Tag Archives: Architectural Salvage

DETROIT: Home Sweet Home…

15 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


18 Mar

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 As DetroitDvotion nears its 4th anniversary, Kris and I thought it would be fun to go back to one of the places we wrote about in the beginning. Today we are revisiting Ypsilanti, just 35 miles west of Detroit, 6 miles east of Ann Arbor, it’s a short drive and always makes for an interesting day. Ypsi is probably best known as the home of Eastern Michigan University, here are a few other notable facts: The B-24 Bomber Plant was located here at Willow Run, later, that same plant produced Kaiser Frazer automobiles, followed by production of a number of GM vehicles and their Hydramatic Division. In 1960 Tom Monaghan founded Domino’s Pizza as DomiNicks Pizza at 507 W Cross St. In 1929 Miller Motors Hudson opens, it is now the last remaining Hudson Dealership in the world and our first stop in town.

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What used to be Miller Motors is now the National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum located within the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum; automobiles from each of Hudson’s five decades are on display. The museum tells the stories of Kaiser Frazer, Tucker, Hudson and General Motors Willow Run. You need not know anything about cars to enjoy this museum, between the beautiful automobiles, attractive displays and great stories, you’re sure to be entertained. Vintage signs hang from the ceiling, photos and drawings line the walls, engines and transmissions are on display, showcases are packed with memorabilia; the vehicles themselves are the star attractions. Hood ornaments are serious attention-getters, dashboards are gussied up with chrome details, Kaiser models look ready for a roadtrip, the cargo area is varnished wood. 

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A pale blue 1952 Hudson Hornet #92 is a visitor favorite; a NASCAR champion driven by Herb Thomas, his story is the inspiration for the 2006 Pixar film “Cars”. Hudson Hornets won 27 out of 34 NASCAR Stock Car races. We move through the decades from open carriage vehicles right through the 1970’s with a cool green 1974 GTO. One area features the Tucker story, Preston Tucker lived about 4 blocks from the museum, the home has been restored and you can drive by it and take photos. The 1946 Tucker touted safety features such as a rear engine, center headlight and pop-out windshield. There are great photos of the family and props from the movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream. 

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Up in the loft area we see a personal view of Ypsi; a showcase is filled with jackets, jerseys and trophies won by local sports teams sponsored by Hudson dealerships. Mechanic’s overalls, plaques, scale cars are all nestled into the small space. We overlook the main floor, a banner announces the new Terraplane, once popular names such as Rambler, Nash and Essex are recalled. back downstairs, there’s a sleek black Essex Terraplane 6, the 1929 Hudson Roadster in the Showroom is stunning. Throughout the space old gas pumps, neon signs and banners add to the atmosphere, a white 1954 Kaiser Darrin and a red Corvair are parked lengthwise against a row of Kaisers.

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Hydramatic transmissions fill the front room, operations were moved to the Willow Run plant after fire destroyed GM’s Detroit Transmission Plant in Livonia. Hydramatic manufactured automatic transmissions for 11 automobile companies outside GM’s own divisions, including Rolls Royce. In 57 years, 82 million automatic transmissions were built there. During the Viet Nam War M16 Rifles and aircraft cannons were also manufactured at that site. Willow Run Assembly produced the Corvair from 1959-69, it also manufactured Nova, Ventura, Omega, the 1974 GTO and other models for Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet, I told you there was some amazing history here! On a sad note, after GM’s restructuring, the plant closed in 2010…..Ugh.

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Over on West Michigan Ave we’re going to look at some more old stuff at Materials Unlimited, an architectural salvage store. I could wander around this place for hours. The selection of antique lighting is extraordinary; straight from mansions, ballrooms and historic homes, pieces run the gamut from humble to extravagant. Candle wall sconces, ceiling fixtures powered by gas or electricity and table lamps that range in style from Neoclassical, Victorian, French, Colonial Revival to Louis XVI. Materials are antique brass, wrought iron and cut crystal. I’m a fan of colored glass; blue opal, cranberry, rose and amber are just some of my favorites.

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Everything in the store is beautiful! Items are neatly arranged and organized; individual pieces wear tags listing the origin, era and in some cases where it came out of, I stop and read every tag on the pieces I like the most. Glass shades are neatly arranged on shelves, brass door knobs and back plates are lined up in rows. Stained glass is displayed in the large front windows, one piece by Karl J Mueller has a price tag of $24,750.00. Crates of hardware seem endless; bronze mail slots, ice box hinges, pulls, knobs and door knockers can all be found here. Dining room sets feature enormously long tables, crystal wine glasses and decanters are lovely.

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Some areas are set up as vignettes; fireplace mantels and surrounds are decorated with andirons, chenets and beveled mirrors. Bathroom furnishings such as sinks and toilets are available in an array of colors, doors and windows come in every shape and size. Standing, neck craned, reading a tag, Kris comes and finds me to show me a piece he knows I’ll love, a black and white, Italian marble, double sink and vanity that belonged to the Fisher family. The marble is exotic, the faucet and spigot, a work of art. It was purchased for their home in Palmer Woods, they took it when they moved out and now it’s here for sale in Ypsi, check out the photo. 

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All this browsing has made us hungry, just up the street we stop in at Dalat for a late lunch. Both of us like Vietnamese food, but are not necessarily big fans of Pho; the menu here is HUGE, so much more to offer than a big bowl of soup. Our server greeted us quickly with menus and asks us what we want to drink; she returns with a pot of tea, answers our questions and takes our lunch order. We start with a fresh roll served with a tasty peanut sauce. A short while later our entrée’s arrive, since I’m not fluent in Vietnamese I can’t tell you the exact name of the dishes we had, but, what I can tell you is the food was delightful, fresh and tasty. A noodle dish; chopped romaine lettuce, chunks of egg roll, tender strips of seasoned beef and shrimp over steamed noodles. The other was a large, crispy crepe of sorts, yellow in color it was stuffed with shrimp, chicken and stir-fried vegetables. Portions are big but prices are not, each entrée was about $7.

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We drive around the city a little bit before heading home, Ypsi is loaded with beautiful architecture, there’s a quirky charm about Michigan Avenue, parts of it look like time has stood still—-I like that. Cities are like people, no two are exactly the same, each has its own personality and that’s what makes exploring them so much fun.





Roadtrip: Vintage Columbus

12 Aug

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It is our last day in Columbus, we have spent the last two nights at the Short North Bed & Breakfast. Located in the trendy Short North district, this large Victorian home is in the midst of a thriving neighborhood; homes are red brick and date back to the early 20th century, High Street is home to galleries, specialty boutiques and tons of restaurants. I finish packing as the tantalizing scent of bacon climbs the staircase, in the breakfast room Trelene has prepared a feast! Glass bowls hold chunks of fresh fruit on an antique buffet, fresh brewed coffee is calling my name, morning sunlight floods the room and sparkles off the crystal chandeliers. Trelene arrives with plates of scrambled eggs, crispy bacon and buttered English muffins, there’s a homemade salsa on the table, it has just the right amount of spice and heat and tastes delicious on my eggs. When we are finished Kris loads the car, I thank our hostess and bid her farewell.

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Columbus never stands still, as often as we get here there is always something new to see. The city resides along the banks of the Scioto River and has been hard at work reconnecting downtown to the riverfront; the result is called the Scioto Mile. There are 145 acres of parkland stretching from the Arena District to the Whittier Peninsula; bikeways, pedestrian paths and boulevards make this area extremely people friendly. The Promenade leads us along the river, pavers make up the walkways, the 1920’s limestone floodwall was restored to its original Beaux Arts splendor, cafe tabletops are complete with inlaid chess/checkerboards. A stone colonnade lines Civic Center Drive, this morning the swings are all occupied, huge stone planter boxes are overflowing with hot pink Hibiscus, orange Canna’s, purple Petunias and trailing vines. Every so many feet we encounter low fountains; a marble pedestal supports a lovely arrangement of bronze leaves, in the center, clusters of fish spout water from their mouths, the sound of trickling water, soothing. Our walk continues to Bicentennial Park; home to the fabulous looking restaurant Milestone 229, rose gardens, climbing wall and an amphitheater, the main attraction is definitely the Scioto Mile Fountain.

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As human beings, I think we are naturally drawn to water, fountains are often centerpieces, gathering spots in urban areas, this is definitely true of the Scioto Mile Fountain. This 200 ft long, 15,000 sq ft  patio-splash park-public art piece-interactive fountain is the place to be. As we approach, the main source of water is coming from a stainless steel circular blossom; jets of water shoot skyward from the center, a smaller volume of water flows from the outer ring. Gradually ground level spray nozzles come to life, as does the sound of laughter, five tall stainless steel halo structures begin to throw mist from the top ring, water begins to accumulate under our feet. We watch as young and old try to figure out the sequence of the jets, passersby pause to take in the scene, diners at Milestone 229 have a perfect view. We walk to the end of the park, actually stop and smell the roses, then it’s back to the car.

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Columbus is home to some of the best  vintage stores we’ve ever come across; it’s a big part of what keeps bringing us back. Years ago we discovered one of the best stores ever in Cleveland called Flower Child; a couple of years ago they opened a second location here in Columbus, c’mon, let’s have a look! The moment I step inside I smile, this place has everything from vintage jewelry and lava lamps to art glass and tiki bars. Unlike the average antique shop, here you find the colorful, zany, Mod and sometimes wacky items from the 1950’s through the 1970’s. They do a fantastic job with their displays; instead of the usual shop where one large space is divided into dozens of small dealer spaces, they arrange it as a furniture or department store would; complete living rooms, dining rooms and bar sets, everything you need to complete your room organized into one setting. The selection of pieces is outstanding, they even make gold, avocado green and orange look tasteful and fun!  I haven’t seen a grouping yet that I wouldn’t take home…. Kris and I love the chrome and lucite table and chairs, the bamboo patio set complete with a bar and cocktail glasses is cool too, the colored glass is striking, look at all the hanging lamps! Having grown up around much of the stuff seen here, our affection runs deep. Once we have finished looking around both floors we decide to grab some lunch.

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Conveniently, we walk across High Street for our afternoon meal at Zen Cha Tea Salon, another of our regular stops when in Columbus. Inside, the space feels tranquil, tables and floors are pale wood, a flat screen TV on the back wall projects soothing images of nature. As we sit and unwind we sip our Spring iced tea, a wonderful combination of sweetened green tea, strawberries and blueberries, so good. Our meal arrives, today we are having the Miso Ramen soup with tofu, very flavorful, and the Ginger Beef Salad. Thinly sliced medium rare beef lies atop crunchy greens, drizzled with a tangy ginger dressing-delicious! Now that our stomachs are pacified, it is time to start heading north.

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As we head out of the city we make a stop at Columbus Architectural Salvage on Clara St. The 10,000 sq ft warehouse houses both interior and exterior pieces salvaged from homes and buildings that were to be torn down. When I see such magnificent pieces such as fireplace surrounds, mirrors, doors and amazing light fixtures, I can only imagine what the buildings they came out of must have been like; I am sad to see such fine examples of architecture disappear, but glad that the materials are being reused and recycled. Everything is very well organized, you can buy antique doorknobs made from glass, porcelain or brass, hardware is neatly contained in a series of drawers. A complete bowling lane rests on the floor, peg boards hold a variety of tools and accessories. Vintage bathroom sinks in pink, mint green and white rest on pedestals, a box of large film reels sits near a group of old theater seats, street signs and concrete urns await a new purpose.

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We continue up High Street into Clintonville, this neighborhood has a few more vintage stores we want to check out; first on our list is the Eclectiques Antique Mall. The building itself is 8,000 sq ft and has 37 dealers, from jewelry to postcards, you never know what you may find here. We get lucky and find a piece we have been looking for, one of those fake electric log sets that light up when plugged in, perfect for our 60’s free-standing fireplace. The basement is our favorite, this is where most of the mid-century furniture is found; bar stools with chrome legs, kidney-shaped coffee tables and chairs upholstered in frisee, it’s all so cool! We pay for our purchase, put the log in the trunk, then walk next door.

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Euro Classics Antiques is not your average antique shop, the 4,000 sq ft showroom displays gorgeous oak furniture from the 1820’s to the 1920’s, specializing in Arts and Crafts furnishings. The wood is stained dark, bookshelves are fitted with leaded glass doors, tables and chairs are stylish and sturdy. Down the stairs, the lower level has pieces from as late as the 1960’s, Kris is tempted by a bedroom set, unfortunately our SRT-4 is not the type vehicle one would haul furniture in…..The Boomerang Room is right across the street, as the name implies, the store concentrates on fabulous mid-century items. Gorgeous pieces from Broyhill, Lane, Knoll, McCobb and Herman Miller fill the shop. Shag throw rugs cover the floor, I see that the darker wood of the late 60’s and 70’s is now in vogue. I see sets of cocktail shakers, oversize lamps, modern art sculptures, and vases; I wish I could take all of it home! Speaking of home….Our visit to Columbus has been wonderful, now we are buckled in, on our way back to the D.

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