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DETROIT: The Freer House

31 May

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Many years have passed since our last visit to The Freer House, there’s a special tour today and we have tickets! First, let me tell you a little bit about the man who lived here. Charles Lang Freer made his fortune manufacturing railroad freight cars, a very lucrative business in the late 1800’s. In 1887 Freer began amassing his art collection; while other collectors purchased pieces by Rembrandt, Monet and daVinci, Freer was attracted to Asian art and works by contemporary  American artists; Dwight Tyron, Abbot Thayer, Thomas Dewing, Frederick Church and most notably, James McNeill Whistler. Freer often developed friendships with the artists he collected. At the time of his death he had accumulated 9,500 art objects, more than a thousand of them by Whistler.

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 The home, designed by Wilson Eyre Jr, was built in 1892 in the American shingle-style. Take a good look, it’s elevated slightly from the street, it definitely feels masculine to me, dark colors, leaded glass windows, stately, handsome. Step inside to a large open area, doorways lead to separate rooms. Off the front door is the parlor, if you came to visit this is where you would wait for your host. Much of the house, including this room is undergoing restoration, our docent passes around a case filled with swatches of the original paint colors. Everything was made precisely for the room, the fireplace tucked into the corner, the art in designated spaces, I like all of the unusual angles. This was not a family home, Freer never married, the house was built as the setting for his art. As his collection grew so did his home, additions were made three times. In the main room a large fireplace sits central, furniture is tucked tight against the walls creating a wide walkway to view the art, light fixtures are unique, they look like leaves and twisted vines made from metal.

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We traverse the main floor, reproductions of original art hang on the walls, it’s like being in a tiny art gallery. In a room off to the side is the only original painting to the house, Flapjacks by Frederick Stuart Church. It’s a whimsical piece with bears making and eating flapjacks; they look pretty happy. It was a housewarming gift from Church to Freer. After Freer’s death the painting changed hands several times, it recently showed up at auction, donors bid on it and brought it back home. The original doorbell; a bronze bear with his head cocked listening for the bell to ring, sits in the main room on a side table along with a sconce. In the corner is a safe built by the Detroit Safe Company; in those days people would lock up their silver, Freer also stored art in his. The dining room is a pleasant buttery yellow, just as it was originally. Each room has built-in cabinets and a fireplace along with uniquely shaped ceiling angles.

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I’m pretty excited because on today’s tour we will see the entire house. On the second level many of the rooms are occupied by the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and Wayne State University and not generally open to the public. Much of the interior has been painted that institutional taupe color, restoration work is ongoing, the hope is to one day have the rooms back to their original colors.The stairway is wide, the side is solid wood panels and a basket-weave screen, it feels very open. Pausing on the landing I notice more of the same leaf and vine light fixtures, wood beams cross the second floor ceiling, a window faces in giving the feeling of being outdoors. At the top of the stairs we have a lovely view of the home’s architectural details, lots of leaded glass windows, arches, wood and of course the art. Bedrooms are now offices, each has a fireplace, built-ins and a window seat.

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The remainder of the house is dedicated gallery space; we move from room to room, a skylight remains in one, a couple of fireplaces have Pewabic tile, leaded glass windows are decorative art themselves. In areas under renovation photographs are displayed showing the original space. We reach what used to be the Peacock Room. In 1904 Freer purchased the Whistler-painted dining room of Frederick R Leyland’s London home. Freer had the room built to the exact dimensions of the Peacock room, for many years peacock’s roamed the grounds here on Ferry Street. I love the giclee reproduction of Rose and Silver: The Princess From The Land Of Porcelain, it hangs in the exact spot the original once occupied. Color photos show how truly spectacular the room was, not only the paintings but the globe pendant gaslight fixtures, the ceiling design. In 1906 Freer donated his entire collection to the Smithsonian Institution with the agreement that everything stayed in Detroit until his death, he funded the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. at a cost of $1 million. After his death in 1919 everything was moved to the Smithsonian.

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The rain has let up enough for us to walk around the newly revitalized courtyard gardens. Trees and plants reflect Freer’s original combination of American and Asian plants. My favorite thing is the hand-carved, exact replica of the Japanese stone garden lantern. Feel free to check it out next time you’re in Midtown. It’s exciting to see the progress the Freer House members have made from reproductions of original paintings, restoration of rooms to the beautiful courtyard and landscaping. We look forward to our next visit.

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How about some lunch? Shield’s Pizza opened on Woodward across from the DIA on April 8th. For those of you who don’t know, Shield’s was one of the original Detroit-style pizzerias. Shield’s Bar opened at the corner of Davison and Shields Street in Detroit in 1937, they later began making square, deep-dish pizza; that location closed in the 1980’s as they expanded to the suburbs. The space here in the Maccabees Building has turned over several times in the last few years, it now has a completely new look; televisions, sports memorabilia, Detroit nostalgia, funky light fixtures. We sit at the bar, order a square, deep-dish veggie pizza and an antipasto salad. We have great service and the food is delicious. Crisp greens in the salad, their unique dressing, lots of meat. The pizza is that great Detroit style, a little crispy on the edges, tender crust, fresh toppings. After a 30+ year absence, we say Welcome Back!

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Not ready to go home just yet we stop in at Detroit Shipping Company on Peterboro. Located on the upper track is -320 Coffee and Creamery. Here you can get a great cup of coffee or homemade ice cream made right before your eyes with liquid nitrogen. The pizza and salad did us in, having room only for coffee Kris gets a nitro-cold brew and I enjoy a steaming hot cup o’Joe. We relax at a table overlooking the ground floor, lots of food being distributed from the 3 restaurants below. Bold colored canvases peek out from the gallery space opposite me, Kris and I walk over to check them out. Phillip Simpson’s colorful cartoon art lines the walls; I suppose with the name Simpson, you would naturally paint characters from The Simpsons. I like the different smiley-face renditions, as intended, they do their job, I’m smiling.

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DETROIT: New Kids on the Block…

19 Apr

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 We’re parked near the Opera House, the meter is full and my sweet-tooth is talking to me. Good thing Dilla’s Delights is only a short walk away. The donut shop is owned by Herman Hayes, aka Uncle Herm to late Detroit Hip Hop legend J Dilla. Dilla’s two daughters are the ‘delights’ in the equation. The petite shop is tucked into the end space on the ground floor of the Ashley Building, decor consists of photos of old Detroit, baseball players, portraits and posters of Dilla. The main attraction of course is the donuts. Made with organic flour and fried up in the kitchen at Avalon bakery, Uncle Herm offers 15 flavors including vegan options. It’s a tough decision; Brewster’s Banana Pudding Cake, apple fritter, Cakeboy Chocolate Cake, cinnamon raisin, blueberry. We follow the advice of the man behind the counter; one of the original classic John Doe Cake and a raised and glazed lemon lime; good advice. 

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Our walk continues to John R Street and the old Metropolitan Building, now the Element Detroit Hotel. Abandoned nearly 40 years, this is a perfect example of a building that nobody would have dreamed would be restored. Standing back we take in the 14-story, wedge-shaped, Neo-Gothic structure. The terracotta, brick and granite exterior is adorned with escutcheon and pieces of armor to accent the Gothic appearance. Built in 1925 it was informally nicknamed the jeweler’s building; floors 5-10 were leased to jewelers, diamond cutters, goldsmiths, watch-makers and silver workers. Other floors were leased to milliners, beauty and dress shops. Now part of Marriott’s Starwood Collection, it’s an extended-stay hotel. There are 3 restaurants planned including a rooftop cocktail lounge named the Monarch Club, Yesss…

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We step inside, walk a few feet then, taken aback by the beauty of the Great Hall, we just stop. Wow. Pink marble walls are topped by ornate plaster moldings, a beamed Medieval ceiling with cayenne-colored plaster rises above, glossy wood frames doorways and windows, simple globes and new recessed lighting light up red, yellow and blue designs high on the walls. The grand staircase is to the right, more pink marble and ornamental bronze grillwork. A quick trip to the second floor reveals terrazzo floors, divided storefronts and a large window overlooking the city. Returning to ground level we walk the hall marveling at the restored archways, magnificent plaster moldings, original floors. A lounge area displays large historic photographs of the Metropolitan in different phases. Decor hinges on Mid-Century here, the fireplace looks inviting. The Roxbury Group spent $33 million restoring this unique skyscraper, they’re the same group that restored the David Whitney Building/ Aloft Hotel. Nice job and Thank You!

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Farmer Street has been completely transformed. With the creation of the Shinola Hotel a new building stands where a short time ago was just a gravel lot. Up for a little shopping? Good Neighbor, a clothing boutique, sells casual pieces for men and women, if you’re into Levi’s you’re in luck, they have a large selection. Other items include jewelry, handbags, jackets, shoes and scarves. The Velvet Tower is next door, Long Island transplant Emily Bernstein has been collecting for over 2 years to amass enough vintage pieces to open her own resale shop. Pieces are high quality, she has a nice variety of casual and upscale pieces, hats, shoes, household and fun things. 

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Madcap Coffee has just opened its first location outside Grand Rapids, time for a coffee break. Roasting beans and serving coffee since 2008, we have enjoyed their offerings for years; now that they’ve arrived in Detroit we can indulge more often. The all white interior is accented in black, shelves hold logo merchandise, bags of coffee beans and several styles of pots to brew your own.  I’m glad to see they have nitro cold brew; one for me and one for Kris and we’re off again.

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A sharp right out of the building leads us to Parker’s Alley, a block-long walkway behind the new Shinola Hotel, a few independent storefronts face the alley. Remnants of old painted advertising still clings to the brick wall. Around the corner a 4-story enclosed bridge connects the hotel to the new building, large lights illuminate the walkway, planters already celebrate Spring. Organic raw juice company Drought has a location here. Their cold-pressed, glass-bottled juice has become the leading brand in the Midwest. The Lip Bar cosmetic boutique makes products that are vegan and cruelty-free. Have a seat on a swing at your own personal vanity; sample lipstick and lip gloss that moisturize your lips thanks to shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil and vitamin E. Fun colors and cool packaging; what more could a girl want? The smallest space belongs to Posie Atelier, a charming florist that also sells houseplants, unique gifts and jewelry. I love the colors of exotic tropical flowers.

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Time to eat. Penny Red’s (Buckets and Biscuits) is a carry-out fried chicken stand located on the Farmer St side of the building. The modest space with wood paneling has a mid-century feel to it. There’s one window for ordering, one window for pick-up. Shelves in a recessed area hold rolls of paper toweling, secret recipe sauces, and disposable wood silverware. We place our order and are given a pager, we’re going to eat next door in The Brakeman. A simple doorway leads us into the beer and rec hall. It’s one huge, attractive, industrial-looking space that will seat 200 people at community or high-top tables. There are two bars, big screen TV’s, foosball, table shuffleboard, beer pong and ping-pong tables. You can even reserve a Beer Tap Table. Roll-up doors and windows run the length of the front and back of the building, this place will be packed in nice weather.

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A token booth stands at the far end, $7 gets you a token good for a single draught beer or a flight of three. I take my token to the bar serving beer and select a Short’s Soft Parade Shandy. The second bar serves cocktails and accepts cash. The pager goes off, I pick up the food and meet Kris back at our table overlooking Farmer Street. The food looks and smells delicious. The Classic sandwich is a chicken breast topped with urban ranch, sweet pickle and hot honey; very tasty. The crispy brussels are tender and flavorful with a smoked maple sauce and crunchy topping. Honey butter biscuits come dry or dunked, we got ours dunked, yum. Several times today I thought to myself, where am I? People fill the sidewalks and alley, empty spaces are disappearing as new buildings take their place. Travelers come and go from a long forgotten skyscraper. My eyes can hardly believe it. Detroit is alive and well.

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FLINT: Art & History

4 Apr

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The city of Flint is roughly 66 miles northwest of Detroit, it’s the 4th largest metropolitan area in Michigan. The city is steeped in history. Add to that the current revitalization and restoration of downtown buildings, an influx of entrepreneurs, new businesses, restaurants; it equals a destination of fun and good food.

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Driving around a forgotten, historic neighborhood we come across the Stockton House Museum, a sign out front reads Open Today. Let’s go! This lovely, Italianate home was built in 1872 by retired Civil War Colonel Thomas Stockton and his wife Maria. The house is nestled among 4 1/2 acres of treed grounds, a natural mineral spring runs through the property, prompting the Stockton’s to name their home Spring Grove. The once elegant exterior is now a work-in-progress, white paint wears away revealing multi-colored stones at the first level and red brick above. Fancy architectural details surround the porch, large wooden doors gain our entry into the foyer.  A friendly, knowledgeable woman is our docent, we’re getting our own private tour.

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Thomas was a military man through and through serving in the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, after retiring in 1863 he continued to work as a recruiter for the Union Army. Note the military stars incorporated into the design of the home. Maria was the founder and first president of the Ladies Library Association, she used a room in her home for lending books before there was such thing as a library. The group later became Flint’s first public library. The Stockton’s prominence is evident throughout their home; ornate plaster ceiling decoration, rosettes and medallions anchoring elegant light fixtures,thick moldings, uniquely detailed maple and oak hardwood floors. The home has 14 rooms, 12′ ceilings, a workshop and staff areas. Upstairs we find a series of photos and newspaper articles documenting the house through its uses as a private home, hospital, old age home and then returning to a private residence. There’s a collection of historic family photos, memorabilia and miscellaneous hardware. We tour the master suite and bedrooms, the current owners did extensive research, returning the home to its former beauty.

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In 1921 the Sisters of St Joseph acquired the house and established a hospital. At one point they ran out of space and built a 3-story addition. Walking toward the back of the house we enter the addition, it’s kind of creepy in an old-time-medical-facility kind of way. This section of the house was kept and restored because of its significance to the history of Flint. The surgical wing was here on the second floor, the tile floor is original. One room is staged with actual items from the time this was a hospital; I’m glad to be living in 2019. We take the elevator down to the first level, which is actually slightly below ground level. If you were on this floor of the hospital chances were you were going home. Crossing back into the home this is where we find the kitchen, dining and staff areas. I’m having a hard time reconciling the fact that when you enter the front door of the home it is actually the second floor. Once we get outside and I have a look, it falls into place.

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I could go for a coffee, Totem Books is right around the corner. “Books” does not begin to describe Totem; yes it’s an independent book store but it also sells used books, new and used vinyl records spanning decades and genres, cd’s, cassettes, dvd’s, vintage t-shirts, collectible Flint postcards, maps and photos. It’s a great place to grab a beverage or a sandwich and just browse. I sip on my coffee, walking under globe lights looking at owl figurines, I meet up with Kris by the vintage matchbooks, I hand him his iced coffee as we continue our trip through time. Totem is a cool shop and it’s located in a funky part of town with great murals. I highly recommend stopping in.

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Over at the Flint Farmer’s Market we take the last two remaining seats at the counter of MaMang. The tiny space with the beautiful mural of a woman and scenes of southern Asia is always hopping; the line to order is long, their food is always worth the wait. The menu of Vietnamese cuisine is made up of the basics; Pho, Bahn mi, spring rolls and Taiwanese treats. We place our order and watch as ladles of broth fill large bowls, pickled vegetables are placed on sandwiches and white plastic shopping bags are filled carry-out containers. When our turn comes we devour tasty spring rolls, a bahn mi filled with braised bbq Chinese pork, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a toasted baguette. The veggie Pho is outstanding; bone broth with rice noodles, Asian spices, Thai basil, ginger, green onion and bean sprouts, definitely enough to share.

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I don’t think the Flint Institute of Arts gets the proper attention it deserves. It’s a wonderful museum, their glass is world-class; which is exactly the reason we’re here today. Their Contemporary Craft Wing contains 3 distinct, expansive galleries; 2 permanent collection galleries and 1 for temporary exhibits. Shall we have a look? We traverse our way through the museum taking in extraordinary paintings and sculptures, we reach the Center Gallery and our pace slows. The glass pieces are extraordinary, each one grabs my attention and pulls me to a stop. I love flowers so Inventing Flowers by Ginny Ruffner is one of my favorite pieces–look at those Tiger Lilies and Tulips. The Daffodil vase and Tulip Panel and Daisies really put me in the mind of Spring. The glass is manipulated in all different fashions; blown, cast, acid polished, fused and kiln formed, amazing isn’t it?  Even something simple like the bowl with the red circular insert is stunning. 

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There are pieces that change as you walk past, optical crystals, or as I call them, optical illusions. There are whimsical pieces like the Red Apple, glass characters; a dancer, a blue man and a piece called Circus. No collection is complete without something from Dale Chihuly, his Paris Blue Persian Set with red lip wraps is gorgeous! Look at how the artist created an animal out of glass shards, the Falcons are made of blown and sculpted glass. Glass art is special here at FIA, they have a free glass-blowing demonstration every Saturday from 11 am – 4 pm.

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You have to check out the paperweight collection, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. The art of making paperweights started in Venice, they are prized for their beauty, grace and rarity. Colorful canes in complex designs are encased in crystal; popular subjects are flowers, bouquets and animals. A video runs continuously showing an artist creating a paperweight, fascinating. The truth is I like all of them from the simple swirls of color that remind me of old-fashioned hard candy to millefiori: a thin cross-section of cylindrical canes made from colored rods to resemble little flowers to the lampwork pieces: flowers, fruit, butterflies or animals constructed by shaping and working bits of colored glass. Some of them look so life-like; the fish, flowers, snake, even the little bees. It’s like a whole world encased in crystal. 

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Ypsi Doodle Dandy

28 Feb

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The Yankee Air Museum resides on the grounds of Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. This is the sight of the historic Willow Run manufacturing plant built by Henry Ford in 1942 to build B-24 Liberators for WWII. The plant’s main structure, designed by Albert Kahn, was 3,500,000 square feet of factory space that included an assembly line that stretched over a mile long. The first Ford Liberators rolled off the line in September 1942. A total of 8,685 B-24’s were produced at the plant. The original museum was destroyed by a devastating fire in 2004, most everything except the planes were destroyed. YAM is currently located inside a former technical school on the airport grounds; plans are underway to relocate the museum to a preserved portion of the original bomber plant. A couple of planes are already in place, it’s the first time since 1952 that aircraft has been in the plant. When completed it will be called The National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run. Let’s take a look around.

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Planes are parked here and there on the grounds, Kris walks out to take photos. We enter through the gift shop, pay our admission fee and step into a world of aviation history covering global conflicts from WWI to present. I study the photos of the Guinness Book Record winning photo of the most Rosie the Riveters in one place, 3,734 with 58 original “Rosies” present. The first thing I notice about the museum is there are few ropes or barriers separating us from the exhibits, we can get right up close, sometimes even touching them. The timeline starts at WWI with a fighter aircraft, the SPAD XIII is partially tucked into a garage, a mannequin soldier nearby. Next up a B24 Liberator is under restoration, the polished fuselage perfectly displays thousands of rivets. In 1944 Willow run built one of these planes every 63 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week….Wow!!

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We walk around vintage aircraft, I notice instructions and labels stenciled in white on the exteriors, Danger is spelled out in red, arrows are in yellow. Humongous aircraft engines share floor space with a top turret, Army half-track vehicle, Vietnam era helicopter, a linktrainer. Norden and Sperry bombsights look highly technical, weapons and grenades are reminders of the casualties of war. Near the back is a work area where volunteers spend endless hours on restoration. Have you ever been in the cockpit of a plane? Check out this one, I’ve never seen so many dials, gauges, switches, buttons, levers; it’s a lot to take in. We see guided bombs and learn the basics of how they work, there are transmitters, transreceivers and power supplies. 

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The USAF Thunderbirds display is something I can kind of relate to simply because I have seen these high-flyin’, fancy-maneuver, aerobatic shows in person. The paint scheme on the plane is super-cool, all red, white and blue, the Thunderbirds logo is pretty sweet too–love the eagle with the planes in the center. Next to that is the US Navy Blue Angels exhibit, this is the Navy flight demonstration squad. Created in 1946 to raise public interest in naval aviation and to boost Navy morale, the Blue Angels are only the second formal flying demonstration team to have been created in the world. Something about this museum makes it seem more personal than your average museum, maybe it’s the way it’s laid out, everything kind of close together, certainly having few barriers helps, photographs look like they came from family photo albums.  The story the museum tells is one that encompasses the world while at the same time honoring the local angle; a footlocker stamped with the name of a man from Ferndale MI, biographies of local men and women who served our country, the importance of the bomber plant, how Detroit Saved the World. Here we are near the exact site where it all happened. Amazing.

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Hungry? Yes. Ollie Food + Spirits is on Cross St. in historic Depot Town. One of the things we love about Ypsilanti is it’s quirky, independent, fun nature. Architecture runs the gamut from Victorian to Mid-Century Modern, they have some great drive-in restaurants still in operation. You can find food to satisfy your ethnic yearnings, a great burger or some healthy, modern cuisine. Ollie caters to the vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diet–what’s not to love? The interior is quaint, rustic with an artistic flare; I love the art of Gary Horton that hangs on the walls. We enjoy an outstanding meal of the market omelette, well seasoned breakfast potatoes, lightly dressed farm greens and a side of jalapeno cornbread pudding; I need to learn how to make this….. 

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More independent shops are open each time we visit. I do a little shopping then we stop in at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, we visit any time we’re in town. Coffee is the next order of business, we walk back to Ollie and the adjoining storefront Cream & Crumb. They serve Michigan-made ice cream, baked goods, Hyperion coffee (locally roasted right around the corner), tea and booze. I first scope out the baked goods, the 3-layer lavender cake is gorgeous, love the purple fade from layer to layer, giant cubes of cereal treats, cupcakes, mini-cheesecakes, oh the choices! Still a little full from lunch we opt for a single decadent peanut butter cookie studded with Reeses pieces and chunks of peanut butter cups, yum, and some coffee of course. Out the window we stare as pedestrians stop to watch a sidewalk artist at work, when we’re finished we stop too; we smile at the little green dragon taking shape, a chunk of missing concrete the basis for his design. Thanks Ypsi, it’s been fun, see you soon.

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Detroit: Just A Taste

31 Jan

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Detroit has always been a city of makers; today’s subject is booze. Alcohol was big business in Detroit; in 1850 Stroh’s produced an annual capacity of 500,000 barrels of beer.  The largest distiller was Hiram Walker, (yes he was an American and a Detroiter) he started out as a grocer distilling cider vinegar in 1830, he moved on to whiskey 1854. During prohibition Detroit became a bootleggers paradise, the Detroit River is less than a mile across in some places making Canada a short trip by boat, sled or automobile. It’s estimated that the Detroit River, Lake St. Clair and the St. Clair River carried 75% of the liquor supplied to the US during Prohibition. Bootlegging, smuggling, rum-running, whatever you want to call it, was Detroit’s second largest industry in 1929. 

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Two James Spirits has the unique distinction of being the first licensed distillery to open in Michigan since Prohibition. Today we’re doing a tour, grab yourself a drink and c’mon along. Founders David Landrum and Peter Bailey opened the distillery and tasting room in 2013. The name comes from the coincidence that both of their fathers are named James. The building is an oldie, a Dodge/Chrysler dealer in the ’20’s, an auto repair facility & cab company later in life. We have about 30 minutes to kill before the tour  starts, just long enough to enjoy a Nutty Irishman. Andreas places the cocktail on the bar, a layer of half and half floats above the dark brown spirits, I combine the layers, stirring gently with my straw; I love the way it looks as the cream swirls in the glass. Kris and I chat as we watch lemons and limes being sliced, egg whites dropped into shakers and cherries being skewered; all for your drinking pleasure.

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Our glass is empty, time for the tour. We cross from the tasting room to the distillery, the temperature drops noticeably. My attention immediately goes to the 500 gallon custom-made copper pot still,  it’s a real showstopper. We’re surrounded by heavy-duty shelving stacked with American Oak barrels, stacks of cardboard cases on pallets, tanks, hoses and pipes.  Up first, 28 Island Vodka. The name references the 28 islands in the Detroit River that served as a safe-haven for Detroit’s clandestine distillers during Prohibition. The Barrel Reserve Old Cockney Gin lets the gin rest in new American Oak for a minimum of 6 months before being bottled.  How about a little rum? Doctor Bird Jamaica Rum  is actually made in the Caribbean then blended and aged in a special moscatel barrique in Detroit.

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Whiskey anyone? Try Grass Widow Bourbon, Rye Dog, Catcher’s Rye or Johnny Smoking Gun. The newest spirit in the arsenal is J Riddle Peated Bourbon. Look at the label for a minute, see that cute little ‘red fox’? Hhmm, J Riddle, could that be James Riddle Hoffa who disappeared from the Machus Red Fox in Bloomfield Hills? I’m not tellin’. The Nain Rouge Absinthe Verte starts with the traditional 19th Century French recipe and then gets Two-Jamesd. It has great depth of flavor and a pretty green color, I’m a fan of licorice so I really like it. We scope out the production area learning about the distilling process, different grains used and the bottling process. Up a few stairs we have an up-close view of the mash tub, the yellow-ish goop inside bubbles and pops, we even get to taste it. Pipes lead to fermentation tanks, finishing tanks and the gravity bottling machine; It’s all very technical. 

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In 1993 Joe Mifsud purchased the building that now houses Two James and his recently opened restaurant Cork and Gabel. We’ve admired this building for years and are really excited to finally go inside. Joe has a deep affection for these old Detroit buildings, he likes to re-use what’s there in addition to adding other Detroit found objects–like the giant oil drum used for the entryway to the restaurant. What a super-cool way to enter a building, I like the graffiti. I’d describe the interior as rustic industrial, there are old pulleys and other things left from the building’s automotive days, there’s an old bell, even the light fixtures were rescued from an old structure. Chairs are mis-matched, tables are made of old bowling lanes, can you find the Easy Bake Oven? An eclectic blend of old and new giving the place a modern, cozy feeling.We sit at the bar only to learn the kitchen doesn’t open for another half hour, so we order a cocktail… The menu is a fusion of Italian, German and Irish offerings, everything sounds good. When the time comes ours is the first order to reach the kitchen. We start with the Caprese Salad which can be a no-no in January, the tomatoes are ripe and tasty, nice slices of mozzarella drizzled with balsamic vinegar, set upon pesto; well done and a nice surprise in January. The Schnitzel BLT is huge! A crispy, well seasoned, breaded slice of pork loin sits atop Ma’s rye bread (made in house, it’s fabulous!), slices of crispy thick-cut applewood smoked bacon, bibb lettuce, tomato, the other slice of bread is finished with boursin cheese. Yum!

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Have you ever heard of Brew Detroit? They have a 68,000 sq. ft. facility in Corktown. In addition to brewing their own beer they are a contract brewery, making beer for Stroh’s, Motor City Brewing Works, Bad Ass Beer, Lake Brothers Beer Co and others. Guess what? They do tours too! We pay for the tour and choose our ‘walking beer’, this is the one we get to take on the tour; Kris chooses a stout made with Germack coffee, I’m drinking the East Sea Baltic Porter, it’s delicious. The production area is home to eleven 400-barrel and two 200-barrel fermentation tanks, they’re gigantic. Our guide talks about tanks, vessels, grain, fermentation, temperature-controlled yeast propagation, spectrometer, alcolyzer and all kinds of other things I’ve never heard of while Kris and I just look around and think, WoW! The place is huge, the tanks are enormous, there’s just so much BEER! We have journeyed from the brewhouse to the canning and bottling line or as they say, from “hops to glass”.

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The tour ends in the merchandise area where we are given souvenir Brew Detroit pint glasses and wooden tokens good for a beer in the tasting room. Taking a seat at the rectangular bar we enjoy a beer while checking out the selection of 30 rotating draft taps of beer, wine, cider and meads. There are pinball and air hockey machines, arcade games, shuffleboard, darts, billiards and foosball spread out over two floors. This place is definitely worth seeking out for a beer, tour or just to hang out with friends.

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It’s dark and it’s cold but we can’t leave Corktown until we check out Winterfest at Michigan Central Station. Ford has put together a celebration of the to-be-restored 1913 train station that includes a 3D light show, fire pits to keep warm and roast marshmallows for S’mores, food trucks and an exhibition of “found” objects from the building. We park on the street and make the trek to the building, a crowd of parka-wearing, scarf and mitten laden pedestrians have gathered around heaters and fire pits to watch colorful images flashed upon the 18-story building. Magically the building comes to life, the past and future splashed across the surface, a train thunders by. It’s graffiti covered, draped in newspaper then covered in blocks of colors, windows appear to light up, a hand draws the Ford logo; it’s a constantly changing canvas of amazement. As much as I’d like to stay, my face is frozen and I can’t feel my toes; it’s been fun.

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Port Huron: Hangin’ on to Christmas..

12 Jan

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Every town has its hidden gems, unique places and distinct personality. Today we are in Port Huron to sample the old, the new and a little holiday tradition. The city is undergoing a much welcomed revitalization; frankly I wonder what took so long? An array of restaurants and shops in a picturesque Victorian-era downtown, situated on an international border, sandy beaches, panoramic Lake Huron views, all about an hours drive from Detroit.

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The old Michigan National Bank building on the southeast corner of the Black River and Military Street is in the process of becoming a City Flats Hotel. If you’ve ever been to their locations in Grand Rapids or Holland, you know how exciting this is. The 36-room hotel, ballroom, bar and restaurants are slated to open in May 2019. One of the restaurants, the Kitchen, is open for business; let’s grab a bite to eat. We park in the lot behind the building and enter from the rear, here we stop to admire a rendering of the Ballroom, samples of materials and dinnerware build anticipation of the space. A quick right and we’re in the cafe. Because it’s a casual space you order at the counter. I’m a little distracted by the house made scones and bagels on display, maybe 10 varieties of each (try the bacon, cheddar, jalapeno bagel–you’re welcome). Then there’s the coffee menu serving Grand Rapids-based MADCAP coffee. Ok, ok, let’s have the soup and this month’s special ‘bowl’. I fill our water glasses and join Kris at a table, one wall of the cafe is glass, a balcony overlooks the Black River and offers more dining space in nice weather. We watch the goings-on outside until our food arrives. The Tuscan White Bean soup is excellent; rich flavors, nicely seasoned. Our power bowl is a bed of quinoa topped with hard-boiled egg, avocado, diced red pepper, shredded carrots and sunflower seeds. The vegetables are fresh, the quinoa cooked perfectly, maybe tossed with a vinegar-type dressing, delicious. 

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From one of the newest business in town we drive to one of the oldest, the Brass Rail Bar on Huron Ave. Steeped in holiday tradition, this place is a must visit during the Christmas season.There’s parking available on the street in front of the bar, that’s a good sign; this time of year the bar can be packed. I love the old signage on the building, I always wondered about the Beer-Wine Takeout sign… Evergreen roping and ornaments decorate the awning, stained glass windows are aglow. Stepping inside transports us back in time, Christmas lights and decorations cling to every surface. We grab two seats at the bar and begin to take it all in. The centerpiece of the space is the spectacular back bar, made of mahogany and onyx with a Tiffany lamp built into the center, it measures in at a ginormous 13’2″ tall by 16’8″ wide; it’s been here from the beginning when this was Hibye’s Ice Cream parlor. The story goes this way; Tony Hibye purchased it in 1910 from a local drugstore that had purchased it from a local hotel who had it shipped from Italy. Tony, his wife and daughter Helen built a thriving business selling ice cream, candy and fruit; the depression hit, Tony passed away. Helen took over the reigns with the help of her mother and aunt, they went from selling “sweets to suds”; the Brass Rail was born in 1937. Remember the takeout sign I mentioned? Helen obtained a unique liquor license allowing the bar to sell beer and wine when the bar itself isn’t open, you can still come in and buy a 6-pack of beer to go.

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They say while Helen was at a bar in Detroit she had a Tom and Jerry, from then on the Brass Rail made the traditional drink from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Eve, which is why we’re here today. Sitting patiently at the bar waiting to order I take in the sights and sounds that surround me; friends greet one another with handshakes and hugs, patrons are jolly, some don Christmas sweaters, one man wears a string of lights. A wide ledge above the antique wood paneling is the footing for new and vintage animated figures, snowmen, carolers, Angels, bears, toy soldiers and Christmas trees. Ceiling fixtures are surrounded by lighted wreaths,Tom and Jerry’s fill server’s trays. Audible is the constant humming sound of Kitchen Aid mixers whipping up egg whites and egg yolks separately before they are joined with a little powdered sugar, hot water, rum and brandy. It’s finally my turn, a cute little teddy bear adorns my mug, a short red straw and a green stirrer emerge from the frothy mixture that rises from the mug. I look around the room for a clue as how to properly drink a Tom and Jerry, it seems everyone has their own method so I go for it. I take a sip right from the mug, a smile creeps across my face, the frothy top combines with the warm liquid below; it’s a wonderful, slightly sweet, creamy combination of heat, booze and a little nutmeg, in other words, heaven.

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North of downtown, nestled along the Lake Huron shoreline is an Historic neighborhood called Sherman Woods. The first house went up in 1926, today 63 households make up the district. We like walking here any time of year; streets meander past mature trees, over gentle hills, giving homeowners views of the great lake. Each house is completely different from the next, built in different styles throughout different time periods. The neighborhood enjoys 700 feet of private beachfront, a sidewalk allows visitors like us a glimpse of the beautiful lakefront homes. This time of year is even more special, residents go all out with their decorations. The most common decoration, a theme you might say, is a ball made of chicken wire, drenched in lights and strung from high branches in towering trees. It’s hard to describe the sensation, bubbles everywhere, like you’re floating in a glass of Christmas champagne… We take our time walking from street to street, other couples, families, even dogs seem to be delighted by what we see. Darkness has fully arrived and with it a steady stream of cars taking in the splendor. That’s our cue it’s time to go.

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Kris takes the scenic way back, always on the roads that cling to the water. Christmas lights pierce the darkness, each little town has gotten in on the act. We cruise through a light display at a water-side park, oh good, that house near Junction Buoy did the blue lights on the tree. Even the Canadian refineries look like they’re decked out for the holiday. It’s been an amazing evening. Go grab your calendar, turn to December and make yourself a little note; Port Huron, Tom & Jerry, Lights. You’ll have as much fun as we did!

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Ann Arbor: A Manor Christmas

19 Dec

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Earhart Manor rests on the grounds of Concordia University in Ann Arbor. Today the manor is open to the public for a Christmas tour of the home and grounds; all proceeds provide the Concordia Guild scholarship support for the university students. Once a 400-acre dairy farm, the property known then as The Meadows was purchased by Harry B Earhart and his wife Carrie in 1916. H.B. Earhart was the agent for the White Star Refining Company based in Buffalo NY. He purchased the failing company in 1911, moved its headquarters to Michigan and watched the business flourish as the auto industry boomed. He turned the company into a major enterprise that included a chain of gas stations and a refinery in Oklahoma. He eventually sold the business to Socony-Vacuum Oil Co. which later became Mobil; something tells me he did all right. At first the family used the Meadows as a get-away, they moved there from Detroit in 1920. When H.B. retired at the age of 66 he decided to build the home of his dreams on the property, the manor was completed in 1935.

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The limestone home was designed by Detroit architectural firm Smith, Hinchman and Grylls, the exterior is elegantly detailed with a slate roof, copper eaves and stone detailing; they even hand-chisled the limestone to simulate age. Festive garlands with bright red bows adorn the front entrance. Inside we are greeted by volunteers giving details about the home. I expected the interior to be large open spaces but instead find charming, intimate rooms. The foyer is light filled and bright, decorations stream from the ceiling and walls, a built-in cabinet holds an antique record player surrounded by vintage record albums from Bing Crosby, Kate Smith and others. Albums could be stacked for continuous play, what a cool contraption. Each room in the house has been decorated by a different interior designer; I love looking at all the beautiful decorations. Traffic flow is at a stand-still so we take the stairs to the 3rd floor, stopping along the way to admire the Art Deco handrail, newel and balusters. We arrive at the Ballroom, the barrel ceiling with a skylight is pretty awesome; gold and silver stars dangle from the ceiling. The decorating theme is Nativities, I’ve never seen so many different ones. This is where the Earhart’s would entertain; there’s a stage at one end where a band would perform or the grandchildren would put on plays. A movie projection booth is on the opposite side, since there was no sound system they played family home movies on the screen instead of Hollywood films. 

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The second floor is where the family slept. When they moved into the house 3 of their 4 children had already gone off to college, Elizabeth was already in high school; no need for lots of bedrooms. Today the bedrooms are used for offices and conference rooms and are not open for the tour. Descending the staircase gives us a nice view of the main floor, people have dispersed into other areas making it easy for us to move around. At one end of the hall is the Dining Room, it’s gorgeous. Decked out in cream and turquoise, a pretty chandelier, ornate fireplace and lovely architectural details make the room opulent. A pencil tree wears colored decorations to match the room, Christmas figurines stand in recessed shelves. In their later years Mr and Mrs Earhart took their meals at the small table in the breakfast nook. I’ve decided this is my favorite room.

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The Library is next, wood paneling, full bookcases and deep colors give the room a definite masculine feel. Poinsettia-filled urns flank the fireplace, evergreen roping is draped throughout the space. Two Christmas trees are decorated with white lights, silk flowers and wide ribbon. On one side a bookcase has been slid open revealing a ‘secret’ staircase, let’s see where it goes. Concrete steps and brick walls lead us to the basement Billiard Room, sweet! As you would expect the room is decorated perfectly for Christmas; lots of live greens, baskets of fruit, nuts and pine cones. Candles flicker in the fireplace, antique light fixtures give the room a warm glow. This is where H.B. would hang out with his friends.

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Back up in the main hall we poke our heads into the study, we see another secret passage in the wall. The Living Room is the largest room in the house; surrounded by rich wood paneling with a large fireplace it’s actually quite cozy. A grand piano sits at the far end, the Earhart’s were fond of music, a Christmas tree is set up in front of the bay window, I bet that’s the way the family did it too. When the house was built they incorporated the latest technology for the time; air conditioning, showers with ten heads, vented closets with lights that went on when you opened the door. They say Mrs Earhart was never more than 10 feet away from a call button to summon servants.

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We exit through the glass doors onto the patio, a gorgeous Pewabic tile fountain is built into the wall. The grounds are pretty expansive; there used to be a Peony-lined walk, Rose garden and lily pond. We walk past the gazebo and grape arbor to the greenhouse, this was here long before they built the manor house. You can tell it’s really old by the glass panes and mechanisms used to open and close the windows. One section has Christmas trees for sale, you can also purchase Poinsettia plants, flowering cactus, Cyclamen, ornaments and hand-made cards. Decorated trees are on display in the other half of the greenhouse, they were part of an auction held earlier in the week and are waiting to be picked up.

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Carrie passed away in 1940, H.B. stayed in the house, they say the greenhouse was one of his favorite places to sit and be with friends. I also learned that H.B. was the primary creator of the Huron-Clinton Metro Authority. H.B. passed away in 1954 at the age of 83. A portion of the Earhart Estate including the manor was sold to the Lutheran Church in 1961 for the establishment of Concordia University. The private university offers majors in four academic schools: Nursing, Arts & Sciences, Business, Education. The school restored the manor and continues to care for it and the grounds.

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Time to eat! Zingerman’s Roadhouse on Jackson rd has been here for 15 years now. It’s the 7th member of Zingerman’s community of businesses in Ann Arbor. While places like the deli celebrate good food from all over the world, the Roadhouse focuses on really good American food with old-time classics like mac and cheese, fried chicken, corn dogs and Carolina bbq. It’s super-busy when we arrive but the wait is short. I’m so hungry I can’t decide what to get, Kris is in a breakfast mood, an omelette it is. The other good thing about breakfast items is they don’t take long to cook. The omelette is fluffy and filled with tasty items like cheese, bacon and spinach, the homemade biscuit is surrounded by little cups of creamed honey, jam and butter. French fries and cheesy grits complete the meal. That was good! Be sure and check out the nifty collection of antique salt and pepper shakers displayed throughout the restaurant. Before we hit the road I stop at the Roadshow, a vintage Spartan trailer attached to the Roadhouse that offers the convenience of a drive-thru or a walk-up window for carry-out or coffee, I’m here for the coffee. It’s been a really good day.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a New Year filled with fun adventures!

Indiana Dunes

18 Nov

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 We’re heading south to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for the Century Of Progress Home Tour. We get an early start, surrounded by the blue of the lake and the cloudless sky we’re following the shoreline down; the lake is on the right, stunning beach homes on the left.  Our tour leaves from the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center at 11:20. After checking in we have a little time to check out the Century of Progress Historic District display. Here’s a little background on what we’re going to see. In 1927 Frederick Bartlett purchased 3,600 acres of land along the Lake Michigan shoreline for a planned resort community, the land was plotted into thousands of home sites. The Great Depression brought the development to a halt, many of the plots were never built on. In 1933 Frederick’s brother Robert purchased the development, he named it after his daughter, Beverly Shores was born. Robert had a brilliant idea, the extremely successful Chicago 1933-34 Century of Progress World’s Fair had come to an end. Why not purchase some of the demonstration homes and move them to Beverly Shores? He did. He bought 16 buildings in all, four of the houses on the tour were moved by barge across Lake Michigan to the spot they still sit today; the fifth home was brought by truck. Surely the notoriety would bring publicity to the area and the development.

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Our tour guide works for the National Park Service, as we drive he explains that with the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966, the National Park service began acquiring land and buildings including the Century of Progress homes. Indiana Landmarks has leased all of the houses from the NPS, subleasing them to private individuals who restore them using their own funds, we’re talking millions. We make a left, soon the lake comes into view, a right turn and the bus parks. All 25 of us disembark, the Armco-Ferro House sits on a bluff to our right, the Chicago skyline can be seen clearly across Lake Michigan. The house was originally all metal; walls, floors and the roof were corrugated steel panels, the exterior panels were porcelain-enameled. In 1933 the house was touted as having a maintenance-free exterior; over time the elements took their toll, the roof leaked, water got in everywhere, there was rust and deterioration, not to mention the house was basically set on a sand dune. Fortunately for all of us, the perfect people leased the house, they had it raised and a new foundation installed. The house has been restored with a mix of old and new materials; exterior panels are now stainless steel, windows are restored originals, it looks awesome! Inside, period furniture fills the rooms, the view from the front windows is exceptional, magazine articles from 1933 are framed and on display. I love the little Art Deco touches. 

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We walk next door to the House of Tomorrow, this one is under restoration by Indiana Landmarks along with the National Trust. The $2.5 million project will recapture the 1934 appearance. Standing outside, it reminds me of a giant wedding cake; you wouldn’t know it by looking at it today but the second and third stories of this 3-story, steel framed house were clad in glass–talk about solar energy! The main floor contained the workshop, mechanical room, garage and of course what every 20th century family needed, an airplane hangar. At the World’s Fair people were drawn to its innovative structure, prefabricated and modern materials; Modernism had arrived. Sandwich boards display photos and information about the building, it was pretty amazing for its time. The interior is a maze of studs, work lights, flaking paint and rust. A circular stairway leads us to the second and third floors. Parts of the original kitchen remain, the Elgin nameplate still clings to the steel cabinets. Light leaks in from open spaces caused by missing floor boards, be careful where you step. I find it fascinating to think people actually lived here more than 80 years ago. There’s a story that says when the house was on display in Chicago it got so hot inside during the summer months the docent had to stand outside…

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The theme of the 1933-34 World’s Fair was technological innovation, American Rolling Mill Company and the Ferro Enamel Corporation sponsored the first house, the House of Tomorrow was designed and sponsored by Chicago architect George Fred Kreck, he set out to change the direction of residential architecture. The next house was sponsored by the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association. They hired Chicago architect Murray D Hetherington to design a structure to promote cypress as a building material, which brings us to the Cypress Log House and Guest House. As we stand in line waiting to go in Kris and I admire the building, it has all the charm of a mountain lodge; stone chimney, gorgeous dark wood exterior, cedar shingles, window boxes, green-painted window frames, it even has bird houses built into the design. I wish you could see the inside, it looks straight out of a magazine with Martha Stewart as the decorator. Lots of wood, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake, a huge stone fireplace; I want to sit down and have a cup of coffee in one of the comfy-looking chairs. This is the house that was moved to Beverly Shores by truck. It’s lovely.

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Now remember, this was 1933, the Great Depression still gripped the nation. My father-in-law lived in Chicago at the time, I love to imagine him as the 10-year-old boy that he was, riding his bike around the fair. Visitors got a glimpse of the latest wonders in rail travel, automobiles and architecture. The Houses of Tomorrow exhibit allowed people to dream of a better time with new, modern home conveniences, exciting designs and new building materials. The Wieboldt-Rostone House designed by Walter Scholer blended Art Deco and Art Moderne elements to showcase the use of steel and masonry for a modern family home. The Indiana Bridge Company provided the structural system, including wall framing and corrugated steel roof panels. Unfortunately for this house the exterior was clad in an experimental synthetic stone (Rostone) composed of shale and limestone waste. It failed in 1950 and had to be replaced with Perma-Stone. In the 1980’s the Perma-Stone began to fail, the lake levels rose causing problems with the septic field, the roof leaked, damaging the interior. The exterior has been completely restored right down to the landscaping; the original Rostone still surrounds the front door and entry hall. The bathroom managed to survive and in a word its fabulous! The house is right on the beach so the view is amazing. 

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For us the Florida Tropical House was the true gem of the tour. First of all, who can resist a Flamingo-pink-colored house? Second, who wouldn’t want to live on Lake Michigan? Third, who doesn’t love Art Deco? The state of Florida sponsored this house to entice people to come to Florida for a tropical getaway. At that time Florida was in the early stages of becoming a ‘vacation paradise’. From the moment we step in the door I’m speechless, I walk along tapping Kris’s arm and pointing at things; the hand-painted Art Deco murals, the soaring windows, the aluminum hand rails and stairs, decorative door knobs and hinges; truly glamorous in an old-Hollywood kind-of-way. The furniture is all period-perfect, the colors tropical, the overhangs and roof decks, wow–the only thing missing is a Palm tree. The house is magnificent. The owner has completely restored the building including installing 192 foundation piers to level it and provide a firm footing. I wish we could show you the interiors but photos are not permitted. Time to load the bus and head back to the Visitors Center.

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Before heading back we take a drive through Indiana Dunes State Park. We park and take a walk on one of the beaches, funny we’ve never really explored this part of Lake Michigan before. Old Art Deco buildings stand in sandy parking lots, trees and shrubs grip the dunes, Chicago skyscrapers loom in the distance. We leave the park driving on a two-lane road through forest and wetlands on our way to Michigan City  ,we don’t pass another vehicle. We’ve run out of snacks and bottled water, time to get some real food.

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We were out this way last May and found a great little microbrewery in the Elston Grove Historic District, that’s where we’re having lunch. Zorn Brew Works originally opened in 1871 when Bavarian immigrant Phillip Zorn migrated to Michigan City IN to start his own brewery; unfortunately it closed in 1938. 77 years later Michigan City’s oldest microbrewery became its newest as Zorn Brew Works was reborn at 9th and York streets. It’s a great old brick building with tons of charm and character from its brass chandeliers to the cool old beer posters and memorabilia. The beer is great, I had the Elston Grove Oatmeal Stout, Kris had the Carriage House double IPA. The food is delicious; I could just drink the beer and eat the pretzel bites dipped in beer cheese but then I would miss out on the excellent sandwiches, we had the Zorn, yum! It’s a great place to stop in and just chill out, especially after a busy day like we’ve had.

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Back up the coast we go, if you really look you can find tiny roads that let you ride along the water, the houses along the shore are pretty amazing too! One of our favorite places to drive though in the area is Beachwalk, a resort development of cottages and beach homes that looks like a box of crayola crayons. Let’s take a drive through. The streets wind past lavender, turquoise, lime, yellow, coral and blue cottages. All are surrounded by a white picket fence, sand and dune grass replaces traditional lawns. Homes range from one to three stories, balconies, decks and porches are trimmed out in crisp white. We have been driving through here for years, the development started with 7 homes, today there are nearly 200.  Many of the cottages have been closed up for the season, shades are pulled, grills are covered, fallen leaves gather on porch steps. 

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Driving north along the lake we pass through charming beach communities in Michiana, Grand Beach and New Buffalo, I highly recommend the drive. Not only is Lake Michigan gorgeous but the array of houses perched on the bluff is fantastic. You’ll see everything from a traditional brick ranch to an old stucco beauty from the 1920’s, there are Tudors, orange tile roofs, contemporary homes and mid-century moderns. The one feature they all share is large windows; who can resist that view?

St Joseph

5 Nov

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From the tip of the Mitten to the cuff, there is no shortage of charming little towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Today we’re about 190 miles west of Detroit in the city of St. Joseph.  It’s locale, about 90 miles northeast of Chicago, made it a huge tourist destination complete with miles of sandy beachfront and an amusement park back in the day. This lovely port town sits on a bluff overlooking the lake, a pair of lighthouses flank the St Joseph River; inland some of the country’s finest orchards and vineyards cover the rolling countryside. This is the largest non-citrus fruit-growing region in the nation. Every summer tourists swarm the city; they swim in the cool blue water, shop in unique boutiques, eat ice cream and fudge and watch spectacular sunsets. At this time of year the bulk of tourists have gone home, there are no lines, we share tree-lined streets with locals and parking is easy.

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The first order of business is lunch; we prefer someplace with a scenic view, Schu’s on Pleasant Street is perfect. The restaurant has an old-school, resort town feel; lots of wood, a stone fireplace, an upside down boat dangles from the ceiling, and of course, it has a view of the water. Service is speedy and friendly, before we know it we’re enjoying a delicious burger cooked perfectly medium with a pile of crispy fries. When we’re finished I grab my umbrella out of the Jeep and we take a stroll through town. Rain has begun, we duck into Cafe Tosi to grab a coffee, the caramel bomb looks too good to resist, I meet Kris at the table with our drinks, a sweet treat and two forks. The sunny yellow interior is opposite of the dreary scene out the window. The place is buzzing with activity, everybody seems to know each other, I like that. When I think of St Joseph one of the first things that comes to mind is the elegant Maids Of The Mist Fountain. Cherubs join two female statues nicknamed Constance and Hope sitting beneath the largest of three basins as water cascades into the pool below; I really love these old fountains. Built in 1872 by JW Fiske Ironworks of NYC, the owner of the Whitcomb Hotel purchased it out of Chicago and moved it to Lake Bluff Park in 1892, it has become a city landmark.

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By the time we’re finished the rain has stopped; time to explore. Many of the storefronts look unchanged, flowerpots are filled with colorful blooms, water bowls offer furry friends a little refreshment. In and out of shops we go, Michigan-themed shirts, hats, bags and drinkware are found in Lazy Daisy. There’s a cool consignment shop called Re Imagine filled with do-dads, art and craft supplies, fun gifts, repurposed items, jams and honey. The whimsical cows of the ‘cow parade’ make me smile. A couple of shops offer wine tastings from local vineyards, South Bend Chocolate Company has all kinds of chocolate treats, cakes and cheesecakes. No Michigan tourist town is legit without a Kilwins, I can smell the fudge from the sidewalk; this one is doing a brisk business today. We find the antique shops in town have a nice selection of Mid Century Modern pieces. In addition to furniture and accessories this one has a fantastic collection of cameras tucked snugly into wooden cubbies. The only brand names I recognize are Polaroid and Kodak. They have some great movie cameras too along with vintage advertisements.

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Black Rose Jewelry’s storefront is gorgeous; black vitrolite and unique showcase windows that you only find in a jewelry store. I wonder if this has always been a jewelry store. I imagine many businesses have come and gone through the decades. Perennial Accents is a good example, now a kitchen-goods store filled with gadgets, small appliances, linens, colanders and graters, a brass plaque on the floor tells us this was originally Gillespies Drugstore in 1866. Schaller Gallery housed in an attractive brick building sells fabulous handmade pottery. White walls and simple tables and shelves allow the pottery to get all the attention. Teapots, dishes, mugs are all beautiful, you can eat off of art. Our favorite building is an old bank that houses Wanderlust, an outdoor apparel and gear store. We go inside to see if any of the old architecture remains, we’re delighted to find thick moldings, columns and original ceiling details. The coolest part is the safes, they’re gorgeous! Look at the hinges, gears, decorative patterns everywhere, they use some of them for dressing rooms–makes me want to try something on.

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 In 1891 the Silver Beach Amusement Park opened on the land between the lake and the mouth of the St Joseph River, think Coney Island in NY; rides, concessions, games of chance, bumper cars and a boardwalk; they added a roller coaster in 1904 called Chase Through The Clouds. In 1910 a carousel was brought in; 44 hand-carved, life-like horses; it was hugely popular.The carousel operated continuously until 1971 when the amusement park closed. Today thanks to the dedication and fundraising ability of the Silver Beach Carousel Society a replica carousel has been placed at Silver Beach Center, an entertainment center below the bluff just yards from Lake Michigan’s Silver Beach. We park in the center’s lot, the building is part museum, part activity center. Inside large black and white photos and memorabilia  give us a peek at Silver Beach in its heyday; crowds of people on the beach, a rollercoaster, rides and several buildings including Shadowland Ballroom which opened in 1927; a caption reads “This place was so cool”.  People came by car and train to this amazing summer play land. Next we check out the carousel, in operation since 2010, it was built by Carousel works in Mansfield OH. There are only a few riders this afternoon. We watch as bejeweled horses rise and fall to old-fashioned music, there’s a serpent and a peacock chariot for those who prefer an even ride. Rounding boards around the top depict historical themes of southwest Michigan; computer graphics artists created the boards using a montage of colorized, historic photos. Around the carousel we find vintage cars from rides, penny arcade machines and a gypsy who will tell us our fortune for pocket change.

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We only have 1 day in St Joseph so we’re trying to do as much as possible. This area of Michigan is largely agricultural, grapes are plentiful, which means so is wine. The northern route of the Makers Trail runs through Stevensville, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Coloma and Watervliet. Let’s start with Karma Vista Vineyard and Winery. The view of the vineyard and farm from the tasting room is outstanding. Light rain continues to fall across the landscape, it feels good to be inside. I head straight to the counter to do a tasting, Kris looks around a little taking photos out the large windows, you can see the tractor marks in the freshly mowed lawn, vines are dense with leaves and heavy with dark clusters of grapes. With Kris’s help I taste about 6 different wines, I’m impresses with their Cabernet; I like all of them, seriously. I choose a few bottles to take home and we’re off to the next winery.

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Vineyard 2121 is on Red Arrow Highway, it’s pretty popular on this late Friday afternoon. Wooden steps lead us from the gravel parking lot to the red-sided tasting room. There’s live music on the far side, there are 2 open seats at the circular bar. A group of girlfriends have gathered for a bite of food and glasses of wine. I order a glass of white wine and sip on it while checking out the merchandise; they have many varieties of wine along with t-shirts, glasses, all the usual things one finds at a winery. As we drive to the next place we pass rows and rows of grapevines, they are loaded with fruit, part of me just wants to stop and pick a grape and eat it straight from the vine. It’s harvest season, someone told us that on a nice day an enticing grape scent fills the air–like smelling grape juice. Speaking of grape juice, this is where a lot of the grapes are grown for Welch’s Grape juice.

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12 Corners Vineyards is my favorite winery of the day. The cozy interior has a knotty pine ceiling, large wooden beams and a stunning view of the vineyard. It’s a big place; there are a couple of bars for tasting, cafe tables for drinking and rack after rack of Estate and Ice Wine, oh and Big Daddy Hard Cider too. I check out the tasting menu, it’s a long list. People around us are super-friendly and share tips on their favorites. We tried a little of everything; red, white and fruit wines. When we were finished and making our decision on what to purchase they served us each a piece of chocolate from Vineyards Chocolate, wine and chocolate? It doesn’t get better than this! 

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Ypsilanti: Calling All Cars

16 Oct

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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