Tag Archives: Belle Isle Aquarium

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: Shiver On The River

8 Feb

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Saturday February 4th was the Annual Shiver On The River on Belle Isle. Sponsored by the Friends of the Detroit River, Shiver celebrates Belle Isle and the incredible Detroit River. For this single afternoon each building on the island is open to the public, with the Casino building acting as the headquarters for the event.  When I say Casino, I do not mean a gambling type establishment, it is simply a place for public gatherings. This building  was designed by Albert Kahn in the Renaissance Revival style, built in 1907, it is constructed of brick and terracotta and is absolutely gorgeous. With its balcony, porches and numerous windows, it’s perfectly situated to enjoy a breeze off of the river.

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The interior is just lovely; beautiful terrazzo floors lead to a mosaic tile pattern in the center of the main floor with 1907 in the middle. If you stand here and look straight up you will notice a duplicate circular pattern of glass block in the floor above, and directly above that on the second floor is a gorgeous skylight, each level allowing sunlight in to brighten the space.  Take the marble stairs to the second floor to see the skylight, peer through the windows taking in the stunning view of the city in the distance. The building was filled with exhibits, displays, refreshments, arts and crafts and live entertainment. The casino is the best place to begin, you can get all the information on what is taking place in the other buildings on Belle Isle.

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Resting upon the bank of the Detroit River is the Belle Isle Boat Club. Built in 1902 in the Spanish Colonial style, the white stucco and red tile building is eye-catching. The building is owned by the city of Detroit, since 2001 the Detroit Boat Club Crew has undertaken the task of refurbishing the building.  The Detroit Boat Club was established in 1839 and is the oldest rowing club in North America. The interior of the building is in need of repair, at first you may be surprised by the peeling paint, crumbling plaster, and general disarray. Take a closer look; Beautiful walnut railings line the stairway with seahorses carved into the wood for the spindles, ornate plaster work decorates the walls and ceilings, the ballroom retains an air of elegance with its timber ceiling  adorned with stencils. It just so happened that on this Saturday the building was overflowing with activity;  Motown Madness, the Detroit Indoor Rowing Regatta was taking place, and there was standing room only! We came in on ground level, which is sort of the basement of the building; this is where they store the sculls. You can peek your head in and have a look at these long slender boats. I hope the term boat isn’t offensive…..They are really quite something to see. We took the stairs to the main level where all of the activity was going on, the ballroom had been transformed into an indoor rowing facility. Crowds of people were jammed in cheering on their teams, while the next group of competitors were warming up. The main floor is composed of several rooms, some private and cozy, others large enough for a banquet, all are being used by the Boat Club Crew. The second level has a balcony that overlooks the lobby and main entrance, along with an archway that allows you to view the ballroom from above. This is the best place to get a good look at the timber ceiling I told you about, it’s fabulous! There are more rooms for gatherings here and a really cool bar complete with anchor decor and swinging doors. The building is incredible, I can only imagine how opulent is was back in its heyday. The Boat Club continues to occupy and care for the building, they understand what a treasure it is.

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We had heard the Coast Guard was doing an Ice Rescue demonstration, so we drove over to the building. A couple of boats were sitting in the garage, so we checked them out before going inside; we did a quick walk through, then back out to watch the demonstration. A good size crowd had gathered; first a dummy was placed in the water, coast guard members boarded their boat, paddled out to the victim, then proceeded with the rescue. It was interesting to see the type of equipment they have and the difficulty involved in a water rescue, not to mention the cold. Of course it was a success, the crowd rewarded their effort with a round of applause.

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The Belle Isle Nature Zoo is home to family nature programs, locally found species of turtles, snakes, fish and birds and yes, the Fallow Deer. One of the things many people fondly remember about Belle Isle are the Fallow Deer that used to roam freely around the island. The 15 deer now call a one acre enclosure and barn home year round. I like to walk out and visit with them, if I’m lucky I get there at feeding time and have even had the pleasure of feeding them once. The nice day brought lots of folks out to the island and many of them came to see the deer. While a few seemed as interested in us as we were in them, most of them just seemed to be enjoying the sunshine and warm temperature. Back inside we made the loop around the nature center checking out the animals and exhibits. It was wonderful to see so many people having a good time, many discovering the center for the first time.

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I would have to say Shiver On The River 2012 was a great success, I have never seen so many people come out for the event. I suppose the fact that it wasn’t really shiver type weather helped. We tried to get into the aquarium, which re-opened for the day, but the line reached out of the building and down the sidewalk past the conservatory! I hope if it re-opens, people will continue to show it support, it is such an amazing building both inside and out. There is always something going on in Detroit, get out and join the fun!

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I have a secret to share with you: I had never been to American Coney Island on Lafayette before Saturday…..It seems we have always been a Lafayette  family. In the spirit of the new year and trying new things it was decided we would have lunch at American. Opened in 1917 by Constantine “Gust” Keros, the restaurant is still run by the Keros family. Decked out in red, white and blue, the place was bustling with patrons of all ages. Plates of coney islands and french fries were lined up on the counter, waiters skillfully deliver them to the tables. These days in addition to the traditional coney you can also have homemade spinach pie, Greek salads, soup and gyros, they even serve breakfast now. We stuck with the original coney island and a loose hamburger; they arrived lightning fast. As good of a coney as I have ever had, the natural casing dog had that nice crunch on the initial bite, a generous topping of chili, mustard and onion all held together in a steamed bun…Yum! We sat way up front at the table right in the window, the perfect spot to watch the activity indoors and out. American Coney Island has been featured in numerous articles and on the Food Network, guests include movie stars, politicians, musicians and sports stars, it has been a Detroit favorite for decades.