, vintage menus from the Kahiki. There’s a bar with cool stools, an awesome table and chairs and of course, a tiki chess set, more fabulous wallpaper, very Polynesian. In the backyard the mid-century theme continues, even the birds live in stylish houses.

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The map leads us past great Modern architecture, down pathways alongside houses into lovely garden retreats. Down the block a newly installed metal sculpture sits on the front lawn of the “Butterfly House” designed by William Kessler in 1956, beautiful gardens surround it. Stone benches, tall grasses, Cardinal Flower, Elephant Ear Caladium and grass pathways give the yard a naturalized feel. One of my favorite features of mid-century architecture is the courtyard; ivy covers the ground in this one, a delicate red maple adds color and interest. A peek through the back glass wall reveals a modern interior with colorful art accents.

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Moving on,  this house is a bit unusual in appearance but there’s no mistaking it’s modern influence. The docent standing near the front door tells us a bit about the home, we learn it was built in the 1960’s by Florine Mark, you know, Weight Watchers, that Florine Mark. We step inside and are awed by what we see. I would guess not much has changed since Florine lived here. Slate floor, dark wood panels, field stone half-walls with built-in planters, decorative aluminum screens and the bar….. This is one of the coolest built in bars I’ve seen, kind of triangular in shape with overhead panels, a column with shelves to hold glasses, even a place to rest your feet. Check out the parquet floor, the modern design of the plaster ceiling, love the corner fireplace. The dining room with the grass weave cabinets, the big brass round surround of the door knobs,how about that Nutone intercom, the double ovens, built-in speakers. The living room and family room are outstanding too, the ceiling fixtures rock;  like I said everything still looks original. One of the docents told us there are scales built into the bathroom floors upstairs, I guess that explains her trim figure.

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As we walk down neighborhood streets  I begin to notice a lot more of the Mid-Century homes, many have distinct features like wrap-around corner windows, fluted glass, teak wood and architectural details.We visit several beautifully landscaped gardens; mounds of Hostas, neatly trimmed shrubs, hydrangeas in full bloom, cozy seating areas, ponds and even a waterfall. The spaces are tranquil, peaceful, urban retreats.

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The last home on the tour is a large brick multi-level house with a huge front lawn. The interior retains many of the original features like the built-ins, field stone fireplace, paneling, indirect lighting, I’m not sure what the knobs in the wall do… Behind a pair of what appears to be closet doors is an awesome bar. Clearly having your own bar was a ‘thing’, this one is pretty sweet, love the mirrors. We exit the back door into a huge yard complete with an inviting in-ground pool. More field stone makes up a back garden wall, I really like the concrete dolphin, I wonder if it’s old or new?

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Our last stop on the tour is the garden at the Dorothy Turkel House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Detroit. Completed in 1956, it’s a 2-story beauty in the Usonian style. We are lucky enough to have been inside the house before, this is our first look at the recently completed gardens. The owners of this home also own Blossoms florist in Birmingham and Detroit so I’m expecting something spectacular—I’m not disappointed. The grounds are lush, art, statues and accents are tucked into the landscape.

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Hydrangeas strain to stand upright, metal-framed spheres add interest to an already beautiful space. Hostas form massive mounds, a pea gravel path leads us to a pond with a low fountain. Turquoise glass forms look like they are growing from the earth, abundant foliage provides a colorful background. Near the house a deer statue is perched on a pedestal. On the patio we study the Lego version of the Turkel House, it seems the builder has captured every detail; it looks like quite a soiree. We roam through the gardens again noticing things we missed the first time; shiny silver balls threaded on metal stakes, the rusty man near the tree. The simplicity of the of the house,  just glass and concrete, make it so visually appealing, it becomes part of the landscape, the way man and nature come together is truly stunning.

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We’re having a late lunch at Alley Taco . After operating out of Marcus Market they have a new space on Willis to call home. Serving up California-style Mexican food from tacos and burritos to tortas and melts they have earned a loyal following. The inside of the restaurant is a combination of reclaimed wood, blacktop counters and wheat-pasted newspaper and poster walls. The menu hangs behind the register, we order then take a seat on the patio. Before we know it plates of Mexican delights are placed in front of us. I try the bowl-ritto first, tasty shredded chicken, beans, tomatoes, cheese and herbs on a bed of rice, it’s really good. We chose the bbq sweet potato, chorizo and crispy fish for our 3-taco combo, each distinctly delicious. There are 4 salsas to choose from including “hot 2 death”.  This casual and flavorful eatery is a great addition to Midtown.

Kitsch-O-Rama !

1 Jun

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 It’s time for our annual trek out to Camp Dearborn for the Tin Can Tourists Annual Gathering. Tin Can Tourists is America’s oldest trailer and Motor Coach Club; they are truly “Rolling History”. This year 180 vintage auto campers registered for the event, trailers range from 8 to 30 feet and cover the decades from the 1930’s to the 80’s–in a word, it’s awesome! Camp Dearborn is owned by the city of Dearborn, but, it’s actually located about 35 miles away in Milford; no, it doesn’t make sense to me either. Established in 1948, the camp is spread out over 626 acres of rolling hills, ponds, lakes and access to the Huron River. They offer tents, rustic or resort cabins for rent. I am completely useless as a vintage trailer expert, still I hope you will enjoy my narrative and Kris’s photos.

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Walking up the hill from the parking area it’s like we’ve gone back in time. On the campground tents and cabins look straight out of 1948, to the left vintage trailers are parked as far as the eye can see. We come up on a cute little 1965 Serro Scotty, polished aluminum, all decked out with an awning over the patio and accessorized in red. Next is a turquoise and yellow Aljoa, inside a string of flamingo lights hangs above a vintage tablecloth and antique dishes. Restorations can be factory exact from the wood to the light fixtures; many people decorate with pieces from the year the trailer was built, I imagine the hunt for the items is as much fun as displaying them. Picnic baskets, barware, thermos bottles, lanterns, potato chip tins, bedspreads and curtains represent bygone eras. I like this one, placemats of the Hawaiian islands, Florida drinking glasses, a pineapple bowl, bamboo lights and a ukulele. Check out the Shasta, lots of turquoise inside and out, hula girls and Hawaiian salt and pepper shakers.

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Holly, Shasta, Avion, Trotwood, the list goes on; some people name their trailers: Ruby, Rosie and Pete are all here. I’m fascinated with the interiors; fabulous light fixtures and sconces, one has atomic-patterned curtains, another is totally decked out in 1970’s style in harvest gold, avocado and orange. There are smiley faces, big-flowered fabrics, mushrooms, a lava lamp–even the toaster is cool! I love all the accessories; a pink RCA Victor clock radio, vintage magazines, a Rodeo themed trailer. Decor is clever, personal to the owner. The one that knocks my socks off has a stunning wood interior, a built-in dresser in the bedroom holds an old-fashioned mirror-tray complete with girly things like perfume bottles and jars. The sitting area looks straight out of a magazine; antique TV complete with antenna, record player, phone, fan and loads of trinkets and do-dads. Check out the covered wagon lamp, it has its own team of horses–sweet! Have you ever played the card game “Touring” by Parker Bros.? Me neither.

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Some trailers are sleek and modernized with LED lighting and all the latest conveniences, then there’s the semi-truck-turned-camper, it has a flat-screen fireplace, tool box counter and locker, very clever. How about those tow vehicles? A Mercury station wagon, an old Ford rat-rod, a 1953 Chevrolet Apache, more pick-ups by Chevy, GMC, International, a Plymouth Savoy. The prize for the most unusual tow vehicle goes to the Silver Streak convertible with the awesome plaid interior, love it. Campers are gracious hosts, we are welcomed into each trailer, some offer snacks, candy or a cold beverage, all are happy to strike up a conversation. I get a kick out of the different lights strung from awnings; palm trees, mini trailers, Edison bulbs. I see a trailer bird house, a Royal Crown (RC) cooler, a fantastic picnic set, lots of vintage bicycles, did I mention the Great Danes? Patios are set up like Tiki bars or just bars. On the way back to the car we check out the trailer on a trailer, it’s super Art Deco inside and out, looks like a big job ahead to restore it; maybe we’ll see it all done next year.

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Steeped in nostalgia Kris points the car toward Chin’s Chop Suey in Livonia. We have just enough time to eat before we have to be at Masonic Temple for Detroit Roller Derby. Marvin Chin opened Chin’s Chop Suey on this very spot in 1955. In those days Tiki and Polynesian themed restaurants were all the rage. Marvin went all out; bamboo matting, thatch, jade tiles, Tiki’s, masks, a rock wall and a bamboo divider. Chin’s served the typical Chinese-American cuisine of the day; Egg Foo Young, Chop Suey, Almond Boneless Chicken, Pepper Steak and Moo Shu Pork. 12 years later Marvin opened the legendary Chin Tiki in Detroit, sadly we never got to see it but people still talk about it. Chin Tiki closed in 1980, in 2002 the boards were pried off the doors when Hollywood came to town to film 8 Mile. I heard stories that the place was perfectly preserved inside and the family was considering re-opening the place. That never happened, the building has now been demolished.

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Chin’s is still owned and operated by the family, looking around I’ll bet not a thing has changed inside, seriously. Hanging blowfish, seashell lamps, long banquette seating, that room divider– it’s amazing, a little Tiki haven. On the other side a cool bamboo bar resides in the back corner with large Tiki statues clustered together around and behind it like it’s their own private section. I’m told some of the decorative pieces were brought here from Chin Tiki when it closed. We order a light dinner of Kung Pao Tofu and a couple of spring rolls. First we’re served cups of Won Ton soup, the egg roll and spring rolls arrive simultaneously, each is delicious. The main dish arrives in an oval, covered stainless steel dish, the rice in the standard round pedestal style, exactly the way I remember Chinese food being served when I was a kid. Keep in mind this is not gourmet, organic or farm-to-table, it’s good old-fashioned Chinese-American food with water chestnuts, pea pods, bamboo shoots, sliced carrots and green peppers in brown sauce; nothing fancy or exotic. There’s something to be said for that you know?

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Side note: Cocktails are served in Tiki Mugs from Chin Tiki, they’re available for purchase for 15 bucks. I highly recommend the Chin Tiki Scorpion, our server even let me pick the Tiki mug. It’s not very often you feel like you’ve gone back in time, from the trailers and vehicles to the decor and food at Chin’s, today we felt like time travelers and it was a blast!

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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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Chrysler: Stylin’

3 Nov

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If you love cars images in this post may cause excitement, drooling, rapid heartbeat and verbal outbursts. All other readers, please take into consideration what an amazing experience it is to be able to wander around the Design Studio of a major automaker, step foot in the Design Dome, sit inside concept cars, be in the space where designs are born, put on paper and carved into clay, as I said, AMAZING! Chrysler pulled out all the stops for this open house; future and current models are on display, they dug deep into the archives pulling out and dusting off concept vehicles of different eras for our viewing pleasure.

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We have crossed the building from one end to the other finally arriving at the Design Studio, the door is open, let’s go in. From the instant we enter the studio I know I’m going to have my hands full keeping up with the boys; at the very first sight of vintage muscle car art hanging on the walls their eyes begin to glaze over, they don’t know where to look first. I see other visitors with the same affliction bumping into folks, their eyes focused only on what’s in front of them, nothing breaking their concentration. I have to admit, this is way cool… We are in the Product Design area, we come face to face with a gleaming silver luxury sportscar called “Firepower”, very sleek-looking, I love the two-tone interior. In this area walls are a deep putty color, bold, abstract-ish paintings of muscle cars pop on the neutral background. In a large open area trucks, Jeeps and cars intermix with employee work space. On the far side, glass enclosed offices belong to brand executives, we get an insiders peek at the personality of each; one has a great Pop Art poster of Virgil Exner.

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There’s stuff everywhere; photo-art of a 1960 Imperial Dash, a vintage Challenger interior. An actual clay 1970 Challenger dashboard stands on a cabinet, (Hey, I used to have a ’70 Challenger!) this is the original model from which they were made. Underneath we find shifters, switches, panels and gadgets. Renderings fill large bulletin boards, big chunks of clay and modeling tools allow kids and grown-up to try their hand at car design. A Jeep Treo is getting a lot of attention as is the also-never-produced Demon convertible. Through a doorway we enter a room with a Turbine Car, a video tells the story of this exceptional car on a screen nearby.

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There it is, the styling dome… It’s much larger than I expected, lights in the ceiling remind me of stars in the sky, droves of people mill about; Kris, our friend and I each head off in different directions. It’s like some sort of dance the way people shift from one remarkable car to the next, all the while smart phone in hand. There’s a white Challenger T/A, a blue Viper Indy Pace Car, I’m sorta fascinated by the Mopar Drag Pak Challenger, I notice Kris can’t take his eyes off the red Charger concept from back in 1999. People pose for pictures in front of one-off cars and trucks as if they are celebrities. 

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Making my way through the crowd I meet back up with the boys outside on the Design Court; a handful of unique vehicles await us. I like the Africa Jeep concept, there’s a snazzy Chrysler 300 Super S with a blue matte finish paint job, the Mopar Edition Charger looks good, the Challenger GT AWD concept looks tough with the black hood, roof, trunk, wheels and tires.

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Back inside we move on to the next area, the black 1968 Charger R/T stops us in our tracks, muscle car photo art hangs on the wall. Vehicles are scattered about; an orange Wrangler with plaid seats looks ready to hit the trails, folks climb into the grey “Stitch” Jeep, I heard the seats are actually Viper seats. A WWII military Willy’s Jeep reminds us how long they’ve been around, a half-Jeep is mounted on the wall.

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A small section is dedicated to Viper, love the far-out renderings; how about that snake-skin green? Check out the new 340 Daytona, this one has a clay front end, I like the pic Kris took of the Daytona Hemi hood decal. The futuristic drawings of the Challenger are awesome, a large board shows us examples of the Hellcat logo. Trucks are next, this is the first time I’ve seen the 2012 Lil’ Red Express Truck concept, stacks and all. The bright yellow Dodge Ram Rumble Bee truck is extremely popular, I’m glad to see the Bee is still around. A father and daughter work together on the truck clay model, this is truly a family affair.

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Work areas are dark in the next department, more great automotive art hangs about. This must be the Silver section the silver Chrysler 300 concept is stylish as is the Chrysler Nassau concept from 2007, the ME 12 Chrysler is more charcoal than silver, it’s streamlined, elegant, graceful, slick, wouldn’t it be fun to get a ride in this one? The Brilliant Blue custom Jeep plays homage to the old 1976 Cherokee’s, love the color. As I walk I notice shelves stacked with modern wheels, huge automotive photos on the walls, posters with pictures of cars and trucks and their progression through the years.  The boys and I meet up by the Renegade on the scanning machine, even thought I don’t know how it works it’s captivating to look at. We’re so impressed, enthralled and excited by everything we’ve seen, I especially like the way the vehicles are all connected through time; the past, present and future all in the same space. A big thank you to our friend for taking us on this exquisite journey and another thank you to Chrysler for the privilege of seeing the inner-workings of the company. A great time was had by all. 

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Chrysler: Testing…Testing…

30 Oct

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Recently, a friend asked if we’d like to be his guest for the 25th Anniversary open house at the Chrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills…Uhhh, Yeah! We assumed it would be a cursory tour, surely Chrysler wouldn’t allow people to poke around their engineering and design epicenter… man, were we in for a surprise!!??  The best news was reading “photos  allowed” in the invitation, seriously? We are so there….

Chrysler Corporation was founded June 6, 1925 by Walter P Chrysler who re-organized the Maxwell Motor Company into his namesake. Always engineering innovators they were first to mass-produced cars with four-wheel hydraulic brakes, rubber engine mounts, air conditioning, electric windows and anti-lock brakes, to name a few. They also developed a road wheel with a rigid rim designed to keep a deflated tire from flying off the wheel; this safety wheel was eventually adopted by the auto industry worldwide. Back in 1955 they built the first production car to reach the 300 horsepower mark with their aptly named Chrysler 300, yep, that’s where it came from.

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We meet our friend in the parking lot and make our way to the entrance of the mammoth building–get this: at 5.3 million sq. ft. the complex is the second-largest building in the United States in floor space, only the Pentagon is larger; as of April 2016, approximately 15,000 people work at the complex–wow! We join the crowd of visitors and take the escalator to the second floor. Carpeted corridors throughout the elongated atrium are lit by natural sunlight, hallways appear endless. I can’t even begin to describe the massiveness of this place, I’m sure you could hide the Fisher building in here; we seem to walk forever to get from one section to another. We pick up the pace passing pretzel stations (in case you get lost at least you have food!), face painting and photo booths on our way back to the first floor, bands are between sets at Tech Plaza, we pause to check out the octagonal skylight, the center point of the building I presume; the place is buzzing with activity. I’m careful not to lose our friend, Kris keeps wandering off in a daze, I’m worried his head will explode!!

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We are now in the guts of the building, rows of fluorescent lights hang overhead, our friend is familiar with the building and explains things as we go; we’ve arrived at Science Court. We trek down hallways, there’s no shortage of dynamometers. We pop in and out of labs, most have funky-shaped foam mounted to the wall for sound deadening. An engine is set up for testing, here they can detect and isolate engine noise; I’m amazed we’re able to get such an up-close look. Down a ways a clay model Ram is attached to an elevated test unit, further on a B-5 blue Scat Pack Challenger with a shaker hood is parked in the hall, with a 392 c.i. engine this beauty makes 485 horsepower. If that’s not enough get-up-and-go for you check out the Redline Red Charger Hellcat, with a horsepower rating of 707 it can go over 200 mph; perfect when we’re running behind for a show at the Fox! The Aero Acoustic Wind Tunnel is next, the vehicle they’re testing? A super-cool white, black stripe, Viper ACR. The low, sporty lines of the vehicle make for an impressive demonstration of aerodynamic testing. Again I am astounded by the enormous space; sized to accommodate cars and trucks of the American market, the turntable is 18 ft in diameter,  it took 3 years to build the tunnel, it has a maximum airflow speed of over 140 mph. In a large open area a mini van frame is constructed with different color structures, so that’s what it looks like without skin…

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In the Noise, Vibration & Harshness Lab we see a burgundy Challenger Hellcat, sweet, next to that a gorgeous Viper in red with black stripes, this is so cool! All eyes are on the Yellow Jacket T/A Challenger that was recently introduced to the public, look at that flat black hood and front spoiler, now that’s a muscle car! A silver Grand Cherokee sits with its rear wheels on rollers, this can simulate various driving conditions, I just noticed this model is right-hand drive. Adults and kids alike are attracted to the Power Wagon with the grey and red lettering and graphics, I think this is the off-road package. Over in the Electro Magnetic Compatibility Lab testing focuses on the vehicle’s electronic systems and how they operate when exposed to radio frequencies. Potential interference can come from radio and television towers, ham radios, cell phones and burglar alarms, guess I never thought about that before.  A Ram pick-up is in one of the chambers, I kind of dig those pointy cone-shaped things; a black Cherokee waits its turn in the Vehicle Shielded Test Room.

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Moving on to the Environmental Test Cells we follow a pathway through the cold test chamber, ‘cold’ is an understatement, it was freezing, which made the hot test chamber feel really good. Standing in a small room we look through a glass panel into a driving cell, the snow-maker is on kill creating blizzard-like conditions, high winds blow snow directly into the front of a Cherokee; a not-so-subtle reminder of  what we have to look forward to. Exiting the drive cell we come face to face with the refrigeration unit for all that white stuff. In another area we watch a road test simulator at work, a Cherokee is going for a test run; looks like a rough ride. A Limelight Challenger R/T and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited hang nearby waiting for their opportunity. 

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Walking to the Pilot Plant we talk about all the things we’ve seen so far, most of us have no idea how much work goes into each model vehicle; from the very first idea put on paper, to the clay model, systems testing, to the build itself— all of which happens right here in this complex; it truly boggles the mind. The Pilot Plant is basically an assembly line, new models are kept top-secret and are covered for our visit. By building the initial vehicle here any problems that come up can be ironed out before the vehicle is put into assembly at the plant. It’s fascinating to look at, bodies rest on wheeled platforms, tools and electrical cords dangle from the ceiling, parts are kept in sealed crates, in the paint booth a Wrangler wears a fresh coat of black. I think we’ve seen everything we can on the first floor, next up, Design.  

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What’s up in Highland Park ??!!

21 Sep

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Today we’re in Highland Park MI. The 2.97 sq. mile city about 6 miles from downtown Detroit was once a thriving manufacturing city. Henry Ford purchased 160 acres to build the Highland Park Ford Plant which opened in 1909, in 1913 when he started the first assembly line, population swelled dramatically from 4,120 people in 1910 to 46,500 by 1920. In the mid 1920’s Chrysler Corporation was founded in Highland Park, they purchased the Maxwell plant covering 150 acres, the site served as their headquarters for the next 70 years. Population declined when the Davison Freeway opened in 1944, cutting through the center of the city, the trend continued after the 12th Street Riot in 1967, Ford closed operations at the Model T plant in 1973. Chrysler moved its headquarters to Auburn Hills in 1993. The city was left without thousands of jobs and lots of vacant buildings. Nature took over when industry left, open fields and towering Maples are home to birds, pheasants and other wildlife; it’s quiet, peaceful.  We’re on Midland Street, in the old Lewis Metal Stamping Plant, artists Robert Onnes and Robert Sestock purchased the huge building, turned it into artist studios and named it The Factory

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We’re here at The Factory at 333 Midland for BIG SCULPTURE, an invitational show made up of Michigan artists, music, food and drink; over 200 sculptures and installations are on display indoors and out. After we park on the street we approach the front of the building, brick and stone it is Art Deco in style, I like the details around the entryway, the curved end of the building. We enter the yard, towering sculptures dot the landscape in all directions, it’s raining so we head indoors to the 23,000 sq. ft. building. Factories are unique structures; block walls, enormous walls of windows allow the space to be drowned in sunlight, old signs remain from when this was an active plant. I stand still, looking around I can imagine huge machines stamping out parts, noise so loud workers point and nod to communicate; the hustle and sweat that goes into making things. Now days the space is home to 17 artist studios, the tradition of making things here continues. 

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We are greeted by Tim Pewes “Mega Bat” suspended from the ceiling, the space a maze of temporary walls creating mini galleries. We meander from exhibit to exhibit; Peter Daniel Bernal’s “pinata’s” are suspended from the ceiling making a powerful statement. Steve Mealy’s beautiful masks are encircled by a bicycle rim and tire. We enter the ModernContainerGallery, funky pieces light up the back wall. Everywhere we look there’s something wonderful to see, 3-dimensional art hangs on walls, rests on pedestals, sculptures stand tall. Down a hall we find more galleries, frames hold interesting scenes, life-like sculptures of heads wear leaves and acorns by Pamela Day, a wall of sconces by Alvaro Jurado includes antique metal trucks lit by bare bulbs and black rubber tires, the next gallery feels like the outdoors; ivy, sod, moss and greenery dangle, hang, weep from strings and beams reflecting the scene on the other side of the window–it’s quite lovely.

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The rain has let up, we step outside, Richard Bennet’s sculpture rises up to the sky, it reminds me of planets in the solar system, whimsical pieces in stripes bend and curve, I recognize a sculpture by Olayami Dable, the scraps of mirror first grab my attention, his work is unmistakable. I love the tall metal letters that spell out DETROIT, the thick wishbone-like piece, the giant reeds and cattails in the distance. The annex building adds another 12,000 sq. ft. of space; a forlorn-looking man made of wood is chained to a stool near the entrance. Inside a modern wood and metal staircase leads to a balcony in the otherwise wide open space, a child slides on a wooden sculpture laying on the floor. Upstairs we get a better look at the hanging mobile-like pieces, we can take in the whole room from here. Orange cut-outs balance on a white cube, cool clay pieces cling to the wall, Susan Aaron Taylor makes things from felt she creates herself, her animals are lifelike. 

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We’re taking another walk through the main building as not to miss anything. Just outside the entrance I see a metal sculpture mounted on a bare wall, made of tiny metal pieces welded together it swirls, surrounding an outdoor light. Kris points out a glass piece by Albert White, the sun is coming out, lighting up the deep blue glass. We continue our walk past characters, shapes and forms hanging on the wall or posing on blocks or squares; a giant fishing pole protrudes from the wall titled Hook, Line and Sinker. Some of the art is humorous, some of it serious like Sandra Osip’s Hell In A Hand Basket, some of it like Catherine Peet’s Sea Monster is silly and fun. Kris is fascinated by the detail in some of the works; circuit boards, tiny monitors, mechanical pieces all used together to create attention-grabbing works. The exhibit continues until October 22, the Factory is open on Saturday and Sunday from 10 am-4 pm. 

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We’re having lunch in Woodbridge, Pie-Sci has been open about 2 months now after doing weekend stints serving gourmet pizza at Woodbridge Pub. The Trumbull storefront is decked out in bright red trimmed in black, the color theme continues inside. The menu hangs on a wall, the pizza of the day is described on a small chalkboard near the counter. Pizza is divided into 3 catagories; white pizza comes with garlic oil, traditional red sauce comes on varieties like Meatlovers and Veggie D.  We scan the menu of a dozen combinations, order at the counter then have a seat in the dining area. The soda machine is filled with Detroit City Soda, I sip on diet cola while we wait. Patrons come and go picking up and ordering pizza, it smells delicious in here! At last our pizza is done, we are having the Pulled Pork: white pizza, pulled pork, pickled onion, mozzarella topped with red cabbage coleslaw and Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq drizzle, yum! We also ordered the special of the day, Curry Train: green Zaatar curry, eggplant, mushroom, red onion, mozzarella, also excellent. 

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Our last stop is Will Leather Goods on Second Ave. The attractive store has a cozy little coffee shop tucked inside that serves great coffee, tea and pastries. It’s one of those cool hidden gems you can always count on for good service and good products. The designated coffee shop area is decorated with items from an old Detroit Fire Station; gives it nice character. Kris is having a cold brew while I’m in the mood for a hot cup of java, mine comes with a tasty chocolate square. We move out into the main showroom, relax in one of Will’s comfy chairs and drink up our coffee in one of the most delightful places in the city to just chill.

 

 

 

Metamora: Horsepower !

25 Aug

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Seldom will we write of an event in back to back years but it’s a perfect day, the sights are fresh and we owe it to this hidden gem to give you another look… We’re about 50 miles north of Detroit,  Metamora Hunt Country spans Lapeer and Oakland counties through rolling hills, narrow dirt roads twist and turn through the woods; the south branch of the Flint River meanders past scenic pastures, historic farms and magnificent stables, elegant, statuesque horses roam the land. We are attending the Metamora Hunt Stable Tour. Metamora Hunt was organized in 1928 after the Grosse Pointe Hunt Club and Bloomfield Open Hunt were being pushed out by development of the surrounding land. Mounted fox-hunting has been active in the Detroit area since 1911; it’s full of tradition from the attire to the hounds to the hunt itself. Today we will visit the Hunt Kennels and 7 stables, I have the tickets, let’s go!

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Woodwind Farm is a 300 acre parcel that was once part of the 1,000 acre dairy farm owned by the Booth  family (Detroit News, Cranbrook). Blue-grey buildings have crisp white trim, the barn was built in 1879 and originally held cows, today horses call it home. The interior is divided into stalls, dark wood covers the walls and ceiling, the floor is brick. We make our way to the loft, beams are thick and carefully fitted together, the smell of fresh-cut hay permeates the air, we gaze out at the surrounding country, I’m surprised how green everything is after our heat wave. Outside, horses go about the business of grazing, paying no attention to the sudden influx of humans.

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We drive from stable to stable on natural beauty roads, long driveways lead to homes we cannot see, cows and horses wander patches of land divided by split-rail fences. Next to a pretty white house is our next stop, a big, old white barn. The wood-lined interior is divided into stalls, what makes this one unique is the floor made from tree stumps and concrete. Old farm equipment is resting after years of hard work. The owner introduces us to her horses, one is over 30 years old. Cheridon Farm takes up 275 acres of hillside and meadow. A herd of Scottish Highlander Cattle are clustered together to the left, the guy with the big horns and bangs seems to be checking us out, on the other side the Red Angus don’t seem to notice us. The cattle barn is void of cattle but we do spy a bird’s nest tucked into the rafters, it seems it’s lunch time and mama bird has a trio of hungry babies waiting.

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A few roads over we enter a 300 acre equestrian estate called Perfect Sky Ranch. Wow. We park near a charming, large wood building with a metal roof, the lawn a deep shade of green, Hydrangea in full bloom. Walking around the property we find ourselves on the patio outside the stable; a waterfall flows into a pond, surrounding planters are stuffed with colorful annuals, butterflies flock to the (aptly named) butterfly bush, the family home is in the distance.

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We follow fellow tourists to the recently built indoor arena, wow again. The building is huge, cedar lines the walls, the ceiling white, the footing is a special HT fiber that helps keep down dust, keeping the under layers moist; it’s the softest surface I’ve ever walked on, I’m thinking this is what it would feel like to walk on a cloud…..In addition to Warmbloods and quarter horses, a cool, red, 1956 Ford resto-mod pick-up truck also lives here. The stable and tack room are quite attractive, as you would expect, horses have an open window in their stall so they can see what’s going on outside. I see one peeking out and take it as in invitation to pet him, he enjoys the attention, I am enamored by his beauty.

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The next farm, White Fences is different from the rest as it is a carriage driving facility. There’s a weekend house, carriage house and a barn with a dazzling tack room. Carriages are parked on a gravel lot, some are open, others covered, they bear ribbons, gloves. We take a closer look at the antique wooden carriage in the center, a smattering of decorative paint remains, I can only imagine how stunning it must have been.

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Jim, the owner invites Kris and I to go for a ride on the surrounding trails in his golf cart, and we’re off. Jim put in all of the landscape and trails you see, the land is absolutely gorgeous; blue spruce, ponds, stone walls. We drive over steep hills, take sharp corners, pass hazards; the trail twists and turns through deep woods and open meadows, picturesque, glorious. Before we leave we visit with the boys, such handsome ponies!

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Next we are on a 600 acre piece of land that used to be the settlement of Whigville. A gravel road takes us through the property, the view is heavenly. Black fences divide land into sections, there’s an outdoor arena and a 12-stall stable, freshly groomed horses wear coats secured with velcro. It’s such a tranquil setting.

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Rattlewood Farms has both an indoor and outdoor arena, they train for both dressage and hunter/jumper disciplines. Fences hug the contours of the land, we stop at the first building, inside the electro-groom waits quietly for its next task, horses are being brought back to their stalls. Outside, a young lady is practicing in the ring, her horse wears braids, how fetching. We drive further on stopping at other buildings, horses graze, we pass a group of black cows doing the same. That reminds us, time to eat!

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The only place to eat after such a divine tour is the White Horse Inn on High Street. The Inn was founded in 1850 and operated continuously for 162 years. Closed in 2012 for a complete renovation it re-opened in 2014, the new owners have done an amazing job. Our favorite place to sit is a little high-top table in the bar area, it has a great view of the fireplace and cozy sitting area which is trimmed out in red, white and blue for the summer. Today we are having the best Wedge salad ever: crisp iceberg, Maytag blue cheese, house dressing and candied bacon, excellent. The BBQ pulled pork sandwich is slow-roasted pork, bourbon BBQ sauce, pickled onions, jalapeno, on an onion roll, delicious. The steak fries are pretty darn good too! We eat slowly, taking in our surroundings, this is the kind of place you like to linger. We have truly enjoyed our time in the country. See ya next year!

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DETROIT: Cabin Fever…

29 Jun

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Thomas Palmer, a Detroit resident, U.S. Senator, American ambassador to Spain and land owner—farming 640 acres of land that included orchards, cattle and Percheron horses, in what is now Palmer Park, married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Pitts Merrill in 1855. By 1885 Lizzie was looking for a place to escape the traffic, noise and crowds of Detroit. Her husband presented her with plans for a rustic cabin, built to her specifications, on land he owned along Woodward Ave, which at that time was considered out in the country; the cabin would be used  for entertaining and as a summer retreat. The team of George Mason (Masonic Temple) and Zachariah Rice (The Grand Hotel and DYC) designed the cabin which was completed in 1887.

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Nearly 130 years later the cabin still stands on its original spot. Eventually Palmer gifted the land and cabin to the City of Detroit, in 1897 the area was officially designated Palmer Park. Once a year the People for Palmer Park and the City of Detroit open the cabin to the public, today is Log Cabin Day. We follow the sidewalk along Lake Frances, a young girl expertly riding a Penny-farthing (or High Wheeler) passes by. We approach the cabin, volunteers are dressed up in 1880’s clothing, we hear musket blasts coming from the Civil War camp in the distance, the 102nd USCT  history group is putting on a demonstration. A policeman sits atop a beautiful horse, visitors have gathered waiting for their chance to pet the majestic animal. Behind the cabin the Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic play American folk, fiddle and bluegrass tunes as Appalachian step dancers perform on a makeshift stage, these high-schoolers are impressive.

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Walking around the cabin we pause to look at the building, it was constructed with trees harvested from the surrounding forest, awnings are made from split logs. The structure is in need of repair, the fireplace exteriors are shrouded in tarps that have seen better days. Cheery flowers have recently been planted in front, flowering shrubs are in full bloom, members of PFPP have been hard at work on the cabin. Inside, historians dressed in period attire speak about the Palmer family, they tell us about the cabin with its stone fireplaces, pocket doors, wooden floors and the indoor toilette–something that was unheard of in those days. The stairway is central in the house, the woodwork is in remarkably good shape, pretty fancy for a cabin. The home had 21 lovely stained glass windows, volunteers demonstrate the expensive restoration process, the remaining windows are protected by metal screens, a donation jar nearby is stuffed with 1 and 5 dollar bills. In another room the Detroit Unity African-American Quilters show off their handiwork, photographs and postcards cover the walls sharing Detroit history and memories. The American Jewel stove is the highlight of the kitchen, from where I’m standing I can feel cold air seep from under the cellar door. A continuous stream of visitors make their way from the front to the back door.

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Outside, a cast of 7 from Project Daydream is performing Cinderella, Guernsey Dairy is handing out scoops of chocolate and vanilla ice cream, kids and grown-ups are hard at work creating hats out of paper bags, scraps of material, ribbons, feathers and beads for the Mad Hatter contest. We see more members of The Wheelman group wearing vintage clothing and riding antique bikes. CJ Forge Blacksmithing demonstrates the craft of creating hand-forged items. We check out the bright yellow International pick-up truck, cool. The Detroit Mounted Police Unit moved to Palmer Park in 2010, we visit the horses, they seem to appreciate the company, leaning their heads against the fence hoping for a pet. Palmer Park is truly an urban oasis with 296 acres of lawns, historic woodlands, Lake Frances, hiking and biking trails. Be sure and check out all of the activities PFPP offers throughout the year.

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Kuzzo’s Chicken &Waffles is just minutes away, we’ve written about them before, but you can never have too much chicken & waffles. We slip in just as a number of tables leave, good timing. Today’s special is Motor City Blues; a blueberry Belgian waffle served with 3 chicken wings or tenders, we love the tenders. The waffle is delicious, beyond delicious if that’s possible; studded with sweet, juicy blueberries, dusted with powdered sugar and a scoop of butter, drizzled with maple syrup, YUM! The biscuits and gravy are a must; flaky, moist biscuits served with a bowl of creamy sausage gravy……enough said. We still have yet to try one of those fancy layered Kool-aid drinks served up in Mason jars–next time.

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Driving down 8 Mile Rd we notice the sandwich board on the sidewalk for Detroit Vintage, we drive around the block, park in back and stop in for a coffee. The building has been in the owners family since 1956 when it was the Paris Inn restaurant, the current incarnation is a whimsical, eclectic, coffee shop/tea room/espresso bar/gallery/boutique. Attractive displays fill the space; antique, vintage, interesting items are stacked, layered and hung. Seating areas are tucked in among the whimsy. Glass-domed dishes contain Italian creme, lemon pound and triple chocolate cakes, cookies and cupcakes look equally tasty. We make ourselves comfy, drinking iced coffee as we take in strings of white lights, large red stars, clocks, sconces and a bicycle that hangs from the rafters. What an absolutely delightful place.

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DETROIT: A Little Night Music

19 Apr

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It’s dusk when we arrive at the Detroit Yacht Club on the banks of Belle Isle, interior lights are just beginning to glow within. The building, designed by George Mason in the Mediterranean style was completed in 1922. We enter through revolving doors, ascend a stairway and find ourselves in the main lobby. Directly in front of us is the Detroit River, the view is spectacular. It is here the fairy-tale like evening begins.Tonight the Downtown Opera Club, one of 14 opera clubs across southeast Michigan, will be performing in the ballroom. Opera clubs present performances in local communities as a way of educating and entertaining both the novice and die-hard opera enthusiast. Programs feature the operas seen on stage that season at the Michigan Opera Theatre, during the evening the host talks about the operas, piquing interest in the upcoming season.

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We have a little time before the performance begins, we roam a bit taking in the beauty; amazing works of art come in form of paintings, sculptures and architecture. Peacock Alley, named after the Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria where society ladies would have tea, is where a number of paintings hang, the elegant chandeliers came from Rose Terrace (the former Dodge mansion), arched windows line the exterior wall. Inside the ballroom rows of chairs have been set up in front of the massive fireplace, enormous chandeliers light the room, the gorgeous wood ceiling is over 3 stories; the room exudes an old-world charm. At the bar we have our choice of red or white wine or beer, one long table holds platters of cheeses and assorted crackers. Did I mention this event is free?

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We take our seats as does the pianist, after a brief introduction music and voices join together. The acoustics and beauty of the room create an incredible dynamic for the performers. Three men and two women take turns as soloists and ensembles, singing numbers from Macbeth and Magic Flute along with songs from My Fair Lady and Carousel. The showstopper of the evening was Leo Delibes Flower Duet. I don’t think a single person moved or took a breath for the 6 or 7 minute duration of the melody; it gave me goosebumps, some were moved to tears. It seems impossible for a piano and two voices to create such an enchanting, tranquil sound. Nearly two hours later the opera club finishes with the full ensemble singing the final number. 

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The only proper way to end such an evening is dessert at The Whitney. This magnificent mansion has stood on this spot at the corner of Woodward and Canfield since 1894. The Romanesque Revival residence, designed by Gordon W Lloyd, was the home of lumber baron David Whitney Jr. The rose-colored exterior is fitted with a slate roof, stone carvings and Tiffany stained glass windows. The interior is even more impressive with its bronze balustraded staircase, quarter-sawn oak, English tile and 20 fireplaces. The home has been a fine dining restaurant since 1986. We’re headed to the second floor, home to the Katherine Whitney McGregor dessert parlor, named after Mr. Whitney’s daughter.

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We climb the massive staircase, stopping on the landing to admire the 2-story Tiffany window, amazing woodwork and ornate light fixtures. The second floor was originally the ballroom and bedroom suites, tonight glass covered cake plates and multi-tiered stands hold cakes, tortes and individual pastries. We study the selection then are seated in a cozy candle-lit room. Our coffee is served with a tray of sugar cubes and 2 petite dishes of fresh whipped cream. The white chocolate marscapone cheesecake is topped with sliced bananas and cinnamon-roasted almonds, an amaretto glaze finishes it off. We’re also trying the miniature chocolate banana boat and the chocolate peanut butter mousse…..yum! I’ll be honest, they could serve Twinkies and we’d be happy just to be sitting here in this spectacular, grand, lavish place. Another magical night in Detroit…..

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