Tag Archives: Detroit Public Library

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: Cultural Center Tour

28 Sep

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Now and again we like to be ‘tourists’ in our own city; these days tours of Detroit can be taken daily, choices vary from walking and bicycle to segways and buses, today our feet will take us through Detroit’s Cultural Center. We begin our tour at the McKenzie House, a lovely 1895 Queen Ann style residence that is now Preservation Detroit’s (f.k.a. Preservation Wayne) headquarters. As Detroit’s largest and oldest historic preservation organization, members have worked tirelessly since 1975 to preserve, promote and protect the city’s rich architectural heritage. Over the years we have trekked through the streets of the city, gone inside private homes and seen amazing buildings on tours led by this all volunteer organization. We meet inside the house, a large group has gathered for this Saturday morning tour, we pay our $10 and head out the door, gathering on the Cass Ave sidewalk.

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As we make our way over to Woodward, our guide Kathleen, shares interesting stories and histories of buildings we pass, her assistant Susan adds to the conversation. On Woodward we see large historic homes, reminding us that this once was a residential neighborhood, many are currently owned by Wayne State University and used for storage and administrative purposes. We pause in front of the Maccabees Building, built in 1927 for the fraternal organization Knights of the Maccabees, the elaborately carved limestone facade is incredible. The main entryway deserves a few moments of our time, we stop and study  intricate patterns and series of solemn knights that surround  the elongated arch, I see columns and faces, two knights stand atop the door frame, above them a fanciful clock is anchored to the building.

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Just down the street we enter the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, designed by Cass Gilbert in the Italian Renaissance style, it was built in 1921 of Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim. If you have never been inside the library, you need to see it. To the right is the Children’s library, I love the fireplace. Mary Chase Perry Stratton created the tiles, large ones represent fairy tales, others shimmer in her signature luster glaze. We ascend a staircase, an ornate coffered ceiling comes into view. At the top of the stairs a barrel-vaulted ceiling is illuminated by lantern style lights hanging from a single chain. Adam Strom Hall is spectacular, a mural is painted in three sections, a man fills the center space, he holds the past in one hand and the present in the other, Kathleen has much to tell us in this room. We exit the building through the back, this is the 1963 addition to the building, do not miss the magnificent mosiac fascade.  

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The Detroit Historical Museum is our next stop, out front is Legends Plaza, a collection of hand prints set in concrete of men and women who have called Detroit home. As I listen I walk around placing my hands inside the hand prints of Al Kaline, Elmore Leonard, Lily Tomlin, Gordie Howe and Alice Cooper. Further up Woodward the George L Beecher House is being refurbished, this 3-story yellow brick and limestone home was designed by HJ Maxwell Grylls and built in 1894, one of the most outstanding features is the original Tiffany stained glass window on the east Ferry side of the home. Across the street stands the  Hecker-Smiley mansion, you have probably seen this castle-like structure as you have driven down Woodward. The once private home is marvelous, designed by Louis Kamper it is 20,988 sq ft of French Renaissance Chateauesque design, Kris and I have previously been inside, the interior is spectacular. Around the corner on Ferry Street is the former home of Charles Lang Freer, he was a Detroit industrialist with a passion for collecting art, at one time he purchased Whistler’s Peacock Room and had it installed in his home; it is now housed at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Across the street a series of four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses make up the Inn on Ferry, a lovely alternative to staying in a hotel when visiting the city. The East Ferry Avenue Historic District was originally part of the Ferry Seed Company, the neighborhood was developed in the late 1800’s into an upper-class neighborhood. The street is gorgeous, great architecture, mature trees and today, a flawless blue sky. 

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The College for Creative Studies Ford Campus is located on Kirby, buildings represent many different time periods and architectural styles, large sculptures dot the campus. Further down Kirby we arrive at the Scarab Club, the brown brick building is rich in details, home to artists studios and galleries it’s a fascinating place. We round the corner at the DIA and walk up Farnsworth, The Rackham Education Memorial Building rests here, built in 1941 for the Engineering Society of Detroit it is made of Georgia marble, black granite and features cast bronze windows. The building houses a 1000 seat auditorium on the main level and a ballroom on the lower level, darn, we can’t go in! Our attention is diverted by the sound of music and stomping feet, as we near the front of the DIA we find an outdoor stage playing host to Flamenco dancers and a guitarist, passersby marvel at the sight, some take a seat and stay awhile. Our tour group moves to the front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a wedding party poses for photos on the front stairs, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, the bridal party is quite elegant, the building entrance providing the backdrop. Rodin’s Thinker looks as if he has a lot on his mind today, bankruptcy can do that to a guy. Our tour ends here. Preservation Detroit’s tour season continues through the month of October, guides are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about Detroit. If you’d like to get a closer look at many of the places we visited today, come downtown on December 7th for Detroit’s 41st Annual Noel Night; music, art, historic buildings, authentic Christmas spirit–don’t miss it!

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My stomach rumbles as a reminder that it is lunchtime, we are heading over to the Jefferson House inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. Named after the legendary ‘Pontch’ hotel that once stood on the corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square, this hotel opened in 1965. Recently re-opened as a Crown Plaza, we are anxious to have a look. The front wall of the Jefferson House restaurant is all windows, sunlight seeps in, our table overlooks Jefferson and the reconstruction of Cobo Arena turned ballroom and convention space. The room is done up in cream and taupe with rich wood accents, the ceiling is decorated in a metallic finish and lit from the edges,adjacent to the space is the Urban Cellars Bar.  Our server is cheerful and informative, if you were visiting from out-of-town she could make great suggestions of things to see and do while in the city–a great asset to the hotel. The menu is creative, a nice variety of ingredients, we quickly decide and place our order. First to arrive is the salad; tender spinach leaves are tossed in house made dressing along with goat cheese, bacon, julienne apples and poached pears. The presentation is gorgeous, piled attractively on a rectangular plate that reminds me of slate. The veggie sandwich is a spinach wrap stuffed with sautéed vegetables then grilled, the flavors are melded together perfectly. Both items were delicious and reasonably priced, portion sizes are good too. When we are finished we walk through the lobby area; very attractive in white, long fringe type curtains divide the spaces, a cool circular inset in the ceiling has an iridescent finish, very modern, striking. The hotel is already sold out for the Auto Show in January!

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DETROIT: Lunch, Library & Leisure

2 Feb

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The first thing on our Friday agenda  was lunch at Supino Pizzeria in Eastern Market. We easily found street parking, and were relieved to find open seats available. This tiny space has a big reputation for excellent real Italian-style pizza. Order at the counter; selections are written on chalk boards. There are two varieties: Red, which comes with sauce and white which has no sauce. Choose from one of the many tempting selections such as The Supino with roasted garlic, black olives, chili oil, ricotta and mozzarella or the Bismark, it has fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, and egg. There’s the always delicious Margherita: fresh basil, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and Parmigiano  or our choice Primavera: tomatoes, artichoke, eggplant, onion, spinach and mozzarella.  Or create your own, pies come in two sizes, 12″ or 18″.

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We took a seat at a small table in the window and waited for our food to arrive. The space is set up in community fashion; long wooden tables encourage strangers to sit side by side and engage in conversation. It has a laid back, funky, market feel to it; black and white checkered floor, upside down wash tubs serve as light fixtures, large pieces of art work hang on the walls. The clientele runs the gamut from suburbanite and business professional to locals. Our salad arrived quickly, topped with homemade Lemon-Basil Citroneette, it was very tasty. The pizza followed shortly, the hand stretched dough took on more of a free form shape as opposed to the typical circle. Cut into four large slices, the crust has an initial crunch followed by a chewy deliciousness that only comes from great dough. The toppings are proportioned nicely, just enough of everything. It was mid afternoon and although the dining area had cleared out, there was still a steady stream of folks picking up a slice or a whole pizza to go. It can be crazy busy on market days, but they are open during the week too. Next time you’re in the mood for some really good pizza think Supino!

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The Main branch of the Detroit Public Library was built in 1921. Designed by Cass Gilbert in the early Italian Renaissance Style, this place is gorgeous!  The original entrance of this large stone building rests below beautiful archways that overlook Woodward Avenue. Once inside you will notice the richly painted ornate ceiling, tall columns  and stairways, this lets you know that it is an important building. To the right is the HYPE Teen Center, individuals sit at available computers, as groups of youngsters gather together to play a video game or just catch up on the days events. Many areas of the library have been updated such as this space, without disturbing the original integrity of the architecture. In this room you’ll find a fireplace with a stunning tile surround and above that the Pictoral Map Of Michigan by Frederick J Wiley completed in 1923. Within the mural you will find the two Latin Mottoes: Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice and Tamen Fit Surculus Arbor, which translate into “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you” the present motto of Michigan, and “The shoot at length becomes a tree” the motto of Michigan when still a territory.

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Next walk up to the third floor, pay attention to the detail in the ceiling on your way up; look carefully and you can find the seals of the City of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the United States and the University of Michigan, it’s absolutely amazing! On the third floor is Adam Strom Hall, here you will find another series of murals along the East and West walls. Whenever we come up here we like to take a seat on one of the benches to sit and stare for a while. Grand light fixtures strung from chains hang from the ceiling, stained glass windows are embellished with colorful scenes, ceiling panels glisten as light reflects off  gold-painted rosettes. It’s all very intricate and awe-inspiring. The murals tell the story from the days of Cadillac’s landing to the evolution of man’s mobility. Walk around the third floor hallways and take it all in, get a good look at the grand staircase murals. When your neck has had enough it’s time to move on and forward in time to the North and South wings that were added in 1963.

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Immediately you will recognize the clean lines and signature accents of Modern architecture. Here you will find large glass windows, brass railings in straight lines or circular patterns, wood panels and lush green plants. The space becomes bright, light and airy. In this section you will find the Burton Historical Collection. The emphasis here is placed on the history of Detroit and Michigan from the time of settlement in the 17th Century to the present. It also includes the Great Lakes area, New England, New France, the US and Canada.  The Burton collection is mind-boggling; from the Ernie Harwell Collection to the original manuscript of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer Among The Indians to original pictures, drawings and manuscripts donated to the library from Laura Ingalls Wilder, you could spend an entire day right here. If you’re researching your family tree chances are you’ll find information here they house church records of baptisms, marriages, deaths, records from the military, immigration, obituaries and land records. All materials are reference and cannot leave the reading room, so plan on spending some time here when you visit. If you’re looking for rare books, first editions, vintage postcards, maps or photographs, they have it all.  Be sure and step outside to view the incredible mosaics above the Cass entrance.

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Time for a little coffee break. We did a post earlier in the year on Chez Zara located on Woodward near Campus Martius, since that time they have closed that location and opened a kiosk’s in the lobby of the Chase Tower.  I have always liked the looks of this building; designed by Albert Kahn and built in 1959 it is definitely a great example of Modern Design. Purchased by Dan Gilbert in April of 2011 the building has undergone some sprucing up.  We came in through the Woodward entrance, the contrast between the white of the walls and bright paint colors is really eye-catching, it works with all the natural sunlight streaming in the windows. The first floor is being transformed into a bit of a public space; casual seating areas are arranged around the perimeter, funky modern furniture invites you to sit and relax. A wonderful collection of automotive themed artwork from paintings to sculptures was on display. We went straight to Chez Zara to order our drinks, I stuck with their signature Nutella Latte; you just can’t go wrong with that choice, rich espresso with a hint of hazelnut and chocolate, creamy, warm and sweet goodness from first sip to last. Kris had straight espresso. We took our beverages over to a nearby seating area with a table and chairs overlooking the street scene. What a nice way to kick back and enjoy a little leisure time.  Chez Zara is open Monday thru Friday for your coffee drinking pleasure.

UPDATE: Chez Zara has closed permanently.