Tag Archives: Art Deco

DETROIT: Purdy…

1 May

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There are places or things that one never tires of seeing, for me, the Fisher Building is one such place. No matter how many times I pass through the revolving doors I am always taken aback by the sheer magnificence of the place. Did I ever tell you I saw Debbie Reynolds in the Unsinkable Molly Brown here at the Fisher Theatre? It was amazing. Kris and I are here for  Stella Good Coffee; you’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant space anywhere to have a cup of Joe. The compact shop features locally roasted coffee beans, tea, Avalon baked goods, soups from Russell Street Deli, gift items and beverage accessories. You can sit inside surrounded by murals or do like we do, sit at one of the cafe tables in the lobby. Today we are drinking iced coffee and sharing a delicious cookie with moist, chocolatey chunks of brownie. Look at that ceiling, elegant chandeliers, gold leaf and marble–oh my!  The corridors are beginning to fill up with people, it’s time for Pure Detroit’s free tour of the building. We’d better be moving along.

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The Junior League of Detroit is hosting the 2018 Designer’s Showhouse SNEAK A PEEK today. The house is the Charles T Fisher Mansion on W Boston Blvd. Kris and I have been in this house on public tours before, spectacular is a word that comes to mind…. I’m anxious to see it again. We park on Boston Blvd with relative ease, I pay the entry fee and am given a handout about the house. What??! They’re not allowing photos of the interior, argh… Sans pictures here’s what I can tell you about the Fisher Mansion. Designed by George D Mason ( Masonic Temple, DYC, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island), constructed in 1922, the 18,000 sq. ft. estate was outfitted with hand-carved American Walnut panels, Flint Faience tiles, ornate plaster; it even has its own gymnasium. There are 14 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, a liquor vault (think prohibition) and a pipe organ. The Estey Opus 2383 was installed in 1925, there are nearly 1000 pipes throughout 4 levels of the house.

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We meander through rooms guided by arrows, docents and pathways. In every room a smart phone appears, a tourist trying to capture some beautiful detail, a chandelier, fireplace or doorway, they are gently reminded of the no photo policy. I feel like I hardly recognize the house, walls have been removed, walnut paneling is gone, ceilings are bare, much, much rougher than expected… I was happy to see the hand-carved Italian marble fountain still in place in the solarium. Up one flight of stairs, bare studs and visqueen sheeting, then another flight, here we find the maids quarters and gymnasium. We are routed back down, through the kitchen and into the lower level Grand Ballroom. The space is basically a construction site, gone are the elegant plaster ceilings and the pub. There is a glass wall panel that allows us to see the inner-workings of the pipe organ, we have a perfect view of the self-playing Mills Violano. Around the corner the vault is still in place. Actor, best-selling author and philanthropist Hill Harper purchased this house in September 2017. He has generously allowed the Junior League of Detroit to use his home for the 2018 Designers Show House. Be sure and visit the finished product September 15-October 7. Oh, and you will be allowed to take pictures.

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Lunch time. le petit zinc moved from its longtime home in Corktown to Midtown about a month ago. This is our first visit to the new location. The restaurant occupies the ground floor space in the Strathmore Apartment Building recently vacated by Dangerously Delicious Pies (Oh how we miss those pies!) The interior is decked out in shades of blue, heavy blue curtains seal the dining room off from the rest of the building, the open kitchen is in the center of the room, diners sit at cafe tables and counter seating. The vibe is laid-back and comfortable. The restaurant serves French-inspired breakfast and lunch items; sweet and savory crepes, baked eggs, croissants, Quiche, toasted baguette with jam. We’re having the ham and brie Quiche, it comes with a side salad. Cutting into the neatly folded crepe I am delighted to see melted brie ooze onto my plate, it’s so good. We follow that with a butter and sugar crepe, as I chew I get that nice butter flavor mixing with the sweet, soft crunch of sugar, yum! 

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The Milwaukee Junction neighborhood recently welcomed a new bar to the neighborhood, Kiesling, it rhymes with Reisling. The building was constructed sometime in the 1890’s, in the 1920’s it was the Kiesling Saloon; it also spent time as a cafe and a general store before becoming Edith’s Hideaway, a bar where cops hung out in the 1970’s. The place closed in the 1990’s and stood vacant; time, money, imagination and a good dose of elbow grease have brought it full circle. We arrive at 4:00, just as the bar opens, we’re greeted by a familiar face, Rob Wilson is the bar manager. We have his enjoyed his cocktails all over Detroit, looks like he’s landed in a pretty sweet spot.

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The place is beautiful, sort of a mix of stylish speak easy and cozy saloon. Unique character comes from the eclectic light fixtures, wood beams, original terrazzo floors and wainscoting. Custom, handmade wallpaper covers ceilings and walls. During the restoration original murals from 1913 were revealed, now meticulously restored, the panels depict deer in all 4 seasons. We sit at the end of the 14-seat bar, the bar top itself is oak and quartzite with copper rails, a remnant from the recently closed Lord Fox in Ann Arbor. The antique back bar came from an old bar in southwest Detroit.  Kiesling serves classic and original cocktails, beer and wine. The menu offers a nice variety of seasonal and classic drinks, all on the one-page menu. Kris orders whiskey, I’m having the Honey Bearing; gin, green Chartreuse, honey, lemon, bitters, salt and a dash of bee pollen on top, I find it outstanding. In fact it’s so good I have two! 

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DETROIT: New Center Vintage

1 Mar

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A few times a year A Detroit Flea takes over the Jam Handy building on East Grand Boulevard; we’re excited to check it out. The building itself has lived several interesting lives, if my digging is correct here’s what I found. It was built in 1919  as the Maranatha Baptist Tabernacle, then in the late 1920’s the building was home to the Bellows-Claude Neon Co. factory. Bellows refers to Mr. L. F. R. Bellows, a licensed manufacturer of Claude neon tube electric signs and Claude refers to George Claude of France, the man who invented Neon lights. It was here that the neon signs were manufactured for Olympia Arena, the GM Building, the Penobscot Air Beacon and the Ambassador Bridge. An article in the February 1929 Detroit Free Press describes the sign like this, “Two main towers emblazoned on the sky in fiery letters 6 feet high, nearly 400′ above the river will be the words Ambassador Bridge.” Wow! Not long after, Henry Jamison Handy (Jam Handy), a 1904 Olympic bronze medalist swimmer, turned the building into a film studio making industrial, educational and commercial films. He made over 7,000 films for the armed services during WWII, he was hired by GM to make short training films, he did 1965’s “Detroit: City On The Move”, a promotional film for the City of Detroit. Jam was contracted as the Chicago-Detroit branch of Bray productions, he produced animated films–that’s cartoons to you and me.

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On this gloomy Saturday the white terracotta building sits non-nonchalantly on the boulevard, its blue marquees blank. It has been turned into an event space; weddings, parties and today a Flea Market. The wooden entry doors are unlocked, the lobby greets us with long tables of homemade food; snacks, hot food and baked goods, yum. At this community flea market vendors bring their own tables and decorate their space as they wish; all it costs is the donation of a baked good. There’s a buzz in the air; music plays in the background as we traverse the space, they have everything here. Vintage clothing fills multiple racks, the old guitars are cool, metal tins, typewriters and sewing machines rest on tables. Shoes, cowboy boots and old-fashioned suitcases are neatly stacked on the floor. Some people have a knack for arranging items into attractive displays. Beautiful old linens mingle with kitchen items, jewelry and perfume bottles join purses and matchbooks on a gold tablecloth.

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The building is pretty interesting too; we walk on old wooden floors, decaying sound-deadener clings to brick walls, there’s a lot going on in the ceiling–check out the skylights. I look through boxes of books, smile at board games I played as a kid, admire antique glass pieces and try to think of a reason to buy them. Flea markets are exciting, there’s such an array of items you never know what you’ll find. Need an old VCR, ceramic ash tray, money bag or a funky 70’s tunic? I know just the place…

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On to the Fisher Building, since the new owners of  have taken over the building has come alive; renovations, new shops, a bakery and people wandering about in awe. You have got to see this boutique, The Peacock Room, 3,000 sq. ft. of pure elegance. Check it out. Walls are cool shades of blue and cream with plenty of gold trim, the ornamental detailing in the plaster is stunning. Opulent crystal chandeliers hang from the barrel-shaped ceiling. Look at that wreath pattern on the upper section of the walls, beautiful pastels all hand-painted by Theresa DeRoo of Paintwork Detroit; it’s a magnificent space.

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Crossing the threshold is like being transported to a Parisian boutique. The formal dresses are as lovely as the space they inhabit; bridal wear, gowns, shawls and jackets for that very special occasion. Clothing hangs on racks that seem to disappear into the walls, built-in display cases exhibit new and vintage items. Mannequins wear flirty vintage-style dresses, tables, racks and glass cases offer glamorous jewelry; handbags range in size from petite hand-held to over the shoulder bags. The shop has an assortment of fun socks, greeting cards, candles and gift items. The merchandise is well curated, everything looks hand-selected, displays are extremely attractive; Rachel Lutz (owner) has really outdone herself. If there was absolutely nothing in the space I’d still come here just to admire the surroundings! It’s hard to believe all of this was covered up for years when this was a bank. 

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Shopping always makes me hungry, let’s eat. Down the hall and to the right from The Peacock Room is the newly-opened City Bakery. This is their first location outside of New York City and Japan; it seems they have a thing for old buildings. The white-painted space is drenched in sunlight, be sure to notice the beautifully embellished plasterwork. We walk to the counter to see what’s on the menu today, there isn’t really a menu (yet), large bowls are filled with colorful salads and pastas, muffins, cookies and scones fill serving platters. This is how it works, everything is the same price, pick out the items you want, then choose the size of bowl you desire. Small bowls are $5 and hold one item, medium bowls are $7, large are $10, you can mix as much or as little of anything you want in the larger bowls. We’re having a small roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and dates, and a medium rice noodle salad with carrots and peanuts with a scoop of the butternut squash salad, it’s all delicious! Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen below the bakery space. You can’t come to City Bakery and not get the hot chocolate…have you ever had Spanish hot chocolate? This stuff is the best; rich, thick, deeply chocolate, like drinking warm chocolate pudding, it’s heavenly.

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Our last stop in New Center is blvd beat; a fun, quirky, vinyl record, vintage shop on Woodward. Hours are kind of hit-or-miss, we’ve lucked out today. This is one of those fun places where you can buy anything from a vintage apron to a rare vinyl pressing of some obscure band. I love the white ball lights that dangle from the ceiling, hhmm, I wonder what hides beneath those ceiling tiles; the floor is still terrazzo.

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Record albums have the largest footprint in the store, I don’t know anything about the collectability but the cover-art is super-cool. Items are grouped into eye-catching displays, pieces from different decades hang out side by side. They have an eclectic variety of clothing, home goods and knick knaks; hey, my mom used to have one of those chairs that open up for storage. Hats, handkerchiefs, throw pillows with Mod patterns, so much to explore. Vintage photographs, a stereo, loads of VHS movies. Pop, Mod, Mid Century, Art Deco, funky; everything is priced reasonably. Nothing we have to buy today but we’ll be back, shops like this are like traveling through time.

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CINCINNATI: Back in Time….

17 Feb

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It’s our last day in Cincy; we’ve still got a list of things to do. No trip to the Queen City is complete without a visit to the Cincinnati Museum Center, formerly Union Terminal. Everything about this building is amazing from architecture and history to its present-day use as a museum. Work started on the building in August of 1929, completed March 31, 1933 it is one of the last great train stations built and one of the finest examples of the Art Deco style. When it opened it was served by seven railroads; designed to accommodate 17,000 passengers and 216 trains a day, it was a transfer point for soldiers during WWII, Amtrak still runs a train from the station. Union Terminal cost $41 million to build including the land and readjustment of railroad facilities, the complex and rail yards take up 287 acres with 94 miles of track.

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  The Jeep is parked and we approach the building on foot; no matter how many times we come here, I am still awed by the magnificence of the structure, so grand, elegant, sophisticated. The clock is mounted front and center, two bas reliefs flank the rotunda, one represents transportation, the other commerce. In 1932, Maxfield Keck and his team stood on scaffolding and carved the figures directly into the limestone exterior, it took several months. Inside, the rotunda’s interior dome spans 180 ft with a height of 106 feet, it’s stunning! A series of murals depict the heritage of the US and Cincy. German artist Winold Reiss is responsible for the design of the murals; glass mosiac tiles, roughly the size of a nickle were pressed into a colored-plaster background. Glass tiles were ideal, the colors are brilliant, they will not fade and are easy to clean and maintain, especially important back in the days when smoking in public was the norm, not to mention the smut and smoke from the trains. Reiss also had input to the color scheme of the rotunda dome, a rainbow of yellows and golds, as well as the terrazzo floor patterns.

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A sign guides us to Tower A, we’ve never been, so we’re excited to check it out; a ride on an elevator, a few steps up and we’re in. This my friends, is the control tower, the train director would sit at his desk, look at the control panel and determine the path of travel of each train through the terminal, lever men would align the switches down at the track level to keep all trains moving safely. The original control panel hangs on the back wall, it’s huge, it has been rewired and is programmed to show how it looked back when Tower A was in full operation, amazing. Showcases are filled with memorabilia from the glory days of train travel, silverware, china, menus and photographs. Parents rest on old train station seats as youngsters ring the (very loud) train bell, bookshelves are cramped with volumes on the history of trains, lanterns and traffic lights hang above. Standing on the viewing platform we see the Queensgate Yard to the right, every day a CSX train brings orange juice from Florida to the Tropicana plant just north of Cincinnati. Straight out is the CUT yard, rows of tracks are filled with freight cars, the Amtrak passenger train uses the platform just below the Tower. Off to the left is the Ohio River and many bridges including the Norfolk Southern Bridge, that route runs from Cincy to Chattanooga. The Control Tower is also the home of the Cincinnati Railroad Club who funded the renovation of Tower A, thanks guys!

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Back on the main floor we enter the Museum of Science and Natural History. An exhibit honors the memory of Ohio native Neil Armstrong, the display includes a moonrock collected during his Apollo 11 mission in which he became the first man to set foot on the moon, along with a replica of his spacesuit and tools. As we proceed further we find ourselves in a re-creation of real caves found in Ohio and Kentucky, covering two levels and 500 feet of dark, narrow passages. Floors and walls are textured, it’s chilly and a little damp, walkways open into chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites, there’s an underground stream and a waterfall, they even have a bat colony. Next thing you know we’ve traveled back roughly 19,000 years in the Ohio Valley into the ice age and pre-historic worlds. There are dinosaur skeletons, fossils and casts, we walk through a re-created glacier with its Caribbean blue light eerily lighting our way, we follow the ice age trail to the stream table all rocky and uneven. Here the land is barren but for a few trees, wolves roam the landscape, more dinosaurs lurk about.

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Back in the Rotunda we ramble through the building a little more, because of the crowds they have opened several dining room spaces usually reserved for private meetings and events. French artist Pierre Bourdelle is responsible for decorative ceiling designs in the dining rooms and hall, the formal dining room’s ceiling mural is a map of Cincinnati bounded on the edges with all forms of transportation and landmarks of the city. Bourdelle’s artwork consumes 5,496 sq ft of the building, his largest commission. Back in the day, public buildings were always designed to impress, local history and landmarks were often used in decorative ways, a means of connecting people and their community. Union Terminal is an architectural treasure, in November 2014 residents of Hamilton County passed a millage to provide funding for renovations of Union Terminal to keep it functional, now that’s money well spent. 

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For dinner we are crossing the Ohio River into Covington Kentucky and the MainStrasse Village neighborhood to Dee Felice. On the corner of Main and 6th Streets stands the 18th century orange brick building that began life as a pharmacy. Inside, the ornate tin ceiling, black and white marble tile floor and old-fashioned details remain. Long-time Jazz drummer and band leader Emidio De Felice opened the restaurant/Jazz club back in 1984, today his wife and daughter carry on the tradition of serving up live Jazz and Cajun food. We arrive to a nearly full house, musicians are perched on the stage behind the open bar playing Sweet Lorraine. After a quick scan of the menu we place our order, the music continues, many of our Jazz favorites are played. The Pasta Dante arrives; blackened strips of chicken over peppers, onions and linguine sauteed in white wine and topped with feta cheese, it’s delicious! We sip on cocktails, the music comes to an end, time to go.

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It’s still early, we walk Main Street the length of downtown, buildings are distinctly southern in style, narrow fronts, deep in length–shotgun style. With elevated front doors, some have ornate cornices, others leaded glass, they’re snuggled close together. Restaurants and taverns are doing a good business, the neighborhood was originally German, the 6-block district still retains its charm. Kris drives the car over to the riverfront, this is one of our favorite places to walk.  The Kentucky side of the Ohio River was relatively shallow compared to the Ohio side, making it unusable as a public landing for boats and steamships; instead beautiful mansions were built overlooking the waterway. Today a series of parks and pathways line the riverside affording visitors a  view of the best of both worlds, the vibrant city skyline of Cincinnati and the picturesque charm and grandeur of Covington. Until next time…….. 

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CINCINNATI: Lush Life

4 Feb

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We had a pleasant drive from Madison Indiana to Cincinnati Ohio; we are spending the next couple of nights at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza. This modern-day palace is so extraordinary, Kris and I have decided to devote an entire post to the building. The Netherland Plaza Hotel and Carew Tower were designed to be a “city within a city”; financed by the Emery family and completed in January 1931, the complex predated Rockefeller Center’s opening by four years. When the hotel opened it featured 800 guest rooms, high-speed automatic elevators, 11 kitchens, 7 restaurants, a ballroom and a nightclub. Winston Churchill, Elvis, Eleanor Roosevelt and Bing Crosby are just a few of the famous guests who have stayed at the Netherland Plaza. C’mon, let us show you around…..

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We pass through the handsome porte-cochere on Fifth Street to enter the building, decorative floral metalwork reaches horizontally above the entrance, brass torcheres guard the staircase, a mural covers the vaulted ceiling, the French caption “Bienvenu aux Voyageurs (Welcome Travelers) greets all who pass under. A compass-rose points true north and is surrounded by 24 gazelles which represent each hour of the day. The lobby is well appointed with Brazilian Rosewood, Italian marble and pierced nickel-silver fixtures in a foliage design, making the area feel rich and luxurious. French Art Deco saturates the building; pillars, openings and moldings are angular, geometric shapes; herons, lotus leaves and sunbursts are found throughout. On the mezzanine level we get an excellent view of the Welcome Traveler piece, there are 18 Louis Grell murals in all, each one a masterpiece; the original cost to build the hotel was $7 million (1930) dollars! Now let’s have a look at the Continental Room.

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This lavish room was originally the main dining room of the hotel, the room is still adorned with the extravagant 1930 wall sconces and chandeliers, amazing. Murals represent the four seasons, nickel-silver doors have French mirror backing, now here’s the really cool part: When the hotel opened, there was a small ice rink built into the floor in the center of the room, diners were entertained by an ice-skating show—can you imagine that? At this level we have a lovely overview of the Palm Court, once the main lobby, now home to Orchids at Palm Court, a fine dining restaurant, The Grille and The Bar at Palm Court; more on these later. And we’re walking, third floor is next. I have to dig deep into my adjectives bag for this next part, there are no words to do it full justice but I’ll give it a shot.

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The Hall of Mirrors (sigh). Opulent, decadent, palatial, ornate, grandiose (sigh). This splendid  ballroom was designed by George Unger, interior designer of the Roxy and Beacon Theatres in New York City. The soaring ceiling, unique lighting, impressive stairway and enormous mirror create a dramatic effect. It’s stunning. Taken in as a whole it’s gorgeous, looking at individual features, it’s incredible— like stepping into an Art Deco fantasy. The lighting in the room is fabulous; frosted glass deco chandeliers remind me of upside-down umbrellas shining their soft light upwards, combined with French peach-colored marble, gold-plate mirrors, lavender, rose and jade colored accents, the ballroom is bathed in a pastel-tinted glow. The hotel suffered a fire in 1942, the original chandelier was damaged, it has been replicated with a ceiling mural taking its place. My eyes travel downward to the horizontal band near the ceiling (frieze), garlands of flowers fill the plaster band, mirrors fill the space behind what appears to be window frames, swagged pilasters imitate drapes. Surrounding the balcony is a series of German silver balustrades and balusters, the grill-work is outstanding, the epitome of French Art Deco, take a minute and study the pictures. Workers arrive and begin setting up for an event, time to move along.

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And we’re walking, this time to the fourth floor. As we leave the Hall of Mirrors I am fascinated (again) by the metalwork on the railings and posts, a swan medallion is perched above the doors. Here, a group of newer murals cover the walls, Cincinnati artist Tom Bacher created these pieces in 1984; they say the paints are luminescent, they retain light and glow when the lights are dimmed, we’ll have to check that out later. We arrive at the Pavillion Caprice, this was originally the hotel’s nightclub, It’s claim to fame is Doris Day made her first professional appearance here when she was 16 years old, a picture of her and the band hangs on the wall. Kris and I both really like this room, it’s not as fancy as some of the others, but it’s super cool. The space is designed to look like the nightclub of the ocean liner the SS Leviathan, seriously. The room is long, metal railings curve, the ceiling has unique indirect lighting, to me, the most unusual feature are the funky, bronze sunburst lights on pedestals along the walls.

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Back down the stairs, through the Apollo Gallery, to The Grille at Palm Court for lunch. The decor in this room is a bit different, while it still screams Art Deco, it’s mixed with classic Louis XV overtones. Murals are high up and wrap from ceiling to wall, the theme here is recreation; look closely and discover the distinct outline of Carew Tower in the background of each mural. We are seated at the far end of the Palm Court, the ziggurat-shaped fountain is nearby, it was made right here in Cincinnati at the Rookwood Pottery studio on Mt Adams. It’s hard to concentrate in such beautiful surroundings, we pick a few items from the bar menu, before we know it lunch arrives. The beef sliders are smothered with red onion marmalade, Portobello mushrooms and red wine mayo, delicious. The potato croquettes are golden and crispy, the herbed sour cream makes them extra tasty. The Asian pork buns are flavorful, they make a nice contrast to the other dishes. We take our time eating, soaking up the ambiance, this is truly an incredible place.

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Lunch is finished, we take a little more time poking around the building; around every curve, down every stairway we are fascinated by another ornamental grate, embellished elevator doors, letter box and showy hallways. Crossing the threshold into Carew Tower, Rookwood Pottery tiles add color and beauty to the shopping arcade. As astounding and impressive as the hotel and Tower are today, imagine what it was like to wander into the Netherlands Plaza in 1931. Deep in the throes of the Great Depression, anybody could walk in, get caught up in the remarkable surroundings, and for just a short time forget their troubles. Funny, it still has that same effect 84 years later.

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DETROIT: The Amazing Guardian Building

29 Nov

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It was the 1920’s and America was roaring. The Great War was over, the United States was coming into its own. We were changing everything; we put the world on wheels and now we were altering the face of city skylines with the skyscraper. In Detroit buildings such as the Buhl, Book Tower, Fisher and Penobscot soared high towards the sky, in 1929 the Guardian Building joined them. Originally named the Union Trust Building, Wirt Rowland of Smith Hinchman and Grylls Associates was responsible for designing the structure, and what a grand job he did! The Guardian looks as good today as it did in 1929; home to a branch of Bank of America, Pure Detroit, a coffee shop, cafe and City of Detroit offices, hundreds of people come and go from the building each day, free tours are available too. Let us show you around.

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Located on Griswold Street in the Financial District, you can easily pick out the Guardian; while most buildings are made of limestone or granite, Wirt Roland chose a red-tan brick, I read that almost 2 million bricks were used to construct the 535 foot building. Be sure to spend some time taking in the exterior of the building; on either side of the main entrance Indian-like figures carved by Corrado Parducci represent safety and security, colorful tilework patterns enhance outdoor alcoves. Once inside be prepared to be awestruck, the lobby is magnificent. The vaulted ceiling is Rookwood tile from Cincinnati, colorful patterns in blue, green, yellow, red and gold dance across the space, floors are Italian Travertine and Belgian black marble, lower portions of the walls are Numidian marble and Mankato stone. It is here we meet up with our tour guide and Guardian Concierge Christopher; his enthusiasm for the building is apparent the moment he begins to tell us about it.  The building itself is an Art Deco masterpiece, keep in mind it was built as a banking institution. The Indian motif is carried on throughout the entire structure; we find symbols of security, fidelity, safety and progress. Notched arches line the length of the lobby, at the end of each elevator hall are majestic stained glass windows featuring elaborate Indians. Our guide points out splendid lanterns that MichCon had made from the original architectural drawings found when doing renovations. Elevator doors are fabulous; Christopher shows us the letters UT carved into the doors representing Union Trust. We hop on the elevator and go up.

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We stop on the executive floor; CEO’s, CFO’s and board members gathered here for important meetings, it’s very swanky. Beautiful wood lines the walls and floor of the outer area, inside the boardroom a huge conference table and chairs take up most of the space; walls are beautifully paneled, windows are tall and elongated and provide a picturesque view of downtown. Back in the elevator we stop when we reach the top floor: the Ballroom. The decor is reminiscent of the lobby; notched arches, bright colors, but here we get a panoramic view of the city and the river, wow! This time we ride the elevator back to the lobby, then head down the stairs to the safe.  As we descend the design becomes less intricate, but it is not without decoration; Flint Faience tiles add a splash of color. We arrive at the safe, all of us walk inside as Christopher explains how cash was stored in piles back in the day. As we exit we stop and examine the door, they didn’t kid around when it came to protecting money. A small room houses safe deposit boxes, I imagine wealthy ladies wearing hats and gloves making frequent trips here to retrieve their finest jewelry for special occasions. 

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At last we arrive at the Cathedral of Finance, now called the Retail Promenade, it is stunning! A decorative grill made of Monel metal separates the lobby from the cathedral, a Tiffany clock  graces each side of the grill, after many years of being dark it is once again illuminated, it is a true work of art. The main banking room was once lined with 80 teller cages, yes, you read that right, 80. The theme is Aztec design, the ceiling is hand painted in colors popular at the time including turquoise, and terracotta. Oils, acrylics and solid gold were used to achieve the look, it is amazing. The south wall embraces a giant map of Michigan; Michigania, the goddess of our state is placed in the center, symbols of mining, fishing, finance and auto manufacturing define commercial strengths of the time period, it is still in its original condition. Currently Bank of America continues the banking tradition of the space, who wouldn’t love to do their banking here?  There is just so much to look at, it’s hard to take it all in, as many times as we come here I always manage to notice something new. This is where the tour ends, we thanked Christopher for a most enjoyable time. We had a quick espresso drink at Rowland Cafe, you won’t find a coffee shop with a better view, before stopping in at Pure Detroit to check out their latest offerings. From Detroit themed t-shirts and Pewabic Pottery to original artwork and a vast selection of books, the shop is home to “all things Detroit”. Whether you’re visiting from out of town and looking for something uniquely Detroit to take home or a local looking for a way to show your pride in the city, you’ll find the perfect item here!

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We walked over to Woodward for lunch at Forans Grand Trunk Pub; in the mood for a great sandwich and a beautiful setting, it fit the bill perfectly. The building went up in 1879 and was known as the Traub Brothers Jewelry Building. In 1911 it was renovated and turned into the ticket office for the Grand Trunk Railway, the company’s Grand Trunk logo still graces the terracotta detailing on the front of the building. Inside they removed the second floor and installed a gothic style vaulted ceiling, the antique brass chandeliers are still hanging. The place has a definite sense of character, I can visualize folks lining up to buy their train tickets in this very space. The ticket office remained until 1934, in 1935 it was established as a bar and has been one ever since. We arrived after the lunch rush and took a table near the window, our waitress was quick to come over, take our drink order and offer us menus. Forans is well known for its commitment to the city and the state; they have 15 Michigan craft beers on tap and 100 more in bottles, they take the”Buy Local” trend seriously. The menu is filled with delicious things, they even  have some of the old Eph McNally’s sandwiches (oh, how we miss that place!). It has been too long since our last Sabrina Duncan; turkey breast, dill havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and honey mustard on an onion roll…..it was even better than I remembered. A side salad with their homemade maurice dressing and a pile of Better Made wavy chips completed our meal, it was delicious! Did I mention they serve Faygo? Yep, regular flavors come in a glass bottle, diet in cans, you just can’t beat a Faygo Root Beer. 

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Help ! My wallet is on fire !!

22 May

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Name almost any item, chances are you can find someone who collects it. If you are a regular reader of DetroitDvotion, you are aware of our fondness for old things. Today I’d like to share with you two events that highlight some of our favorites. Lets begin in Ann Arbor; every April the Washtenaw County Fairgrounds become home to one of the largest classic bicycle shows and swap meets in the nation……really. We pulled into the fairgrounds around 10am, the scene was unbelievable; a line of cars driving over grassy areas looking for parking, moving trucks, vans and pick-ups stacked high with old bikes, grown men riding mini bikes through the swap area and of course, thousands of antique and classic bikes available for purchase or your viewing pleasure.

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One of the hardest things about coming to an event like this is deciding where to start; we began outside in the swap meet area. It is impossible to describe; the sheer volume of bicycles and other vintage items is astounding. Along with complete bikes ranging from pre-war to BMX  style, there were pile after pile of tires; raised white letter, balloon, white side walls, and striped. Mounds of handlebars rest on tables, some still in the original packaging. Looking for a headlight, saddle bag, rear-view mirror or a basket to hang on your handlebars? They’ve got it! Fenders, reflectors, shifters, horns, forks and banana seats can be yours for the right price. Along with bicycles there was an assortment of other vintage items; toys, games, fire extinguishers, GI Joe and pedal cars; for anyone who likes antiquing this event is a treasure trove of childhood memories.

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Once we finished the swap spaces we headed over to the buildings; more of the same items as outside, but these tend to be a little nicer, and a little more expensive. Aisle after aisle we saw familiar brands such as Columbia, Schwinn, Raleigh, Huffy and Murray. Department store brands like Sears and JC Penney sat side by side with  less familiar names; JC Higgins, Auto Cycle, Vista, and Ross. Have you ever seen a a Huffy Radio Bike, how about a  Hopalong Cassidy?  There was a display with five or six of them in perfect condition; complete with holsters and cap guns dating back to the 50’s. I like bikes from the late 60’s to early 70’s, you know, hi-rise handle bars, banana seats and sissy bars. They come it great colors, the paint often metallic or candy apple. Some have that drag racer feel like the Slingshot, Chopper or Dragstripper. Sporting a 16 inch front tire and a 20 inch rear slick they came with cool chrome shifters and colorful decals. Through the years bicycle design often copied popular automotive design of the period.

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The main building is home to the Show Bikes; 50-75 bicycles are entered into one of 11 categories, the public votes for its favorites, awards are presented to first-place winners.The Classic Bike Of The Year Award is the only judged category; it is usually made up of the finest, rarest and most sought-after models, all from private collections. Bicycles such as these can be worth thousands of dollars. Also on exhibit was a brand new bike from the Detroit Bicycle Company called the Madison; painted black with copper plating it’s quite eye-catching! You can’t help but enjoy yourself walking around the grounds; bicycles have a way of bringing back fond childhood memories. Did you ever have a paper route? How about the bike Santa Clause brought? Was your first bike new from the store or a hand-me-down? It’s not too late to get the bike you always wanted as a kid, just mark your calendar, I’ll see ya next April!

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Back in the car, we needed to get from Ann Arbor to Southfield for the Michigan Modernism  Exposition, but first we needed to stop and grab lunch. Not far from Southfield is the modest city of Berkley; home to an ever-increasing number of restaurants and cafes, we thought we’d try something new. Graced with another beautiful day filled with sunshine and a clear blue sky, the patio at Amici’s Living Room was the perfect choice. The space itself is surrounded by ivy covered walls, gardens, pretty pots of flowers and garden art, all very charming. Service was quick, which was good since we were in a hurry. We ordered the Caribbean Spicy Jerk Chicken Pizza: Spicy jerk chicken, peanut ginger sauce, pineapple and mozzarella cheese on the whole wheat crust. All pizza’s come with their unique whole wheat pesto breadsticks…these are seriously good. They arrived fresh from the oven all warm and delicious, served with a side of chunky tomato sauce, we could have made a meal out of them! Next came the pizza, definitely unusual, but a great combination of flavors, all piled on the same delicious crust as the breadsticks. With no time to linger and enjoy the patio, we were back in the car on our way to the Southfield Pavilion on Evergreen Road.

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Hosted annually by the Detroit Area Art Deco Society, the Michigan Modernism Exposition attracts dealers from around the Midwest ; it’s worth the price of admission just to walk around. Pieces on display range from the streamlined look of the Art Deco era to the funky colorful items of the mid to late century; we like ’em all. The show area is one large space divided into different booths or rooms, several times I would have loved to point and say “I’ll take that room”. The Art Deco articles are highly detailed, lots of stainless steel and shiny black surfaces; there were a number of clocks that were amazing. Decorative items such as coffee servers, light fixtures and sculptures made wonderful eye candy. As we walked around we traversed in and out of decades; one space featured a complete Heywood Wakefield dining room set making it seem like we walked right into 1950. We saw white shag carpet, kidney-shaped tables, tulip chairs and brightly colored plastic. There was lucite and polished chrome, colored glass and bakelite. Colors are vibrant; orange, red, turquoise and bright blue. All the names you would expect to see are there : Eames, Knoll, Herman Miller and Panton; I find the knock-offs equally appealing. You could completely re-do your home with the furniture and accessories for sale at the expo. The vintage jewelry is exceptional, I’m not picky, diamonds or rhinestone, I adore them equally. The variety of artwork this year was wonderful; from paintings and photographs to huge posters, any wall would be happy to display them. Coming here reminds me of when I was a kid and my parents would take me with them furniture shopping; I would look at each room display and try to imagine myself living there. I could be happy living in any one of these!

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