Tag Archives: Albert Kahn

DETROIT: Kahn Artist…

24 Mar

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We’re at Lawrence Technological University’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology in Midtown. The 30,000 sq. ft. building rose from a long-empty lot in 2014; it was one of the first new structures built as part of the redevelopment of the Woodward Corridor. This building is home to the Architecture and Design programs; classrooms and meeting space allow for co-working and collaboration between students, faculty, designers and professionals.   The star attraction today is Albert Kahn At The Crossroads: The “Lost” Belle Isle Aquarium and Horticultural Building Blueprints. I’m very excited, you see, these particular blueprints are made from the original 1901 architectural drawings used to build the structures; they are the only known surviving copies of the originals and have been kept in private hands. The blueprints lead the way for the Belle Isle Conservancy’s continuous  renovation  of the aquarium and conservatory.

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We talk about Albert Kahn a lot on DetroitDvotion, he was the ‘architect of Detroit’. He is the foremost American industrial architect of his day, he revolutionized the design of industrial buildings around the world. Together with his engineer brother Julius, they developed a new style of construction using re-inforced concrete instead of wood in factory walls, roofs and supports. Kahn helped to create industrial America; designing more than 1,000 buildings for Ford, several 100 for GM, he designed 500 factories in the Soviet Union not to mention the many commercial, institutional and residential structures here in Michigan. Here’s a smattering of his buildings: The Fisher, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Packard Plant, Temple Beth-El (now the Bonstelle) SS Kresge World HQ, Cranbrook House, Detroit Athletic Club, Willistead Manor, Russell Industrial Center and multiple structures on the University Of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. That’s just the tip of the iceberg…

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We step inside the gallery, white-legged tables are covered with black cloths, we have the place to ourselves, we head up the stairs to have a look around. Long work tables sit empty in conference rooms, drawings are tacked to walls, scale buildings are in the process of being assembled. We are surrounded by glass and windows, like we’re sitting in a nest above Woodward. From the landing we can look out over the gallery, let’s take a look at those blueprints. One by one we take the cloths off the tables revealing the original blueprints under glass. We study the North and South Elevation of the buildings, the entrance of the Beaux Arts style aquarium with its spectacular pillars and carvings. Opened in 1904 this is the oldest public aquarium in North America, it is also the oldest aquarium/conservatory combo in the world. How’s this for cool; the basement of the aquarium served as a speakeasy during prohibition!

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The conservatory was originally called the Horticultural Building, this is how it is referred to on the blueprints. The oldest continually running conservatory in the U S, it was modeled after great garden pavilions of the late 19th century, specifically the Crystal Palace and Palm House at Kew Gardens in London. Moving from print to print we take in architectural ornamentation long missing from the horticultural building. Sections of the cornice, palm house, vestibule and lantern of the Palm House are all familiar to us, I really like the one of the dome. One of the drawings reveals the walkway that once connected the two buildings, the conservancy hopes to restore it making it possible to go from building to building without ever stepping outside. Black and white photos show construction of the structures from 1902, I stare at the frame of the dome before the glass was installed, another shows the progress of aquarium rotunda, fascinating!

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Outside we get our first up-close look at the QLINE in action, streetcar #288 is out on a test-run. Rock City Eatery is just across Woodward; we haven’t been to the new space since they moved from Hamtramck, I’m anxious to give it a try. The interior features a Detroit Rock theme, the space is raw with exposed rafters, Rock and Roll Icons grace the walls, patio lights are strung across the ceiling. The menu retains its creative style of offerings. We start with today’s special: BBQ Potato Chips, homemade chips loaded with bbq pork, green onions and a sprinkling of feta cheese, so good…. The Middle Eastern Pizza is topped with Harissa, date, lamb sausage, onions, goat cheese, zakatar, caramelized fennel and parsley; great combo of flavors, delicious!

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Moving on, Kris is thinking ice cream, Treat Dreams is just a block away on Cass, let’s go. We find an open space right in front of Mills Pharmacy + Apothecary, I’d like to take a look inside. Mills has been a staple in Birmingham since 1946, the Stuber-Stone building is currently their additional location while they hunt for a permanent Detroit spot. This is one of those stores that smells really good; the shop is filled with skin care items, bath and spa products, fragrances for you and your home. They carry global brands such as Mad et Len, Panier des Sens, Leonor Greyl and Korres. Products are displayed on tables, shelves racks and cabinets, labels are pretty. Soap, candles, perfume and lotion, I sniff my way through the store.

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Now for the ice cream. Treat Dreams features unique flavors of homemade ice cream, baked goods and coffee. The interior is a cheerful combo of purple and white, chalkboards call out today selections. On the ice cream board they have Holi Canoli, Blueberry Paczki and Dirty Martini to name a few; there are also vegan flavors and sorbet to choose from. Kris and I are having an espresso shake made with Salted Caramel ice cream, the woman behind the counter promises we’ll like it. Sitting at a table that overlooks Cass we drink our shake, the only words coming from our lips are about how good it is. The cup is empty faster than either of us would like, we leave the shop feeling sweetly satisfied.

DETROIT: Just Another Night…

11 Feb

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Today we’re downtown to check out a couple of new places. Our first stop is in the former Federal Reserve Building on Fort Street. The original building opened in 1927, a lovely three and a half-story example of Classical Revival architecture. An eight-story glass and marble annex designed by Minoru Yamasaki in the International Style was added in 1951. Today the building houses the Detroit News and Free Press, the Rosetti architectural firm (they did the building renovations) and our reason for being here, Maru Sushi.

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It’s late afternoon, there are only a few other diners in the 4,500 sq. ft space, sunlight pours in through two-story-tall windows. The room is designed to look like a fisherman’s net with metal netting acting as dividers and a wave-like light fixture. Japanese artwork, raw concrete walls, natural stone, marble accents, decorate the soaring, open space. The original revolving door entrance to the building has been reinvented as a private booth–sweet. The menu is filled with rolls, sashimi, nigiri, sharing plates, soups, salads and noodles. We’re having the Spicy Tuna, Flaming Crab and Archer rolls. Everything is super-fresh, nice flavor combinations and generous in size. 

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After lunch we wander around the building; the flooring is a combination of original terrazzo with new stone-like paths. A series of wooden ribs sweeps across the ceiling, the reception desk is surrounded by mirrors, rough rock makes up a portion of a wall, bright red accents add a splash of color. Gorgeous marble walls and columns are backlit creating a striking effect. The second floor is open and overlooks the lobby, here we get a birds-eye-view of the restaurant, first floor and Fort Street; sitting areas are comfortable and attractive. I’m glad to see they maintained the integrity of the original Mid-Century Modern style.

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A short walk and we’re in Capitol Park. Did you know this is where Michigan’s State Capitol Building was originally located? Detroit was the state’s capitol from 1837-1847 when it moved to Lansing–hence the name Capitol Park. We stop in at The Albert, a 12-story luxury apartment building. Designed by Albert Kahn (of course), built in 1929, it was originally called the Detroit Griswold Building. It went from an office building to senior apartments to 127 market-rate units and renamed after the architect who designed it. We take the stairs to the 3rd floor common areas; here residents can play games, watch TV, throw a party or just cozy up in a corner and read. The large open space is decorated in bold colors, the outside wall is glass with a spectacular view of Capitol Park. Sitting areas, dining areas, I love the open coffer revealing the buildings original terracotta floor slabs above. The terrace offers outdoor seating and a community BBQ, whatever somebody’s cooking sure smells good! On the main floor we take the back exit to the alley, now we just have to find the right door….

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Detroit’s newest addition to the craft cocktail scene is Bad Luck Bar. The latest offering by the Detroit Optimist Society (Sugar House, Wright & Company) is definitely unique. In the alley a red light glows beyond a glass block window, the snake drawn on the door below the address assures us we’ve found the place. The tiny lobby is separated from the bar by a velvet curtain, a neon eye symbol illuminates the space. The host leads us through the compact, elegant room and seats at the bar. Cherry wood walls are finished with a hexagonal pattern, handmade hexagonal lights hang low from the ceiling, illuminati symbols are tucked into the decor; it feels very upscale. In keeping with the Bad Luck theme there are 13 choices on the cocktail menu, rare and unusual liquors are incorporated into creative combinations. We order our drinks then sit back and watch the show. Kris is having “Death”, I can’t tell you what’s in it but when all the measuring and shaking is complete it’s poured into a skull Tiki-style glass and set on fire, how cool is that? And it tastes fantastic. I’m having the Empress, again I have no idea what it’s made with, it served in a tall fluted glass ad garnished with housemade lavender popping sugar, it’s so good! Come here for the drinks and the experience.

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LuminoCITY Detroit runs until February 18, be sure and check it out! It’s hard to describe, fortunately we have good photos to share with you. It’s called a large-scale interactive art installation experience, I call it awesome. Beautifully illuminated shapes and designs of different sizes are placed in sites around downtown, they twist and flow to a curated light show. Right here in Capitol Park is Arcade, it sort of reminds me of a roller coaster; up and down, sharp turns, each section glows in a different color. Light Weaver sits on the old Hudson’s site, horse shoe shaped structures change colors, first it’s all blue then it becomes red, pink, yellow and orange, whimsical circles dance on the surface.

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180 Beacon on Woodward is a pretty deep-blue ring, it makes me want to jump through it, which is kind of the purpose of the installation. It encourages people to walk around the city, go from one structure to the next, discover something new, stop in at a restaurant, shop or bar. In Grand Circus Park 360 Beacons is a twist of primary colors, across the street is Gateway, the largest piece of the group. A huge multi-dimensional, multi-colored, patterned rainbow greets all who pass. We stand and watch as the color palette transitions from warm to cool, textures and shapes are projected across the surface. Art, technology and design working together, making Detroit a better place.

DETROIT: Wayne State Walkabout

6 Aug

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Kris and I consider the campus of Wayne State University to be one of Detroit’s hidden gems. You may have driven by Old Main on Cass Ave, remarked on the attractive building as you passed and not given it a second thought. Most do not realize that a walk through WSU’s campus is a study in Modern architecture. Present day WSU began its existence as a university in 1933 when a combination of Detroit colleges came together to form a single institution. The former Central High School building at Cass and Warren became what is now Old Main; other residential and commercial buildings in the surrounding neighborhood were re-purposed to fill the needs of the college. A master plan for the campus was created in 1942 by yet unknown architect Suren Pilafian; the GI Bill passed in 1944 and enrollment swelled; buildings had to be built. The end of the 1940’s were just the beginning of the Modern architectural style; the tone was set. 

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In 1948 State Hall, designed by Pilafian was the first building built specifically for the university, followed up by the Community Arts Complex and College of Engineering, all were designed in the Modern style. The names of other contributing architects is pretty much a who’s who list of Modern design; Alden B Dow, Harley, Ellington and Day, Glen Paulson, Albert Kahn, Giacomo Manzu and Minoru Yamasaki. It doesn’t matter if you recognize these names or not; what I want you to know, or, what I’d like you to appreciate, is what an important place Detroit has always been. This city was prominent, wealthy and proud; buildings were designed by the best in the business —– many lived here in metro Detroit. The money was here to attract the best of the best whether in business, music, art or design. Let’s go for a walk…………

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Our main agenda for the day is to spend some time at the McGregor Conference Center’s newly restored reflecting pool, designed by none other than Minoru Yamasaki. The building was the first of four that Yamasaki would design for WSU between 1957 and 1964, in my opinion it is one of his best. Finished in 1958, the pool had suffered much damage to its foundation through the years, it was drained in the late 90’s; repaired and restored, it received much attention when it was again filled with water in 2013. I knew it would be lovely, but I really wasn’t prepared for just how wonderful it is. It’s large L-shape design and shallow pool project peace and tranquility; large boulders are scattered about the onyx colored bottom, rectangular concrete islands are connected by dark planks. On one end a single figure on a pedestal gazes into the water thoughtfully; Giacomo Manzu’s The Nymph and The Faun bronze sculptures look perfectly at ease on one of the islands; the nymph reclines in the sunshine as she lifts her head to study the crouching faun; this piece was added in 1968. The water is perfectly still, the clouds and blue sky are mirrored on the surface. Large circular white planters add a pop of green to the black and white background. I love the floating staircase that leads from the McGregor to the center island. The College of Education, another Yamasaki building is seen in the distance.

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We continue our walk through the urban campus on sidewalks, under porticos and through grassy expanses intermixed with concrete plazas, sculptures and sitting areas. The Community Arts Center and Music Building has a very 50’s feel to it, The Shapero Hall of Pharmacy starts out small at ground level and gets bigger with each story; elongated windows look out over raised planters and lush lawn. Alumni House with its smoke colored glass becomes part of the surrounding landscape. Newer buildings have been integrated and seem to fall into place with original structures, it all works together. The Jacob House, built in 1915 in the Mediterranean style is now the residence of the President of WSU, the Chatsworth Tower apartment building is an elegant 9-story building built in 1929, not far from that is the new Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center. After the McGregor, the Helen L DeRoy Auditorium is my favorite building here, also a Yamasaki, it has such great lines; the ribs and eaves create an almost floral design; I hope one day the reflecting pool will be restored. Walking back toward Cass we cross the Meyer and Anna Prentis Building, designed by Yamasaki and built at the same time (1964) as the auditorium, it is distinctly Modern. We pass the former William C Rands residence, a huge stone house designed by George Mason, built in 1913, now used by the university, the Music Annex and finally our car……time for lunch.

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Northern Lights Lounge has a new patio; just a short ride from WSU, we are there in no time. It is mid-afternoon and we have the brick patio all to ourselves; newly planted trees take up residence along with pots of colorful annuals. Sandwiched between two buildings and closed off in back by a bright orange fence, the space feels secluded from the rush of the city. We are no strangers to the menu here, so ordering was quick and easy. We relax under the comfort of a large umbrella, sipping our drinks and watching pedestrians pass on Baltimore when our server arrives with lunch. The veggie nachos here are outstanding; white corn tortilla chips covered with two kinds of melted cheese, piled with black beans, tomato, onion, green pepper, black olives and pickled jalapeno, yum! The Julienne Salad is loaded with ham, turkey, swiss, american and a hard-boiled egg scattered over salad greens, we like the homemade ranch dressing. 

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Dessert is a great way to end such a nice afternoon, we head over to  Avalon Breads, they always have an excellent selection of sweet treats. We stare at cookies, brownies, sticky buns and scones, then we see the sign: Ice Cream Sandwiches! Choose either Sea Salt Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin cookies, a scoop of Ashby’s Vanilla in the middle and there you have it. Without hesitation we go with the chocolate chip; as the sandwich is being assembled I order an iced coffee and meet Kris back at a table. The cookie is soft and chewy, the vanilla ice cream a perfect complement to the salty and sweet flavor of the cookie….add iced coffee to the mix and you have perfection! 

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DETROIT: Checkin’ Out the Fisher…

10 Feb

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Detroit has suddenly become tour-riffic; you can see the city on foot, bicycle, bus, boat or Segway. You can learn about history, architecture, where to eat or have a cocktail, you can even go behind the scenes… Today we are touring “Detroit’s largest art object” otherwise known as the Fisher Building. Built in 1928, designed by (all together now….) Albert Kahn, paid for by the Fisher brothers as a gift to the city, the building is an Art Deco masterpiece. First some stats: The building stands 28 stories tall on W Grand Blvd, it has two 11-story wings, 641 bronze elevator doors and 1,275 miles of electrical and telephone wire. It was built in 15 months by Michigan contractors and workers.

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Pure Detroit is hosting their free weekly tour, we meet our guide Ryan in the lobby, 3-stories tall with a barrel-vaulted hand-painted ceiling, it is breath-taking. Today, in a special exhibit, a group of giant paper mache heads are scattered about the main floor vying for our attention. On loan from The Parade Company, they were originally created by artists in Viareggio Italy, some date back to the 1940’s. Two clown heads greet us first, painted cartoon style, the colors are bright and glossy. Continuing on we meet a pair of reindeer, an alligator and a blue hippo, a purple bug and a bumble bee are super cute.  Further on we come face to face with the Pirates of the Big Head collection, finely detailed, they sport tattoos, gold earrings and a treasure chest. I can see the old Italian newsprint in areas where the paint has chipped away. Many are in need of restoration, the exhibit hopes to encourage individuals to ‘adopt’ a big head, making donations to support the cost of restoration.

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The tour moves onward down the long corridor, we learn the building is constructed of Minnesota granite and Maryland marble. The original theater entrance lobby with it’s fluted marble pillars is stunning; in total, 40 varieties of marble from all of the world line the interior of the building. Near the Grand Blvd entrance, three original mosaics created by Geza Morati are as beautiful as the day they were completed, a brass piece in the floor is roped off, saving it from the wear of foot traffic. On the third floor we marvel at the frescos covering the ceiling; flora, fauna, hemlock, muses and red-haired cherubs were designed by Geza Maroti and painted by Antonio and Tomas de Lorenzo, at this level we can actually touch the arches, chandeliers seem only an arms length away. Ryan tells us the back in the day the ceiling was washed with buttermilk. He goes on to explain the symbolism of the eagles, the inclusion of commerce, transportation, art, agriculture and how the building reflected the new purely American style.

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A single elevator leads to the 26th floor, we must divide into groups as the elevator cannot take everyone at once. The doors open, we find ourselves in the Reception Room; back in the day floors 25-27 had a dining room, kitchen, living room and private elevator as this is where the Fisher brothers had their offices. At one time Persian rugs and massive hand-carved desks rested on the floor, very masculine. Dark walnut paneling, scrolled plaster ceiling, a fireplace and bronze chandeliers remain, I can’t say the same for the rest of the floor. Drop ceilings cap off empty rooms, but then there’s 360 degree view of the Detroit skyline. As we move from window to window taking in the sights Ryan tells us the Fisher building was originally topped with gold-leaf faced tile. During WWII it was feared the glimmering tower would become a target for bombings, it was covered with an asphalt material; after the war, the tower was covered with green terracotta tile as you see today. The Fisher family sold the building in 1962, in 2001 the Farbman Group of Southfield purchased the structure, an interesting bit of info: David Farbman, President and CEO of the Farbman Group has a family connection to the Fisher, Albert Kahn was his Great-Grand Uncle!

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The tour ends, back on the main floor we stop in at Stella Cafe for a cup of coffee. Recently remodeled using reclaimed wood the shop is bright and pleasant. A series of 3 yellow lamps dangle above the counter, the same marble floor graces the space. Stella roasts their own coffee beans, in addition they offer a selection of teas, juices, sweets, yogurt, soup and sandwiches. We drink our coffee surrounded by the beauty of the building. Vera Jane is just around the corner, offering a unique selection of handbags, lingerie, clothing and accessories, I like to stop in anytime we are in the building. Workshop is the latest retail addition, the shop sells handmade furniture created from Detroit reclaimed lumber. Vacant houses are disassembled, the wood is removed, sanded and refinished, James Willer of Reclaim Detroit and Kevin Borsay of Pure Detroit, then create furniture from the pieces. On display are dining tables, benches, shelving and coffee tables; each piece comes with the address of the house the wood came from, cool. I also love the wallpaper which comes from The Detroit Wallpaper Co.

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We stop in at Pure Detroit to say thanks for the tour, referred to as “The Store of All Things Detroit”,  husband and wife team Kevin and Shawn were the first to create a totally Detroit-centric shop. Through the years they have grown from a single store to three, each in a landmark building, and have added Stella and Rowland Cafe to the family.Their passion for the city is obvious in everything they do. We wander among all of the clothing, books, art, Pewabic Pottery and snacks, near the counter is an awesome model of the Fisher built from Legos, groovy! Kris purchases a hat and we are off…..

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The tour and shopping have left us starving, we park in the lot at Third Street Bar to grab some lunch. The room is dimly lit, tables are made from split logs, there’s a fireplace to the left, above it logs have been sliced into thin pieces and attached to the wall creating interesting patterns. It is late afternoon, the skee ball, dart board and shuffleboard table are still. We are here for some Dangerously Delicious Pie. I walk to the back corner where I find a wall- mounted menu of savory and sweet pies, on a table, a doorbell-like button  says “press for service”, so I do. I place the order, pay the man and join Kris back at the table. Before long, two pie tins piled high with leafy green salad and a piece of pie arrive. The BBQ pork is unbelievably delicious, the meat just falls apart, it is juicy and flavorful, the crust is to die for. The ham and cheese quiche is divine, it has the same wonderful crust; you get a nice slice of pie and a generous portion of salad for just 6 bucks. As much as we would like to try a piece of one of the dessert pies, we just can’t do it. The bar is open daily, pies are served for lunch, dinner and late night, we’ll be back………

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Packard Proving Grounds

14 Dec

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Detroit’s rich automotive and manufacturing history spreads far beyond the city limits. Today we are in Macomb County, Shelby Township to be exact, visiting the Packard Proving Grounds Historic Site. In 1927 the Packard Motor Car Company began constructing a testing facility on 560 acres of farmland in Shelby Twp. Designed by (don’t you know it) Albert Kahn, the steel-framed buildings were state-of-the-art in their day. The Lodge was home to proving grounds manager Charles Vincent and his family, with the start of WWII, the family left the Lodge in 1942. Packard continued to use the property until 1958, it was then sold to Curtiss-Wright, who in turn sold it to Ford Motor Company in 1961. By 1998 Ford no longer had use for the property. After a long series of negotiations the acquisition of the total site was a combination of a gift from Ford Motor Land Development Corp. and purchase by the Packard Motor Car Foundation.

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It is a chilly late Autumn day, a combination open house and car show is being held on the property. A line of cars has formed gaining entrance to the event, rows of vehicles are parked on the front lawn, the familiar scent of exhaust fumes fill the air. Everywhere I look people are milling about, vintage Packards are parked along the garage area, they are beautiful, elegant, dazzling. Many have Art Deco style designs and trim, colors range from rich jewel tones to creamy neutrals, spare tires are mounted on the side like a decoration, hood ornaments are large and showy, and then there’s the chrome……..  Most models had a letter or a number for a name: Model K, N, the Dominant Six or Super Eight, later they used names like the Caribbean, Clipper and Hawk. The vehicles are a testament to the era they were designed and equally as attractive today.

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The Lodge is open for tours today. We enter through the kitchen, renovation is an ongoing process, the vintage sink, stove and refrigerator are from the 1920’s. Passing through the sitting room it is pointed out that the fireplace brick was laid in Kahn’s signature herringbone design, the foyer floor is original Pewabic tile. Upstairs we find a series of bedrooms, the Vincent’s had three daughters, the youngest, Roberta is living in Arizona today, but has been back to visit the house. Windows are leaded glass, photos, books and Packard advertisements are displayed, wet plaster is under repair, yellow caution tape abounds. The master bedroom overlooks the main gate and the Princeton Elms that line the boulevard. We come to a hallway leading past several dormitory-style rooms, these were used by visitors to the Proving Grounds. Most interesting is the Radio Room. Mr. Vincent was a ham radio enthusiast; he designed and built the equipment used in the first successful air-to-ground radio-phone communication which was done at the Proving Grounds in 1929. The tour ends back downstairs in the living room, currently used as a Board Room for meetings, the room is similar to its original appearance, complete with fireplace.

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Back outside we cross the courtyard to the Repair Garage, once used as an experimental and engineering laboratory, today  the Johnny Trudell Orchestra is playing big band favorites, Packard’s are randomly parked throughout the building garnering much deserved attention. On view are a number of engines complete with that signature Packard script, the 1956 showroom display chassis has drawn a crowd, Kris and I catch a glimpse of the stonework that surrounded the main entrance at the original Packard building in Detroit, safe at last. On loan for the day from the Algonac/Clay Twp Historical Society is the Miss America X. On September 20, 1932 Commodore Gar Wood set a speed record of 108.48 knots for a nautical mile and 124.71 knots for a statue mile. Powered by four 12 cylinder Packard engines, they are arranged as a two bank unit of two 24-cylinder engines creating  6,400 hp. A platform allows us to get an up-close view of Miss America X, she’s a beauty! Dials, gauges and levers cover the interior, the engine gleams in orange paint, the wooden hull is varnished to a high shine. We’ll have to visit the museum soon.

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Behind the building an elevated water storage tank stands high above the proving grounds, a sight familiar to me since I was a little girl. Just beyond sits a 4,000 sq ft hangar, now called the Lindbergh Hangar. In 1929 Col Charles Lindbergh visited the site to test-fly a Packard-powered airplane. At the back of the property the original timing stand and a 458 ft section of the test track remain. The second level of the timing stand provides a panoramic view of the proving grounds. Back in the day we would be overlooking a 2.5 mile oval track specifically built for high-speed testing. They say it was so well-engineered that drivers could travel around the banked curves in excess of 100 mph without holding the steering wheel. In 1928 Leon Duray set a World’s record for a closed course of 148 + mph, making the test oval the fastest in the World. Volunteers are taking visitors for a ride around the grounds in vintage Packards, we go for a spin, the drive ends and we are dropped off near the gate. Thanks to the support and donations by members of the old-car hobby, automotive historians and the local community, this site has been preserved and is now on the National Register of Historic Places; this is more than Detroit history, it is the history of our Nation.

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Bad Brad’s BBQ is located nearby on 23 Mile Rd, serving up delicious beef brisket and pork shoulder, the restaurant is a wonderful addition to the area. The interior is a combination of wood planks, brick and corrugated metal, the main dining room offers tables, booths and bar seating, they also have an awesome patio. Meats are steeped in fruit wood and hickory smoke for up to 14 hours, everything on the menu is made from scratch. Our Classic BBQ sandwich is piled high with sliced brisket, a wooden skewer stuck through the middle holds it together. House made sauces are on the table, I recommend trying each and every one. The kettle style BBQ chips go nicely with the sandwich, a side of cornbread is a must!

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Stony Creek Metropark is just a short drive from here, so we decide to extend the day with a walk and visit to the Nature Center. Much of Stony Creek was part of Valley Creek Farm, a weekend getaway for the Charles Hodges Sr family of Grosse Pointe from 1928 until the metroparks purchased the property in the mid 1950’s. Here we find prairies, woodlands and wetlands, trees like Norway Spruce and Norway Maple were planted by the family and are not native to the area. We begin our walk on the Reflection Trail, fallen leaves crunch under our feet, my face and hands are getting cold. A boardwalk leads to a lookout over a river, colorful leaves reflect off the water. The trail provides many places to stop and take in picturesque views. We keep our eyes open for wildlife such as birds, ducks, fish and turtles, something runs across the trail, we follow the sound and watch a cute little chipmunk have a bite to eat.We warm up a bit in the Nature Center, the building resembles a lodge, lovely wood beams make up the ceiling, large windows fill the walls, it has that “up north” feeling. Glass aquariums contain live frogs, snakes and turtles. Tall cabinets display examples of fox, ducks, hawks and owls, wow, some of them are huge! The view is tranquil, chairs are placed near windows overlooking bird feeders, I can feel myself relax as I watch the birds come and go. The scenery changes with every season. 

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DETROIT: Historical Museum

3 Jan

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 Kris and I recently got our first look at the newly updated Detroit Historical Museum; we were happy to see old favorites like the Streets of Old Detroit spiffed up along with brand new exhibits such as the Kid Rock Music Lab. The city of Detroit has an amazing history, the museum showcases significant periods throughout more than 300 years, there’s a lot of them! Exhibits are spread out over several floors, we began at the top and worked our way down.

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A large area is currently dedicated to rail transportation in Detroit; did you know that at the turn of the 20th century Detroit had the largest regional mass transportation network in the US? Curators did a great job taking us back in time to the days when trains and trolley’s ruled the streets. Photos of old city train stations, rescued architectural pieces, signs, tickets and tokens are all on display. Vintage seats are arranged as they would be on a train, antique lanterns and crossing signs remind us of the old days. The Arsenal Of Democracy exhibit is fascinating; a glimpse into the staggering contribution Detroit manufacturing made to the war effort. Another interesting fact: Detroit produced 30% of the war materials generated in the US before the end of the war in 1945. At that time Detroit was re-invented as a military industrial center with over 700,000 people working in the factories.

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The Motor City area has been refreshed; the Body Drop is working once again, yay. Here you will find all sorts of memorabilia related to the auto industry; signs and brochures, design renderings, promo cars, even a speaker from an old drive-in; car culture sort of stuff, very cool. There’s a neat history of Woodward Ave; street signs, photos, even a parking meter. We headed down the stairs to our old favorite: The Streets of Old Detroit. If you grew up in metro Detroit, chances are you came here on a field trip in elementary school. I am happy to say not much has changed and it is looking better than ever; I love the addition of the Sanders Confectionery. Meander over streets made of brick, logs and rocks; wander in and out of 19th century businesses like the barber shop, bicycle store and of course, the corner drug store, complete with a soda fountain and Vernors. Down the hall the Glancy Trains are still running; a gift from Alfred R Glancy Jr of Grosse Pointe, these trains have been mesmerizing adults and children alike for decades. Trains glide over tracks laid out on multiple levels, tiny buildings make up towns along the route as cable cars ride along overhead. There’s a tiny amusement park and a hot air balloon; a camera mounted on the front of a train projects the passenger view onto a screen.

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The Kid Rock Music Lab highlights musical artists ranging from Bob Seger and Iggy Pop to Aretha Franklin and the White Stripes. Interactive displays make this a popular exhibit. The Allesee Gallery of Culture is an awesome new addition; photos of downtown skyscrapers cover the walls making you feel as if you are standing in the heart of the city. Large glass enclosures divide Detroit into several time periods; newspaper articles, clothing and household items define the era; iconic items such as seats from old Tiger Stadium, a drinking fountain from Hudson’s and the like bring smiles to the faces of locals. The renovations are well done and make the museum equally appealing to those familiar with Detroit and those who are not. Click HERE for museum slideshow.

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A new restaurant has opened on the corner of Woodward and Putnam in the Maccabees building, so we wanted to give it a try. The building itself is incredible! Completed in January of 1927 and designed by, who else? Albert Kahn. The exterior of the building is limestone, the entrance is a 3-story recessed barrel vault arch surrounded by fantastic carvings. The main lobby is exquisite; the barrel ceiling is a mass of gold mosaic tiles forming intense patterns. One section creates a scene complete with palm trees ripe with coconuts and deer drinking from a stream. There is a grand chandelier and then a series of smaller ones that hang from chains lining the hall, it is absolutely stunning! Walls and floors are marble each with its own distinct pattern, every surface is decorative. The hallway leading to Putnam has a wood beam ceiling covered in colorful stencil designs, don’t miss it. Elevators are shiny brass as are the door frames. The central section of the building is topped by a broadcast tower, prior to 1959 it was home to WXYZ; both the Lone Ranger and Green Hornet radio programs originated here, in the 1950’s Soupy Sales did his show from the lower level studio. WDET used the space from 1959 to 2001, Wayne State University currently owns the building. When Kris had finished taking photos we entered the restaurant section from the Woodward door.

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Maccabees at Midtown has only been open since the end of December, situated across the street from the DIA, the Detroit Public Library and steps away from the campus of Wayne State, the location is ideal. The space is gorgeous, immediately the chandeliers grab your attention. Reproductions of the originals they were made right here in Michigan. Great care was taken in transforming the space into a restaurant; the ceiling is burgundy, coffered panels are painted gold, maintaining the Romanesque style of the building. The owner greeted us at the door as we took our seats at a table near the window; we had a wonderful view of Woodward and the cultural district. The menu serves up an interesting variety of items such as potato pancake sandwiches, which of course we had to try. Ours was filled with tender roast beef, sautéed onions and a chipotle mayo, very tasty. We added the spinach salad, tossed with a balsamic vinaigrette and chunks of warm goat cheese fried in a crispy coating it was quite good. Their liquor license is on the way so stop in for a meal or cocktails and be sure to have a look around.

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Detroit now has it’s very own tea house in the Sugar Hill Arts District. Located on the lower level of the Garfield Building, Socra Tea serves up 50 varieties of organic teas and fresh baked goods. You can drink your tea in-house or get it to go; all loose teas are also available for purchase by the ounce. If you like tea plan on spending some time here; owner Meg was happy to open up canister after canister and let us smell the blends (much more fun for me than him). Kris and I each ordered a tea and accompanied it with a shortbread cookie. Adjacent to the tea room is a pottery studio, pieces are on display and for sale along with photography and other art work.

DETROIT: Autorama; Customs, Candy and Chrome

9 Mar

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Detroiter’s have had a long-standing love affair with the automobile, this has always been and probably always will be a car town.  Every winter for the last 60 years hundreds of custom vintage vehicles roll into town showing off the final results of time, labor and money…….lots of money. This my friends is what we call Autorama! The Michigan Hot Rod Association held the first Autorama as a way to raise money to build a local drag strip, the show took place at the U of D Field-house with 50 cars.  In 1956 the club hired Don Ridler, a professional promotions agent, the show took off from there. Don brought in musical acts and bands such as Bobby Rydell, the Big Bopper and Mitch Ryder. Celebrities such as Adam West, Wolfman Jack and William Shatner made appearances along with wrestlers, Tigers and Red Wings. It was always the cars that were the real stars of the event. After moving to various locations through the years, Autorama found a permanent home at Cobo Hall in 1961. Don Ridler died an untimely death in 1963, thus the Don Ridler Memorial Award was created, honoring the “Best In Show”. This is the most prestigious award on the show circuit, 2012 marked the 49th Ridler award; the winner, Dwayne Peace took the trophy and a check for $10,000 for his 1955 Ford T-Bird. 

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I have been coming to the show for years, I think Kris has been coming since before he could spell C A R. My perspective is that of an admirer of the time and hard work, beauty and creativity these folks put into their cars, the end result is astounding. I am always taken aback walking into Cobo, the show is enormous. Fresh paint  glows under bright lights, chrome is polished to a high shine, proud owners display photo albums taking you through the restoration process. Row after row of custom paint jobs; metalflake is one of my favorites. Painters rule; from stripes and flames to flip-flop colors and original artwork the cars themselves are unique pieces of art. Interiors get a makeover too; upholstery comes in all colors and fabrics here, so much more fun than the gray of today’s cars. Some of the cars start out life as one kind of car, after a body man has had his way, it takes on a completely different appearance. For example, a hard top may now be a convertible, several feet of length may be eliminated, grills, hoods and taillights may be exchanged for something completely different. What I love about Autorama is that individuality is encouraged, and even rewarded. The funkiest ones get the most attention! Someone even made a watermelon themed  pickup truck…… They painted the outside watermelon green, the interior is well, watermelon pink,  didn’t miss a detail, the engine compartment even had a watermelon in it. 

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I walk the aisles in awe of the men and women who take on such a project, the cars are beautiful. Often mirrors are strategically placed on the floor reflecting the underside of the vehicle. Oh, and the engines! From stock to high performance everything is finely detailed; color keyed pieces, braided fuel lines and chrome valve covers. Speaking of chrome, here it reigns supremely; Grills, bumpers, moldings, pipes and wheels, a chrome polish salesman’s dream come true.  The same cannot be said for the lower level of the show. The basement showcases what are known as “Rat Rods”. These are the vehicles you will often see in primer; vintage pick-up trucks, street rods and lowered sedans, they have an appeal all their own. It surprises me how much money can be spent on something you want to look like no money was spent on it. I especially like the really old ones that have some sort of artwork on the door, or the name of the company that owned the truck, with just enough paint left of the lettering that you can barely make it out, I think it’s cool!  This year there were about 1000 cars on display, I heard attendance for the weekend was 151,000 people; I’m  not surprised, after all, this is the Motor City.

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Click here for more cool car photos.

We weren’t sure where we were going  for lunch, when we walked back to the car from Cobo we saw Finn & Porter about 100 feet up on the left, perfect! Located in the lobby of the Double Tree hotel, Finn & Porter offers 2 dining spaces, the main dining room is not open for lunch, so we ate at the Finn & Porter Round Bar. We were seated at a table by the window, I love that.  The room is contemporary in decor, lots of windows on two sides give you a front-row seat to the happenings on the street. We had just missed the Soul food buffet, served from 12-2, so we ordered off the menu. With lots of good sounding items we decided on the Baby Iceberg Salad: a wedge of iceberg lettuce , diced red onion, crumbled apple-wood smoked bacon, blue cheese crumbles topped with a green goddess dressing, delicious.  The Italian Panini  was filled with thinly sliced meats, yellow peppers and tomato, the bread was grilled perfectly giving it a nice crunch. Home made potato chips served alongside were excellent. 

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Bear Claw Coffee is located in the lobby of the hotel, we stopped in for a warm beverage before heading out into the cold and what had become snowy day.  With our drinks in hand we took a seat in the hotel lobby, the couches and chairs were very inviting. Hilton spent $90 million on the restoration of this hotel. Originally opened in 1917 it was known as the Pick-Fort Shelby Hotel. In 1927 the hotel expanded adding a 22-story tower designed by (you know who..) Albert Kahn. The hotel was one of Detroit’s top luxury hotels back in the day, in 1983 it was placed on the National register of Historic Places.  One day I’d like to take a good look around the place, I’ve seen photos of a restored ballroom that were just stunning! We enjoyed our little respite, drinking our coffee and talking about our favorite cars. Even if you’re not a car lover give Autorama a try sometime. Celebrities, Pin-ups, toys and tools there’s something here for everyone. Great for a dose of nostalgia, art and design .

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Detroit Deco: Kresge & Cliff Bells

13 Feb

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On Thursday February 9th we attended the Preservation Wayne 2012 Membership Event at the former Kresge World Headquarters on Second and Cass Park. Preservation Wayne is changing their name to Preservation Detroit, with the new name there will be no mistaking what this organization is all about!  Their tours are already scheduled for the upcoming season, with more on the way. Check out their website for more information.

We never pass up an opportunity to get a look at another one of Detroit’s beautiful historic buildings.  First a little history: Sebastian S Kresge (SS Kresge) started out with two 5 & 10 Cent stores, in 1912 he incorporated the SS Kresge Corporation with 85 stores. By 1928 the company had outgrown its 18 story world headquarters at Adams and Park (now known as the Kales Building), so Sebastian hired Albert Kahn to design a larger headquarters. Opened in 1929, the result is a stunning limestone building; created in the shape of an E, the wings point away from the park, the 250,000 sq ft structure covers a city block. The central portion of the building is 5 1/2 stories tall, while the wings are only 4 stories, it is topped off with a copper-clad mansard roof and terracotta cresting, an excellent example of Art Deco design.

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The first Kmart was built in 1962, SS Kresge died in 1966 and then in 1972 the offices were moved to their new headquarters in Troy MI. The old building was donated to a vocational school by the name of the Detroit Institute of Technology. Now known as the Metropolitan Center for High Technology and owned by Wayne State University, the space is home to several small businesses and the Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. Ok, fast forward to Thursday.

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We parked in the fenced in lot behind the building and entered through the back; the interior is granite, the floors were polished to a high shine. We found our way to the lobby crowded with people milling about the silent auction and food tables. Music played softly in the background, the light from the large chandelier played softly off the granite and multitude of brass accents. The lobby is just lovely; inlaid walnut paneling and architectural sculptures all done by Corrado Parducci are a feast for the eyes.The ceiling is divided into a series of squares, raised medallions are painted copper and gold, large windows overlook the park. Building tours were announced; the mass of attendees moved from the lobby to the hall waiting their turn to take the elevator up to the second floor. In the hallway intricate brass rails and banisters line the stairways, gorgeous Art Deco light fixtures decorate the ceilings, the elevator doors are amazing!

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 The executive offices are located on the second floor, Mr Kresge’s on one side, the VP’s on the other, we had the opportunity to see both. The offices are finished in stunning walnut paneling, in place of sharp corners you will find curves, the same goes for the hardwood floors. The ceilings are wet plaster, a raised design goes around the perimeter giving the room a formal feel, the original light fixtures still remain in Mr Kresge’s office. Next up to the fourth floor, this area was previously used as a laboratory complex, though it is unused at the present time there is hope a new tenant will lease the space. It was interesting to see the area, the best part was the wide array of Pewabic Tile, bright colors in pretty designs, it still remains. 


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It was still early, so we thought we’d end the evening with a nightcap at Cliff Bells, if you have never been put it on the top of your list of places to go. Located on Park Ave, the exterior is easily recognizable by the lovely wood and half-circle awning entrance. Once inside it is like walking onto the set of an old movie, some swank Art Deco club straight out of the 30’s, I almost expect to see Fred Astaire, Bing Crosby or Benny Goodman appear on stage. This place is incredible; triple cove ceilings, mahogany everywhere including the bar, the cool deco stage and large light fixtures hanging from chains providing just enough light to create the perfect atmosphere. One of the unique features I really love are the bar side tables, and ladies there is even a hook to hang your purse! A mural takes up the far wall, it fits the mood of the place perfectly, vintage photos and menus are enclosed in glass and hung on the wall to be enjoyed by patrons. 

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Cliff Bell’s was opened by John Clifford Bell in 1935, the building was designed by Albert Kahn and built by the Campau family. The club itself was designed by famed architect Charles Agree, and what a wonderful  job he did. Through the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s Cliff Bell’s and the Town Pump Tavern anchored the ends of a lively district of pubs, clubs and burlesques up and down Park Ave, actually not too different from today (minus the burlesques), John ran the club until his retirement in 1958. Through the 70’s and 80’s it went through name changes including The Winery, La Cave, and AJ’s On The Park, until it closed permanently in 1985. In 2005 it was purchased by the current owners and a six-month restoration began. It re-opened as Cliff Bell’s and the rest as they say is history. 

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Recently discovered in a Detroit warehouse, the club is now home to a vintage Steinway Grand Piano that was purchased in 1960 by the City Of Detroit for Cobo Hall. After being stored for 25 years and 6 months of restoration it now sits on  stage. In addition to great Jazz  they also serves French-inspired cuisine for lunch, dinner and brunch, they offer great Happy Hour specials. If you are looking for an Ultra-Cool night on the town give Cliff Bell’s a try !

The Fabulous Fisher Building

23 Nov

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In August 1927, ground was broken for a new building that would be home to the offices of Fisher and Company. Having purchased seven acres, and employing architect extraordinaire Albert Kahn, the Fisher brothers spent $9 million dollars to create The Fisher Building. A little background here; the seven Fisher brothers developed the closed body for auto manufacturing, you may remember GM cars had “Body by Fisher” at one time, these are the men responsible for that. They amassed fortunes, so money was no object in creating what they wanted to be the world’s most beautiful office building. Often referred to as “Detroit’s largest art object”, it is one of those places you have to see to believe.

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Enter the building from from Grand Blvd or Lothrop for the most impressive view. The main arcade is 30 feet wide 44 feet high and 600 feet long, this place is incredible! It’s difficult to decide what to focus on, my eyes are usually drawn to the towering art deco chandeliers first; ranging from 5 to 8 feet tall they hang from the center arcade and softly illuminate this work of art. Everywhere you look there is something beautiful; 3 original mosaics enhance the grand arcade, solid bronze medallions are laid into the floor, 40 different varieties of marble from all over the world, brass and bronze decorate the interior. The elevator doors are incredibly detailed and vary from floor to floor. Geza Maroti was brought from Hungary to Detroit by Eliel Saarinen to work on Cranbrook, while he was here Kahn hired him to work on the Fisher. Maroti hand painted the frescoes, he also created the lunettes, plaques and mosaics.

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Take the stairway to the second floor; here you can get an up close view of the magnificent chandeliers. From this level you can really appreciate the intricate floor patterns, notice the same architectural design is repeated throughout the building. Walk up to the third floor, now you are in the thick of things. Find yourself surrounded by hand painted decor; there are 60 nude figures painted on the ceiling of the arcade, no two are alike, dozens of eagles, hemlock, and oranges fill up the space. 40 % of the ceiling is gold leaf, and from here it is stunning. Standing in the archway at the end of the hall you are completely surrounded by decoration, it’s tempting to reach out and touch the walls, but don’t! When you have had your fill of sightseeing on the third and second floor return to the main floor for a snack and a little shopping.

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CLICK HERE FOR MORE FABULOUS PHOTOS

Start at Stella International Cafe for a beverage and a snack, carry it over to the lobby that is across from the Fisher Theatre. Have a seat at one of the tables, make yourself comfortable and just sit there and take in the surroundings. This is my favorite little area, the ornamentation here is insanely gorgeous. The blending of marble and bronze, exotic sconces and more chandeliers, wow! While you are sitting there think about this; this was built as an office building, seriously. Since the 20’s  regular people like you and I would come here to shop, have a bite to eat, maybe see their dentist or accountant. Men would smoke their pipes, couples would dress up to attend a show at the renowned Fisher Theatre.  Looking to do a little shopping? Stop in the Detroit Gallery of Contemporary Crafts, if you are looking for something unique, you can find it here. From glassware, pottery and jewelry to clothing and art objects their selection is first class. While inside note the amazing Pewabic Pottery flooring. If you’re looking for something Detroit, then by all means stop in at Pure Detroit. T-shirts, music, Sanders, Faygo, Pewabic Pottery, and a great book selection; chances are if it’s a Detroit thing they have it here.

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You may not know this but the Fisher building connects to the Albert Kahn building and the old GM building through a series of underground corridors, how cool is that? You have to check it out; from the lower level of the Fisher building follow the the tiled corridors from building to building, they even made these pretty. I love the mailboxes that are built into the walls and the drinking fountains that can be found here and there. This is a great convenience on those cold winter days. We usually come up through the Kahn building, another fine example of beautiful design. Once outdoors take the time to really look at the Fisher building, the main tower is 28 stories, it was originally covered with gold-leaf tiles, but has since been replaced with tiles made of green terracotta. If you listen to WJR you have heard them say they are coming to you “from the Golden Tower of the Fisher Building”, now you know why. Since 1928 this golden tower has  brightened the Detroit skyline, that same year Albert Kahn received the Architectural Leagues Silver Medal, designating this as the most beautiful structure of the year. In 1989 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark.  I invite you to come and experience it for yourself, it is a must-see Detroit landmark!

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Time to eat! We drove a few blocks over to Baltimore to Northern Lights Lounge, you can park in their lot or right on the street. The sign out front is indicative of what you will find inside, that cool 50’s lounge style. They do a nice job with it, great retro furniture and lighting, and shuffleboard too. There’s a roomy sitting area in the front, seating is laid out in a way that makes it easy for small groups to converse. The dining area is large and offers regular or high top tables and booth seating. All the old standards were represented on the lunch menu, we had the cobb salad with their spicy homemade ranch dressing. The salad was huge, thick strips of ham, turkey and swiss cheese were placed on top alongside halved hard boiled eggs; the dressing was good, I liked the kick of spice it added. The sandwich decision was little harder, the Baltimore Burger caught our eye, so we gave it a try. Similar to a Big Boy the burger was topped with cheese, onions, and thousand island dressing, it was served with a pile of seasoned fries that were crisp and tasty. Our waitress couldn’t have been nicer and the service was quick. It’s a good place to keep in mind when you are in this section of the city.

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