Tag Archives: Belle Isle

DETROIT: Belle Isle After Dark

13 Jan

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For months, all eyes have been glued to the pale yellow building on the corner of Michigan Ave and Wabash, waiting for signs of the official launch of Detroit’s newest restaurant. After much anticipation Gold Cash Gold is now open. Brought to us by Phil Cooley, the man behind Slows Bar B Q, the building was formerly an old pawn shop, a re-paint includes the red-lettered advertising that gave the restaurant its name. The lower level sports new windows and smart black paint job, the old Sam’s Loans sign still clings to the second story. Inside, panels of upcycled stained glass act as a barrier between the door and bar area. The place has been packed daily, we are having a late lunch to avoid the crowd. We are led to a corner table in the dining room, I’m fascinated by the floor; taken from an old elementary school gymnasium, a huge eagle, wings open wide, is painted on the wood, it had to be put back together like a jigsaw puzzle in its new home, the serpentine patterned ceiling is also made from reclaimed wood. Jars of pickled and preserved vegetables are lined up on narrow shelves.

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The lunch menu consists of about 12 items, dishes feature seasonal ingredients and whole animal cookery. Our order is placed, we look around a little; clear glass globes illuminate the dining room, a brick wall is painted white, arches allow passage between the dining room and bar, here more stained glass windows are used in the decor. Our sandwiches arrive, we dig in without hesitation. The Ham & Cheese is grilled, the buttered bread has formed a perfect crunchy crust, thin slices of ham, pimento cheese and pickled peppers are warm and gooey between the semolina slices. The Lamb Sandwich is an individual sized whole wheat pita stuffed with slices of roasted lamb, pepper jam and spicy greens; both sandwiches are served with a handful-sized portion of salad. We’d like to come back and try out the dinner menu.

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Just after 5 pm we cross the MacArthur Bridge to Belle Isle, tonight is the annual Holiday Stroll; the aquarium, conservatory and museum are all open until 8:00. Reaching the parking lot nearest the aquarium, I draw in a deep breath, the 1904 Albert Kahn structure is shrouded in bright blue LED lights, spotlights highlight the icicle-like stone columns, it’s gorgeous! The aquarium operated from 1904-2005, making it the oldest in North America to continuously do so, in 2012 it re-opened and is now part of the Belle Isle Conservancy; you can visit Saturday’s and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm, free of charge.

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Colorful Christmas lights enhance the entrance, a decorated tree is off to the left. Every time I’m inside I feel like I am somewhere below the surface of the river, eerie, maybe it’s the reflection of the water off the green tiles or the barrel-shaped ceiling, whatever the cause, it’s cool. Many of the tanks have been restored and are home to multiple varieties of fish and other water creatures. As we approach a tank, the turtle inside swims to the front, he looks happy to see us, Kris reminds me it’s probably his dinner time. Multi-colored Koi swim back and forth, tiny fish cluster together, a trio of stingray hover just above the gravel, spotted patterns cover their skin, they have a sleek tail and eyes that protrude. Unrestored tanks are filled with interesting artifacts; one displays antique souvenirs such as plates, postcards and trinkets from the aquarium, photographs are blown up and provide us a look back in time. Another tank holds Frederick Law Olmstead’s architectural drawings and notes on his plans for Belle Isle, I love that they still have these things and share them with the likes of you and me. 

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Kris and I make our way over to the conservatory next door, lighted garlands are draped across the fence, from here we see red and green lights glow from within. The vestibule is buzzing with activity, boxes of Dutch Girl Donuts fill tables to the left, a large Christmas tree takes center stage, cups of cider are being passed out to visitors. Ambling through the Palm House we make the right into the Tropical House and follow the path to the Children’s Temperance Fountain; this is one of our favorite places. For nearly 100 years George Wade’s bronze statue of a young girl offering a bowl of water has stood in this spot, from time to time I have witnessed folks testing their skills, trying to toss coins into her bowl; tonight all is calm, delicate orchids bloom in purple and white. We loop back around into the Palm House, the dome soars 85 feet high, colored spotlights are aimed at exotic Palm trees as they reach skyward, the Show House is next. Beds are packed with red, white, pink and coral colored Poinsettia, Cyclamen bloom in purple and white, miniature lights are woven into trees. People are beginning to fill the empty chairs, the Deep River Choir will perform soon.

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Being here in the dark creates an entirely different atmosphere, the Cactus House looks stark, cold, other-worldy. Cactus and succulents are tall and spindly, they look like they could reach out and grab you. By contrast the Fernery has an ethereal look, lush ferns are awash in bold red, blue and white light, shapes and textures of leaves come to life in the form of shadows, I’m very fond of this room. Years ago we were permitted to walk in the lower level, repairs are yet to be made before they can open it up to the public again. Exiting the building Kris lingers outdoors, he walks the grounds a bit, taking pictures. Before we head back, he parks the Jeep facing the river,the city spreads out before us, view is spectacular. Renaissance Center stands front and center, blue lights encircle the towers, further back, the red ball on the roof of the Penobscot blinks off and on, Light radiates from the top of One Woodward, the irregular shape of One Detroit Center is unmistakable.  In the distance the cables of the Ambassador Bridge glimmer against the night sky all the way to Canada, quite a sight, I never tire of the view.

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DETROIT: Past, Present, Future

26 Aug

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It has been called one of America’s greatest fountains, one look at the James Scott Memorial Fountain, and I’m sure you will agree. Designed by Cass Gilbert (Detroit Public Library) and completed in 1925 at a cost of $500,000, the construction of the fountain was surrounded by controversy. The story goes like this: Detroiter James Scott was a man of great wealth with a penchant for gambling, womanizing and vindictive behavior, a real scoundrel; let’s just say he wasn’t well-liked. He died in 1910, and bequeathed his estate to the city of Detroit to build a fountain with the condition that it must include a life-size statue of himself, which caused a huge raucous among community and religious leaders who were against honoring such a man. Fifteen years went by; finally, then-mayor Philip Breitmeyer decided it would be wrong to refuse a gift for such a good cause, the fountain was built. Herbert Adams was the sculptor of the bronze statue of James Scott sitting in a chair, overlooking the glorious fountain he had paid for. When you visit the fountain, be sure and read the inscription on the back of the chair that ends with, “From the good deed of one comes benefit to many.”  Indeed.

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Through the years the fountain has encountered various states of disrepair, copper pipes were stolen, then in 2010 during a repair to the basin, the magnificent original Pewabic tiles were damaged, removed and thrown into a dumpster! Today we are here in a celebration of sort; all levels of the beautiful fountain are running once again, thanks to unofficial caretaker Robert Carpenter and lots of money from sources such as Roger Penske and the DNR. Marble has been cleaned and restored, corroded cast iron pipes have been flushed; water spills from basins, spouts from 109 water outlets, upper and lower cascades flow freely. The detail is amazing; dolphins, turtles, frogs and lions join Neptune and cherubs in the splash-filled fun. I can’t even remember how long its been since all five tiers and both cascades have circulated, it’s gorgeous.

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The fountain has long been a gathering place, a constant in family photos from generation to generation, the site of proposals, weddings, a meeting place and one of our biggest tourist attractions. That much hasn’t changed. While walking the circumference of the huge Vermont white marble basin, I overhear a story telling of the days when these folks had come here with their parents, it’s a familiar tale. Even now, after coming here for decades, Kris and I each notice things we haven’t before; I never get tired of  looking at it. The past is alive and well. The fountain is located at the western tip of the island and runs from 10 am to 10 pm  Memorial Day to Labor Day.

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We are having lunch at Roses Fine Food; Opened only a month or so now, they serve breakfast and lunch Tuesday – Sunday from 9 am till 2 pm. The tiny, unassuming building with a small parking lot sits on E Jefferson; a tall sign has recently been erected. The main seating area is the counter, which runs the length of the dining room, high stools are mounted to the floor. A hand-written chalkboard lists today’s specials. We sit at one of maybe a half-dozen tables resting on the green tiled floor, paper menus and glasses of water are brought right over. The food is of the simple, made-from-scratch variety; pancakes, eggs, sandwiches. It’s near closing time, we are informed there are only three items available, guess that makes deciding easier. Patrons continue to arrive but are told the food is sold out. Our meal arrives quickly; the Egg Sandwich of the Day is a fried egg, topped with 2 strips of bacon and aioli served on a homemade biscuit. The Cluck is house-smoked, pulled chicken, dressed with Rose’s bbq sauce and picnic slaw served on thick toast with a pickled carrot for garnish. Portions were smallish, but we liked everything we had.

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On May 17, over 1,400 volunteers gathered on Detroit’s lower east side to plant more than 15,000 trees on 20 acres of vacant land, in an effort to create the nation’s largest urban tree farm: Hantz Woodlands. We keep saying we want to go see the area, so today we are. Hantz Farms owns about 150 acres in the square mile bounded by Mack and Jefferson, St Jean and Van Dyke streets. This once densely populated neighborhood had become almost forgotten with its broken sidewalks, abandoned homes and overgrown lots.  John Hantz came up with a plan to transform the neighborhood, make it safer, more livable with the urban tree farm project. We drive up and down several streets, then, on Pennsylvania, we see rows of saplings soaking up the afternoon sunshine. From there we see lot after lot, some big, some small; tiny hardwoods such as Oaks and Maples stand in straight lines, mulch piled high on the ground. Huge, old trees stand around the outer edge of the lots, they have borne witness to the full cycle of the neighborhood.

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Looking at all the trees, one can’t help but feel hopeful for the future of the area; blight has been replaced with beauty. Mothers had to walk their children past vacant homes and land that had grown wild, just to get to the school bus, now many of those homes have been demolished, replaced with tree farms where the grass is mowed regularly. It is a source of pride for neighbors. The majority of trees are in the area bounded by Crane, Pennsylvania, Mack and Vernor, not too far from Indian Village. The work continues. While I was looking at the Hantz Woodlands website I came across something I’d like to share with you: “Before Detroit became an industrial powerhouse, it was part of a great farming region that fed thousands.” In Detroit our past, our present and our future are all connected.

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Detroit: Belle Isle Clubbing…..

17 Feb

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It’s official, on February 10 historic Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd State Park. The DNR will now manage the island, the state will work with the Belle Isle Conservancy and the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee in decision-making and upcoming projects. I find it very exciting! The DNR has already begun removing felled and hazardous trees, a shelter has been re-roofed and several picnic tables refurbished. In the next 6 months we should see restoration and reopening of restrooms, clearing of debris on trails, expansion of picnic areas, new signage and lighting, this is only the beginning….YES!

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Today is Shiver On The River, all of the buildings on the island are open to the public, tours are being given at The Detroit Yacht Club. The DYC is one of the oldest and most prestigious private clubs in North America, located on an 11 acre private island in the Detroit River, the 96,000 sq ft Mediterranean-style building was designed by George Mason (Masonic Temple, Gem Theatre, Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island). The DYC was founded in 1868, this building is their fifth clubhouse, it was dedicated in 1923, the same year the concrete McArthur bridge opened, connecting the island to the city. C’mon let’s have a look!

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A long red carpet leads us to the front entrance, the building is lovely, custom-made revolving doors lead us to the first floor. We are greeted by our tour guide then head up the staircase with its gorgeous banister in the main lobby. In front of us windows overlook the Detroit River, floral carpet leads in all directions, Pewabic Tile medallions are placed high along the walls, a nautical theme is carried out throughout the building. First stop, the Trophy Room, the ornate fireplace takes center stage here, it was hand-carved in place, up close I spy a boat, anchor and rope among the carvings. Above it a painting maps out the private island’s place in the river. Trophy cases are filled with large silver cups, photos and memorabilia. Plaster walls are textured, common for the time period, wall sconces and chandelier are original. We are led to Peacock Alley, named after Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria where society ladies gathered for tea, this stretch of hallway oozes elegance. The Pewabic tile floor gleams, chandeliers hang by thin chains in a line, golden leaves and roses, they are delicate, feminine, and formerly inhabited Rose Terrace. Paintings line the wall, at one time this area was called the DYC Art Gallery. 

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The indoor swimming pool is gorgeous, Olympic size, every square inch is covered in Pewabic Tile. Mary Chase Perry Stratton was a club member and agreed to provide all of the tile when the club was built; she retained control of all design and placement of tile within the building. Huge windows bring the outdoors in, the water sparkles in the light, colored tiles create an illusion of lanes across the floor of the pool. Walls are tiled half way up, a border of rectangular wave tile surrounds the room, individual hand painted tiles add personality; swans, fish and water scenes. The room is warm, chaise lounges linger pool-side, for a moment I forget it is February. 

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The Ballroom is the largest room in the clubhouse, 3-stories high with a spectacular wood beam ceiling, it is enchanting. I feel like I have wandered into a castle in a far-away land; staff members are busy setting up for what could only be a Fairy Tale wedding. The room is expansive; a gentleman sits at the baby grand piano, music quietly fills the air. The fireplace is enormous, it too was carved in place, the sailboat above a reminder of our proximity to the water. Circular chandeliers softly light the room and reflect off the polished wood floor, my mouth is agape as I take it all in, Kris is engrossed in picture-taking. Reluctantly, we move on to the Library, it is just one beautiful room after another, wood-paneled walls, built-in bookshelves and cozy seating areas complete with table lamps invite visitors to curl up with a good book. Passing through the bar area we are told it was originally a porch, a portrait of Gar Wood at age 70 hangs on the wall. The dining room is exquisite; detailed plaster work and terrazzo floors, the room was recently restored. A splendid fountain was discovered behind one of the walls during renovations, today it is out in the open for all to see. Bronze statues rest on tables in the lobby of the dining room, donated by Col. A Victory Seymor MD, he was a club member and surgeon.

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At one time the Board Room and Billiard room were located on the third floor, the space was converted to a meeting room in 1960, the highlight of the room is the doors that open up to the spectator balcony which overlooks the Ballroom. Here we get up close to the ornate, well-crafted, hand-painted beams we saw from the Ballroom floor, they are stunning. Boarding the elevator (added in 1960) we take it down to the first level where locker rooms, fitness center and Binnacle are located. We wander down a long hall, photos of past Commodores in custom frames cover the walls. Flags from other Yacht Clubs where members have visited wrap around the top of the bar, pictures of club history and historical boats hang on the Grill’s walls. FYI: the private island the DYC is built on was man-made…at that time Detroit was in the process of building skyscrapers downtown, the dirt was removed, then taken over to Belle Isle to create the island the clubhouse rests on today. Our tour guide was a former Commodore, he was filled with interesting stories and information that really made the history of the building come alive!

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Time to grab some lunch; a fundraiser for the Belle Isle Conservancy called “Hot Soup” is being held at the Flynn Pavilion; Kris drank hot chocolate here when he was a lad, I have never been inside the building, we are curious to check it out. Built in 1949, this single story, stone facade building is often credited to Eero Saarinen, in fact, the actual architect is J Robert F Swanson. A one time partner of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, he left the firm and started Swanson Associates in 1947. His wife Pipsan Saarinen (you got it, daughter and sister of the previously mentioned Eliel and Eero) oversaw the interior designs. Built to provide shelter and amenities for Summer and Winter activities, the building is a wonderful example of Mid Century Modern Design.

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Inside we are awestruck by the knotty pine plank ceiling and beams, the back wall is a grayish-colored stone that surrounds a wood fireplace surround, it’s like we’ve wandered into some cool Modern lodge somewhere up north! Horizontal bands of casement windows line the length of each wall, one side overlooks the Lake Takoma Lagoon, the other the park itself, we are stunned by what good condition everything is in. To the left big pots of soup, trays of Avalon Bread and slices of Dangerously Delicious Pies beckon to us, Stella Cafe is providing the hot chocolate. Each of us has a bowl of vegetarian chili, bread and a white chocolate Macadamia cookie, everything is delicious! What a treat the day has been, there is no end to the amazing things that can be found right here in Detroit.

DETROIT: Boats, Bagels and Beans ??

13 Jan

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When the weather turns cold we head indoors to local museums to see the latest exhibits. Today we are on Belle Isle visiting the Dossin Great Lakes Museum; closed for five months for renovation we’re excited to see what’s new. The museum is dedicated to telling the story of maritime history on the Great Lakes and the Detroit River spanning 300 years; everything from shipping fleets and industry to social history. After parking in the lot we stop at the Miss Pepsi Pavilion for a look at the first hydroplane racing boat to top 100 mph. Raced by the Dossin family in the 1950’s, she’s quite a beauty; wood is varnished to a high shine, paint scheme is red, white and blue, the dashboard surprisingly ordinary. On the lawn nearby lies the bow anchor of the Edmund Fitzgerald, it’s huge! 

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Once inside I am happy to see the “Gothic Room” looking better than ever; removed from the passenger steamer City Of Detroit III before it was scrapped, the room exemplifies the golden age of Great Lakes cruise ships. The vessel carried passengers between Detroit and Cleveland or Detroit and Buffalo, the Gothic room itself was originally three times this size and even had a pipe organ. The elaborate English oak carvings are done in true Gothic design, stained glass windows and unique chandeliers exude elegance. Display cases in the room contain memorabilia such as dishes, schedules and renderings of the ship.  No matter how many times we come here I am still in awe of the beauty of this room!

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Further into the museum old exhibits have been revamped and new ones installed, here we find hands on activities; quite popular is the interactive video display simulating a speedboat racing down the Detroit River, there’s an 18th century re-creation of a canoe that you can climb into as the early settlers did. The newest permanent exhibit called Built By The River explains the ways in which Detroiter’s have used the rivers and lakes around us, did you know that at one time the Detroit River was the busiest waterway in the world or that Detroit shipyards built more vessels that any other city in the region? All pretty cool stuff! A River’s Roar will be on display until April, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s all about the history of hydroplane racing in Detroit. For over 100 years the Detroit River and Belle Isle have featured some of the finest racing in the country during the Gold Cup–the oldest trophy in Motorsports. Boats, trophies and artifacts along with vintage programs, pins and buttons are displayed behind glass. Trophies are quite elaborate and elegant, photos of racers such as Gar Wood, Guy Lombardo, Wild Bill Cantrell and Bill Muncey hang on walls along with stories about each man.

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We stop to look at the showcases filled with model ships then make our way to the former pilot house of the SS William Clay Ford, one of the city’s most noted freighters. From here we look out across the river to Ontario Canada, the sunlight dancing on the river’s surface. The entire interior is painted mint green, children love to pretend they are captain standing at the ship’s wheel. A voice comes over a speaker, we are able to listen to communication between ships on the river, you can also watch the action on the river right from home by clicking on to the Detroit River Watch Webcam.

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The Detroit Institute of Bagels on Michigan Ave opened Thanksgiving week and has been busy ever since. Reworking and adding on to an existing building, the end result is a cozy space made up of exposed red brick, beam ceiling, white walls and blonde wood floor. Tables line the perimeter of the space, we hang our coats on chairs in front of a sunny window then place our order. A handwritten menu board hangs behind the counter, metal baskets overflow with plain, sesame, poppy, salt, cinnamon raisin and everything bagels–made that morning they are boiled and then baked. There are six regular and small batch flavors such as bacon cheddar or rosemary olive oil available each day. While we wait for our sandwiches to be made we peek into the open kitchen, it gleams in white and stainless steel, the bakers are finished for the day. We have ordered two different sandwiches, each taking a half we dig in; the ham, egg and cheese on a salt bagel is delicious, the bagel tender with enough filling to make it hearty. The turkey, bacon, avocado is a handful, lots of textures working together; chewy bagel, crispy bacon, creamy avocado–yum! Definitely get a new dill pickle with your sandwich, they’re excellent! Open everyday except Tuesday, give ’em a try.

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Often we like to end the day with coffee, located just a few blocks away we choose Anthology Coffee in the Ponyride building on Vermont St. Outside the building a small sandwich board reads ‘Coffee’, an arrow points to a wall covered in black and white graffiti. The space inside is stark; cinderblock walls, four singular light bulbs hang above a simple counter. A chalkboard menu is surrounded by a woodplank wall, a barista is busy at work measuring and weighing coffee beans. I walk over to the counter as Kris explores the space, I order a decaf for me and an iced coffee for Kris. On the tiny counter rests a coffee grinder, scale, pots of hot water, paper filters and a variety of glass bottles. I watch with interest as the beans are ground, then placed in a filter where hot water is poured over them, I love the scent of fresh ground coffee, the process takes several minutes. As Kris wanders over to grab his drink he notices a plate of triangular bar cookies, we each take one, they go perfect with our coffee. Anthology keeps it simple: Source Roast Brew Tasty Coffee. You can’t ask for more than that!

DETROIT: Gone Fishin’

4 Feb

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The earliest public aquariums in America started springing up in the late 1800’s, large wealthy cities such as Washington D.C, San Francisco and New York were the first to build such an attraction. Detroit was not far behind, calling on Albert Kahn (again) to design the building, the Belle Isle Aquarium opened in August of 1904.  Until 2005, it was the oldest continually operating public aquarium in North America. The city had fallen on hard times, attendance was practically non-existent, so the city decided to close it for good (duh!). Both the building and the fish had a loyal following; people who knew the aquarium could still be a viable attraction. Working together, raising funds, applying for grant money, volunteering countless hours cleaning and repairing the building and tanks, they finally succeeded; the aquarium re-opened in 2012, 108 years after it originally opened it’s doors. Currently you can visit on Saturday’s from 10am to 3pm, admission is free.

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We have been inside the building a few times since its closing for special events, but we had not been back since its official re-opening, until today that is……There were a large number of vehicles in the parking lot, a good sign. We paused outside, getting a good look at the building; brick and stone, it definitely has the look of a different time. The entrance is a large, double stone arch, the very top ornately decorated, the second arch, the entryway, features the face of a mythological figure in the center. On each side large stone columns rise up, thick bands of icicle-like carvings give way to richly detailed capitals. Inside I am always taken aback, the barrel-vaulted ceiling covered in gorgeous green tile makes me feel as if I am underwater. Walls are black tile, tanks are inset, a half-wall runs down the center of the room, separating the two sides, it’s like going back in time. About a dozen tanks have been restored and hold live fish, eels and frogs and a coral reef; feeding times are written in bright colors on the front of tanks. Remaining tanks are ‘dry’ and are used to display work by local artists and items from local merchants, what a great idea. One of my favorites holds all kinds of memorabilia, postcards, and photos of the aquarium in its prime; they even have the original Albert Kahn blueprints for the building on exhibit, so cool! As we check out each tank we come across a young woman hula-hooping, the plastic ring aglow with L.E.D. lights, why not? About half-way down the tunnel-like aisle the ceiling opens up into a grand dome decked out in the same green tile, a skylight opens up to the sunny sky above. We come to the end of one side, turn, and walk back up the other, large free-standing tanks are surrounded by black tiles and are covered with a metal roof, resembling a small building. The space is crowded with visitors, multi-generational families out for a Saturday afternoon in the city, digital cameras and smart phones capturing the memories. The donation box near the entrance is stuffed with dollar bills, a sign of appreciation for this wonderful experience.

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A few steps away is the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, don’t ever pass up a chance to stop in. This building too is abuzz with people, we see some of the same faces we saw next door. Nature is always changing, there’s  something different blooming each time we come, today the Orchids are dazzling, fancy cameras rest upon tripods capturing their beauty. Clusters of grapefruit hang from branches, oranges look ready to be picked  The showhouse is winding down from the winter show, Poinsettias are still blooming in reds, pinks and whites. Soon they will be preparing for the Easter show, don’t miss it. We follow the narrow paths through the rest of the building, even a few of the cactus are in bloom. Both the conservatory and aquarium benefit from the newly formed Belle Isle Conservancy, these people volunteer their time and energy to take care of these incredible historic Detroit landmarks. 

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Time to eat! Located just off the river on Joseph Campau is a place called They Say…….Though the restaurant itself is not new, they have recently renovated and it is fantastic. It’s a two-story  brick building, the wood trim painted red, the front a series of large glass windows. Inside feels upscale; exposed brick walls decorated with bold, colorful paintings featuring Jazz artists. The bar sits in the center of this room, counters line the walls inviting you to pull up a chair and have a drink. We are seated in the dining room in a comfy booth overlooking Joseph Campau, this room is also very attractive. The menu has something for everyone, a good place to bring the family or a group, we hear their wings are awesome. I order a cup of chicken potpie soup, it’s delicious. We choose the house salad, it is huge, the lettuce is fresh and crisp. The club sandwich arrives, four triangles surrounding a mountain of french fries. I remove the toothpick from the bread, wondering if I will actually be able to fit my mouth over the point, I sink my teeth in and find it to be wonderful. The bread perfectly toasted, mayo squeezes out from the layers, the bacon is crisp, I think they grilled the turkey, there is melted cheese and the crunch of lettuce and tomato. Kris and I agree it is probably the best Club we have ever had. I go crazy eating, Kris saves room for dessert, our waitress enticed him when she told us about their homemade bread pudding, he cannot resist. A large rectangle of warm bread pudding arrives, it sits in a bourbon sauce and is topped off with a dollop of whipped cream. I can only take a bite, warm and moist it reminds me of a cinnamon roll, the sauce is excellent. I watch as Kris does his best to finish it off, he sets down the fork and asks for a box, there’s always tomorrow! It has been another great day in Detroit.

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DETROIT: Just Wandering…….

4 Jun

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We started the day off with no plan in mind, just wandering around the city in search of a smile; we knew she wouldn’t let us down . I had gardens on the mind, what better place to start than the Belle Isle Conservatory? There was a definite liveliness outside the building as workers set up chairs for an afternoon wedding, lucky them, they had a perfect day! We took a stroll up and down the rows of gardens; Peonies in varying shades of pinks and reds were in full bloom. Tall spikes of  Lupine in rose, white and blue reached skyward; giant Allium joined them. Irises in multiple varieties added color to the landscape, orange Oriental Poppies were dazzling. The lawn was green and lush, borders of shrubs separate the rows. We walked through an opening in the shrubs to the center of the garden; here we were delighted to see Marshall Fredericks (think: Spirit of Detroit) Leaping Gazelle fountain up and running again. I love this piece! The elegant gazelle is surrounded by an otter, goose, hawk and a rabbit, the four of them native to Michigan. I read that this was the first commissioned work for which Marshall Frederick was paid; it’s lovely.  After we walked through the conservatory we headed out to the Lily pond; this is such a peaceful area. We walked around the pond, stopping at the far end to watch the fish swim around, very relaxing. Volunteers do a wonderful job keeping the pond and grounds looking great.

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Across from the conservatory  there are a series of greenhouses run by the Agriscience students of the Golightly Career and technical Center in Detroit. 10th and 11th grade students who join this urban agriculture program spend a half day, each day, for two years learning about vegetable and flower production, environmental education, food safety and nutrition, sustainability and market sales and services. We noticed a flurry of people and activity over at the greenhouses, we walked over to take a look. It was Friday, they were busy preparing for their annual plant sale scheduled for Saturday and Sunday. With permission,  we were able to walk through the greenhouses; aisles of perennials, annuals, herbs and heirloom tomatoes all ready to be sold. Volunteers were busy placing name tags and prices in the appropriate pots. I saw beautiful Foxglove, Coral Bells and daylilies. Flats of Petunias perfumed the air, Marigolds, Dahlias and Geraniums wait to be planted. It was fun to have a chance to go inside and poke around.

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We had made up our mind to have lunch at Green Dot Stables on West Lafayette; only opened for a short time it has already become quite popular. This horse-race-themed establishment serves a variety of sliders, fries and sides, all right around three bucks each. Newly refurbished, the interior has red brick walls and wood floors; it has a sort of retro feel to me. Two of three televisions had live horse racing on, while the third had soccer; photos of jockey’s adorn the walls. The menu is simple and straightforward, Sliders are served on Detroit’s own Browns Buns and come in an array of choices: Corned Beef, Lamb, Catfish, Shredded Pork to name a few along with traditional and Mystery Meat. French Fries are the super skinny type; crisp and delicious; these are also available in an assortment of ways: Cajun, Ranch, Truffle and Herb and our choice of  malt vinegar. For the ease of ordering we asked our waitress to bring us one of each of the first five sliders on the menu; that makes life easy, next time we get the next five…..The food arrived swiftly; each of the burgers comes in its own little cardboard dish garnished with pickle slices. We cut them in half and dug in; each had its own unique flavor, the combinations of meat and toppings very tasty, the traditional as good or better than any  I’ve ever had. Next time I have to remember to save room for dessert: a Smore Slider; cinnamon, Nutella and marshmallow fluff served on a bun, sounds good doesn’t it?

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We made a stop at Germack Coffee Shop in Eastern Market, after our caffeine fix we headed back outdoors to check out all  the goings-on in preparation for Flower Day.  North of the market The Detroit Mercantile Co was getting ready for their grand opening the following morning. The door was slightly ajar, the owner in view; we asked if we might get a sneak peek in the store, without hesitation we were welcomed in. What a cool store! Seriously, this place is great. The shop carries a little bit of everything; vintage and new items, clothing, gifts, music, souvenirs, even new bikes from the Detroit Bicycle Company. The owner is enthusiastic about carrying products made locally,we’re all for that ! The displays are eye-catching, you want to look everywhere at once, then you want to buy everything….. The mix of old and new really works well together, the owners passion for Detroit is clearly visible. I can tell we will be regular shoppers here.  

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Belle Isle; Statues & Monuments

27 Sep

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Belle Isle is often referred to as the Crown Jewel of Detroit’s public park system, I say it is a jewel with many facets. Originally settled by French colonists in the 18th century, Detroit city fathers purchased the island in 1879 for $200,000 from the Campau family. There is the very public side of the island; the Scott Fountain, Casino, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Conservatory, Giant Slide, and the picnic pavilions. There are also a number of areas and things that go unexplored by the average visitor. Our goal today was to drive around the island pointing out things you may not have noticed or even knew they existed; to take a walk through the nature of the island, and to share some of the 5 magnificent miles of scenic shoreline. Belle Isle provides spectacular views of the Detroit skyline, Canada, the Ambassador Bridge and a steady stream of freighter traffic.

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Statues pay tribute to important figures in business, music and literature. Johann Frederick Von Schiller who wrote “Ode to Joy” is perched upon a pedestal, book in hand, peacefully gazing at nature. A white marble bust of Dante Alighieri, Father of Italian literature stands tall and serious. James Brady founder of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund holds a small child near to him. A single soldier stands at attention representing the Civil War Grand Army of of the Republic. Quite impressive is the tribute to Samuel Francis Smith, author of “America”; Art Deco in style, eagles sit perched at each corner, a flag pole reaches up toward the sky as Old Glory waves in the air.You have probably seen the large statue of a man on a horse; Major General Alpheus Sharkey Williams, the detail is exquisite. One of my favorites is “Partners”, a newsboy and his dog.

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The island is full of beautiful things; a bridge near the Casino building is just gorgeous. The sides of the bridge are incredibly ornate wrought iron bent into loops and curlicues now painted bright turquoise. The fancy carved stone columns at the ends let us know that it was built by the King Bridge Company in 1893. In another area, situated further back from the roadway rests the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon; this neo-gothic tower was designed by Clarence E Day. Stunning in design and detail, it was dedicated in 1940 to the newspaper columnist who raised most of the building fund from her readers. Today the fenced in area surrounding it looks forgotten, tall grass and weeds grow freely, still, the sound of cast bronze bells continue to ring out and delight all of those who hear it. The William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse is the only all marble lighthouse in the US; located at the east end of the island it is owned by the city of Detroit. There is a path that will lead you out to it, it’s a bit of a walk, but I can assure you it is worth the effort. Designed by Albert Kahn and built in the Art Deco style it is a thing of beauty. Made of White Georgia Marble and topped off with a bronze lantern room, the light is visible up to 15 miles away on Lake St. Clair. They actually extended the eastern tip of the island 1/4 mile into the river back in 1929 just so they could build the lighthouse on this spot.

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The north east end of the island is quiet and secluded, nature has reclaimed much of this area. If you are the adventurous type there are pathways and nature trails that lead you past the Blue Heron Lagoon and over to the shoreline, at one point you get a spectacular view of the open waterway leading out to Lake St Clair. Earlier in the year people from Cherry Creek and Sleeping Bear wineries proposed putting in a vineyard in this area and using the Casino building as a tasting room and sales area, we’ll see what happens…… 

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We drove into downtown for lunch at Wah- Hoo on Shelby, we lucked out with easy on-street parking. The restaurant specializes in Chinese food and Sushi, they also have a great lunch menu, and serve cocktails. Located in the Murphy Telegraph building we entered through the Shelby door; the interior is warm and welcoming painted in a deep orange with varnished wood wainscoting, dining tables and chairs, the bar area is topped off with glass block. We sat by a window overlooking the street, the financial district is always bustling with activity. Though the Chinese section of the menu was filled with mouth-watering dishes we were in the mood for Sushi. Service was quick, which was good because we were very hungry, the Sushi was delicious, the fried tofu was attractively stacked on the plate and served with a nice ginger sauce, it tasted as good as it looked! UPDATE: Wah-Hoo is now closed for business.

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The Guardian building is just a short walk down Congress to Griswold; our destination Stella Cafe, is located on the street level off the lobby. This tiny cafe has a cozy feel to it; the walls are painted black, the plank floor is light in color. Tall wooden shelves with multiple cubbies hold items for sale such as coffee beans, olive oil, old fashioned candy and jam. In addition to coffee drinks and baked goods they also serve soup, salads, and made to order sandwiches. Seating in the cafe is limited, but you are welcome to eat on the promenade level. There was an open table so we had our coffee and pecan pie square right there. A perfect ending to our afternoon of adventure.

 

 

Scott Fountain Belle Isle, Hart Plaza, Jazz Festival

9 Sep

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Kris and I have been coming to the Scott Fountain on Belle Isle for as long as I can remember, and we are not alone! Through the years we have witnessed dozens of weddings, numerous family photographs, and countless visitors enjoy the splendor of the fountain. Designed by Cass Gilbert and sculpted out of Vermont White Marble by Herbert Adams there are over 109 water outlets. From the great outer bowl rises the central pedestal of intricately carved figures that upholds the top most basin. Take a good look, the detail is remarkable; You can find Neptune, dolphins, lions, turtles and sweet faced cherubs. The central spray jets water 125 ft into the air and is most impressive. It seems people are always drawn to water, so a fountain on an island is an even greater attraction. Belle Isle Park is the largest city island park in the country, it was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted who also designed Central Park in New York City.

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There is a bit of interesting history that goes along with this amazing tower of cascading of water.  James Scott was a wealthy bachelor who was known as a gambler, womanizer, and a loafer. Scott had inherited his father’s real estate fortune and it was said he was not to have done a days work in his entire life. He told off-color stories, gave big tips, dated beautiful women and played vindictive practical jokes. He was disrespected and disliked by most of the businessmen and city officials in Detroit at the time. In 1910 James Scott died, he left $500,000.00 to the City of Detroit with the stipulation they use it to build a fountain on Belle Isle and a life-sized statue of himself; people were outraged. After 15 years or arguments and debate, the fountain and statue were finally built in 1925 for all to enjoy.

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The fountain itself has changed a bit through the years too; the beautiful Pewabic Tile that graced the interior of great outer bowl was removed last year when repairs were made, sadly it was all destroyed and thrown away. There is a current fundraising effort in the works to raise the money to replace the tiles, Pewabic still has the original plans. The lower area of the fountain bordering the lake is not running this year, there are repairs to be made and little money to work with. It is still worth looking at, I love the giant clam shells, and remember fondly when water sprayed freely. I recently read that the 1973 drama “Scarecrow” had a famous scene between Gene Hackman and Al Pacino that was shot at the fountain, I will have to rent it and check it out! It seems all who married in Detroit back in the day came to Belle Isle to take pictures, it was the place you came for picnics and reunions, it was and still is a magical gathering place.

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 It was a scorching hot Saturday, the kind that drags you down, saps your energy and drives you inside to some air conditioned place. Well, unless the 32nd Annual Detroit Jazz Festival is going on! It’s hard to pass up the Labor Day Weekend event no matter what else is going on, billed as the largest FREE Jazz event in the world you will never see or hear anything like it. The urban setting is quintessential; the Detroit skyline in one direction, in the other, the sparkling blue Detroit River lapping against the Windsor shoreline. Hart Plaza plays host to the event and does a marvelous job. Hart Plaza is said to be the spot Detroit’s founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac first landed in 1701. It is home to two amphitheaters, statues and sculpture, the first international memorial to the underground railroad, and of course the Dodge Fountain. Designed by Isamu Noguchi in 1978 this 30 ft tall stainless steel fountain pays tribute to Horace E Dodge. The fountain has 300 water nozzles that spray down into an 8 ft tall walled circular black granite pool, most importantly on a hot day it provides overheated pedestrians a place to cool off. Wander from stage to stage, or sit on the grass under a shade tree; you can  hear everything from traditional, New Orleans style, or Modern Jazz, the entertainment goes on for four days straight. The festival has gotten so big it now spills down Woodward right into Campus Martius, I think I counted six by stages in all. It is an incredible mix of musicians and fans, food and drink, sights and sounds.

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Dossin Great Lakes Museum, The Giant Slide, Lafayette Coney Island

28 Jul

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 I LOVE Belle Isle! In addition to providing spectacular views of Detroit and Canada, passing freighters and the Ambassador Bridge the island has several other attractions; the Conservatory , Scott Fountain, Nature Zoo, the yacht club and today’s visit, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. The Dossin Museum explores the history of the Detroit River and the Great Lakes, every time I come here I am reminded of what an incredible history Detroit has.  Just outside the building you can actually touch the giant anchor of the legendary Edmund Fitzgerald, there is a an old Coast Guard boat set on the ground, and an enclosure that lets you get up close to the first hydroplane racing boat to ever top 100 mph: Miss Pepsi. All this even before you go inside!

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Enter the museum building, you will immediately find yourself in an extremely ornate space, it is actually the ‘Gothic Room’ from the Sidewheel Steamer “City of Detroit III”, built in 1912.  It is hard to believe this was the lounge on the top deck of a boat! Intricately carved English Oak surrounds the room; take the time to really study the details, the work becomes more complex as your eyes travel upward. Open Gothic archways sit upon richly decorated columns and divide the space, a large stained glass window takes up much of one wall. Light fixtures and sconces are unique and elaborate in their design. A glass case runs along one wall displaying artifacts and photos from this floating hotel. The boat made regular trips from Detroit to Cleveland or Detroit to Buffalo, and on rare occasions traveled north through the Great Lakes.  Imagine what it must have been like to travel in such style! The vessel was scrapped in 1956, fortunately the collection was purchased in 1965 and is now available for all to see.

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There are a great number of things to see in the museum, do you remember Bob-Lo island? The display is sure to bring back memories and a smile. The William Clay Ford pilot house was reassembled for the museum, stand behind the wheel in the real bridge of a Great Lakes Freighter ship. This is a great spot to watch the freighters go by, they have live communication between ships and shore, very interesting.  The day we were there it was Detroit’s 310th Birthday, there were cupcakes and lemonade to celebrate! This place is really fascinating, so much to see, the docents are great too. Make a plan to stop in soon!

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Also on Belle Isle is the Giant Slide, I remember these well from when I was a child. Did you ever slide down one? You carry the burlap sack up what seems like an endless staircase, climb inside, give yourself a push off and WOOSH, down you go! It’s pretty much the same these days. This is a fairly new slide, there were just a few people in line when we passed, so we thought we’d give it a go. We purchased our tickets, $1 each, picked out our burlap bag and up we went. There were two kids at the top getting ready to go down, there’s someone working at the top who instructs you on proper slide etiquette. If you want to go fast take lane one or two, otherwise the further right you go the more mellow the ride. Kris had the camera so he went down about lane three or four, I felt brave so I went for the fast lane. I slid my body into the sack,  gathered up the excess on the sides in my hand and inched myself to the edge, then pushed off. The first hill was pretty mellow, and I was thinking, gee this is fun, but I’d like to go a little faster. I hit the second hill with a little more speed thinking ok, I like this, on the third hill I got air. As I landed I started to wonder if there was a way to slow down….. before I knew it I was in the air off the next hill and landed with a thump. I remember hearing short little screams, and then realized they were coming from me! As I came off the fifth hill, I worried how and where I would land, I did so about halfway down the flat of the slide with amazing speed. At then end of the slide they have put down material that stops you in your tracks; As I sat there in the sudden stillness I began to laugh, what a ride!

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After reliving childhood memories of Bob-Lo Island and riding the Giant Slide lunch had to somewhere fun too. Lafayette Coney Island; This place is legendary. It has had it share of visits from the Food Network, local personalities, and movie stars. The food fight scene in Whip It! was filmed here too. But it’s the food and atmosphere that has been bringing people back for decades. The place was packed, so we were relieved to find an open table. You can tell who the regulars are, they are greeted by name and order “the usual”. Kris ordered 1 and 1, me, a loose hamburger with everything and fries. Keep an eye open for waiters performing gravity defying tricks with tableware and beverages. Our food arrived lightning fast, served up with icy cold cans of Diet Coke, is was just as good as I remember.

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Detroit; Belle Isle Conservatory, Sunday Dinner Company

23 Apr

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Spring is one of my favorite times of the year to visit the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory on Belle Isle. It was built in 1904 and designed by famed architect Albert Kahn, and was modeled after Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. The conservatory occupies 13 acres of land, it features five horticultural houses, an outdoor Lily Pond, and formal perennial gardens. The tallest palms reside under the central 85 foot high dome. The showhouse display reflects the season and in the Spring features bright white Easter Lillies with their sweet scent, pastel tinted  Azaleas, and brightly colored Amaryllis, just gorgeous. This is a wonderful area for wedding or family photos too.  I just love the fountain area, it is so relaxing with the sound of water trickling down the rocks, a bench facing the fountain  is a great place for a little respite. This is where the highest concentration of orchids are displayed, the conservatory houses many rare orchids that were transported here from Great Britain during the WWII bombing.  The conservatory was named in honor of Anna Scripps Whitcomb who left her 600 plant orchid collection to the city.


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 SLIDESHOW       

We crossed back over the Belle Isle bridge and made a left on Jefferson, it was lunch time.  Our destination was The Sunday Dinner Company, a southern comfort style restaurant, open nearly a year now. The handsome building was formerly a post office, now transformed into an elegant dining space. The colors are warm, bright paintings grace the walls, the large front window overlooks Jefferson

Once you are comfortable at your table you are greeted by your server delivering salad and warm, delicious cornbread.  Next you are escorted to the buffet where you choose from 6 or 7 dishes; Baked macaroni & cheese, fried corn, dirty rice and shrimp to name a few. Deep fried Louisiana Catfish, and Southern style buttermilk chicken are also included, and made to order. Fresh brewed sweet tea is complimentary and goes perfectly with your meal.

The owners go the extra mile for the community employing returning citizens and at risk youth, helping to change lives, and impact Detroit in a positive way.

The Sunday Dinner Company, 6470 E Jefferson Ave, Detroit 48207      PH 313-877-9255

UPDATE: Sunday Dinner Company is now closed

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