Tag Archives: Architecture

St. Paul: Homes and Gardens

6 Feb

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We have a full day of exploring St. Paul planned, let’s start with the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory at Como Park. It’s another hot and sunny day, we follow fellow visitors from the parking lot to the conservatory; the exterior plaza is a combination of concrete, sculptures and raised beds. The glass structure was built in 1915, it’s owned and operated by the City of St. Paul, admission is free, a voluntary donation of $3.00 is suggested and is well worth it. Inside we follow a concrete path through lush green foliage that leads us to the Sunken Garden, it’s stunning. I stand there for a few minutes just looking around, I just love these enchanting old conservatories. We’re slightly elevated here, the surrounding structure feels like we’re in a magnificent greenhouse, a beautiful wrought iron fence acts as a balcony, we have a complete overview of the garden. Narrow arborvitaes stand in tall lines along the sides, yellow cannas are blooming, straight down the middle is a reflecting pool, at the far end is Harriet Frishmuth’s bronze sculpture Play Days. Star-shaped lights watch over the garden, this is the conservatory’s show house, it changes with every season, I’d love to see it at Christmas time.

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The Palm Dome is 64′ tall and 100′ in diameter, filled with tropical palm and cycad species, some are over 100 years old. Orchids and Bromeliads are unique with their colorful blooms and thick leaves. We keep a leisurely pace meandering from one area to the next, the North Garden contains useful plants; aloe, banana, bamboo, coffee, fig. In the Fern Room a gentle waterfall spills into a tranquil Koi pond; children are excited to see the fish. There are over 100 species of fern and fern allies here, I’ve always been fond of the lacy foliage. Water gardens surround the exterior of the Visitors Center. Water lilies float in shallow pools with rock bottoms; white ones, purple ones, short, tall, pink centers, yellow centers, they’re beautiful but the most intriguing has to be the Victoria Water Lilies known as “Blooming Victorias”. Lime green platter-like plants float on the still surface, the edges curl up creating sides to the platter, revealing a fuschia-like color around the edges, I have never seen anything like them before.

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We drive to our next destination, Summit Avenue. The street runs just west of downtown St. Paul and continues 4 1/2 miles west to the Mississippi River; this is the longest avenue of Victorian homes in the nation. Populated with historic houses, churches, synagogues and schools, it was named one of the 10 “great streets” nationally in 2008. Oh, and F. Scott Fitzgerald (born in St. Paul) lived here too… Most of the homes were built between 1890 and 1920 some appeared as early as the 1850’s; out of 440 original grand mansions 373 remain today, isn’t that amazing? Let’s face it, in those days there was a lot of wealth, men got rich off lumber, mining, railroads and banks; it was a time like no other. We definitely need to take a walk. The homes are built on a bluff, stairs take you from street level to front doors, on the backside of the homes the mighty Mississippi flows below; every house is beautiful, seriously. Each home is different even though many were designed by Cass Gilbert and Clarence Johnson. Notice all of the detail in the brick and stone, the chimneys and porches. The flowers that fill urns and pots are enjoying a warmer-than-usual September, hydrangea are popular here too. I notice several of the houses have covered porticos from the horse and carriage days.

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The grey and plum Victorian with the amazing porch and pointy turret was built in 1891 as Mrs. Porterfields Boarding House, they say it was home to some of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary friends, it’s a beauty.  An orange-brick house has white-painted wood over the porch and along the roofline, notice the stone ‘stripe’ and ornamentation. The dark brick mansion is fantastic, look at that place; stone details, slate roof, I like the rounded window on the side. The big grey wood-shingle house is unique, lots of detail here, especially above the entryway, I admire the way they painted the grapes and vines in color. We duck down Heather Place to see the stucco and stone house, it’s enormous; 10,000 sq. ft of Tudor Revival blended with Cotswold cottage it’s a real charmer; I’ve always been a sucker for the cedar roof that wraps around the edges. The rose-colored castle is one of my favorites, built in 1883 for a coal and lumberman, it has a skylight next to the turret.

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We come to a lookout called Overlook Park, there was a hotel here in 1859, wealthy folks traveling by steamboat would often stay here, it offered the best views in St. Paul with a large observation deck. After the hotel burned down it became a park in 1887, the ornamental fence you see on the right is original.The large Eagle statue was created by Louis Saint Gaudens in 1890, after being moved all around the city it was placed here in 1999. What an amazing view! Down the street is a lovely Georgian Revival built by a bank president in 1909; I am constantly struck by the time period these mansions were built, homeowners maintain them diligently from lawn and landscape to copper downspouts and roofs. There’s a lot of chunky stone, orange brick, turrets, arches, dentils and columns in stone and marble. Attorney William Lightner’s house was built in 1893 in the Richardsonian style, the exterior is Purple Sioux Quartzite and Kettle River Sandstone. The Germanic Institute was built in 1906 as a private home for the George W Gardner family complete with a third-floor ballroom, ratskeller and 9 fireplaces; the Germanic-American Institute purchased the home in 1965. One of my other favorites is the Driscol Warehouser house, Frederick Driscol, a newspaper magnate built this 11,000 sq. ft. mansion in 1884, a mix of Queen Ann and Gothic it has 8 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms. It was later purchased by Fred Warehouser, a man who owned the largest lumber company in the world, he certainly had good taste.

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We arrive at the James J Hill House after the last tour has started. Since we’re from out-of-town the kind woman behind the desk invites us to have a look around the first level on our own, thank you! James Hill was super-rich, he purchased the nearly bankrupt St. Paul and Pacific railroad in 1878 and over the next 2 decades worked relentlessly to push the line north to Canada and then west across the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean; it was then renamed the Great Northern Railway in 1890. His other business interests included coal, iron ore, mining, shipping, banking and agriculture–yes he had his hand in everything; he was one of the wealthiest and most powerful figures of his time. He built this opulent, 36,500 sq. ft. home in 1891 and died here in 1916.

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Four of his daughters were married in the home, it has 22 fireplaces, a reception hall nearly 100′ long and 16 crystal chandeliers. The home is a profusion of elaborately carved woodwork, ornate plaster ceilings, skylight, built-in organ complete with organ pipes; it has everything a railroad titan could wish for. At the time it was the largest and most expensive home in the state of Minnesota; the final cost for construction, furnishings and landscaping for the 3 acre estate was $931, 275.01. After James and Mary Hill passed away the children gave to home to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul in 1925. It was acquired by the Minnesota Historical Society to be used as a historic house museum in 1978. 

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Aren’t you thirsty after all of that? Thankfully Bad Weather Brewing Company is close by on 7th Street. The taproom serves up a constantly changing menu of beer and house soda. The space is industrial-modern, glass roll up doors open to the patio, colorful lettering fills the menu boards. A couple of seats open up at the bar, we move quickly to claim them. Beers are named using weather terms: Cauld Weather, Ominous, Windvane, you get the idea, the labels are cool. I’m drinking the Galactic Tide Porter, Kris takes the bartender’s suggestion; we both enjoy what we’re drinking. This place is buzzing, the line to order seems endless. We enjoy our conversation with the bartenders and invite them to the Mitten state to check out what we’ve got brewing.

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There’s a few hours left before we have to leave for the wedding, we head over to our airbnb. We have rented a Mid-Century Modern house tucked into a quiet neighborhood, it’s perfect for us. We have our own driveway and entrance on the first floor, the place is tastefully decorated, luxury linens, full kitchen, snacks; everything we need to feel at home. Our host is outstanding. Time to kick back and relax.

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The wedding is at Redeemed Farm in Scandia, about a 40 minute drive. Our route takes us north and east into the countryside. We  enter the barn, climb the stairs to the loft and take our seats before the ceremony begins. The bride is gorgeous, the groom wears a big smile; the ceremony is lovely. Our evening is spent visiting with the bride and groom, eating, drinking and catching up with friends, perfect. The setting is beautiful, the barns rustic and quaint, like an old-fashioned fairytale. Congratulations kids!

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St. Paul Minnesota

25 Jan

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It’s late September, we’re on our way to Minnesota’s capital city, St. Paul; it’s our first visit to the L’Etoile du Nord (The Star of the North) and we’re pretty excited. We have always wanted to visit; when the wedding invitation of a dear friend arrived in the mail it sealed the deal–we’re going to Minnesota! We have a reservation at an airbnb, a cooler in the backseat holds food and drinks, the car is loaded, we’re off. In order to maintain the feeling of being on vacation Kris is heading north, we’re taking I-75 straight through to the Upper Peninsula; I never get tired of seeing the Mackinac Bridge and the spectacular view it affords me. Once in the U.P. we head west on 2 following the Lake Michigan shoreline. Right where the lake practically meets the road Kris pulls over, we eat sandwiches, Better Made potato chips and apples standing on the sandy beach, the temperature hovers in the low 80’s. The next several hours are spent driving through the U.P, crossing Wisconsin and finally entering Minnesota. We arrive at our airbnb about 13 hours after we have left home.

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In the morning we are refreshed and ready to go. I have done a little research before our trip, I learned that St. Paul’s location on the east bank of the Mississippi River turned it into a bustling steamboat city, it became the provincial capital, later a railroad boomtown. In the late 19th Century the affluent moved to an area atop the bluffs where they could escape the dirt and pollution of the city; this provided a spectacular view of the capitol, downtown and Dayton’s Bluff, today this area is called Cathedral Hill. Let’s start at the top. The Cathedral of St. Paul is the 1915 Roman Catholic, copper-clad, Beaux-Arts-style creation of Archbishop John Ireland and architect Emmanuel Masqueray. It literally sits on the top of the hill. The monumental structure is magnificent; exterior walls are made of Rockville granite from St. Cloud MN, the dome rises 186′ into the sky, a rose window is placed front and center, dozens of concrete steps lead you to the dark-wooden door entrances; the amount of detail and decoration is astounding.

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Inside, our eyes immediately focuses on the altar. The architect was Emmanuel Masqueray, he designed the building specifically so all visitors had unobstructed views of the altar and pulpit. There are a few other visitors inside the cathedral as well, the space is so vast we hardly notice them. Making my way to the front, my head is tipped up, I must be careful not to run into anything. While there is so much to look at, the sanctuary is still the center of attention. The High Altar itself is marble surrounded by an ornamental structure called a Baldachin; 6 columns of black and gold marble, each 24′ high, a bronze latticework canopy, 2 angels and a sculpture of St. Paul rest on high pillars, glorious, breathtaking. At the top of the dome is a painting of the Holy Spirit, below it the 7 gifts; the color palate is warm, light shimmers off the gold leaf, massive bronze grilles surround the sanctuary. The central dome is 96′ in diameter and ascends 175′ high, 24 stained glass windows allow natural light to fill the space, yellow sections remind me of the sun,  the 8-pointed chandelier is gorgeous.

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The Ernest Skinner organ was installed in the sanctuary in 1927, the Aeolian-Skinner organ was put in the loft in 1963. Soaring spaces, arches, murals, columns, angels, marble, metalwork and statues fill the 3,000-seat cathedral. Stained glass windows are everywhere, the largest, the Rose windows are in the north and south transepts; created by Charles Connick he described his windows as “Spiritual beauty in lyric color”, I couldn’t have said it better. Bright and colorful, today they glow with images of the angelic choirs, Christ, saints and Christian history, stunning. Lighting was not installed until 1940. The Shrine Of Nations forms a semi-circle behind the altar, each of the 6 chapels is dedicated to a Patron Saint. There are 4 more chapels dedicated to St. Joseph, St. Peter, Mary and Sacred Heart. The space goes on and on, one hallway leading to another, it’s like a small city inside. Large marble statues of the 4 evangelists sculpted by John Angel are set into niches; each statue is 11’6″ and weighs 8 tons, seriously.

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We marvel at opulent sconces and fixtures, elegant candlesticks, beautiful ceilings and frescoes. We head downstairs to check out the  museum. In one area historic photographs and artifacts tell the story of the building. The cathedral was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, the copper dome was renovated in 2002 and in 2009 the Cathedral of St. Paul was declared a National Shrine. If you visit St. Paul this is one place not to be missed. 

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We descend the hill on Selby into one of St. Paul’s prettiest neighborhoods. Quiet streets, small parks, Queen Ann homes give this area a small-town feel even though it’s on the edge of downtown. Restaurants, boutiques and tons of historic buildings make this area very walkable. On the right we see a quaint stucco and brick building, the vintage neon sign reads St. Paul Curling Club. Curiosity leads us around to the back door where a member kindly invites us in. Off-season for curling, renovations are being made, still we are welcomed to have a look around. With temperatures again in the 80’s it feels good to be inside, even better when we step into the rink! Curling is played on artificial ice, the playing surface is called a sheet, at the end of each sheet is a target, called a house, the center of the house is called the tee. The object of the game is to get your stone closer to the tee then the other team gets theirs, we’ve all watched this during the Winter Olympics right? The building was built in 1912, the first incarnation of the St. Paul Curling Club was incorporated in 1885! From what we’re told the club is still going strong; Minnesotans continue to pass the tradition down through the generations, I love that.

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We’re having lunch at Moscow On The Hill, a Russian restaurant and vodka lounge. The decor is gold and red, the vodka bar is pretty busy for the middle of the day. The menu is filled with Russian delights from Beef Tartar to herring and borscht. We are having the Kasha, think of over-size, really delicious Grape-Nuts with fresh blueberries, a wonderful salad of fresh greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions, the dressing is really good. The beef and cabbage piroshki are excellent too! We continue our walk through the Cathedral Hill Business District, old-fashioned street lamps line Selby, the architecture is amazing, extraordinary. As is the case with many Mid-Western cities, this area went into rapid decline in the 1970’s, population dipped drastically, grand buildings were slated for demolition. Modern structures fill the gaps where majestic buildings once stood.

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The building at 374 Selby stops us in our tracks, the Richardson-Romanesque Dacotah Building is a red-brick, 3-story, dark-trimmed beauty. Built in 1879 grandeur W.A. Frost set up his pharmacy in the building’s ground floor, it closed in 1950–that’s quite a run. The building was vacant and forgotten until the Rupp family swooped in, restored it and opened the W.A. Frost bar and restaurant in 1975, they are credited with having the foresight to stabilize and redevelop the Cathedral Hill Business District, thank goodness! The bar is open, we’re thirsty, let’s go in. The interior is fabulous, look at this place; tin ceiling, antique light fixtures, the back bar is outstanding. The bartender tells us to take a look around so we do. The lower level is charming, it has that speakeasy feel; brick walls, arches, decorative wainscoting, cozy seating areas, this place is a gem. Upstairs we sit at the bar, a Guinness for me, whiskey for Kris; the staff is super-friendly, they are happy to give us suggestions of places to see while we’re here.

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Our walk down Selby takes us past cute sidewalk cafes, bakeries, bars, restaurants and shops. When the streetcars came to Selby the area experienced the greatest boom in residential and commercial construction. The first stop of the westbound Selby street car was at the corner of Selby and Western, which brings us to The Blair Flats, another incredible 5-story, Italianate building that’s been here since 1887. Once a residential hotel, it was re-named the Albion in 1893, the Angus in 1911. The Angus re-opened in 1985 as a mixed-use complex  of apartments, offices and retail, it operates in the same fashion today. The streetscape here is wonderful!

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Up ahead we see a sign for Claddagh Coffee Shop, their sandwich board says they have cold press coffee, that sounds good about now. Located in a historic building, we sit at the front window overlooking the street, drinking our coffee. I think about Detroit and the many other Mid-Western cities we like to visit, we have all followed the same pattern, growth, decline and now rebirth. It’s exciting, isn’t it? I’m so glad we’re here, I can’t wait to see what we’ll discover tomorrow.

MARSHALL: Overnight

29 Sep

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Take I-94 west out of Detroit and in just under 2 hours you will find yourself in charming, historic, Marshall MI. The National Park Service calls Marshall “the best virtual textbook of 19th Century American architecture in the country.” It’s also just a great little town to visit; stroll neighborhood streets, shop at local businesses, enjoy a nice dinner, have a cocktail in the walkable district. We plan on doing all of those things while we’re here.

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First we check into our hotel, we are staying at the National House Inn on Parkview. This Greek Revival structure was built in 1835 and has spent time as a hotel for stagecoach travelers, a wagon and windmill factory and again as an Inn. Crisp white trim surrounds the doors and windows of the red brick building, the Inn has a direct view of Fountain Circle, the parking lot is on the side. As soon as I walk in the door I can tell it’s really old–in a good way. There’s nothing like the feeling of an old building, I imagine this one has its share of stories. A large brick fireplace greets us in the center of the room, the wood-beamed mantel holds a black and white photo of George Washington. The floor is wood plank, early beams criss-cross the ceiling, an old Detroit Times rack holds current area newspapers. We check-in at the massive wooden desk.

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We are led up the stairs to the second floor. A cozy sitting area sits quietly in the center surrounded by guest rooms; there are 16 in all. A bench rests in front of the fireplace, antique pieces mingle with the comforts of the present day. Our room is lovely; floral wallpaper, dark wood, hand-embroidered pillows and a modern bathroom will suit us nicely. Our host invites us to have a look around the unoccupied rooms, we amble from one to the other, each different and distinct; I’ve always liked canopy beds. We have some time before dinner so we sit on the back porch overlooking the garden.

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I love tradition so for me there’s only 1 place to have dinner in Marshall: Win Schulers. Schulers is a Marshall institution, a family owned business for more than 100 years, the 4th generation now runs the restaurant. One of our favorite menu items is “So much more than a veggie burger”, at this time of the evening it’s only offered on the Pub menu so we head to Winston’s Pub adjacent to the Centennial Room. Dark paneling, low lights, antique photos and paintings give the room a quaint feeling. I enjoy looking at the black and white photos of the Schuler family through the years. We start with the trademark Heritage Cheese Spread and crackers, honestly, I could make a meal out of this, maybe a Schuler Brew (made for Schuler’s by Bell’s) to wash it down. It’s so good. The veggie burger is quinoa, black beans, cilantro, oats, horseradish mayo, guacamole, onion straws, tomato and greens on a homemade bun. The meal alone is worth the trip.

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After dinner we stroll through downtown; it’s a beautiful night, the sky is clear, the moon bright, the stars are twinkling. The streetscape is frozen in time; state historic markers and Michigan milestone plaques dot the landscape. These buildings have been standing here on Michigan Ave since the late 18 and early 1900’s. Businesses are closed for the night, illuminated shop windows let us peek at merchandise inside. Shelves and display cases inside Hodges Jewelers look original to the building, the neon sign for the Rexall drug store is one of our favorites. Off Skate Vintage has some great pieces, I wonder what time they open tomorrow… At the end of the block is the iconic, replica Temple of Love fountain, a gift from Harold C Brooks to the city of Marshall in 1930. It’s even prettier at night. I watch as people pass on their evening walks, stopping at the fountain, enjoying the sight and sound of the water. We make the turn onto Kalamazoo Ave following it down to Dark Horse Brewery, it’s a perfect night for a beer on their patio. People are spread out all over the outdoor space, some are playing games, others are on the deck, we choose a couple of stools at the bar. I sip on my porter, Kris on a stout enjoying a late-summer Michigan night.

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In the morning we come down the stairs to the breakfast room. Tables are set, food is placed on serving tables. Fresh fruit, cereal, Quiche, homemade coffee cake, coffee, tea, juice; it all looks delicious. Waffles are being baked in the kitchen area, Kris will have on of those. After breakfast we pack up our stuff and load the car. We have one more stop to make before we head out of town. Last night at Dark Horse we noticed Dark Horse Commons, a combination coffee roastery, bakery, candy shop and creamery. We’re going to check it out and grab a couple of coffees for the road. Everything is made on site, they even roast the coffee here. The place smells amazing inside, kind of a mixture of fresh-baked bread, coffee and something sweet . We look at the ice cream flavors: cream soda, buttered popcorn and Double Crooked Tree IPA, very unique. Loaves of sourdough, beer bread and baguette are tempting, the croissants are picture perfect. I’m happy to see cold-brew coffee on the menu, I order 2, pay at the register and we’re off!

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DETROIT: Home Sweet Home…

15 Sep

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Columbus Ohio: Wandering…

6 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: St. Francis D’Assisi

5 Jan

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It’s 11 pm on Christmas Eve, we’re on Wesson Street in Southwest Detroit, soft light glows in the windows of St. Francis of Assisi Church, we join the other early arrivals climbing the stairs to celebrate midnight mass. Completed in 1905 the majestic Italian Renaissance building is a wonder of Malvern brick, Bedford trim, Corinthian columns, trumpeting angels and massive oak doors. In the vestibule volunteers are busy arranging trays of cookies, cupcakes and chrusciki; a large urn brews coffee. Friends and family members greet one another with heartfelt hugs and handshakes.  

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The interior is dimly lit, the organist plays Christmas carols, the choir sings in Polish and English. The church is big, I read it can seat 1,700 people. We walk around a little, seeing what we can before settling in a pew. Altar boys appear out of the darkness, candles are lit, it’s time… Suddenly the lights go out, there’s a stir at the back of the church, Fr Cruz leads a procession down the center aisle, everyone joins in to sing Silent Night. The procession makes its way to the manger left of the altar, as we sing the words “Christ the Savior is born” a bright light appears in the night sky above the manger, next the sky is filled with stars; excitement and anticipation fills the church, Fr Cruz holds up a doll representing the baby Jesus, the baby is placed in the crèche.

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Instantaneously lights start to come on, one after the other; the cross atop the altarpiece is first, next the altarpiece itself, then the chandeliers, the dome, the ceiling, the perimeter, more lights than I have ever seen in a church, more than I can count–it’s spectacular! So begins midnight mass in marvelously dramatic style. From our vantage point we can see everything, we listen as the priest speaks, all the while taking in stained glass windows, the exquisite vaulted ceiling supported by a row of arch columns and the spectacular altarpiece–it’s like a church in a church. Angels are everywhere; four of them are holding up the roof. Directly above us hangs one of dozens of opulent chandeliers; angels surround the perimeter, brass acanthus leaves hold marbled stained glass in place, there are more than 25 bulbs in each, they’re truly works of art.

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We take in our surroundings, the most unique feature has to be the recessed lights in the ceiling, they form a cross in the nave and transept, they surround the ceiling medallions and frame the cupola. Mass has ended, parents carry sleeping children out to their cars. Now we are free to roam; tonight the church is adorned with decorations, white lights wrap Christmas trees and wreaths, red bows are tied to branches, pots of Poinsettia are staggered on the altar steps. Turning around we see the organ loft, pipes of varying heights remind me of a city skyline. Side altars are lavishly carved and painted in ivory and gold. Cross-shaped candle stands are placed throughout, handsome dark wood confessionals hug the wall; there’s one beautiful thing after another.

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St. Francis D’Assisi is one of only 3 churches consecrated in the archdiocese of Detroit. The parish has seen many changes throughout the last 111 years. What began as a Polish church now serves many families of Hispanic heritage as well as the children and grandchildren of Polish Americans. Being here is truly an experience. I couldn’t have asked for a more special Christmas Eve.

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DETROIT: Library After Dark

20 Dec

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Detroit is extremely fortunate that many of its outstanding 20th Century buildings still exist; the Detroit Public Library on Woodward is one such place. In 1912 Cass Gilbert was commissioned to construct the building; WWI and other delays slowed the completion, finally, in 1921 the amazing Italian Renaissance library opened its doors. This is the 4th largest library in the United States, it welcomes 222,000 visitors a year. 

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Tonight the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation is hosting “The Library At Night” tour. For over 70 years the Friends Foundation has provided funds, books, materials, and special programs to the library community through gifts, grants, general contributions and event fees. Tonight’s tour will highlight the architecture of Cass Gilbert, craftsmen and artists, followed by appetizers, wine, craft beer and live music in the Fine Arts room. Using the Cass Ave entrance we walk the long hall toward the front of the building, we pause at the front entrance, majestic bronze doors have been permanently folded to the sides. Wreaths, garlands, red bows and strings of white lights decorate railings, columns and stairways. We meet up with our tour group in the original Children’s Library, we’re ready to begin…

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The large room is an eclectic mix of old and new, funky lighting hangs from the ceiling, benches are upholstered in olive-green, cinnamon and navy. Original architectural elements have held their ground for over 150 years. Our guide points out the Pewabic Tile fireplace surround; done in shades of blue, tan, yellow and gold it depicts scenes from favorite childhood stories, it’s gorgeous. Above it a pictoral map of Michigan by Frederick Wiley shows the arrival of the French to the wilderness of the territory. I never noticed the little door hidden in the bookshelves, we get a peek inside the secret room. In the hall, I’m once again reminded of how much I love this building. Tonight between the holiday lighting and the darkness beyond the windows it looks extraordinary. 

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Walking from the original building to the 1963 addition we find ourselves surrounded by mid-century design. The transition between old and new is thoughtful and seamless. We enter the new Children’s Library, here stuffed animals, picture books and rhyming stories entertain youngsters; be sure to check out the mosaics hanging on the wall, kids from Detroit Public schools had a hand in making them. The library is also an art museum of sorts, beautiful art can be found everywhere and it’s all out in the open. The hall leading to the Burton Historical Collection is lined with rows and rows of card catalogs, they’re over 100 years old and span the history of Michigan and Detroit from the 1700’s to the present– there’s no plan to modernize or get rid of them, some things should stay the same. The 2-story room that holds the collection is very 1960’s in style, the tall narrow windows allow natural daylight to saturate the space. One of the highlights is Stalin’s Gift, a lovely jewel chest commissioned for the Russian Royal Family in 1883. Joseph Stalin gave it to Charles Sorensen of Ford Motor Company for Sorensen’s help establishing Russian auto plants during WWII; his widow donated it to the library.

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We’re on the move again, we pause at Frank Varga’s mosaic of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, it was donated to the library in 1974. The Friends Foundation used tour proceeds to purchase the spotlight that illuminates it tonight. The Grand Staircase is made entirely of marble, it’s exquisite, as we ascend the stairs we get glimpses of the spectacular Italian Renaissance ceiling. Throughout the building you will find gold leaf, symbols, figures, Greek and Roman motifs and themes of books, knowledge and wisdom. Every room on the 3rd floor features a ceiling designed by Frederick Wiley, most are reproductions of ones found in European palaces, all are stunning.

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The 3rd floor is my favorite, the view of the ceilings and murals is fantastic; then there’s Adam Strohm Hall… Adam Strohm was the first library director to work in the building, there’s so much beauty in one place it’s mind-blowing. Check out the bronze entrances around the doors before you step in. Immediately our attention is directed to John Stephens Coppin’s “Man’s Mobility”, the painting features three era’s of transportation from horse and buggy to rocket ships. The mural on the opposite wall is Detroit’s early history by Gary Melchers. The windows you see are not stained glass but painted, the idea was stained glass was too dark, painted windows would let in more light for reading. Then there’s the ceiling, I’d like to just lay on the floor and stare at it for a while, take in the whole room…The ceiling in the Art and Music room was a new design, it’s very simple compared to the others; Cass Gilbert liked it so much he used it again in the US Supreme Court Building.

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The tour ends in the Fine Arts Room, another gorgeous space. Tonight we’re in for a special treat, they have opened a window and allowed us access to the loggia. There are 7 mosaics underneath the loggia windows, each depicts quotes from Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from As You Like It. The mosaics were created by Mary Chase Stratton (Pewabic Pottery founder), Horace Caulkins and Frederick Wiley; you can see their names affixed in gold leaf at one end, Cass Gilbert’s at the other. Just being out here is amazing! We have a picturesque view of the DIA lit in red and green for the holidays. Most people don’t even know the loggia exists, it’s a special privilege to be standing outside, under the stars on a Friday night. One of the volunteers has removed a colored gel from the spotlight so we can see the mosaics in their true colors–awesome. We climb back in the window; a woman sings as I stand in line for appetizers and wine. Kris ducks out into the hall for pictures, he has the floor to himself. It’s been wonderful to revisit this treasure and extra special to do the tour at night.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at The Peterboro in Detroit’s historic Chinatown. We were here for the soft opening and keep meaning to come back, tonight’s the night. Serving contemporary Chinese American cuisine they offer both small and large plates.  I find the space really attractive, large red lanterns cast a warm glow over the otherwise dark room, red and white lights wrap black-painted ducts, a large canvas features a fierce looking tiger. We decide on several small plates, each arrives at the table as it’s prepared. The Seaweed salad is the first to arrive, crispy quinoa and pickled mushrooms add crunch and unique flavor. The Market Veggie Rolls are nice, I like the sweet chili sauce. Mom’s Roast Pork is boneless rib tips marinated in hoisin and honey, nice flavor, odd texture. The Crab Rangoons are our favorite dish, crabmeat and cream cheese deep fried in a crunchy shell, what’s not to like? 

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MICHIGAN: Coasting…..

24 Jun

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It’s our last full day up north, we’ve got things to do! We pack up the Jeep with beach towels, food, cold drinks and head toward Sturgeon Bay.  After a picnic lunch we cruise through tunnel of trees on our way to Harbor Springs; we park by the water then explore the quaint little town on foot. More than a century old, this waterfront community was once a thriving port-of-call for steam ferries and passenger ships carrying people from Detroit and Chicago to Little Traverse Bay. At one time a lumber mill, gristmill and toothpick factory took up real estate at the head of the harbor. Today beautiful historic structures grace the community, people come from all over to enjoy swimming, sandy beaches, boating, fishing and golfing.

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The downtown business district follows the course of the bay, boutiques, bakeries, restaurants and galleries fill cute little storefronts. We meander in and out of shops selling designer fashions, glassware, cookware, artful pieces and home goods. The whimsical entrance at Boyer Glassworks draws us inside, a bevy of colorful glass pumpkins in orange, purple and blue fill gallery shelves. At Knox Gallery beautiful paintings line the walls, most impressive are the life-sized, phenomenally detailed bronze works. In the outdoor sculpture garden, bronze children hold hands and laugh, I really like the donkey, kinetic sculptures are active. We grab a cookie at Tom’s Mom’s Cookies on Spring Street, yum! Houses with roomy porches rest on hills, a red-brick church is adorned with Gothic windows, the hexagonal-shaped house was built in 1890 by Ephraim Shay–the guy who invented the Shay locomotive, the most widely used geared steam locomotive, the old Bar Harbor neon sign is cool. The view of Little Traverse Bay is exceptional, the water a deep blue today; we watch a sailboat glide past.

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Going south on M 119 we then turn west on 31, Stafford’s Bay View Inn is our landmark, making a left on Encampment, we are now in Bay View. Founded in 1875 the Bay View Association of the United Methodist Church  is nestled into 337 terraced acres featuring more than 30 public buildings, nearly 450 cottages and 2 inns that have been in operation since the early 1900’s. Originally formed as part of the Methodist Camp Meeting movement, it is now part of the Chautauqua movement. Educational programs of lectures and music began in 1886, in time programs for children and classes were added. By the late 1800’s Bay View Association had a Chautauqua series summer university attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the “intellectual and scientific culture and the promotion of the cause of religion and morality.” During this time the early “tent city” was transformed into the lovely Victorian resort community you see today.

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The best way to experience Bay View is to stroll the shady, tree-lined lanes, taking in gingerbread laden cottages finished with crisp white trim, screen doors and lacy curtains. Each cottage is a different color; sunflower yellow, navy blue, white, grey. Rocking chairs and wicker furniture fill expansive porches, baskets of flowers hang from fancy trim, red geraniums fill a flower box. A sky blue beauty literally matches the sky today, the third floor of the turret is open to the outdoors, the view must be spectacular. Grand cottages are reached by concrete steps built into the hill, fish scale siding, ornate railings and gobs of spindles adorn the residences. Leaseholders are here from May through October, the community is closed November through April and the cottages must be vacated.

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Our walk continues, we pause at the Happiness Is….. cottage decked out in bright yellow, orange and green, just looking at it really does make you happy. American, state and college flags shift in the breeze, many cottages are in the hands of third and fourth generations of a family. We come to the cottage I consider the Queen of all the Victorians, you can see it from 31, it’s this rambling, gorgeous, burgundy and cream doll house plastered with fine Victorian details, the wrap around porch is stunning. In the campus area all is quiet at Evelyn Hall and the John M Hall auditorium. A small group of tuxedo and gown wearing teenagers have gathered at the Terrace Inn. The front doors are open, we follow the trail of concrete stairs to the lobby, tonight is the local prom, it’s being held in the 1911 restaurant inside the Inn. The room is magnificent; the wooden floor gleams, columns are wrapped in white lights, wooden beams criss cross the ceiling, crystal chandeliers glow, they’re going to have a wonderful time.

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Although the Bay View Association is only open to Christians, all of the programs are open to the public including the nationally renowned Music Festival which has been running for over 100 years. You are welcome to attend Sunday morning worship services, weekday religion and life lectures and musical performances.  There’s a real sense of tranquility here, folks work in their garden, sit in a comfy chair drinking lemonade, everybody waves or says hello. The view of the bay is stunning. It’s exactly the way I imagine summers were a century ago.

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A little further west is Bay Harbor. For more than 100 years, a cement plant and mining operations filled over 1,200 acres and 5 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline; industry left leaving a no-mans land of vacant, scarred property some described as a moonscape on Little Traverse Bay. In 1993 David V Johnson began the task of turning this forgotten land into one of the most luxurious residential communities in existence, it became the largest land reclamation project in North america. You’d never imagine it to be anything other than the extraordinary, year-round resort we see today. The greater community is made up of low-density neighborhoods, nature preserves, a marina, golf course and business district, all on the water’s edge. The Village Hotel offers boutique hotel rooms with a panoramic view of the bay. A small shopping area includes high-end boutiques, eateries and a coffee shop. The water is a deep turquoise, perfectly landscaped homes are carved into the natural setting, it looks like a postcard.

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After a little r & r back in Charlevoix at the Earl Young cottage we are renting, we follow the tribe of sunset worshipers to the beach. I never tire of a Lake Michigan sunset, no two are the same. Sitting on a brick wall we watch as the sun descends, a lone wooden boat passes in the horizon. As the sun drops out of view the sky takes on the warm hues of summer; splendid, dazzling, memorable, as this whole trip has been. We close the night out in town at the Bridge Street Tap Room. Offering 32 taps of Michigan craft beer it takes us a few minutes to decide. Kris is having Short’s Soft Parade and I’m drinking Right Brain CEO Stout. We have fun thinking back over the last few days; the beautiful sights, tasty food and friendly people have made this a trip to remember.

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Charlevoix: Rock On!!!

8 Jun

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Our travels have taken us to the northwestern edge of the mitten, the city of Charlevoix to be exact. You may know Charlevoix by reputation; quaint, small town surrounded by water: Lake Michigan, Round Lake and Lake Charlevoix, magnificent views, stunning harbor, pristine sandy beaches, fresh whitefish and fudge. What you may not know about the city is its one-of-a-kind stone “mushroom” houses built by famed local architect Earl Young. We have the good fortune of spending the next 4 days at one of his cottages on Park Ave called Abide. Check in is at 4:00 pm, so we have some time to explore the neighborhood.

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Earl Young built more than 30 structures in the city of Charlevoix. In 1908 he enrolled in architecture school at U of M, bored with the study of traditional architecture, he left after one year; he learned about construction and architecture on his own by reading books and magazines, he was an apprentice stone mason to gain understanding of how things were built. He became a realtor and insurance agent, never a registered architect. Young had his own way of doing things, he never made blueprints, he designed the structure to fit the landscape, it is said he was difficult to work with, he designed on-the-spot using stones that ‘spoke to him’. His wife Irene, an artist, would refine his sketches and bring them to the job site describing Young’s vision to workers. 

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We begin our walk in Boulder Park, Young purchased this large piece of land in 1924, partitioned it into 85 irregular-shaped lots, he sold them for $100 each with the stipulation that the first floor of any house built had to be made of stone or stucco; Young built 10 homes in Boulder Park. He first worked on a house with green mortar between the stones, entryways to his homes are in unexpected places, almost hidden, some without a walkway to the entrance. Chimneys are remarkable, giving the impression of randomly placed stones, often chimney-tops appear to be slathered in frosting or snow (I prefer frosting…). Houses are built of stone and timber, some have rolled eaves, colored mortar, stucco. All are playful, whimsical, looking as if they sprouted from the place in which they sit. One looks like an English cottage, another resembles a Swiss Chalet, they have Arts and Crafts characteristics. There’s the Owl House, the Enchanted Cottage, the Norman Panama House, the Pagoda House. 

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The most well-known house in the park is Boulder Manor, it’s amazing. Young had a habit of saving boulders, he would hide them underground, in the woods or in Lake Michigan, always remembering each one, waiting for an opportunity to use it. Boulder Manor would be the recipient of many of these stone treasures. He began work on the home in 1928, it was to be his family home, the playhouse in the backyard was finished first. Before the home could be completed the Great Depression hit, Young lost the house to the bank in 1929. Finally in 1937 he regained possession, finishing it in 1939. You can’t miss it, the front of the house has a huge arched window that looks out over Lake Michigan, the boulders used in construction are massive. Pictures of the interior feature a magnificent fireplace. You do not simply look at these homes, they literally stop you in your tracks. Combinations of stones, uniquely shaped exteriors, roof lines, all cause us to pause, study, and admire the structures.

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The temperature hovers in the mid 80’s as the afternoon sun blazes overhead, the breeze off Lake Michigan provides relief. We head northeast following Lake Shore Dr to East Park to see some of Young’s later houses,  He started building in 1919 and continued into the 70’s. On the left perched above the lake is one of the most photographed of Young’s houses. This one appears to resemble an elongated  mushroom, glass panels afford us a view straight through the house to the turquoise water below. The house is irregular in shape, the chimney made up of 3 stone stacks, flat stones are layered to create borders and fences, it’s pretty spectacular.

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Park Avenue is home to some of Young’s  later houses, referring to these structures he is quoted as saying he “built roofs and then shoved the houses underneath”. Indeed Young’s creativity flows here; roofs meander, buildings are built into hills and trickle down slopes, I can picture Tinkerbell or perhaps Snow White and the 7 dwarfs living in Half House, Hansel and Gretel in Abide, they’re interesting, inviting, they pique our curiosity, I want to peer inside the funny shaped windows, sit on the rock steps, drink hot chocolate by the fireplaces. In 1945 Young built a large cottage with a thatched roof from Europe, later the roof was changed to shingles, the new owners of the house have returned the roof back to thatch as originally constructed. 

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We walk to downtown for lunch at the Weathervane. Originally built as a gristmill in 1871, Young purchased the property and converted the building into this iconic restaurant in the mid-50’s. There are 5 fireplaces in the restaurant, the main one is topped by a 18,260 lb. glacial boulder found by Young years back. We are seated on the deck overlooking the Pine River channel and Lake Michigan, not a bad view! We eat a lunch of today’s special whitefish sandwich, very tasty and a caprese salad, I wash it down with a Belgian Dubbel from Petoskey Brewing. We are entertained by all of the activity; boats come and go through the channel, tourists walk waterside out to the beach. 

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When we are finished we take a self-tour of the restaurant, checking out the fireplaces, the main bar constructed of shipwreck planks, the view. A circular stairwell leads to the lower level where Young once had his office, we find massive timbers and boulders, another fireplace. Displays pay tribute to Young and his work, old photos and memorabilia tell the history of the buildings and Charlevoix. Outside we cross the parking lot to the Terrace Inn nestled into the landscape, Young’s signature turrets obscure stairwells that lead to the second floor rooms of the hotel, it’s enchanting. We peek into the lobby to get a look at yet another sensational fireplace.

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Across the road, Young built another hotel called The Lodge, which opened in 1959, a huge rock out front bears the name of the hotel. Two-stories tall, constructed of wood and stone it looks very lodge-like, here again we have the castle-like turrets that enclose stairways. We enter the lobby, the desk clerk is not surprised to learn we are here to see the fireplace. It’s unique in its vertical design, the wood mantle is very attractive, we learn the sawn-log end tables are original to the lobby too. When you come to Charlevoix you have many options of Earl Young designed accommodations available to you, in addition to the hotels many of his cottages are available for rental privately or through VRBO. Which leads us (finally) to Abide, the cottage we have rented for the long weekend.

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It doesn’t get any more charming than this. Abide was built by Young in 1938 as a rental cottage, it’s darling. A curved pathway leads us to the arched wooden door which is unlocked, waiting for our arrival. Inside a landing of rock makes way to a wood floor, in fact the whole interior is wood, stucco and stone. The square footage comes in at 620 sq ft, every single inch exudes warmth, beauty and coziness. The fireplace is the first he built of Onaway stone, an easy chair is pulled up close. The living space is wide open, one area easily leading to the next. A large table with a bench on each side fills the dining room, wood beams line the stucco ceiling, windows give us a view of the outdoors from every angle. A single bed is tucked into the sleeping porch, a queen bed takes up most of the main bedroom. A narrow hall leads to a galley-style kitchen, all of the modern conveniences are found in this sweet space. As I unpack and explore Kris plays Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on the CD player, I feel as if I have gone back in time. The evening breeze shuffles the curtains, as evening falls people walk past on their way to catch a sunset on the beach, what a wonderful idea. We immediately feel at home, and we are, at least for the next few days that is…… 

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