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DETROIT: Home Sweet Home…

15 Sep

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In 2013 the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy. Abandoned buildings, broken streetlights and vacant lots were all too familiar sights to residents and visitors. What would happen next? What would Detroit look like in the future? Here we are 4 years later, let’s take a look. Tucked into a neighborhood near Grand River and 16th Street is a community of Quonset huts called True North. The development features 9 live/work units surrounded by neatly edged lawns, young trees, outdoor gathering spaces and concrete sidewalks that connect building to building. Each unit was designed with a different trade in mind; rent the space, run your business out of it by day, live there full-time.

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We park on the street then get out to have a look around. I have to tell you, I really like the way it looks, it’s refreshing to see something different, unique–kind of futuristic… Quonset huts in varying heights and widths, fluted glass, a cinder block back wall, all clustered together to form a neighborhood. Patio chairs and potted plants reside near front doors.  Mild temperatures have enticed residents to fully open their doors, we pause long enough to take a peek at each of the interiors; we pass a yoga class in session, I hear the instructor reminding students to breathe. We’re here just before an event is to start, we talk with event planners that live in one of the units, they give us permission to look around. The interiors feel pretty cozy, in winter they are kept warm by radiant in-floor heat, air conditioning units protrude from the upper levels. There are 7 full-time residences, 1 gallery space for short-term rental, one studio space and one airbnb. Units vary from 500-1600 sq. ft. True North was the winner of the 2017 Progressive Architecture Award given by Architecture Magazine. This first development is sort of a test to see how it goes, I hope it’s successful and grows.

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The Architectural Salvage Warehouse is a stone’s throw away. It’s always fun to stop in and see what they have. The gates to the yard are wide open, windows and door frames lean against the brick building. Inside shoppers mill about, I find myself standing in one place, scanning the space from ceiling to floor. Light fixtures are old, new, modern and traditional, prices are fair. Toilets in an array of colors and shapes take up a large section of floor space. From architectural pieces to decor they have a ton of stuff. Knick Knacks? Yes, they have them, today there’s a nice collection of owls. Register covers are fancy, glass lamp shades and sconces rest in boxes and on shelves. Bricks, wrought iron pieces, glass block and tin ceiling; everything is rescued from buildings before they’re demolished. Doors and more doors, wood trim, molding, planks, flooring, wainscoting, railings, banisters and spindles, if you’re restoring a house or just want something vintage, this is the place to come.

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Let’s move on to another new construction project. Cass Community Social Services has just built a neighborhood of “tiny homes” on Detroit’s northwest side. The non-profit bought 25 vacant lots from the city for $15,000, professional tradespeople built the houses, volunteer teams completed the finishing jobs such as drywalling, tiling, painting and gardening. Residents are a combination of senior citizens, college students, formerly homeless people; all of them are working, have a steady income, but qualify as low-income. Get this: Residents pay $1 per sq.ft. per month, so a 250 sq. ft. house is $250 a month, after 7 years they own their own home–it’s theirs! They can stay there, or if they wish, they can sell the home, so now if they sell it and get say $40,000 dollars, they will qualify for a loan and have money to put down on a bigger place. This is the only model of its kind in the country, they call it “Rent Then Own” instead of the usual rent-to-own. It’s life-changing. Brilliant isn’t it?

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We park on Monterey Street between the Lodge Service Drive and Woodrow Wilson, the first thing I notice is each house has its own architectural style, no 2 are the same. One has a blue metal roof, another is sided in wood shingles and has a flat roof. Annuals spill from flower pots, rose bushes are covered in blooms, lawns are freshly mowed. Each home comes with a dishwasher, washer, dryer, stove and refrigerator, some have lofts. The yellow house has fish-scale siding on the second story–charming. The crisp, white trim on the burgundy house is very attractive. The blue house has a sharply slanted roof, reminding me of mid-century design. The miniature Tudor was the first house built in the neighborhood, it’s fairy-tale like with the stone chimney and dark wood trim. Each renter must take financial literacy classes, they also have access to mental health, education and nutrition programs. They are learning how to succeed. The neighborhood consists of 7 houses with another 18 on the way. 10 slightly larger versions for families are in the future. What a wonderful way to rebuild a city.

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Time to eat! The Common Pub resides on the ground level of the beautiful Belcrest Apartments. Built in 1926 as a luxury hotel, the t-shaped, brick and terracotta building is gorgeous. The original wrought iron entry remains, the interior has been modernized and turned into apartments. It’s a lovely afternoon, was ask to be seated on the patio. Our table is (kind of) pool-side, a few residents lay in lounge chairs soaking up the sun. The menu has a lot of interesting items, we choose a few to share. While waiting for our food we duck inside an take a look around. Original plaster and opulent moldings remain in some areas. Lunch has arrived; one of today’s specials is the jalapeno corn dog, deep-fried to a golden brown the cornbread coating is crisp on the outside, moist inside and has a little kick. The Beet and Goat Cheese slider is tasty with its basil pesto and arugula. Both of these are served with duck-fat fries–delicious. The Mac and Cheese is a generous portion, the noodles are cooked perfectly, the sauce is a combo of white cheddar, manchego and smoked Gouda, we really like it.

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It’s been another pleasurable day in the city. Old and new are succeeding side by side, the future is looking bright.

Lansing: Modernism

5 Sep

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Lansing is known as a blue-collar town. In 1897 Ransom E Olds first drove a Oldsmobile down a Lansing street, soon laborers flocked to the city to work in factories. These hard-working men needed a place to go after work, somewhere they could grab a cold Amber Cream Ale; the Lansing Brewing Company was born in 1898. Prohibition closed down the brewery in 1914. Fast forward 100 years later, the city is building Camaros and Cadillacs and the Lansing Brewing Company is once again producing its Amber Cream Ale along with The Angry Mayor IPA, the Official Union Golden Ale  and a list of other craft beers. LBC is the only full-scale production brewery in the city, they also produce Vodka, Gin, Rum and Rye. And they serve food; we’re starving! Located in the Stadium District  it’s surrounded by things to see and do.  

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The spacious interior features community tables, reclaimed wood, an open ceiling and white subway tile. We choose a high-top table right in front of an open roll-up door; Kris checks out the food menu while I study the beer. After a few samples I order the Velvet Villain Ale, a Porter-Imperial/Double style beer, it’s fantastic. Overlooking the large patio we watch as people play lawn games in the afternoon sun. Our server arrives with our lunch. The Couscous Ca Choo salad is a bed of peppery arugula topped with Israeli couscous, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, queso fresco and tomatoes dressed with an orange balsamic vinaigrette, delicious. Lots of flavors and textures going on. The Hamburguesa De Desayuno is a chorizo burger loaded with queso fresco, bacon, egg, and a maple syrup and smoked pepper hot sauce, the combination just works, its fabulous; the fries are really good too.

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We’re at the Michigan History Center to see the “Minds of Modernism” exhibit. Items include architectural drawings, building models, photographs and commercial products from the Modernist Era. One of our favorite architects, William Kessler is featured along with other notable Michigan architects and designers like Saarinen, Yamasaki, Eames, Knoll, Dow. Kessler came to Michigan to work with Minoru Yamasaki in the early 1950’s, he eventually opened his own firm; as a matter of fact he designed the building we’re standing in. It was challenging to design one building to serve as the Library, Archives and Museum. He used Michigan’s natural resources like copper and white oak, a color palette of greens and blues and a White Pine planted in the center of the courtyard surrounded by a reflecting pool echoing the 4 Great Lakes that touch Michigan. Photographs, blueprints and placards take us through his career. There’s an exhibit of the bank he designed in Mt. Clemens, commonly referred to as the “Flying Nun”, it’s for sale if you’re interested… The Beckwith house in Farmington, an urban housing development in Mt. Clemens, his former residence in Grosse Pointe, he even designed the Timber Shores Travel Trailer Resort near Grand Traverse Bay.

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More than 130 modernist structures were built in Lansing and East Lansing between 1940 and 1970. We look at photos of commercial buildings and residences. Kenneth Black’s Lansing Public Library, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home designs and Alden B Dow’s Washburne House made of styrofoam and sprayed with concrete are all very cool; how about the Airplane House? Furnishings had to be re-styled to fit these new spaces, architects and designers opened their own shops; think of Saarinen’s Tulip Chair, Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia, Herman Miller. Some of the greatest Modern designers and architects were in Michigan, they won prizes from LA to Paris for their designs. A space is set up as a Mid-Century family room, I like the starburst-design clock, the wallpaper is groovy too. Have a seat on a reproduction chair and watch a full episode of the Jetson’s. Designs were very futuristic, space age, vibrant and fun. Art was part of everyday living, even playground equipment was cool, like Jim Miller-Melberg’s turtle.

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Further on in the museum we check out more Mid-Century in permanent displays like the interior of a home with its pendant lights, stone fireplace, iconic Eames lounge chair and ottoman, pink appliances in the kitchen–sweet. The replica S&H Green Stamp store has lots of modern goodies available for redemption; pastel colored dishes, one of those funky clocks, a badminton set, metal tumblers or a stand mixer. Kris is already admiring the 1957 Auto Show exhibit when I wander in. From the Faygo-orange Corvette and the Plymouth Fury to the spectacular dashboards chrome trimmed and loaded with gauges, the world was certainly a more colorful place back then.

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We leave the museum and head over to Moores River Drive, this is one of the prettiest residential areas in Lansing. We follow a street that leads to Frances Park, we get out to have a look. Dozens of rosebushes are blooming in the Memorial Rose Garden, I walk the rows breathing in the perfumed air from pink, white and red blossoms. Up ahead an arbor resides on a hill, the overlook provides a breathtaking view of the Grand River. This is a popular spot for weddings, it’s easy to see why. Canna Lilies, Caladium, tall grasses and pink annuals crowd rectangular flower beds.

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We drive around finding ourselves in the Riverside Homes Association neighborhood, you will find Lansing’s greatest collection of early 20th Century homes here. Established in 1921, this is where the wealthy built their mansions. The house on the right looks strangely familiar, wait, it’s the Airplane House we saw photos of in the museum. It has a low-pitched roof, wide-eve-overhang, there’s curved plexiglass in the end windows to give the effect of a cockpit; amazing. Mr. and Mrs. Talbert Abrams were both licensed pilots, while flying over the Atlantic they saw the shadow of their airplane on a cloud, that was the inspiration for the design of their house. Completed in 1951 it was built using the best materials and technology of the day. On the next street is the Kenneth and Mary Black house; this home was also featured in the museum exhibit. The structure is long and low, the concrete ornamentation is a combination of solids and voids, I really like it. Back when this neighborhood was platted residential lots were big, these home designs favored horizontal lines to fill the wide spaces, streets are winding; it’s really quite lovely.

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We’ve had a great time in Lansing. I have to admit I didn’t realize the amount of Mid-Century architecture that exists here; it seems each time we visit we discover something new. New shops and restaurants are opening all the time, the downtown area has a lot going on. Can’t wait to see what happens next!

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.

Dublin Ohio: Looking In

23 Jul

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Today we’re in Dublin Ohio, a suburb of Columbus located near the west bank of the Scioto River. In the 1800’s, early settlers named the village after their birthplace, Dublin Ireland. For many years Dublin was a sleepy little town, it wasn’t until 1987 after reaching a population of 5,000 residents that it was declared a city. Between the construction of I-270 and major corporate headquarters like Wendy’s and Ashland moving in, the city has grown tremendously. If you’re into golf you probably know Dublin as the location of the Memorial Tournament, a regular stop on the PGA Tour. Jack Nicklaus is from Columbus, he designed the course at The Country Club of Muirfield Village. We’re in the quaint little downtown, “old Dublin”, where Bridge and High Street were once filled with bars and pubs, there was even a stagecoach stop in town. Let’s take a stroll.

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Brick-lined sidewalks take us past 200-year-old buildings standing on tree-lined streets; green plaques identify buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. The architecture is early 19th century, houses are wood-sided and painted in pastel shades of yellow, blue, green, burgundy and white. A tiny stone cottage has red-trimmed windows that match the Geraniums sprouting from window boxes. Hydrangeas are in full bloom, branches sag with the weight of the flowers. It’s the first weekend in July, American flags wave in the breeze, red, white and blue pinwheels are spinning. Stone fences with wrought iron gates stand guard in front elegant homes, sweet potato vines spill from pots crowded with Petunias, Daisies, Begonia and Marigolds.

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Cozy shops are integrated into the neighborhood, Chelsea Borough Home is filled with home goods such as furniture, clocks, vases, candles and accessories; it smells good in here too. An Irish flag hangs outside of Ha’penny Bridge, the shop sells imports of Ireland. I admire elegant crystal and china from Belleek, there are lots of shamrocks, pretty plaids, jewelry, scarves and adorable children’s clothing. We grab a couple of cold brew coffees and a few chocolates at Winans. I notice many of the windows in buildings are still original, I can tell by the waviness of the glass. We stop in the French bakery, La Chatelaine, a glass case holds red, white and blue macaroons. At the intersection of Bridge and High streets we find the Daily Chores sculpture, it was inspired by Dublin’s historic town water pump that sat in the middle of the intersection in the early 1900s. City planners are careful to keep the integrity of Dublin, new buildings blend seamlessly with the old.

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All of this walking has made us hungry; at last we settle into a table on the patio at Dublin Village Tavern; it’s a perfect day to eat outdoors. The tavern building was built in 1889, it was originally a hardware store, then it was the Post Office, DVT opened in 2000; the original hand-cut oak studs and beams are still supporting the structure. There’s a picture of George Killian Lett–the grandson of the founder of Killians Brewery in Ireland from his visit to the tavern hanging in the brick room. Shortly after we place our order the Irish Egg Rolls arrive; corned beef, sauerkraut and swiss cheese served up with a side of 1000 Island dressing–they are so good….Next the Fresh Veggie Sandwich; cucumbers, radishes, tomato, alfalfa sprouts, red onion, avocado and arugula held between slices of 12-grain bread; crisp, cool and flavorful it hits the spot on a warm day.

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Dublin is also known for its Art In Public Places program, we’re going to check some of it out now. A short distance down High Street leads us to the place where an old blacksmith shop stood in the late 1800’s. Now there’s a structure made of thick green and yellow metal wires criss-crossing to form walls and a roof. It was designed to conjure up a memory of George M Karrer’s workshop. Field of Corn (With Osage Oranges) is next. 109 human-sized cement ears of corn stand on property that was once farmed by Sam Frantz. Walking around I notice a distinct row pattern as if I was actually looking at a corn field. The detail is pretty amazing, rows of niblets tucked tightly into the cob, some pieces are decorated with strips of material or random items. The sculpture symbolizes the history of the community’s farming legacy and is a memorial to the rural landscape.

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We drive over to Ballantrae Park, a master planned park and residential golf community. At the entrance to the subdivision we are greeted by Dancing Hares, a 15′ tall trio of dancing bunnies perched atop a 20′ tall hillock.  Dancing Hares was commissioned in 2001 by Edwards Golf Communities as the whimsical centerpiece for Ballantrae’s entry park. We climb the steep grassy hill to get a closer look, the artist has combined everyday items into the sculpture; I see coins, a light bulb, comb, wrench, miscellaneous hardware. It reminds me of those pictures in the Highlights magazine where you have to find the hidden objects. At the base of the hill is an interactive play fountain, in the afternoon heat it’s the place to be. It’s fun to watch the little ones marvel at the spouts of water shooting up from the ground–the parents look like they’re having a good time as well.

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Time to head to our hotel room. We have a little time to rest before heading to the Ohio Expo Center, tonight the Detroit Roller Derby All Stars are playing the Ohio Roller Girls, it should be a good match-up. I’ll let you know how it turns out…

CLARKSTON: Touring..

11 Jul

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We’re in the Village of Clarkston MI for the annual Home Tour benefiting Clarkston SCAMP. You’re probably wondering, what is SCAMP? It’s a five-week, summer day camp that provides daily activities such as music, art, games, crafts, swimming, hiking, fishing, puppet shows and dances for special kids with special needs such as physical disabilities, autism, spectrum disorders, cognitive and emotional impairment. Since 1976 the Clarkston community has provided a unique day camp for kids who otherwise would not have to opportunity to enjoy such recreational activities. The event begins at Depot Park, this is where we purchase tickets; we are given a tour booklet and tote bag complete with those stylish blue booties that fit over your shoes that we are all so fond of…

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We begin in a lush, secluded neighborhood just outside of downtown; mature trees, rolling hills, and unique architecture make this a lovely place to call home. Our first stop is a multi-level home tucked into a hilltop, the current owners purchased the home in 2009 from a Dallas Cowboy football player. The front of the home has a grand stairway flanked by concrete lions that leads to the main entry door.  I can tell you the interior is gorgeous; the fireplace in the great room is amazing. We walk through all of the rooms feeling like we’re in an episode on HGTV. This home has two basement levels both with access to the outdoors;  patios, a stunning pool, waterfall, fantastic landscape and a putting green! The home next door is also on tour, we take the pathway the neighbors put in specifically to get to each others houses. This family bought their quaint, storybook-looking house sight-unseen in 2011. The interior looks like it should be in a magazine. The room that stands out the most (to us) is the boy’s bedroom; custom painted and decorated to look like a stable there are even two horses that share the room! The basement is pretty fabulous too, old barn wood imported from Bois Blanc Island adorns the ceilings, picture frames and other details. They have a custom bar, wine cellar, cigar room. Stone columns, cool light fixtures, cozy seating areas make this one great place to hang out. The yard is pretty sensational too; pretty gardens, a waterfall and a huge brick fireplace. The family is moving back to California, so if you’re in the market for a house, check this one out.

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A distinctly modern, 3-story, wood and stone home rests high on a hill at the end of the street. We climb the (extremely) steep driveway, which, by the way, is heated so they can actually drive up it in the winter, to get to the front doors. You enter on the lower level, one short flight of stairs takes us to the main floor. This house is very different from its neighbors; very contemporary, lots of glass, magnificent views and a pretty snazzy theatre room. There are two decks in the back yard each with its own fire pit. This is the home this Clarkston couple has always dreamed of. Back on Main Street we are touring the Dubeck Home, a large white Colonial-style home with dark green shutters.  This home was originally owned by JR Vilet who sold it to Edwin Jefferson in 1896, it became a duplex in the 1920’s and in the 1980’s it was converted back to a single family home. The current owners have lived here since 2011. There’s a big, open kitchen and dining room, the substantial back porch is perfect for entertaining. The last home on the tour is over on Clarkston Rd, built in 1864 it sits on two acres of land. The current owner has completely rebuilt the house opening up the floor plan, installing new electrical, plumbing, roof–you name it, he’s done it. Today the house is staged to attract potential buyers, Harrison’s of downtown Clarkston did a great job. The rooms are all white and grey with dark floors, appliances are all high-end, I love the white marble counter tops. Anybody looking for a beautifully renovated farm-house?

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It’s time to eat. Clarkston has become a bit of a foodie paradise, Union Joints now has 3 restaurants in town: Clarkston Union Bar and Kitchen, Union Woodshop and their newest venture Honcho, which is where we’re going. Housed in a former gas station and adjoining car dealership, Honcho serves up Latin street food with a twist. The decor is a blend of Southwest meets industrial mingling with mid-century modern, it’s pretty great. We’re sitting in the coffee shop area surrounded by roll-up doors and patio seating. We start out with the Chop salad: romaine, quinoa, black beans, grilled red onions, radish, avocado, tomatoes, sweet corn, carrot and spiced pumpkin seeds tossed in a delightful cilantro-lime vinaigrette, perfect on a hot day like today. The Sweet Potato Enchilada Pie is roasted sweet potatoes, onion and poblano peppers layered between house-made tortillas topped with a cheese blend and salsa verde, very tasty; it comes with a side of Jasmine rice and miso black beans. The menu has a great mix of flavors. Looks like Union Joints has another hit on their hands!

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It’s a beautiful day for a drive in the country. Kris takes curvy scenic roads until we end up on Rose Center Road in Highland Twp. Back in the 1830’s the Doty family ran a farm that spanned about 300 acres here. Sometime around 1970 Susan Briggs Fisher bought the property. Susan has some pretty famous last names, her father was Walter O Briggs, the guy who owned the Detroit Tigers and Briggs Stadium, he made his fortune as the largest automobile body manufacturer in the country back in the day. Susan married into the Fisher family, it does seem like a natural fit right? In 1993 Bob Hoffman purchased the farm from the Fisher family, it is now the largest equestrian facility in Oakland County offering large indoor and outdoor arenas, stabling in multiple barns, large pastures and hunter jumper riding lessons. Most importantly (to us) it is also home to Hoffman Farms Winery and Tasting Room.

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Hoffman Farms winery opened quietly to the public in October of 2016. The large white building with grand portico is surrounded by pastoral farmland, it puts me in the mind of Kentucky. Umbrella’d tables rest on a recently laid patio, the landscaping went in just in time for the June grand opening. The tasting room is attached to the front of the indoor riding arena, a large window allows you to sip your wine or hard cider while watching riders work out their horses. The wine is produced in northern Michigan from Michigan-grown grapes, currently they have 6 varieties; Rose Center Cherry is our favorite. We are sitting at the bar having easy conversation with Bob, his daughter and fellow wine-drinkers. The vibe is always laid-back and friendly. When our glasses are empty we take a leisurely drive on the narrow dirt road that runs through the property; horses are eating freshly delivered hay and grass as the breeze rustles their tails. Goats mill around in their pen, one pair sits up high soaking in the sunshine, black and white cows lazily roam about, one is taking a nap. Hoffman Farms is the perfect place to relax, unwind, de-stress; from the picturesque farm to the wine and hard cider, you’ll be glad you came.

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Petoskey: Downtown

27 Jun

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Today we find ourselves in Petoskey MI, a picturesque coastal town on the southeast shore of Little Traverse Bay. This quaint little community is home to charming galleries, boutiques, fine dining, cafes, coffee shops and great architecture. Ernest Hemingway spent every summer from 1900-1920 on Walloon Lake and used this part of northern Michigan as the setting for several stories. And of course, as all Michiganders know, this is where our state stone, the Petoskey Stone resides.

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We park on Division St near the Crooked Tree Arts Center, a gorgeous, newly restored, 130+ year old church used for art exhibitions, concerts and live theater. Walking, we make a right on Mitchell, businesses line both sides of the street; this is the Gaslight District, think of Mitchell as Main Street. We stop in the Northern Michigan Artists Market, the name says it all, works by local artists include glass, spectacular sunsets captured in oil, jewelry, hand-dyed scarves, handmade cards, photography and wood-carved items from boxes to bottle stoppers; I like the variety of mediums. Next door is Petoskey Cheese, in addition to a nice selection of domestic and imported cheeses they sell jams, pickles, crackers, mustard and olives. They also serve pizza and salads, they’ll even pack you a picnic basket to go–sounds perfect for a sunset on the beach.

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Continuing our walk we pass Pennsylvania Park, the sky is getting dark, it looks like rain, on Howard Street we pop into North Perk Coffee. The coffee menu is lengthy; hot, cold, latte, nitro, you name it. They roast their own beans (Petoskey Roasting Company) so the staff is knowledgeable about what they serve. We sip on cold brew until the rain lets up. We duck into NorthGoods, this is a store you can really spend some time in, two floors of beautiful things everywhere you look. A combination gift shop and fine art gallery they carry the work of about 100 artists and craftspeople including Gwen Frostic, Pewabic and Motawi Tile Co. There is definitely an “up north” feel to the merchandise, lots of mitten-shaped items, Petoskey stones galore, unique hand-made furniture–the pieces look like they  grew in the woods. Watercolors, oil and acrylic paintings, jewelry and glassware, chess sets, clocks, ok, you get the idea. If you’re looking for something special as a gift or for your home, you’re sure to find it here. Be sure and check out the original safe, this wing of the shop was an old bank.

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Flower boxes and planters decorate storefronts, Tulips are still in bloom this far north, umbrella stands are filled with giant red, white and blue pinwheels. The streetscape is charming, shop windows draw us in, staff members at each business are friendly and helpful. We taste vinegar and oils at Fustini’s, have a second cup of coffee and an awesome toasted coconut donut at Dripworks, Mettlers American Mercantile features a wonderful handpicked assortment of American-made items from men’s and women’s clothing to items for the home–the speakers made from instrument cases and old suitcases by Vintage Volume are super-cool.

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Tom Symons General Store opened in 1956 in one of the city’s oldest brick buildings, he brought luxury items like coffee, spices, gourmet products and a vast wine selection to the people of Petoskey. In the late 1970’s Symons began offering freshly baked breads, cookies, croissants and deli sandwiches to its customers. Tom’s son opened two restaurants, Pierson’s at Boyne Mountain Resort and Chandler’s just around the corner from the general store. Today the family still runs the business, it maintains its old-world charm with original wood floors, tin ceiling and selection of old-fashioned candy. You can sample cheese, do a wine tasting, purchase gourmet seasonings, sauces and Michigan-made food products. Downstairs the wine cellar is rustic and enchanting; old brick floors, ancient wood beams and low plank ceiling. I’m told 500 bottles of wine line these walls, looking around I believe it. To our surprise and delight there’s a small amount of seating in the cellar for Chandler’s, we are so having lunch here. Lunch turned into brunch once we got a look at the menu. The Blueberry pancakes are outstanding, made with ricotta they’re tender and fluffy with the perfect amount of fresh blueberries and a touch of lemon. Taylor’s Hash is a poached egg sitting on a stuffed hash brown topped with a tasty hollandaise, super delicious!

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We continue wandering through the Gaslight District. If you’ve been to Petoskey you’ve been to Cutler’s, you’ll recognize it immediately by the yellow awning. They have everything you could want for the kitchen from small appliances to serving pieces and linens; you’ll also find up north themed goodies. Store owners make the shopping experience interesting for men too, take Robert Frost Fine Footwear, sure they sell high-quality men’s and women’s fashions but check out the model wooden boats, motors, scale model cars and airplanes. Next we meander through Dave’s Boot Shop and Russell’s Shoes, to be honest I’m not sure where one ends and the other begins because they connect through an interior open doorway. What I can tell you is together they carry every kind of footwear you need or want for every member of your family. The interiors of the buildings appear as I imagine they did back when the structures were built; lovely embossed tin ceilings, built-in wooden shelves and a fantastic array of antique light fixtures. They have church pews to sit in for trying on shoes, a ladder that slides on a ceiling track to reach boxes on the top shelf, vintage counters and showcases, they even have an old Buster Brown clock.

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We’ve had a wonderful day in Petoskey from the shopping to the food and that view… It’s always hard to leave this area, we’re already looking forward to our next visit.

UP NORTH: Just Beautiful…

13 Jun

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Today we’re in Wine Country driving next to sandy shorelines on roads that slope, meander and snake past vineyards, orchards and turquoise blue water. To get here we didn’t need plane tickets or passports we just pointed the car northwest and drove until we arrived in Traverse City. We cut into a neighborhood that follows the coast line, as soon as we turn onto East Bay Blvd our vacation officially begins; stunning blue water on the right, magnificent homes on the left, I could spend the whole day looking at this view. We continue on East Shore road and are treated the same spectacular scenery. It’s late May and it seems we have Old Mission Peninsula all to ourselves, only one thing to do now, let’s go visit some wineries.

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We make a left on McKinley Rd, Black Star Farms will be our first stop. Vineyards and orchards surround the tasting room and state-of-the-art wine-making and distilling facility. The quaint building of red with white trim overlooks east bay. Inside a round bar constructed of wine barrels takes center stage; here we taste wines, ciders and spirits. I like everything we try but one stands out from the rest, Sirius Maple, an apple wine with maple syrup, it’s really nice, wrap one up please. I walk around the tasting room looking at bottles stored vertically and horizontally, cork screws, stoppers, gift bags and wine glasses, each bearing the Black Star logo. At the register bottles of wine wear ribbons and medals as Michigan wines continue to earn accolades.

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Further up Center Rd an Italian-looking villa sits high on a bluff, this is Mari Vineyards. Owner Marty Lagina chose to grow exotic varieties of grapes that don’t normally grow in Michigan; Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, along with classics like Cabernet-Franc and Merlot. The planting of thousands of vines took place in 1999, it was quite an undertaking, at one point vines were grabbed haphazardly from their soaking tanks and planted, the problem was nobody knew exactly which varieties they planted so the first 7 rows are a random assortment of grapes. 2006 was the first year for the official production of Mari’s flagship wine named Row 7. We step inside the building, wood and stone make up the majority of the decor, Medieval-style chandeliers hang from antique-looking beams. A small group is at the tasting bar, I sidle up alongside them and study the menu. Kris and I share the tastes, this way we can try more without slurring our speech. Kris heads out to the patio, I join him after paying for our bottle. It’s a postcard view; west bay, hillsides, vineyards and wildflowers. Visitors relax in chairs, feet up on ottomans sipping rose’, not a bad way to spend the day.

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Hawthorne Vineyards is one of the most secluded wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, the tasting room is surrounded by woods and vineyards with a picturesque view of west bay. The owners purchased this 80 acre farm filled with grapevines, cherry and plum trees; they planted additional vinifera on 26 acres. This boutique vineyard features small production wines from their estate fruit. The private driveway weaves its way to the stone and blue-sided tasting room. Inside the quaint space pale green walls meet up with a white ceiling, large windows reveal rolling hills and barns. We try wines made from Lemberger, Merlot, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Blanc and Cab Franc grapes and fruits. The Cherry Splendor was our favorite, made from Balaton and Montmorency cherries it is the perfect balance of tart and sweet.

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After all that tasting I’m thinking it’s time to eat. We cut over to Peninsula Drive and enjoy the drive along west bay until we reach the old Bower’s Harbor Inn and Jolly Pumpkin. Just inside the entrance a variety of Jolly Pumpkin swag is for sale, I like the t-shirts. We are routed to a table on the far side of the dining room passing a multitude of beer mugs hanging from the ceiling, glass grapes and an eclectic mix of light fixtures. We get right down to business and order some lunch, fortunately the place is kind of quiet this late in the afternoon so our food comes out quickly. The Rocket Arugula Salad is a tasty mix of arugula, apples, spiced walnuts, mango ginger Stilton cheese, fried parsnips, tossed in a champagne vinaigrette. The BBQ Chicken Pizza features grilled chicken breast, red onion, pickled jalapeno, mozzarella and white cheddar sitting atop a bbq sauce covered crust,  outstanding, all of it. 

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The front property at Bower’s Harbor Inn is Mission Table restaurant and tasting room. The upscale farm to table restaurant serves up local ingredients inside and on a gorgeous waterfront deck; we’re here for a tasting. Inside we make a sharp left to the tasting bar, taking our seats we are given a choice of tasting beer, cider or spirits, you can even mix it up, which we did. A couple of beers, a cider and some bourbon lead to a conversation about the Inn, turns out the place was built in the 1880’s. The building was remodeled in the 1920’s when lumber baron JW Stickney and his wife Genevive bought it. There’s an eerie story attached to the estate. Genevive had health issues so an elevator was installed in the house. At one point Mr Stickney hired a nurse to help care for his wife, the nurse became his mistress. Stickney died of a stroke, leaving the house to his wife but all of his money to the nurse. Genevive became depressed and hung herself from the rafters in the elevator shaft. They say she still haunts this place to this day; lights turn off and on, same with the faucets, mirrors and paintings fall off the walls…Boo! We’re able to have a look around upstairs and downstairs; lots of dark wood, leaded glass and pretty fireplaces.

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We continue our scenic drive north to the end of the peninsula coming back Swaney Rd. We stop at Haserot beach and marvel at the clarity of the water, tourist season hasn’t begun yet so the place is ours. Back to the car, we go south on Smokey Hollow Rd following the water to Bluff Rd; just us on a 2-lane road feeling like we’re in a dream. Vineyards, farms, hops, fruit trees; boats tied up to docks beckoning to go out into the big lake. Low clouds hover on the horizon, enormous, tasteful  homes being built in the sand, islands  in the distance, today it feels like they’re showing off just for us. We drive on, the water pacifies us, we delight in the beauty surrounding us; no billboards, strip malls, gas stations, traffic jams, is this heaven?

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We have time for one more stop, Bonobo Winery  has a different feel to it. It’s  more of a contemporary-rustic style with an elegant flair. Bonobo offers tastings, wine by the glass and small plates curated by Mario Batalli; here you are encouraged to linger, hang out for the afternoon. The winery is owned by Traverse City natives and brothers Todd and Carter Oosterhouse. If the name sounds familiar to you, you may have seen Carter as one of the resident carpenters on HGTV’s Trading Spaces, yes, that guy. The decor actually looks like it could be on HGTV, little sitting areas, lots of unique and vintage items carefully placed throughout the space. Grapes are estate grown and wine is produced on-site. Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Riesling; we’re here for the wine. I order a glass of the recommended white and join Kris on the deck.  We sip slowly taking in the panoramic view, it really is breathtaking. 

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As hard as it is to drag ourselves away from all of this we still have a drive ahead of us. We’re able to catch the sunset in Charlevoix, gorgeous! Now on to Petoskey…

Columbus Ohio: Still Wandering..

16 May

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We’re in Columbus Ohio exploring downtown, on Fourth Street we pass a beautiful, old building, No. 16 Engine House; a sign out front informs us it’s the Central Ohio Fire Museum and Learning Center. The exterior of the building is red brick topped with a decorative layer of gold brick, like frosting on a cake, a fancy tower anchors the right side. Firefighters, corporate and community sponsors raised nearly $700,000.00 to authentically restore the 1908 building; it opened as a museum in 2002. Run by area firefighters, the museum teaches fire safety, prevention and life-saving procedures to people of all ages. Over 1500 area firefighters continue to contribute money through payroll deductions to help finance the project.

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The 1908 interior is still intact with glazed brick walls, tin ceiling and fire poles. Fire trucks include an 1881 Amoskeag steam fire engine, a 1913 Ford Model T American LaFrance and a 1920 Obenchain Boyer chemical engine. Models vary from a hand-drawn hook and ladder to a horse-drawn model and finally a motorized apparatus. Displays capture the everyday life of firefighters; uniforms, equipment, fire alarms. Black and white photos show firemen in action putting out raging flames, display cases hold speaking trumpets, shields, helmets, wood water mains. There are hoses and fire extinguishers; placards do a good job of explaining  what everything is. It’s very kid-friendly, little ones can dress up in firefighter’s clothes, drive the truck, slide down the pole– hey, that sounds like fun! 

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We cross into the back section, this is originally where the horses were kept, one stall remains as an example of how the space was used. We check out the Safety Kitchen, the exhibit pinpoints where most home fires begin. The Safe Bedroom allows kids to practice escaping from a burning bedroom with real smoke effects. We stop and stare into a full-size children’s bedroom as it appears after a fire, I get chills looking at the melted toys, pictures and damaged furnishings. Volunteers interact with visitors, they’re enthusiastic and share lots of interesting information.

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While we’re downtown we decide to have lunch at Grass Skirt, a fun, Tiki-themed restaurant and bar on North Grant Ave. Part of the Columbus Food League family of restaurants Grass Skirt serves up Hawaiian and Asian dishes along with a 4-page, Kahiki-inspired drink menu jam-packed with Rum/Non-Rum cocktails; Mai Tai anyone? Inside lights are low, the custom-made skull chandelier hangs central in the room. Blowfish lights, a waterfall complete with a Sailor Jerry Hula girl, tiki torches, sculptures and a fabulous glowing lava wall make this place kitschy-cool! The S-shaped bar is made from custom-colored concrete inlaid with colored glass and mother-of-pearl. Open shelves hold tiki mugs, pandas and Buddha’s. We wander around looking at the fish floats, pine log tiki carvings, masks and the ship’s rigging–all very Polynesian.

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Paging through the menu we finally make our selections, we watch old episodes of Family Affair on the bar’s flat screen TV until the food arrives. The Island Nachos are a platter of won ton chips smothered with black beans, creamy cheese sauce, pineapple salsa, shredded lettuce, guacamole and lime sour cream; every bite is delicious. The teriyaki tofu tacos are really good; marinated tofu, cucumber-mint slaw and avocado-yum! At the end of the meal our server places an upside-down skull on the table, she activates the dry ice and smoke billows out the top and hovers above the table; what a great way to end a dining experience.

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We’re just about out of time in Ohio’s capital city. A quick computer check informs us that north of us in Worthington a vintage shop will be open for another hour or so—let’s go! Off the beaten path for sure, in a 2-story office warehouse complex is Dawn of Retro, a resale shop dedicated to Mid-Century Modern and vintage furniture and decor spanning from the 50’s to the 70’s. The space is a maze of dressers, buffets and china cabinets; from blonde to walnut each one acts as a resting place for glassware, serving pieces, ash trays and the like. Puffy, furry couches in wild 1970’s patterns snuggle up to table lamps, retro arc lamps and starburst clocks. Broyhill, Kent Coffey, classics to funky, orange and avocado green. Dawn has it all stuffed into two floors of space. In a cabinet I find a set of glasses I can’t live without…I can’t wait to get home and use them!

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Columbus Ohio: Wandering…

6 May

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We’ve dipped south about 3 hours into Columbus Ohio; after spending the night in German Village we take a drive around the area before heading downtown. On Kossuth, a quiet neighborhood street, we pass an unassuming cement block building, a Packard Service sign hangs above the open door, a 1957 Nash Ambassador Custom peeks out onto the street, vintage signs dangle from the ceiling. What is this place? We park at the corner and wander into the building, we are greeted by a gentlemen asking us if we’re his appointment–no, do we need one? He smiles and invites us into the garage, he explains he is expecting a local couple to come have a look around and encourages us to do the same–thank you! The building was built in 1930 for 80 years it was an automotive repair and paint shop, today it holds the personal collection of these two business partners. They own about 40 cars between them, then there’s the soap box derby cars hanging on the wall, signs from gas and oil companies, antique gas pumps, banners, flags, Dodge, Buick, Plymouth and Packard memorabilia, and the largest collection of license plates I’ve ever laid my eyes on.

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Cars are parked single file against the right wall, at an angle on the left. The Nash is the first vehicle to greet us, look at that rear vent window. The red 1958 Edsel is gorgeous, see those buttons in the center of the steering wheel? P for park, R, reverse, N, neutral, Hi and Lo, believe it or not, that’s how you shift!  The 1956 Cadillac has the gas cap hidden under the tail light, the 56 Imperial is elegant, there’s another Edsel over there–powder blue, cool door-mounted mirror, look at that E mounted on the front fender, sweet. Lots of chrome, huge bumpers, designs resemble aircraft, torpedoes, rockets. The back section holds older vehicles; a bunch of Packards, an Auburn. There’s so much to look at; display cabinets are filled with hood ornaments, advertising and trinkets. Goodyear, Shell, Mobil, neon signs, city plaques for licence plates, how cool. It was sheer luck we happened by when the door was open, the owner was extremely generous with his time and stories. If you’d like to check out the Wagner-Hagans Auto Museum for yourself, call 614-271-0888 and make an appointment to stop by.

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Before you read any further, do me a favor, click on this link: “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte”. Done? Good. We’re in the Town-Franklin neighborhood on East Town Street at a free, public, Topiary Park, we are looking at the topiary interpretation of George Seurat’s said painting, in other words, it’s a landscape of a painting of a landscape–it’s the only known topiary of a painting. The garden was started in 1988, local sculptor James T Mason designed and built the bronze frames and planted the shrubs. His wife, Elaine, was the original topiarist, she trained the city gardeners how to trim the topiaries. The pond was added in 1989 representing the Seine in Paris, hills were also added to the landscape. The gatehouse came along in 1998 and is home to the Visitors Center.

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I have seen reproductions of A Sunday Afternoon multiple times, here the Parisians enjoying a leisurely afternoon are made of Yew but you totally get the picture. Throughout the park there are 54 human figures, 8 boats, 3 dogs, a monkey and a cat. We walk along taking it all in; flower beds are freshly weeded and mulched, daffodils are in bloom, shrubs are just starting to fill in. I recognize the woman with the parasol and large bustle who resides in the forefront of the painting. Characters gaze out across the grounds, a man in a boat is fishing. They sit, they stand, in solitaire, arm and arm or groups; books, top hats, more parasols, it all comes together when you know what you’re looking at. The painting itself hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. We exit the garden wandering past Cristo Rey High School; decorative brick patterns and stonework surrounding the windows are magnificent, then  onto East Town Street to check out the spectacular homes.

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Now we’re on the near east side of Columbus in the Olde Towne East neighborhood; stately homes line the streets, flowering trees are in bloom, let’s take a walk. This is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods; farmhouses once occupied the land, by the 1870’s it transitioned into a subdivision of grand houses built by industrialists, judges, businessmen, lawyers, mayors, governors, you know, the rich and famous of Columbus OH. Back in the day locals nicknamed it the ‘Silk Stocking District’ referring to the residents expensive clothing. By the 1950’s much of the housing was abandoned by the wealthy, palatial homes were divided into apartments, nursing homes or rooming houses; the final blow came with the construction of the highways. Same story, different city. Thanks to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the Neighborhood Association was able to begin preservation efforts of Olde Towne East in the 1970’s.

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Today the area is once again on the rise; gentrification has begun, new businesses are opening, Main Street is a mix of public and private development. They say there are over 50 architectural styles spread out over 1,000 homes. We walk past gorgeous 2 and 3-story homes that have been restored or are in the process of restoration; wrought iron fences, columns, turrets, ornate moldings and trim grace lavish residences. Edwardian, Victorian, Second Empire, Romanesque, Italianate, well, you get the idea. Most are brick some have leaded glass windows, beautiful stonework surrounds windows and doorways. Streetscapes are lovely; lawns are neatly kept, ornamental shrubs and trees fill the landscape, today Tulips are in bloom. Olde Towne East was the subject of a documentary film, Flag Wars, back in 2003; after many hardships it’s wonderful to see the neighborhood return to its former glory.

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