Tag Archives: Cass Gilbert

DETROIT: Library After Dark

20 Dec

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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OHIO: A day in Oberlin

16 Jun

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Road trips have always been a part of my life. When I was growing up vacations were taken in the family car; my dad loved driving out on the open road, my mom would sit in the passenger seat, map in hand guiding him along. On summer days my mom would load my sister and I into the car and take rides in the country; our rides always resulted in an ice cream cone or a root beer at the A&W Drive-In. I did not inherit the driving gene, or the map reading gene, for that matter; but I did marry a man who is happiest behind the wheel. There’s nothing more American than a trunk-load of clothes, bags of goodies, a road atlas, a full tank of gas and a sense of adventure!

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In the last post we were on our way to Cleveland to visit with friends for a couple of days; we had a great time as always. Now we are making our way back to Detroit. Driving southwest out of Cleveland we are heading to Oberlin, Ohio; Frank Lloyd Wright’s (FLW) Weltzheimer/Johnson house is open for public tours today, we’re gonna check it out. In less than an hour we have arrived in the college town of Oberlin; several blocks from campus we park in front of the first Usonian house in Ohio and one of the few in the country open to the public. The L-shaped home is set far back from the street on a sprawling, green lawn. Designed in 1947, completed in 1949 the building is constructed of brick, masonry, and redwood, the house sits low on the horizon; a flat roof and cantilevered car port give it a distinctly modern feel. As we get closer we notice the hundreds of stained croquet balls that form the roof dentil ornamentation; the circular motif is carried on throughout the home. At the side entrance we each pass over $5.00 to gain entry. My first impression of the interior is that it is long and narrow, in typical Wright fashion, tight spaces lead into grand ones; here we are led into the family room, a large, open, but cozy area. Floors are stained concrete slab throughout, furniture is built in, one wall is floor to ceiling glass, doors open out to the front landscape, a red brick fireplace anchors one side of the room. The ceiling is wood, thin strips of molding add a decorative touch.

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The kitchen is closed in except for an open section between brick columns that separate the work space from the living room. The counters are low, they’d be perfect for someone short, like me, colors are earth-tones, work space is set up in conjunction with the location of sink, fridge and stove. Back in the long hallway, my attention is drawn to the shelves that line the length of the wall, above them clerestory windows are covered with wood panel screens, here the circular motif is once again present. FLW had a way of making a residence feel homey and comfortable; maybe it’s the materials he used, or the colors, whatever it is I always feel like I could just sit down and read a book or have a cup of coffee when I’m in one of his houses. Kris is well ahead of me, there is nobody else down at the far end of the house, he can get some good shots of the rooms. There are 4 bedrooms; beds and desks are built-in, the master has a bathroom en-suite, along with a fireplace just like the one in the family room. Interior walls are horizontal wood pieces, the exterior wall is glass with a door that opens out to the common space. Again we find colors of brown, gold, rust and bittersweet; floors have radiant heat to keep the home warm. The original family lived here until 1963, at one time developers “remodeled” the home, they painted the entire interior white–gasp!! In 1968 Art History Professor Ellen Johnson purchased and restored the house, she died in 1992, leaving the house to Oberlin College to serve as a guesthouse for the Art Department and Art Museum; it’s wonderful the house remains open to the public.  Ok, enough of that, we’re hungry, time to head downtown….

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 It is Commencement weekend at Oberlin College, people are everywhere; Kris sees and open parking space and grabs it, Tree Huggers Cafe is right across the street, perfect, let’s have lunch. The little cafe is just below street level, windows look up and out to the sidewalk. Refrigerated cases hold bowls filled with varieties of cold salads, entrée’s and desserts. Standing at the counter we read the list of today’s specials, place our order then have a seat—it feels good to sit down. In no time at all a server brings us a black bean burger with a nice-size helping of orzo salad and a green salad topped with chilled shrimp, goat cheese and berries. The restaurant serves organic, vegan and vegetarian selections; seafood is wild-caught, produce is local, I can tell you, everything was delicious!

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 Oberlin itself was the birthplace of the modern aluminum refining process that made the metal economic for industrial use, the city was Station #99 on the Underground Railroad. The college was the first American Institute of Higher Learning to regularly admit African-American and female students in addition to white males, the first African-American graduated in 1844; this was also the home of the first co-ed dorm in the US (1970). 39 buildings in Oberlin are designated as “Oberlin Historic Landmarks”, 20 of those are also on the National Register Of Historic Places; an interesting place, no doubt! The busy downtown runs several blocks; it looks like Main Street USA, very cute and tree-lined.We begin our walk around the picture-postcard-looking campus; architecture is a mix of old and new, plain and fancy, it’s all gorgeous. One building, the Allen Memorial Art Museum, with its multiple arches, has a familiarity to it—turns out it was designed by Cass Gilbert (Detroit Public Library). Built in the Italian Renaissance style, the museum is said to be one of the five best college and university art museums in the nation, let’s go in. The main gallery is an open space, sunlight streams in through the windows, the ceiling is coffered and dark, archways on both sides lead to narrow halls. The Gilbert Galleries house the Old Master’s and 19th Century paintings, sculpture and decorative arts. On the second level, two Juliet balconies jut out from opposing walls, giving visitors an overall view. In 1977 an addition was built to house Modern and Contemporary Art; they have some great whimsical pieces. Right next door is Hall Auditorium, a cool modern-looking structure designed by Wallace Harrison in 1953.

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Buildings on campus were built from 1887 to well into the 1970’s. We walk along past solid structures, thick and chunky looking they are made of textured buff Ohio Sandstone, they resemble the Romanesque style. In some, the doors are unlocked, giving us the opportunity to check out the insides; beautiful wood, antique chandeliers and fireplaces are not uncommon. To our surprise there are 3 Yamasaki buildings on campus, including the Conservatory of Music (1964); they all feature the signature Yamasaki concrete grates that cover the windows, one reminds me a bit of the Gothic style, these were all done before the World Trade Center. Definitely a walking campus, there is a serenity and calmness  to the overall design; it’s interesting to walk past a 1963 Yamasaki building next door to something constructed in the late 1800’s. There’s another Gilbert building that looks like a miniature version of our library, the Carnegie Library was built in 1908. There are great wooden doors, fabulous torchiers, pretty lamposts, turrets and spires, we walked until we could walk no more!

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We are still a few hours from home, time to continue our journey west. Kris has a great route he knows by heart, lucky for us, it takes us right near the Quarry Hill Winery in Berlin Hts Ohio. Kris grabs a table while I get the wine; I join him at a table on the deck overlooking the orchards; sipping our blueberry wine we relax until dusk, time to go home.

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