Tag Archives: Dearborn MI

DEARBORN: The Ford Homes

23 Dec

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In 1915 American Industrialist Henry Ford built the Henry Ford and Son Tractor Plant in the city of Dearborn. In addition to American production, Ford built 6,000 tractors for England and 1,000 for Canada in 1917 to assist the countries with food production during WWI. By 1918 the plant employed nearly 400 men, most of which were forced to live in Detroit because of the lack of housing in Dearborn; it took workers an hour via streetcar to get to work everyday. The idea to build a planned subdivision that would allow workers to live close by was embraced by Ford. The Dearborn Realty and Construction company was formed with Clara (Henry’s wife) and Edsel (his son) owning 2/3 of the shares, Henry was not a shareholder. The company purchased 312 lots with the intention of constructing modern, tastefully designed homes, each a suitable size for an average family. They were to be built of the best materials and differ in appearance, there were six different models, A-F, all are colonials.

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Today we are doing the Ford Homes Historic District Holiday Home Tour, we don’t know too much about the area so we’re excited to check it out. We purchase tickets at Reach International Church on Nowlin St. The building is a collage of the original structure and additions through the years from 1924-1964. We are invited to look around the church, the Sanctuary was added in 1964 and is a reflection of the Modern architecture popular at the time, colorful stained glass in linear patterns is reflecting onto the walls, placards explain the symbolism of architectural details. We ascend and descend short staircases pausing to look in various rooms, photos and finally the original chapel. 

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Tour booklets in hand, we hit the sidewalk, from the map it looks like the tour houses are reasonably close together. All of the Ford homes were constructed in 1919 and 1920, 250 in all, spread out on Beech, Nona, Park, Edison, Francis, Gregory and Military streets. Henry Ford had definite ideas of how things should look and be, he insisted the homes not be placed an even distance from the street, here we have 3 houses 24′ from the street the next 4 are 32′ so a staggered look is achieved. He insisted various models be placed on each block, making each home appear distinct–it works. Ford homes were purchased directly from Dearborn Realty and Construction Company, no banks were involved. Once you purchased a house, you could not sell it again for at least 7 years; the company retained the right to re-purchase a home within the first 7 years if the buyer was deemed ‘undesirable’.

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We start out on Beech, a Model B home, then down Gregory to a Model A and C, although the homes have many things in common each buyer added their own special touch with options like built-in cabinets, fireplace surrounds, doors with 3 or 6 glass panels, brick or siding. Nearly 100 years later I’m astounded by how original they still are; floors, light fixtures, cove moldings, shutters, amazing. Homes are decked out for the holidays; trees, garlands, wreaths, miniature lights. Dining room tables are set for a holiday feast, settings look like pictures from a magazine. Neighborhood streets are absolutely charming, front porches are welcoming, old-fashioned lamp posts are wrapped with greenery and red bows, vintage cars are making a special appearance for the tour, a burgundy Model A, turquoise Packard, yellow Buick and a Model T (black, of course) are all parked in driveways. Homes are beautifully maintained, many have had additions through the years, care as been taken to unite the old and new.

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We have visited 11 homes in the Historic District, I think we’ve seen all but one of the six different models offered. The Ford Homes are distinct, they were built with a production-line approach to construction. Lots were excavated by Ford tractors then the foundation crew arrived, followed by the framing crew and on it went. Each crew had its own specialty, something unheard of in 1919 when a home was generally built from the ground up by a single construction crew. In September 1920, following a slow-down after the war, the tractor plant was moved to the massive Rouge Plant, the workers soon followed, after that no more Ford Homes were built– the remaining lots were filled with other homes put up after 1921. It’s clear the people who to live in these houses take pride in their neighborhood, appreciate the unique history they represent and share it by opening their doors to all of us, thank you for that.

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We are having lunch at Al Ajami on W Warren Ave. After eating at many other places in the area, Al Ajami is still our favorite. The large modern interior has table seating for large or small groups and cozy booths on the upper level. We are seated in a large booth in the front window, a server immediately arrives with a pickled vegetable platter and a basket overflowing with fresh-from-the-oven pita bread. These little round pitas are slightly crisp outside, tear into it and watch the steam be released, the inside is moist and tender–I think I could make a meal of the pita and vegetables alone….. Well, that and the vegetarian combo: fresh tabbouleh, falafal, grape leaves, creamy hommous, smoky baba ghanouj, so delicious! We eat until we can eat no more. It’s been another fun day of exploring topped off with an outstanding meal.

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DEARBORN: Goin’ Back In Time

7 Jul

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Everybody knows there are four seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall; here in Detroit we have a fifth…….Vintage Car Season! Like Spring, it starts slowly, you see an old car here and there, by the time June rolls around convertible tops are down, enthusiastic owners are out for leisurely drives on sunny days, cruise nights and car shows are in full swing. One of the best shows around, Motor Muster is held annually at Greenfield Village. This is no ordinary car show, no sir, it’s a celebration of the grandest eras of automotive history, 1933-1976, spread out across 80 acres of Henry Ford’s testament to American life. It’s Father’s Day weekend and we know The Henry Ford is going to be a madhouse, we just didn’t know how much of a madhouse…..We pulled into the grounds and drove toward the parking lot, cars were already parking on the grass, this was going to be a challenge. After driving through every parking lot, to no avail, we joined the host of other vehicles parked on the lawn and made the long (I mean really long!) trek to the entrance; yes, it’s worth it!

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Motor Muster is totally unique; here we wander through streets laden with historic structures such as the courthouse where Abraham Lincoln practiced law, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory and the home where Noah Webster wrote the first dictionary. On top of that, nearly 1000 vehicles, grouped by model year, are parked along streets, in front of buildings and in grassy areas, it’s amazing! We are walking in no particular order; Kris leads the way, he has a vast knowledge of automobiles so I am always asking him questions. The amount of chrome is staggering, nameplates are large and make a statement, hood ornaments are super cool from birds and flying ladies to rocket ships. We get a good look at finned cars, the tail lights are fantastic, very space-age, headlights are pretty awesome too!  I love the details; badges that call out cubic inches or special features ie “Air Conditioned by Ford Select Aire”, it’s easy to forget what a work of art automobiles were. You don’t have to be an enthusiast to have a pretty good idea of what era a car is from; vehicles from the 30’s sport Art Deco styling, the 40’s cars are voluptuous, turquoise, pink, baby blue and mint were popular colors in the 50’s, big chrome bumpers, grill and trim decorated models from the 60’s and of course, wild colors, bold stripes and big engines populated the muscle cars of the 70’s.

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There’s a lot to take in, folks make a real show of their displays; vintage coolers, picnic baskets, suitcases, are laid out on red and white checked tablecloths. A live band plays music under the gazebo, men and women dressed in vintage attire roam the streets. A large section is dedicated to military vehicles—-I had no idea how many were privately owned. Men dressed as soldiers hold plates while waiting in line for their afternoon meal in a make-shift camp, a lock box holds a serviceman’s treasures: cigarettes, candy bars, photos and medals; a hundreds-of-years old windmill turns in the background. As we wander by Tea at Cotswold Cottage (bummer, they’re full up) we notice a historic 1867 baseball game taking place under today’s flawless blue sky, we take a seat in folding chairs and watch as the Lah-De-Dahs take on the BBC of Mt Clemens; life was much simpler then. After a brief rest we are back among vintage bicycles, fabulous dashboards, Woodies, fire engines and a spiffy 1947 Vernor’s delivery truck.  Cars have a way of telling stories of both the owners and the times; it’s s fun-filled day for all who attend. 

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We zig and zag through the streets of Greenfield Village passing a 1954 Kaiser Darrin, a Lincoln with suicide doors, Packards, an Oldsmobile 98 turned ambulance, oh, and the Mercury station-wagon with the woodgrain on the sides is pretty groovy. We see Thunderbirds, Chargers, Pacers and Pintos, even an old Good Humor ice cream truck! When we reach Main Street the Pass and Review is in process; this is where a parade of cars drive down the street, each one stopping as an expert explains the significance of the car, kind of like a fashion show. Surviving the decades, each one has its own story. We catch a neat old red Jeep, a few other cars pass, then it’s the running of  the Mustangs; led by the Mustang II prototype, a group of the mid-60’s beauties parade in all their 50th anniversary glory while photographers snap photos, it’s all very glamorous. Sure it’s a dream show for gear heads, car lovers and automotive connoisseurs, but more than that, it’s something we can all relate to; in Detroit, cars have always been a part of our lives, automobiles are more than merely transportation—- they mark the time, ignite our memories and make us smile.

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Miller’s Bar has occupied the same building on Michigan Ave in Dearborn since 1941, the reason? Their ‘World Famous Ground Round’. I think it’s more than that…… Miller’s is a cool old bar; stained glass lights hang over booths with deep red leather seats, a 1940’s Brunswick wood bar gleams in high gloss, there’s not a window in the place, or a menu for that matter. When we arrive there are only a couple of open tables; Tiger’s fans sit at the bar and take in the game while having an icy cold beer, family’s and a youth baseball team crowd the tables in back. As soon as we sit, our waitress takes our drink order and asks if we have any questions. She explains the burgers are served on a steamed bun, you can have it with or without cheese ( choose from Swiss or Velveeta). Mustard, ketchup and pickles are on the table, side orders include fries and onion rings, doesn’t get much better than that! Our burgers arrive lightning fast, they come on a white sheet of wax paper, a slice of onion on the side. We dress them up to our liking and share the sides; it’s hard to beat a good burger, and this is really one of the best! The second generation of Miller’s now run the place, it hasn’t missed a beat in all these years. The bar is run on the honor system, when we are finished I walk over to the bartender, tell him what we had and pay the tab,  just like the good ol’ days!

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East Dearborn Delights !

16 Feb

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Dearborn Michigan has the largest population of Arab Americans in the United States, so it is no surprise the Arab American National Museum is also located here. This is the only museum in the United States solely devoted to Arab American history and culture. Located on Michigan Avenue in East Dearborn, tiles in various shades of blues and grey adorn the entrance, large glass windows span the the front at the street level. We found a parking space right in front, and went inside. The sun had come out, flooding the lobby in natural light, the space feels bright and airy. After paying our admission we entered the museum, once inside we were greeted by multiple exhibits stored in recessed Moorish archways. Each arch was trimmed in beautiful dark wood with ornate carvings and covered with glass, my favorite was the musical instruments. If you stand in the center of the room and look straight up you will discover a lovely dome painted with traditional designs, below the dome is a level of arched windows allowing more sunlight to spill in, followed by a level of gorgeous tiles. This area has a wonderful sense of serenity about it.

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Take the stairs to the second level, you will find yourself on a balcony overlooking the ground floor and an even better view of the museum dome. There are three main exhibits on this level beginning with “Coming To America”.  The Arab world is huge; it includes 22 different countries that reach from North Africa to West Asia.  This section tells personal stories of the brave souls who left their home in search of a better life; actual trunks, suitcases, handwritten letters, personal papers and photographs are on display. The museum is laid out in such a way that you travel through a sort of maze, I like it when exhibits are laid out in such a manner, it makes it simple to follow the time line and see things in their proper order. I can easily follow along, reading about the experiences of different people; how they arrived, where they settled, and the folks that helped them along the way. “Living In America” introduces us to Arab Americans themselves, many traditions live on through the generations, the exhibits here give you a peek at their lifestyle. “Making An Impact” shares the stories of Arab Americans whose contributions have influenced our way of life from inventions and academics to science and entertainment, athletes and labor leaders. Here is a list of Arab Americans you may recognize: Jamie Farr, Danny Thomas, Candice Lightner, Christa McAuliffe, Helen Thomas, Ralph Nader, Bobby Rahal and Kathy Najimy. You can even listen in on an amusing  phone call between LBJ & Joseph Hagar the Lebanese immigrant who founded the Haggar Clothing Company in Texas in 1926. It’s really fun to walk through and learn about the people who invented every day things like the typewriter.The gallery in the lower level hosts changing exhibits. This is a really nice museum and a wonderful introduction to the life of Arab Americans, it’s always fascinating to me to learn about another culture.

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There’s a restaurant in Dearborn that we absolutely love: Al-Ajami, located on Warren. The food here is amazing! We made it in for a late lunch, as soon as I walked in the door my mouth began to water. The smell of their homemade  bread baking in the wood burning oven permeates the air, revving up our appetite. The decor is contemporary; a mural depicting an evening desert scene is painted on the far wall. Booths run along the perimeter, and tables fill the main dining area. We were seated in a large booth, water arrived immediately. No need for a menu, we know what we want: A Vegetarian Combo and a Chicken Shawarma sandwich. The waiter brought out our drinks a basket of fresh from the oven pita bread and a platter of pickled vegetables. I don’t think you will find a better pita bread anywhere; warm soft pillows of tender bread, a scattering of sesame seed on top, so fragrant and delicious, we nibbled a bit, then the main meal arrived. Falafal, grape leaves, mounds of  hommous, taboluee and baba ghanouj, this is the good stuff, fresh and made from scratch. The Chicken in the shawarma is cut into flavorful chunks, pickles are added, it’s rolled up tight in pita and served with the best garlic sauce I’ve ever had. Warning: if you have the garlic sauce it’s best to invite the rest of your table to join you, or at the very least the people with whom you will be sharing a ride home with……. We ate till we could eat no more.

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No visit to Dearborn is complete without a trip to Shatila Bakery. Located just a little east on Warren, this is a dessert lovers paradise. As soon as you walk in the door you realize this is no ordinary bakery. The center of the building is a cafe; largePalm trees are wrapped in white lights,  the left wall is made into a water feature. One entire side is showcase after showcase filled with tantalizing treats. One section is traditional Mid-Eastern pastries; bakalava, bird nest, fingers and burma. Then there’s the French pastries……I have never seen a selection such as this; they are almost too pretty to eat…almost. What’s your fancy? Chocolate, kiwi, pistachio, strawberry or vanilla. They make cakes, mousse, tortes, tarts and cheesecakes. Are you more of an ice cream person? Not to worry, they have that too! This place is amazing, the pastries are delicious and the prices are unbelievably low.