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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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Grosse Pointe: Sweet Music

23 Mar

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As a rule Kris and I never eat at chain restaurants, there are exceptions to that rule; The Original Pancake House on Mack in Grosse Pointe Woods is one such exception. For over 50 years the homey, family friendly restaurant has been a fixture in the neighborhood, feeding hungry diners piles of buttermilk pancakes, golden brown waffles, the signature Dutch Baby, fluffy omelettes and Danish crepes. It’s a Sunday afternoon, we arrive as the crowds begin to thin, we are seated at a small booth window-side. I could eat breakfast any time of day, everything on the menu sounds delicious, we decide on one savory and one sweet item to share.

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Glasses of fresh squeezed orange juice and a dish of salsa arrive in an instant, we survey plates topped with ice cream, strawberries and whipped cream as they pass by. First to arrive is the Southwest Dutch Baby, a special today–it’s huge! Stuffed with jalapeno, onions, pepperjack cheese and tomato, cooked perfectly, it’s delicious. The pecan pancakes arrive a moment later, tender and tasty buttermilk pancakes with toasted pecans in the batter and sprinkled on top, served with whipped butter, we add a little maple syrup, outstanding. Tables come and go swiftly, many patrons seem to be on a first name basis with the staff. If you like good, old-fashioned, traditional breakfast food, be sure to stop in.

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Many churches in metro Detroit offer wonderful programs to the community at large. Today we are attending a concert at Christ Church Grosse Pointe, though we have driven by the building for years, this will be our first time inside. We follow the long driveway to the parking lot that connects to the Grosse Pointe South High School lot, cars are just beginning to arrive. The day is beautiful, the sun shines in a perfect blue sky, we wander the perimeter of the building taking in architectural details, bronze statues, the blue-green patina of the steeple and fantastic windows. The building was completed in 1930 as a branch of Christ Church Detroit, called Christ Church Chapel at the time, made of Pennsylvania iridescent sandstone, it was just the beginning of a planned cathedral-like complex. The Great Depression ended plans of further expansion.

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At the Gothic arch entrance wrought iron lanterns flank the opening, heavy wood doors are open, we step inside, our eyes adjusting from light to dark. Here in the narthex we are directed up the great curving stairway to the left that leads us into the chapel. Before us the nave with its main aisle and two narrow side aisles is laid out; gray Indiana limestone surrounds intricately carved English oak, dangling lantern-style chandeliers, exquisite stained-glass windows and a gorgeous wood beam ceiling. We take the steps up one more flight ending in the gallery, two short rows of pews fill the space, it’s like sitting in the mezzanine of a historic theater, the stained glass window behind is extraordinary.

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From our front-row seat we have an overview of the entire church,the high altar is set up for the performance, choir members file in and take their seats. Reverend Van Culin welcomes everyone and introduces the conductor Scott Hanoian; the Christ Church Schola is performing Herbert Howells’ Requiem. The singers begin the piece of music, I have never heard a choir quite like this before, the voices blend perfectly, the sound both soothing and enchanting. After a short break the Choir of Men and Boys, Choir of Men and Girls and orchestra join the group to perform Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, Op.48. The loveliness of the voices is now joined by violins, viola’s, cello’s, bassoons’, a harp and more, soloists make their way to the front of the choir to sing their part. 

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 When the concert ends a church volunteer offers to show us around the building, we accept. We descend the stairway, back to where we came in, this time we walk the other direction and find ourselves in the cloister. The long, stone, arched hall is magnificent, so Gothic, so wonderful. We learn it was inspired by the cloister of Canterbury Cathedral in England, it wasn’t enclosed until 1957. As we walk we pass bookshelves filled with all sorts of books for people to borrow, like a book exchange, reading areas are set up along the hall, sconces emit a warm glow, torchiere lamps line the cloister. Mary shows us the undercroft, a large room located under the nave used for social gatherings, receptions and funerals, it has the same stone and leaded glass window elegance as the rest of the church. We poke our head into a number of rooms including the practice room for the choirs, all are attractive.

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Continuing onward we view more stained glass windows, none of the great windows were here when the church was first dedicated; most were installed in the 1930’s and 40’s, all were gifts. The tradition of giving memorial windows continues today. Throughout the years parishioners and friends have given gifts of sculpture, paintings, antique furnishings, vestments, altar hangings and tapestries; we see many of these gifts on our tour. We enter the education wing, quiet classrooms are empty today, they have a nursery school co-op too. We are led into Miller Hall, a small gathering space used for weddings, funerals or as the Bride’s room, the decor is warm and comfortable with a handsome fireplace. When we have seen the whole building we thank Mary for her generosity and the tour, it was amazing.

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Ending the day on a sweet note we stop in at the Chocolate Bar Cafe on Mack.  Alinosi turned the space into an old-fashioned ice cream parlor back in 1990. Today, Lisa Corbin runs the show serving Alinosi ice cream, toppings and their French superfine chocolates–yum! In addition she serves gourmet cupcakes and special order cakes baked fresh in-house daily. Step inside, the place is decorated in Alinosi’s signature colors of turquoise and pink, it’s the week before Easter, multicolored eggs of all sizes hang from the ceiling, I smell cake, fresh from the oven. The piece de re` sistance is the vintage neon Alinosi sign and menu board–wow! There’s antique soda fountain equipment, stainless steel counters and old black barstools–they even have the old metal water glasses that hold the paper cup insert. 

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I am especially excited to be here, as a child growing up in Detroit my family always had Alinosi chocolates and ice cream. There was never an Easter basket without their foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, solid milk chocolate bunnies and even bags of jelly beans wearing the famous gold label. Childhood memories come flooding back, it feels familiar, nostalgic. We have a seat at the counter and watch one of the girls decorate giant gourmet cupcakes (next time I’m getting one) as our treats are being made. I start to drink my double chocolate malt as the finishing touches are put on Kris’s Clown Sundae–I wonder how many of those I ate through the years….. Kris spoons up Michigan Pothole ice cream doused in hot fudge and marshmallow topping, he makes short work of finishing it off. At the end of the day both my sweet tooth and spirit are satisfied.

 

DETROIT: Deco Delights

16 Dec

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As more and more businesses set up shop in Detroit, buildings that have sat vacant for years, even decades, become more desirable. Sometimes these forgotten structures become the spark that ignites interest in an area, other times they are the lone hold-out in an otherwise redeveloping district. DTE Energy has been hard at work improving the area surrounding their headquarters; they added a glass atrium at the base of their main building a few years ago and have since continued to improve the campus. Across the street from DTE is the gorgeous, Art Deco, Salvation Army headquarters building; after sitting vacant for years DTE bought it in 2012, renovated it and renamed it Navitas House–Navitas means ‘energy’ in Latin. This evening we are touring the building with the Detroit Area Art Deco Society (DAADS).

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We arrive at One Energy Plaza, a 25-floor, dark brown skyscraper constructed in 1971 of steel and glass  in the International style of architecture; DAADS is hosting their Holiday Mixer in the lobby.  This is our first time in this building; glass walls soar skyward, city lights glow in the distance, marble floors gleam, appetizer stations are set up for tonight’s event. First we eat, then we mingle, afterwards we have a seat in the carpeted lounge area, DAADS is presenting their Preservation award to DTE in honor of the restoration of Navitas House– visible from the lobby in which we are seated. The presentation is finished, photos taken, we head out to 601 Bagley for the tour.

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It’s dark outside, LED lights trimming the building illuminate it in a changing wash of pink, purple, blue, green and yellow; indirect lighting accents architectural features. We enter through the front doors, a few steps up and we’re in the lobby, we all stop, look around and smile. It’s beautiful; from the terrazzo floors,terracotta block walls, floral patterned grills to the exceptional Art Deco railings, trim and molding–all original. This 3-story, 32,000 sq ft building was constructed in 1938 as the Detroit headquarters for the Salvation Army, which closed the building in 2004. Hamilton Anderson Associates was the architectural firm on the project, they were able to preserve much of the interior elements while making the building energy-efficient for the 140 employees in DTE’s IT department that work here.

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The old auditorium has been converted to work space, offices sit on what was once a stage, decorative panels above the door have been preserved as well as recessed corner columns. We spend the next hour traversing stairways, hallways and work spaces viewing a clever mix of old and new. Lounge areas feature modern furnishings and a great view of the city. In the stairway it’s still 1938, then we pop through a door and enter 2015. Black and white photographs pay homage to old Detroit, authentic building plans are framed and hang on the wall. Original radiators, railings, marble walls and grills intermix with energy-efficient lighting, colorful conference rooms and modern technology, very cool. It seems no expense was spared, this is DTE’s first LEED certified building, we’re so glad to see it alive with purpose again.

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Over on Park Ave. Centaur Bar is tucked into two floors of the Iodent Building. Built in 1923, the Iodent company went from renting a floor to purchasing the structure sometime after WWII–this is where Iodent toothpaste was made, in addition to other toiletries. The Iodent is now home to Centaur, Hot Taco and 11 luxury lofts. The exterior of the building has a few Art Deco elements, it’s the large Centaur (part human, part equine) jutting out near the corner of Park Ave and Montcalm that grabs your eye. The elegant interior has a definite Deco feel, lighting is dramatic; the grand chandelier dips down through a hole from the second floor to just above the bar. Tall narrow windows look out onto the city, in the summer the windows open out onto the sidewalk. High-top tables dot the perimeter of the main floor, liquor bottles rest on shelves of a mirrored wall behind the bar.

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The mezzanine level is home to a pair of billiard tables and several cozy seating areas, here again, you have a great view of the city. We sit on ground level sipping cocktails and chatting with the bartender. There’s a flat screen TV off to the side, they show nothing but old movies; tonight’s feature stars Elizabeth Taylor, the volume is kept off , making conversation easy. The bar and kitchen are open 7 days a week from 4 pm to 2 am, convenient both before and after a show or anytime you feel like chilling out in lovely surroundings.

 

Grosse Pointe: Pier Park

7 Oct

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It’s the last Sunday in September, though it feels more like July; the sky is powder blue, the sun’s rays are strong, warming my skin while dancing on the surface of the water. We are at Pier Park, a waterfront paradise in Grosse Pointe Farms, at the foot of Moross Rd at Lake Shore Rd. The Grosse Pointe Farms Foundation is hosting the 8th Annual Concours d’ elegance; an exhibit of vintage and exotic, domestic and foreign vehicles owned by all Grosse Pointe residents and open to the public. It’s the perfect opportunity to check out the (residents only) park and look at beautiful cars.

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Following the asphalt path we walk along the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, I can’t get over how stunning the lake is today, it sparkles.  Walking, we notice benches tucked under shade trees, there’s a nice view of the Yacht Club to the left. The lake itself is home to numerous species of fish and waterfowl, it is the source of drinking water for over 4 million residents of Michigan and Canada. Freighters carry more than 60 million shipping tons per year of iron ore, limestone, coal and grain, nearly 40 million of that originating in Michigan, across the lake. Interestingly, the lake is very shallow, averaging only 10 feet in depth. 

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We enter the harbor area with 333 mooring spaces for Farms residents, boats vary in style and size; an old wooden Chris-Craft, cabin cruisers and offshores. High at the top of a mast a man is making electrical repairs,while he is totally at ease, watching him makes me nervous. The lake spreads out before us; pleasure boaters revel in the loveliness of the day, kayaks glide across the surface, a freighter heads downriver; through the camera lens we can see the windmills in Canada. Looking towards shore we see the Community Building, lush landscaping surrounds the patio area and screened porch, there’s a bevy of activity on the land and water. We stop in the building which is home to the Parks and Recreation office; the Great Room is inviting with its fireplace, wooden bookshelves and leather furniture.

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Back in the park we meander about, we come upon a sleek 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood in black, look at all that chrome! There’s a swank 1941 Caddy in blue with a silver top, wood panels and a Bakelite steering wheel are luxe, there’s a 1948 Buick convertible just down from that. The Detroit Electric Car was built by the Anderson Electric Car Co, the Houk wire wheels were manufactured in Buffalo, NY, in those days everything was clearly marked as to where it came from. The 1926 Chrysler is sweet; I like the way automobiles reflect the time period in which they were built–much like fashion and architecture.

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A red, Ford-powered, De-Tomaso Mangusta catches Kris’s eye as do the 1969 Shelby GT 500’s; bold stripes, scoops and Cobra emblems make them super-cool. The 1976 Trans Am has a lot of lookers, a customized 1961 Chevy Impala hugs the ground, everybody loves Ford T-Bird’s, this red ’66 is a beauty. Walking around we realize just how large the park is, it offers some of the best panoramic views in the Pointes.

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We head to the Village to grab some lunch, Side Street Diner is tucked away on St. Clair Ave, the restaurant plays tribute to the American lunch counter. Inside, old-fashioned diner lights, black and white historic photos and stool-seating at the counter take us back in time; a row of layer cakes are spread out across the counter top in glass-covered pedestals. Wall colors coordinate with floor tiles in yellow, orange, turquoise, a large fork and spoon hang near the kitchen. The menu is huge, Kris goes right to the breakfast page. Service is fast and friendly– within minutes our food arrives. The traditional Eggs Benedict are delicious; 2 poached eggs, Canadian bacon on English muffins, the hollandaise sauce is outstanding, the homefries are good too. Our server recommends the Apple pancakes, I can see why; 3 fluffy, tender, buttermilk pancakes generously topped with lightly sweet, cinnamon-y escalloped apples, yum! We split both things so it’s a nice combo of sweet and savory. 

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DETROIT: Building Stuff…

19 Aug

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Good things are happening in Detroit; from neighborhoods to the riverfront to downtown it seems everybody has a stake in making the city a better place. As one of Detroit’s most charming neighborhoods West Village hosts tree-lined streets and lovely historic homes that encourage leisurely walks to the corner market, meeting a friend for coffee, a delicious meal or slice of pie. Today Better Block Detroit is sponsoring a community event in the village to help stimulate improvement projects and encourage new business to take up residence in the area. Along with Pop-up businesses in vacant storefront spaces, day-long events are planned to encourage kids to participate in health and fitness activities. 

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We park on Kercheval in front of the old Detroit Savings Bank; engraving along the top of the building reads “The Oldest Bank In Michigan”, indeed it was, it went on to become Comerica Bank. The important-looking structure has recently been renovated; the main floor will be retail with residential lofts occupying the second floor. Inside, three pop-up businesses are set up, showcasing the available space; terazzo floors have been polished to a high shine, a crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the large, open room, sunlight pours in from large front windows, folks mill about checking out the merchandise for sale. First things first, Coffee and (____) is selling cold-brew coffee and delicious pastries, Kris and I each get a coffee and we split a chocolate cupcake–yum! Mor & Co, a lifestyle store hoping to take up permanent residence in the city, offers a variety of outdoor, fun-friendly items for purchase: sidewalk chalk in the shape of downtown skyscrapers, aloe after-sun spray, woven blankets for the beach or picnic and bug-repellent candles. Common Threads Clothing is selling Detroit-themed t-shirts, tanks, hoodies and hats—all Made in America! A florist is setting up permanent shop in the space facing Van Dyke.

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Outside, we admire the building; a covered patio is taking shape along the side where the drive-thru window was once located. Clusters of pedestrians weave through neighborhood streets, a Preservation Detroit Bike Tour is in progress, vegetables growing at Fish Eye Farms are plentiful. Coe St is closed to traffic, Rollerblade clad skaters gather speed as they approach the wooden ramp in the center of the street, each performs a trick, skateboarders follow suit; skaters show off their skills zigzagging between orange cones. Metro Central Christ Church is having a clothing swap, demonstrations focus on renewable energy and sustainability such as solar power and rainwater harvesting, it’s a greener world these days.

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Over on Belle Isle the Great Lakes Chapter of the Antique Outboard Motor Club Inc is hosting an event outside the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the theme is “Made in Michigan”. At one time there were 33 companies that produced outboard motors in Michigan, more than a dozen in Detroit alone. Outboard motors were an important part of recreational boating heritage; to put this in perspective remember that before the advent of the inexpensive, portable outboard motor, boating was a rich man’s sport. Did you know the world’s first commercially viable outboard motor was invented and marketed by Grosse Ile resident Cameron B Waterman in 1904. We did it all in Detroit, from ship building to stoves to rowboat motors and the automobile, there was nothing this city couldn’t manufacture! 

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Members from across the region have arrived to show off their motors; names like Sea Gull, Sea-bee, Cadet, Sea Queen and Chief identify the models. Rows of motors are held in place by stands, metals are highly polished, paint gleams. Older models are lettered in beautiful script, trimmed in gold. Caille was one of Michigan’s most successful companies, there are many “Red Head’s” here today. There’s a wonderful exhibit of Oliver outboard motors complete with huge signs that would hang in the showroom and outside the building. You can see the way the motor works in the older models, parts are exposed, in the later years the mechanics were shielded by covers in bright colors and cool graphics. As we pad our way across the lawn we pick up bits and pieces of conversation; friends become reacquainted, ask about projects, owners share stories of where they got the motor, how long they’ve had it and how many others they’ve acquired through the years.

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Our attention is diverted to the Detroit River as a series of powerboats skip across the river, splitting the difference between the US and Canada. Brightly colored graphics cover the hull, they sound powerful, lengthy roostertails shoot out behind them, cameras come out and everybody stops what they’re doing to watch, even the helicopter flying overhead. After a couple of passes we go back to what we were doing; we see motors built in 1906, 1924 and 1928. The “Detroiter” was made in St Clair Shores on Mack Ave, the Gierholtt in Marine City, Algonac and Saginaw also manufactured outboards. Several boats are parked in front of the museum; a gorgeous antique wooden boat trimmed in red has a Mercury outboard, the all wood Thunderbolt gets lots of looks, the aero craft looks crude with its multiple rivets. Parts lay on blankets in the swap meet area, shifters bear names like Quicksilver and Shipmaster. It has been fascinating to see the show, but now it’s time for lunch.

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Parks & Rec is a little 30-seat diner that recently opened in the triangular, castle-like G A R Building on Cass and Grand River. The building itself was constructed in 1897 for Civil War veterans, it had shops, a bank and meeting space along with a small auditorium. The last occupant of the building was the Detroit Parks & Rec Department more than 30 years ago. The interior pays homage to its former use with green metal park chairs, tables inlaid with checkerboards, an old shuffleboard with discs and cues mounted to a wall. An old billboard complete with the image of the fountain that welcomed visitors to Belle Isle hangs on the back wall. Milk glass lights, quilted stainless steel and a retro-style countertop give it that old diner feel.

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The restaurant shares the chef and kitchen staff of the adjoining Republic Tavern, they bake their own pastries and breads, make their own preserves and pickles, they even cure their own bacon. Open 7 am to 3 pm daily, the menu is filled with breakfast favorites. We are having the liege waffles, 2 petite waffles made from rich batter, chunks of sugar give them a delicate crunch, topped with real maple syrup and a sprinkle of powdered sugar they are super delicious– served with 2 eggs, we ordered ours scrambled, it’s a nice combo. The Hash was also very good, we ordered our eggs over medium and added sautéed onions to the hash, the eggs were cooked perfectly, soft enough for the yolk to soak into the hash below but not runny. Served with tasty toast and housemade ketchup, we really enjoyed our meal. The desserts looked really good too, next time………

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SOUTHFIELD: American Dreaming

27 May

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There was once a blissful time in the United States when Americans believed anything was possible. After the Great Depression and two World Wars the country was recovering. The Big Three were back in the business of building cars. The public was in need of personal modes of transportation that would take them to newly developed suburban neighborhoods, shopping malls and trips across the country. Manufacturers grew huge styling departments, hiring artists to capture this new futuristic spirit. It was the “Golden Age” when cars were a thing of beauty, they stirred our imagination, put us in the mind of outer space, science fiction didn’t seem so far-fetched. These talented, mostly unknown, artists took eye appeal to a whole new level that shaped not only the auto industry but every facet of American design.

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We are at Lawrence Tech University in Southfield to view a historic collection of sketches assembled by Robert Edwards called ‘American Dreaming‘ Detroit’s Golden Age of Automotive Design. The exhibition takes us inside the styling studios of the American auto manufacturers from 1946 to 1973. The walls of a small banquet room are covered with framed sketches; created in pencil, pastels, ink and airbrush, their mere existence is incredible. Back then due to fierce competition between companies all drawings were ordered to be destroyed, preventing them from ending up in someone else’s hands. These drawings were smuggled out by the wildcat artists themselves under the threat of termination if they were ever caught. Today the room is crowded with appreciative viewers enjoying the works of Rodell Smith, Don Hood, Bill Brownlie, Allen Young, Del Coates, Carl Renner, George Krispinsky, John ‘Dick” Samsen and many others who names you may not recognize, but their designs you would. 

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We move around the room slowly, sidestepping others, dodging cameras, in effort to get a closer look. The designers were predicting the future and showing us how we would get there. The early sketches are more conservative in nature, traveling forward on the timeline bodies become exaggerated, elongated, surrounding landscapes are futuristic with rocket ships blasting off in the background; cars look like they could join them in space. There are renderings of Corvettes, Barracudas, Toronados and Gremlins, Studebaker, Packard, AMC, DeSoto and so many more. There are studies of interiors, wheel covers, hood scoops and badges. Model cars are displayed in plexiglass cubes, placards give us insight to the artists and their careers. The evolution of the automobile and the country is laid out in front of us, what an incredible ride it is!

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We take a brief walk around campus before going back to the Jeep. LTU was founded as a private university in 1932, classes were held in the former Model T assembly plant in Highland Park before moving to Southfield in 1955. Theory and Practice have always been the schools motto, offering degrees in Engineering, Architecture and Design. You may recognize the names of these former students: A. Alfred Taubman, Steven A Ballmer, Donald W Date, John Z DeLorean. Buildings are a mix of old and new, all modern in design; my favorite is the architecture and design building with its glazed brick, folded plate roof and courtyard. Landscaped gardens and sculpture dot the campus.

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Sticking with the Modern theme of the day, we decide to drive through some of Southfield’s noteworthy neighborhoods. We start in Northland Gardens off 8 Mile Rd, ranch models sprawl with breezeways, car ports and forecourts. Most are brick accented with stone, lots of windows, skylights and large entryways. One of the most unusual sits on Westland Ave, built in 1961 it is long and low, the stepped roof lend an Asian feel to it. Leaded glass windows contain blue circular patterns, the glazed brick cylinder in front is one of a kind.

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Further north we pop into Washington Heights and Cranbrook subdivisions with multiple California Modern ranch style homes. Low sloping roofs, wide eaves, large fireplaces and tall windows are prevalent. Many of the homeowners put forth great effort keeping the homes architecturally correct from the colors of the time period right down to the lighting. The Ravines neighborhood is nestled into a wooded area along the Rouge River; palatial homes are built on sweeping, rolling lots above the waterway. Several homes are completed in the same style as the “Brady Bunch” house. Most of the homes in these subdivisions were built in the 1950’s and 60’s when Southfield was booming.

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We’re having dinner at Sweet Lorraine’s Cafe & Bar on Greenfield Rd, Chef-Proprietor Lorraine Platman has been in the restaurant business since 1982. Know for her “world beat cuisine” she has a reputation for turning out tasty dishes made with interesting combinations through the decades. The dining room is a lively space with colorful murals, attractive lighting, glossy wood tables and booths. We are greeted at our table immediately with menus and glasses of ice water. There’s a lot to read making a decision difficult. The flavors cover the globe, there’s something for everyone from meat-eater to vegan. Kris and I each pick a dish to share.

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While we wait for our dinner, our server brings us each a piece of focaccia bread and a shallow bowl of red sauce for dipping, it’s outstanding. I could have added a glass of red wine to that, had a second portion and been completely satisfied. I’m glad I didn’t, as our entrée’s were delicious. The pear brie quesadilla is stuffed with thin-sliced pear, melted brie, drizzled with a cilantro cream sauce and served with a side of red pepper jelly. Basic ingredients when combined give a variety of flavors and textures. The Veggie Vietnamese “bahn mi” is a crusty roll filled with organic tofu steak, portobello, spicy slaw, sriracha, cucumbers and cilantro, so flavorful, so good! At the end of the day our appetites for art, architecture and delectable food have all been satisfied.

 

 

DETROIT: Breaking Down Borders

21 May

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There are places, pockets, that exist outside the mainstream, under the radar, that go completely unnoticed until some event, a happening, comes along inviting us to take a closer look. Today we’ll attend two such gatherings and find some surprises along the way.

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 The Porous Borders Festival takes place (mostly) along Carpenter Street, the border between Detroit and Hamtramck; the usual offerings are there: art, music, food, t-shirts, but in a completely different way. The Jeep is parked on Gallagher, we walk the short distance to Carpenter, looking around we wonder where all the activity is. I grab a map from the information hub in the parking lot, my attention is diverted by the sound of cheering voices, a ball being hit and laughter; we cross the street to watch a group of young men learning to play Cricket. Heading westward we intercept a car cruise; earlier in the day participants created their own wire vehicle in a workshop led by the Wire Car Auto Workers Association of Detroit (WAWAD), suddenly musicians from both sides of Carpenter raise their instruments and begin to play as they chase the tiny cars down the street. Looking closely at the map and schedule I realize it is merely an idea of what you may see, many of the activities are random, unexpected, participant driven.

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Walking past long forgotten businesses, empty homes and buildings, the cities are mirror images of one another; a make-shift tank is parked on broken concrete, weeds grow between the cracks, a boat sits on a trailer in a patch of grass. The door to Turtle & Inky’s, a local bar is open, it’s quiet inside, there’s a break in the action; a large figure of a man, beer in hand, sits way up high on the chimney. We duck into Record Graveyard, the air conditioning a welcome respite from the mid-May heat wave. The new location sports the same green walls as the old building, continuity, I like that. Oren Goldenberg’s installation, The Portal, fills the front window; the scene is of water, a pink geometric shape and a giraffe, anybody walking down the sidewalk becomes part of the scene, you can attempt to swim or splash around entertaining shoppers inside. Further down a residential garage-turned-music studio invites us to stop in and make some noise. Hand-held instruments, drums, and a microphone dare to bring out the rock star in us.

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On the Detroit side a seesaw sits in a beautiful field of green, wildflowers (or possibly weeds) are blooming as the sun blazes overhead. A pair of girls glide up and then down, a sign nearby reads “take a seat, make a friend”, looks like it worked. We arrive at the WAWAD workshop, wire cars are parked in the street, each one is different, some look vintage, there’s a truck, a police car and a dragster complete with headers. Somebody has built diminutive versions of abandoned houses in the area. Around the corner we wander into Popps Packing, a cool art gallery. The pieces on display are modern, the former slaughterhouse has been re-imagined into a great space, Kris likes the multicolored windows. Deeper into the neighborhood a backyard has been transformed into a vineyard; I wonder what kind of wine they’ll make.

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Time for a snack. In 2012 Lisa Ludwinski’s Sister Pie began as a Cottage Food business; hard work, lots of dancing and winning the 2014 Hatch contest culminated into the opening of a quaint storefront at the corner of Kercheval and Parker just a few weeks ago. The building is from the 1920’s, large windows look out onto the streetscape where positive changes are taking place. Inside we are greeted by the aroma of buttery goodies baking in the open, professional grade kitchen.

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Directly in front of us, under glass domes, are the stars of the place—the pies! Today the selection includes Honey Lemon Meringue, Chocolate Coconut and the signature Salted Maple…….enough said. Kris orders his Salted Maple heaped with fresh whipped cream, I take the Chocolate Coconut as is. Sitting at the large community table we dig in, the salted maple has the consistency (and look) of pumpkin pie, the crust, made from high fat French butter, is tender and flaky, the filling is full of maple goodness balanced out perfectly by a little saltiness, you’ve got to try it! The Chocolate Coconut is delicious, soft chocolate filling is chewy at the edges, long shreds of coconut throughout give it a nice flavor and texture, yum! Pies are available whole or by the slice, savory items are available as well, eat in or carry out, you’ll be glad you did.

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Blocks away, we park in front of a gray-painted building on Bellevue that was originally a pickle factory. The Atlanta-based non-profit Dashboard Co-op has turned the building into a temporary art gallery. Dashboard sent folks out to Detroit in search of vacant property to use as exhibition space. They zeroed in on the Pickle Factory, invited several Detroit artists to create works that ‘respond or enhance the uniqueness of the city’ , threw in  a few national artists asking them to create a piece depicting their initial impression of Detroit, put it all together into a contemporary collaboration called Detroit Boom City.  

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Approaching the entrance we stop for a look at After Aris a lined mural by Mitch Cope on the side of the building. Inside we are as interested in the building as we are the art; the space was last used by an automotive surplus company as storage. All of the artwork was created from items found in the building or the surrounding area; much of that being automotive, the Detroit connection is obvious and immediate. In front of us is a miniature parking lot, we recognize the wire vehicles, the artist Chido Johnson, is the creator of WAWAD. The space is cool, windowless, items such as the time clock remain; it still works! Wandering from piece to piece, we can identify many of the items used: fenders, oil filters, hoses, bumpers, very cool. Narcissus Inc by Scott Hocking is the most ambitious of the bunch, the office-like area looks like it could still be in use today. Huge swordfish and bookshelves cover the back wall, paintings, clocks, wheel covers and record albums are incorporated into the setting. Chrome pieces are stacked high creating sculptures on each side of the room. Popps’ Mobile Sauna, a 1989, yellow and orange striped van turned mobile sauna is parked in the courtyard, it even works. The gallery is open Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm to 7 pm until June 12.

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DETROIT: I Got Rhythm….

13 May

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It’s 2:00 on a Sunday, with no reason to rush out the door we’ve slept in late and are now in search of food. Why is it anything with eggs or maple syrup tastes even better after noon?  Craft Work in West Village is said to have a great brunch, we’re here to check it out. Located on the ground floor of the Parkstone Apartments, the restaurant is integrated into the neighborhood perfectly. That’s one of the things Kris and I really like about this area; restaurants, cafes and shops are intermixed with single family homes and apartments making it very walkable. Mature trees, gorgeous architecture and well-kept homes create a charming district.

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Housed in a space that was originally a pharmacy, then occupied by the Harlequin Cafe, Craft Work has kept the old-world charm alive and well. Dining room tables are full when we arrive, there’s plenty of room at the community tables in the bar area. Everything on the menu sounds appealing; we choose one sweet and one savory dish to split. Before long, large plates piled high with breakfast foods arrive at the table. Lets start with the savory; tender bacon fat biscuits are literally smothered with house made sausage gravy nicely seasoned with tender chunks of sausage. Next to the biscuits are two perfectly fried eggs; I put mine on top of the biscuit, eggs Benedict style. Cutting into it, golden liquid yolk drips down the biscuit and combines with the gravy, delicious! Golden french toast made from eggy, tender, slightly sweet challah is stacked high, pats of butter melt slowly and eventually slip down the stack, a cup of syrup shares the plate, Kris is in his glory, it’s exceptional.

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Now for the entertainment portion of the day. Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church (JAPC) is hosting “A Gershwin Rendezvous” as part of their free concert series. The building itself is stunning, designed by architect Wirt C Roland (Guardian Building) in the English Gothic style, it was completed in 1926. The interior is a medley of wood carvings, plaster castings, stained glass windows and stone carvings. The Sanctuary itself is elegant, understated, with colorful stained glass windows, simple chandeliers and stepped buttresses. The Skinner pipe organ is one of only three, large, four-manual instruments that remain in their original form.

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We park in the lot behind the church and follow the other attendees inside. Wooden chairs have been set up in rows facing the black piano, volunteers are busy setting up refreshments to be served at the conclusion of the performance. After placing our jackets on the back of our chairs, we have a look around. There are several lovely rooms in the Parish House; stone fireplaces, leaded glass windows and decorative plaster adorns each of them. The church has a very welcoming feel to it, members are friendly and chat eagerly. Though this is not my neighborhood or my church, I feel a part of the community gathered here today.

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Back in Dodge Hall we take our seats as the concert is about to begin. Penny Masouris will be performing many Gershwin favorites today; pianist and vocalist, she will also weave in a bit of Gershwin history and stories between songs. A number of reproduction paintings rest on easels, our hostess introduces each of George’s paintings and tells us a little about them. She’s a wonderful lecturer and fascinating to listen to. It’s evident she has studied the composer and pianists life and career extensively. Taking her seat at the piano she kicks off the afternoon with Gershwin’s first big hit (1919) Swanee. Penny shares stories of George and Ira’s early days in New York, how George became the composer and Ira the lyricist, then she plays and sings some more.

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We are sitting in the back row with the vantage point of being able to see the physical reactions audience members have to songs like “Someone to Watch Over Me”, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off”. Some close their eyes and sway, others mouth the lyrics. Once in a while there is a joyful gasp, a body sitting  a little straighter in the chair, a tapping foot. Music has that effect on people. “Rhapsody in Blue” is probably the piece of music most associated with Gershwin, it’s hard to believe it came out in 1924, it’s magnificent. George wrote pieces for stage and screen, American in Paris (1928), Porgy and Bess (1935) along with Jazz, opera and popular music. George Gershwin died when he was only 38 years old during surgery to remove a brain tumor. His career was short but brilliant, filling the pages of the American songbook.

Time has passed quickly, the concert comes to an end. Enthusiastic applause shows our appreciation for the performer.   The concert series continues through June with performances on Sunday afternoons at 4:30 pm. Be sure to check out the website for all the musical programs at JAPC. It has been a wonderful afternoon, Detroit-style, I can hardly wait for next weekend!