Tag Archives: Detroit River

Belle Isle: Statues and Monuments

11 Apr

Let’s go back to a warm, late September day in 2011 and enjoy a trip around Belle Isle.  I Wish that vineyard had come to fruition, I could use a glass right now…

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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’s owned by the city of Detroit. There’s 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’s 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 it. If you’re the adventurous type there are pathways and nature trails that lead 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, using the Casino building as a tasting room and sales area, we’ll see what happens…… 

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DETROIT: Downtown Living

9 Nov

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Location, location, location… Today we’re exploring the latest and greatest residential developments in Detroit on the Hour Detroit & Detroit Home’s Downtown Living Tour. The introduction in my tour booklet goes like this: “With more than 3,000 newly constructed and historically renovated units currently online and thousands more in development, downtown Detroit offers lifestyle options for everyone.” The residential boom in the city is mind-boggling; buildings shuttered for decades have become vibrant living spaces, new structures have sprung up from vacant lots, all in a short time span. Curiosity has lured us to today’s tour, let’s have a look.

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Advance Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. is the check-in spot; established in 1920 they are the oldest plumbing distributor in the city. The 5,000 sq. ft. showroom is stuffed with lighting and plumbing fixtures; it’s dazzling. The building itself was constructed in 1918, the facade has been restored, windows re-installed, inside some of the original terazzo floors remain. Merchandise displays are visually stunning; from sinks, faucets and tubs to lighting, vanity’s and mirrors, they have every style and color you can imagine. You can see and experience products through functional showers, tubs, toilets. faucets, steam units and lighting, how cool is that? Swag bag in hand, I grab Kris and I each a water and a cookie as we head out the door.

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The Assembly on W Fort St.  is an attractive, four-story, Neo Classical industrial building  we have admired for years. Made of reinforced concrete and dark reddish-brown brick, the 160,000 sq. ft. warehouse building was constructed in 1913 for the Edson, Moore Dry Goods company after they outgrew their former space. I think it’s interesting to note the development company hired by Edson Moore to construct the building was owned by John and Horace Dodge who in turn hired Smith, Hinchman and Grylls to design it and contracted Bryant and Detwiler Company to construct it. Edson and Moore continued to grow and evolve, they moved out in 1958. The building was sold twice more then Bedrock Real Estate purchased it in 2016 and turned it into what we see here today; a beautiful, active, useful building. We wander through attractive communal spaces offering cozy seating areas, ride the elevator and wander down long hallways making our way to several loft apartments; it’s a nice blend of historic architecture with modern comfort and style. Apartments have high ceilings, warehouse-style windows, quartz kitchen counter tops and hardwood floors. The best part is the outdoor terrace offered in some units. If you’re not lucky (or wealthy) enough to have your own private terrace, don’t worry, the top floor Residents Lounge has one large enough to share. Several seating areas, flower boxes, gas grills, fire pits, a spectacular view of the city and the West Riverfront can all be yours for a monthly rent check.

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I’m extremely excited to see the next venue. Over in Capitol Park the Art Deco Stott building soars 38-stories high into the Detroit skyline. The iconic skyscraper opened in June of 1929. The first 3 stories are faced with marble, granite and limestone, from there the slender structure is constructed of a warm-toned reddish-orange brick accented with terracotta; I love the way it tiers to the summit; architectural sculpture was done by Corrado Parducci. The Stott Realty Company built it in honor of its founder David E Stott. Due to the depression it was the last skyscraper built in Detroit until the mid 1950’s. You may remember the building as housing the Sky Bar back around 2011-12. It was then sold at auction in 2013 for 9 million. Unfortunately the owners didn’t bother heating it through winter; pipes burst, water flooded the building destroying everything in its path. Luckily Bedrock purchased it in 2015, pumped out 1.8 million gallons of water and completely restored the Stott to its former glory; it’s now a mixed-use tower. The lobby is stunning; ornate tiles, woodwork and lighting were saved and restored, plaster walls were repaired or replaced. Look at that gorgeous ceiling, the gloss of the marble, the brass surrounding the reception window, the letter box…

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We are directed to the elevators, back when the building was new these were some of the speediest elevators in the United States! Apartments range from 418 sq. ft. studios to 3-bedroom, penthouse-level suites with about 2,600 sq. ft. Guess which one they’re showing today. You’re right, we’re in a penthouse. Except for built-ins and appliances the space is empty, I mean why bother with furniture when you have a panoramic view of the city? Let’s all gaze out the window…

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This time we’re at the corner of Bagley and Clifford in what was formerly known as the historic Rockwell-Standard building (1965), previously the Detroit City Gas Company HQ (1918), now going by the name Philip Houze. The lobby is what I would call Modern-Industrial; funky light fixtures, bright colors and a fabulous wall treatment behind the reception desk. The building is pet-friendly and offers studio, one and two-bedroom apartments all with open floor plans. A sign at the desk tells us which units are being shown. Apartments have high open ceilings, hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances and are simply furnished.

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We’re off to Brush Park to see 104 Edmund Place to check out 9 condominiums in what was Lucien Moore’s Victorian mansion circa 1855. The exterior is lovely; orange brick, gold and burgundy painted accents and an elegant wood entryway. Each unit has a unique floor plan, 12-foot ceilings, exposed brick, double-pane windows and open kitchens. We walk through all of the units in the main house, the largest takes up the entire third floor. Styles and colors vary from one to the next, I like the condos with the great architectural angles, it reminds me that I’m in an old house. There are 3 additional units out back in the carriage house. From here it’s an easy walk to the QLINE, Little Caesars Arena, restaurants and coffee shops. It’s nice to see the old mansions in Brush Park brought back to life.

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The final building we’ll visit is Jeffersonian Houze at 9000 E Jefferson. If you travel Jefferson through Detroit you’ll recognize the Mid-Century Rivertown building immediately. Built in 1965 in the International style, 30 stories high and constructed of glass and steel, every unit has a private balcony with views of the city skyline and the turquoise Detroit River. Having recently undergone a multi-million dollar renovation I’m curious to see what they’ve done. The lobby is still very Mid-century; large open spaces, rectangular marble columns, modern light fixtures, terazzo floor, surrounded by glass walls. The building is constructed on a slope, the Jefferson Ave entrance is 17 feet higher than the back entrance along the river. There are 410 one, two and three-bedroom units, we are seeing two of them today. Whether from the floor-to-ceiling windows or the balcony, here’s no denying the view is spectacular. From here we can gaze out into the river, Harbortown Marina and the Olympic-size swimming pool. These are both renovated units, we were hoping to get a peek at one of the classic Mid-Century units, none-the-less these are lovely. From here residents can bike or walk along the River Walk. play tennis or just hang out in the 6 acres of waterfront landscaping.

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How about a cocktail? Sounds good to me. The Monarch Club is the penthouse level of The Metropolitan Building and includes a rooftop bar. Got your attention with that didn’t I? The Neo-Gothic Metropolitan, also known back in the day as the Jewelers Building was built in 1925, designed by Weston and Ellington. It is so beautiful. From the Great Hall on ground level to the luxurious deep blue, red and gold of the bar to the elegance of the Tower Keep, it’s a spectacular place to have a cocktail. Outdoors the sweeping views of downtown Detroit are breathtaking. It’s hard to decide where to sit; if it’s a little chilly cozy up to a fire pit, love architecture, sit near the parapet, I guarantee you there’s not a bad seat to be had. I can’t think of a better way to end a day of exploring some of the best architecture in the city, can you?

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Wandering Through Wyandotte

18 Aug

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We’re in the historic waterfront community of Wyandotte, about 11 miles downriver from Detroit. We begin our visit with a scenic stroll along the water; the sun is blazing overhead causing cicadas to break into song, seagulls glide above, boats zoom past as we gaze across the river at Canada. It’s quite beautiful here, in Michigan we’re spoiled by the abundance of blue water surrounding our state. Out on the fishing pier we stare at Grassy Island, a Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, further out is Fighting Island, a Canadian Island that looks equally uninhabited. Freighters pass on their way to or from Lake Erie. 

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Over on Biddle Ave we arrive at the Ford-MacNichol Home Museum. Built in 1896 the home is a wonderful example of Queen Anne Architecture, it also serves as history museum for the city of Wyandotte. The 2 1/2 story house features a lovely wrap-around porch, Tuscan columns and a corner turret. First let me tell you a story. In the late 1880’s while drilling for natural gas, huge salt deposits were discovered under the city. Over in Pittsburgh John B Ford, founder of Pittsburgh Plate Glass, got word of this, you see, salt is critical in the creation of soda ash, which is used to make glass. JB Ford established the Michigan Alkali Co. to manufacture soda ash for his factory. His son, Edward Ford, founded Ford Plate Glass Co. in Toledo, which eventually became Libbey Owens Ford. This house was built for Edward’s daughter Laura and her husband George P MacNichol. Let’s go inside.

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As you can imagine, money was no object, the interior is stunning. Occupying 6,600 sq. ft. are 32 rooms, 6 fireplaces, 65 windows and 53 doors. They had indoor plumbing, a coal furnace, and both gas and electric lights; furnished with period pieces, the home is quite elegant. The large living room is decorated in olive-green, the carpet was reproduced from an old piece of the original, curved glass fills the windows in the turret area. Throughout the house walls are covered in boldly patterned wallpaper, the textured style in the foyer is still original, framed portraits and hair art hang on the walls. Each fireplace has a different color tile, the antique Delft Blue tiles are gorgeous, each one unique.

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The huge mirror in the dining room was rescued from a house being demolished down the block, volunteers carried it down the sidewalk, right into this house, the Limoges china is incredible. The music room is home to antique instruments, another splendid fireplace and an early phonograph. Past the butler’s pantry is the kitchen, used only by the domestic help the room is quite plain. An old toaster and waffle iron rest on burners, large pots, an iron and washboard remind us how much work simple tasks used to be. Vintage bottles and tins from the Michigan Alkali Co. rest on shelves.

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The basement contains exhibits and items that tell the early history of Wyandotte; from the 1700’s when the Native American tribe known as the Wyandot roamed the land to the beginning of industry and manufacturing. Placards tell us stories, show us photographs, items are displayed under glass. Eureka Iron Works was the first company in America to use the Bessemer process which created steel rails. Michigan Alakli Co manufactured chemicals and salt based cleaning products such as baking soda and lye. In the 1930’s it merged with J B Ford, becoming the Wyandotte chemical company, which operates today as BASF and remains in the city. Over 300 steamers, tugs and ferries were built between 1870 and 1930, the hulls were made here, tugged to Detroit, then outfitted in the shipyards.

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On the second floor we peek into the grand master bedroom complete with fireplace. The tower room contains the Attic Gallery, filled with items representing Wyandotte history, sports, recreation and prominent businesses, I don’t know what to look at first. The room itself is cozy, lots of wood, team photographs, architectural elements, paintings, memorabilia. My favorite is the Wyandotte Plays exhibit; toys from All Metal Products company, better known as Wyandotte Toys, fill a case with trucks, cars, planes, animals–all painted red, yellow and blue. The company operated here from 1921-1957, it seems plastic became the favored material from that point on. The Melhouse Ice Cream pieces are pretty sweet too, the actual building has been restored and is now an architectural firm in town. Wyandotte has a pretty amazing past! We take the main stairway down past stained glass windows and stop for one last look around, the Victorian grandeur has been well-preserved, as has the history of this city.

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Time for lunch. Just down the street is Dangerously Delicious Pie’s Wyandotte location. The Detroit location inside Third Street Saloon closed August 1, we can get our Pie fix here until the new Detroit shop opens in the fall. The walls of the modest space are bright red, seating is available at the counter or tables scattered about the room. The same delicious varieties are available with a few seasonal choices thrown in. We order at the counter, take our seat and in about 10 minutes our food is delivered. I’m trying out the Crab & Cheddar, that unmistakable flaky crust holds a filling of crab meat and cheddar cheese in a quiche-like base, yum! Kris barely says a word as he digs into the Hot Rod Potato, tender potatoes, peppers and a spicy sauce make this one of our favorites. Large slices are served with a generous heap of salad greens with house dressing, the price for all of this is still just 7 bucks.

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We saunter up and down Biddle Ave wandering in and out of boutiques, galleries and shops. Both Sanders and Stroh’s are tempting, it’s Whiskeys on the Water that draws us in. This bar/restaurant has only been open since March but has already developed a loyal following. The original 1924 stone bank building is now an industrial-modern space decorated in brick, metal and reclaimed wood; huge windows bring sunlight into the large space. We sit at the bar and order cocktails, an Old Fashioned for Kris and the house version of a Moscow Mule for me. The after-work crowd begins to drift in, we sip our tasty cocktails as the Olympics are broadcast on flat-screen televisions.  Relaxed and refreshed, it’s time to go home. Good things are happening in Wyandotte, come see for yourself! 



BIKING DETROIT: Riverwalk & Dequindre Cut

19 Oct

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If you’ve never seen Detroit on two wheels, you don’t know what you’re missing! Kris and I each have vintage bicycles from the late 60’s, early 70’s; banana seats, high-rise handle bars, and shifters, his even has a tall sissy bar. One of our favorite things to do is hop on the old bikes and take a ride through the city, today we were joined by a friend. The Detroit RiverFront Conservancy is responsible for this wonderful thing we call Riverwalk; with a vision of providing riverfront access from the Belle Isle Bridge to the Ambassador, it has become one of the city’s greatest assets.  I like to start things at the beginning, in this case that would be Mt Elliot Park; the forecast promised sunshine and mild temperatures, for a change it was right on. The Riverwalk itself is constructed of a series of concrete slabs and multi-color brick pavers, decorative railings furnish a place to lean against while looking out across the river to Canada or a place to rest your fishing pole. We pedaled along, cruising past the UAW GM complex, Roberts Hotel with its outdoor patio, and the old Park Davis building; sparkling blue water on one side and beautiful historic buildings on the other. We make the jog to Atwater  then hop into Milliken State Park and Harbor with its 52 slip marina and 63 foot replica light tower; it is completely unexpected and wonderful to find a state park inside a big city. A surprising number of boats are still in the water, large Weeping Willows sway in today’s gentle breeze, fishermen sit patiently soaking up the sun, waiting for the big catch of the day.  We head back to Atwater St then to the Dequindre Cut, an urban greenway that links the riverfront to Eastern Market.

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The Dequindre Cut was formerly a Grand Trunk railroad line; the 20 ft wide path is below street level, allowing you to get from one part of the city to the other without the hassle of crossing busy streets. Popular with both pedestrians and bicycle riders each are given separate lanes. Tall light poles display banners inviting us to “Play at Dequindre Cut”, many embrace the invitation. Today there are lots of people enjoying the path; joggers, casual walkers, serious bikers and photographers. Graffiti covers the concrete walls; once paint starts to fade and peel, it is scraped off and becomes the blank canvas for a new artist, the current array of murals is fantastic! We ride to the end, asking much of our thighs to push us up the ramp at Gratiot. We cross Gratiot and enter the hustle and bustle world that is Eastern Market on a Saturday afternoon.

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All three of us were thirsty, luckily Germack Coffee Shop serves up some of the best coffee around. The boys stayed outside with the bikes while I went in to get our beverages; as usual the shop was busy, but the line moved quickly. I returned with two iced coffees sweetened with Germack’s own homemade vanilla syrup and an iced Chili Mexican for me.  Armed with a little caffeine and a little sugar we were off again. We rode north on Russell and took a left on Mack Ave to Woodward. We turned at Willis making our way to Avalon to get some lunch. Along with amazing breads and pastries Avalon International Breads also makes a variety of sandwiches and salads ready-to-go from a refrigerated case. We were starving! All that fresh air and exercise built up an appetite. Kris stayed outside, saving us a table while Ben and I went indoors for food; we grabbed a variety of sandwiches and a salad and headed back outside for our meal. The sandwiches were interesting combinations of flavors served on a variety of their best organic breads, the salad was excellent; the dressing a homemade puree of strawberries and who knows what else, that was just delicious! We sat and rested in the late afternoon sun as we talked of our adventures in the city so far. 

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Riding at a gentle pace, we went north on Second over to Wayne State University; the campus is actually quite scenic and makes for a nice ride. Then it was south on Woodward, pedaling onward we took in the sights and sounds of the city; the detail of buildings much more apparent from this level and at this speed, two different wedding parties posed for photos in front of the fabulous Fox Theatre, at Hart Plaza we stopped and took photos of the bicycles. The vintage bikes are a natural conversation starter, folks come right up to us and share their stories of their own childhood bikes, all told with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye; I get a kick out of the ones who call out the bikes by name. Back on the riverwalk we ride over to the west end near Joe Louis Arena, taking time to pause at Cobo Arena and check out the renovations, can’t wait to see it when it’s done. Turning around at the end of the walkway it was back east for us. We stopped in front of Ren Cen and watched the kids run in and out of the fountain, the sight is always accompanied by the sound of  joyful screams and laughter at a pitch that can only come from a child.

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The view is spectacular; it’s hard to look away and concentrate on where I am going, the water looks as though thousands of diamonds have been sprinkled atop, the clouds in the sky have taken on interesting formations. Further down, the lure of the patio at Roberts Riverwalk Hotel proved too much to resist. We parked the bikes and grabbed a table with a picture perfect view of Windsor; Kris went inside to the bar and grabbed cocktails. The patio was full of wedding guests mingling before dinner was served, what a gorgeous venue for a reception. Evening was approaching quickly; time to get back on those banana seats.

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DETROIT: Shiver On The River

8 Feb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grosse Ile

9 Nov

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Residing in the south end of the Detroit River with Michigan to the west and Ontario Canada to the east is Grosse Ile. Purchased in 1776 by William and Alexander Macomb from the Potawatomi Indians it seems the island is relatively unknown to the general masses, I’m guessing the current population of just over 10,000 people prefer it that way. Grosse lle is one of those places we love to take a drive to from time to time; from West Jefferson Ave pay your $2.00 and cross over the toll bridge that has welcomed folks to the island since 1913. As soon as you are on the island you will notice life takes on a slower pace here; made up mostly of residential and open spaces Macomb Street is the only district zoned for business and where residents go to shop, gather, eat and visit the Post Office.

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                                                                                                               Sunday was another gorgeous Autumn day, perfect for a drive to and around the island. Coming across the bridge we noticed dozens of swans taking in the sunshine. Off the toll bridge we made a right turn and followed scenic West River Drive along the shoreline. It’s hard to decide what direction to look; on one side is the beautiful blue water and what remains of the last bit of fall foliage, on the other side are lovely homes, some of which have been enjoying this panorama since the 1800’s. We made a left on Groh to head to the other side of the island but were distracted by a sign that read “Alpaca’s”. Located at the NE end of the Grosse Ile Municipal Airport is the Gibraltar Bay Alpaca Farm. I’m never one to turn down an opportunity to visit with animals, so Kris pulled into the parking lot and we went to check it out. The extremely friendly owner greeted us at the gate and asked if we’d like to see the Alpaca’s, we said yes, he led the way. He took over from the original owner 12 years ago and has a visible fondness for these animals. Some are his, some are boarded there; each one has a name and it’s own distinct personality. We started with the boys, boys and girls are kept apart and each have a large area in which to graze and roam. As we got closer to the gate a few curious Alpacas came over to see what we were all about; these animals are striking, large eyes surrounded by long lashes give them a gentle appearance, they are mild mannered and these boys in particular seemed to enjoy the attention from us humans. Next it was over to the girls section. The girls were a little more nonchalant, they would look over at us, some would walk towards us, and then go back to what they were doing. They are sheared on the farm by the owner, he gives each one a little different look that fits their character; it’s easy to pick out the glamour girls! There were a few youngsters running around, they are a bit more apprehensive, and just adorable. What a cool experience just to be there among these docile creatures. Don’t leave without visiting the gift shop, there is some wonderful Alpaca merchandise for sale. The farm is open daily from 10am to 5pm and is definitely worth seeing.


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We continued east on Groh to East River and made a left, this is where many of the elite built homes for Summer or year-round living. One of my favorites is the Victorian Wedding Cake House, located on East River between Parkway and Macomb, you can’t miss it… it’s stunning! The architectural styles vary from the very old to the very modern, somehow each looking like that’s exactly where they belong. Whatever your taste, I’m sure you’ll find something that appeals to you. If you look closely you can catch a view of the Detroit skyline in the distance. The people who built and lived here combine to create an amazing history of the island.

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Next stop the Grosse Ile Historical Museum; housed in the former Michigan Central Grosse Isle Depot building this tiny museum retains it’s historical charm inside and out. Since 1969 pertinent items reflecting life on the island have been stored and displayed here, it’s kind of like visiting your grandparents or great aunt. Take a little time to really look around, volunteers are happy to answer your questions and even make suggestions as to what to see while on the island. I always enjoy a little local museum, it makes me feel as if I know a place a little better for having stopped in.

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The day was flying by and we were past due for lunch, the business district was mostly closed down on a Sunday so we drove back over to West River to eat at Sharky’s Tavern. Located south of the free bridge, it’s across the road from the river and the closest thing to riverfront dining you’ll get. The casual restaurant seems to be a meeting place for locals to hang out, have a few beers and catch up. The menu has a nice selection of salads, sandwiches, and their famous Walleye Chowder. It was too nice a day to order soup, it somehow puts me in the mind of cold weather. We actually thought it was nice enough to eat out on the patio, but being November it was closed for the season. We ordered typical lunch fare; a club sandwich and the Traverse City salad. There’s something so appealing about a club sandwich, and this one was good, just the right amount of everything, and perfectly cooked crisp bacon. Our waitress couldn’t have been nicer and the service was great. Before returning home, we took one more lap around, soaking up the picture-perfect views. Grosse Ile, an island getaway just a half hour south of The D!

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

28 Jul


 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!



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.



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!



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!


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.



Detroit APBA Gold Cup Race, Wasabi, 1515 Broadway

15 Jul

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Sometimes I take things about Detroit for granted, we hadn’t attended a Gold Cup Hydroplane race in years. When I hear people say numbers like 3,000 horsepower or 200 miles per hour, they just don’t mean that much to me. As we approached the river and I caught a glimpse of 200 MPH, the monsterous roostertails, the sound of the turbine engines screaming by, all I can say is WOW ! Being up close and personal with that much power and speed is a whole different thing! We were seated near a hydroplane aficionado, after hearing stories of the history and tradition of the Gold Cup race I have gained a new respect for the event .

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The century old APBA Gold Cup is the oldest active trophy in motorsports, the 2011 races took place on the Detroit River July 8-10. The minute we arrived to the race a group of boats went speeding by, they were so close it appeared like they were in the yard we were in! We had set up our chairs in the perfect location, providing a combination of shade and a great view, the river breeze and mist from the boats providing a welcome relief from the summer heat. Between heats there was an air show, first to perform was a bi-plane doing an aerobatic show, the stalls always make me nervous. When the bi-plane was finished, out of nowhere there was a sound that resembled some sort of explosion, before we could comprehend what was happening a Navy FA-18 flew overhead producing the loudest sounds I had ever heard. The US Navy West Coast Super Hornet Team was demonstrating the maneuvers of the aircraft. It was absolutely amazing, the sound so loud your entire body felt it.  There are several different kinds of boats that race; some louder than others, some have outboard engines, but the big piston engined offshores  are the loudest by far. I think the hydroplanes gather the most attention, they throw up an astonishing rooster tail, when you get several of them taking a curve it’s just a blast of water up into the air, very cool! I would highly recommend checking it out if you ever get the opportunity to come to Detroit to see the races.

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We were lucky enough to receive the invitation through Preservation Wayne, the event was held at a historic home on the same street as the Manoogian Mansion, and is a beautiful example of Georgian architecture, the front is as lovely as the back. The yard is 300′ long ending at the Detroit River and has lush gardens and towering trees to provide needed shade on a scorching summer day. We took a walk through the lively Berry  neighborhood, many other families were hosting parties as well. The homes here are upscale, lavish, and regal. Each is different and possess it’s own elegance and charm.

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The races were coming to a close and we were out of snacks, time to go eat. Wasabi is a Korean/Japanese restaurant in the Park Shelton on Woodward in Detroit. The menu is large and provides a good variety of choices, we like the Sushi. We sat in the modern interior of the restaurant, but you can also sit in the section that is actually in the Park Shelton lobby itself. They have tables set up as if you were outdoors on a patio, some even have umbrellas. From here you can admire the the interior of the building itself; marble floors, ornate ceilings, beautifully carved moldings. When our food arrived we couldn’t wait to dig in, the Sushi was delicious, the perfect meal on such a hot day. We tried the Gyoza this time and loved it. Overall we had a really nice meal, in a wonderful setting.

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Time for a coffee and something sweet. It can be tough sometimes to find places open in the late afternoon of a Sunday, especially in the summer. We can usually count on 1515 Broadway, and were happy to see not only that they were open, but that there was an available table outside.  Besides serving espresso, coffee, desserts, sandwiches and salads, 1515 Broadway is also a small (seats 115) blackbox theater. They usually bring in shows with small touring groups that are locally written, we saw a show there years ago and it was fun. The interior is quaint, you can sit in the front window on stools overlooking Broadway and out at the Detroit Opera House, or they also have a small seating area adjacent to the counter.  With our iced coffees and Bumpy Cake in hand we chose to sit in the great outdoors, the owner returned to the intense game of chess he was playing out there at the time. People who live in the neighborhood were out for a stroll enjoying the day, everyone seems to know each other around here and we are always greeted with a smile.

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