Tag Archives: Detroit

Hamtramck: How Sweet !

25 Mar

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Have you heard there’s a new French pastry shop in Hamtramck ? What about the new reclaimed woodworking store or vegan restaurant ? Let’s go check ’em out. le detroit macaron resides on Evaline in a narrow brick building formerly occupied by bon bon bon. The black and white striped awning is new, the sandwich board on the sidewalk signals us the shop is open. I step inside to the pastel-colored world of macarons. The shop is adorable; turquoise paint, black and white tiled floor, tin ceiling and a glass chandelier. The main attraction is the display case filled with the authentic French pastry known as the macaron; made in the traditional method, these little bundles of meringue have a firm outer shell and soft insides–they are extraordinary. The shop makes 10 signature flavors and a couple of seasonal options. I order a cup of coffee as Kris and I mull over our choices, this is not an easy task! We choose chocolate malt, fruity pebbles and Bailey’s, they are absolutely delicious, the texture is perfect, chewy but not gooey; the chocolate malt is my favorite.

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Woodward Throwbacks inhabits the old Garrity Dodge building (circa 1939) on Joseph Campau. Detroit residents Bo Shepherd and Kyle Dubay  learned that abandoned buildings are full of usable materials and relics. Through their salvage efforts they have filled this building with reclaimed wood, materials and vintage finds that have been repurposed into attractive, useful items. In the showroom I find really cool pieces like the tool box end table, a coffee table made from a slice of tree trunk, vintage mid-century chairs, wood bottle openers, signs and Michigan-shaped magnets. Wire bins and metal drawers hold hinges, knobs, hairpin legs, hooks and hardware to build your own piece. A fun mural covers one wall; artwork pays homage to Detroit, Hamtramck, Dodge and Garrity, a 1954 green Dodge truck is parked by the large front windows, reminding us of the buildings days as a Dodge dealership. 

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Through an open doorway we find a bounty of reclaimed wood, antiques and great finds. Canning jars, tin signs, table bases and doors compete with tin ceiling tiles, tin molding, manufacturing molds, coolers and church pews for our attention. Reclaimed lumber leans against the far wall, tree trunks have been cut into lengthwise slices, I like the live edge. The scoreboard and locker room benches came from Mae C Jemission Academy in Detroit.

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Around the corner are more remnants of the old dealership, the 5-star Chrysler Dealer sign was probably from the Deeby Dodge years. Curiosity leads Kris to a ramp leading to the second floor, what a cool feature, walking the ramp you really get a feel of the age of the structure. This level is home to the workshop part of the business, an old Powermatic planer shares floor space with a ban saw, work tables, and handmade goods-in-progress. The original paint booth is still being used in some capacity. The whole place is a fun, tasteful, thoughtful mix of old and new. There’s something different each time we come.

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Out on the sidewalk, I hear something, I stop to listen and realize it’s chocolate and it’s calling my name… bon bon bon relocated their shop from Evaline to a much larger space on Joseph Campau at Caniff; their manufactory. The signature orange and pink bon bon bon covers the front door and back wall.  Inside the ‘babes’ are hard at work making chocolates using classic French technique. Behind the glass wall a chocolate fountain flows, blending 7 different chocolates to create bon’s secret recipe.  I watch as chocolates are being made and packed. When you’re here you have to get the ‘Hot Mess’; a chocolate shell filled with warm liquid chocolate, we always get dark chocolate. This one has to go right in your mouth, the whole thing at once, let it sit there, close your eyes, revel in the warm chocolatey goodness, yum. You can’t get just one so Kris chooses the End of the Rainbow, Harp lager caramel, 4-leaf clover ganache in a dark shell. I pick the Irish Car Bon, stout chocolate cake and Bailey’s ganache in a dark shell, it’s so good!

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Over on Yemans the folks who operate the Nosh Pit Detroit food truck have opened a restaurant, after all of our treats a nice, healthy meal is in order. The low brick building sits across the street from Polish Village, glass block front windows give no clue to the cozy interior that awaits diners. One large room holds several community tables, the one on the left is huge. The floor is made of wide wood planks, a star-shaped light and a couple of wrought iron fixtures light up the space, funky art decorates the walls. The dining room immediately feels welcoming, like I’m attending a big family dinner. We’re the first ones in the door when they open so we have our choice of seats, we’re instantly greeted, given menus and water. The Nosh Pit food truck has been roaming the streets of Detroit and the Metro area for almost two years, serving tasty vegetarian and vegan food to hungry patrons. We’re happy they’ve opened a brick and mortar space. We start with the Amanda, a layered salad of lentils, hummus, collards, pickled carrots, roasted red peppers and roasted beets, it looks pretty and tastes delicious! Next up is the Mac Un’Cheese, their house made vegan mac and cheese, the macaroni is cooked perfectly, the dish has a nice taste even though I was expecting something creamier. The Kaz is a house made veggie patty topped with Granny Smith apple slices vegan cheeze and  garlic aioli on a bun; very nice. The patty itself has a nice texture, not too mushy, and nice flavors. It comes with a side salad that was great too. From the moment we sat down Kris has been eyeing the desserts; cookies, cupcakes and brownies sit on pretty serving plates tempting customers. After much debate we decide to split the vegan brownie with sweet potato caramel; super moist and sweet, a nice ending to a nutritious, pleasurable meal.

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Highland: Pony Up…

15 Mar

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You may be surprised by the rural feel and amount of open space that still exists in Oakland County. Townships such as Highland, Milford and White Lake are home to sprawling horse farms and pastures, horse trails and training facilities. We’ll be spending the next few hours driving down natural beauty roads as we visit 6 locations on the Highland Equestrian Conservancy (HEC) Barn Tour. The mission of HEC is to conserve and protect the natural resources while preserving the rural character of and equestrian heritage in and around Highland MI. We purchase our tickets at the Huron Valley Council For The Arts, we are given a map and a tour booklet, the barns are further apart then we expected, it’s about 56 miles from first to last. We better get started.

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Our directions lead us into a Milford subdivision, we must have taken a wrong turn, we continue on the street, wait a minute there it is, Berwyck Saddle Club. That’s pretty cool, they built the sub around the saddle club. Riders have access to Berwyck Bridle Trails, Kensington Metro Park and Proud Lake State Recreation Area. The property has in indoor and an outdoor arena, a clubhouse and 43 stalls. As we approach the barn I stop to pet a couple of miniature horses, they’re so cute. Inside the stable we walk the long corridor, friendly horses peek out of their stall looking for some attention, each of them has their name posted where I can read it and call them by name. A black horse is being groomed, he looks as though he’d rather be outside. We wander over to the indoor arena, nothing going on right now.

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Next up is the Miracle Ranch and Rach Riding Academy; all styles of riding are taught here: Western, Trail, English, jumping, vaulting and Western Dressage, a demonstration is about to begin. Visitors gather in the arena, a girl dressed in a black and red costume appears on a black and white horse. Music plays as the horse circles the arena, she stands up on the horses back and does tricks, how does she stay up there? The audience applauds. Next up is a group of 4, the horses are wearing gold, the girls are in casual dress. This time the horses are doing the choreography. Music from the movie Frozen plays as horses trot, gallop and move to the rhythm of the music, moves are coordinated like synchronized swimming, it’s fascinating to watch. When the routine is finished the horses exit the arena and so do we. Outdoors a rider is practicing  jumps, she looks like she’s having fun. We walk through the stable, it’s empty right now, we head out the back to find the animals eating lunch and enjoying the afternoon sun.

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We drive through pretty countryside on our way to Karner Blue Stables in Highland Twp. We find an old hay barn, indoor and outdoor arenas, pastures and forested land, it’s picturesque. A horse farm and training facility, there are horses all over the property. I’m excited to have a chance to get up close to these magnificent animals, they are extremely friendly, lowering their heads so I can pet them. Once you pet one the others come over to see what the human has brought; the absence of carrots, apples or sugar cubes send some of them back to eating grass while others are happy for the one on one  attention. There’s an observation and tack room, a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies is offered to guests. This facility offers lessons, training and boarding.

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We travel from Highland to White Lake to Fenton visiting Tristan Manor, where 50 years ago the first symposium for the United States Dressage Federation was held bringing trainers from Europe to Michigan. Check out the rusty, old Ford tractor, I love the wheat on the emblem. In the distance I can see Sugden Lake; what beautiful countryside.

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Equinox Farm, a certified in Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue works with first responders and veterinarians to safely rescue livestock from mud, ice, trailer accidents and barn fires. Lots of ponies here, they all seem content on this lovely day. The landscape is serene; the rolling hills of Highland in the distance.

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Carole Grant’s facility on Pleasant Hill Dr. Situated on 40 rolling acres she has 19 stalls, a feed room, tack room, wash stalls, grooming areas, hot walker, large indoor ring, 2 outdoor rings, all with state-of-the-art footing. It’s quite a place! The wood on the barn and stable has acquired that perfect gray, weathered look; bright red cannas and marigolds flank the sliding doors. Inside, the wood reminds me of knotty pine, it has a quaint feeling, it’s amazingly tidy for a stable. A white horse has big black patches on its coat, chest and neck, the main is braided; she even poses for the camera. Standing on the concrete walk on the side of the stable we have a panoramic view of the land, it’s so peaceful. In 2006 Highland Township was recognized as Michigan’s 1st Horse-Friendly community.

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We cross the border into Livingston County to the tiny hamlet of Parshallville. The name sounds straight out of Disney or Dr. Seuss doesn’t it? It was actually named after founder Isaac Parshall. It’s been a busy day and we could use a little pick-me-up, cider and donuts will do the trick. Historic Parshallville Cider Mill on North Ore Creek started life as a flour mill known as Success Flour oh, about 145 years ago. After that it was Tom Walker’s Grist Mill grinding grain for animal feed; today it is a charming cider mill. This is one of the few remaining water-powered mills in Michigan. Heirloom apples, local honey, apple pies, cider, spiced donuts, caramel apples and cider slush are available for purchase. We take our slush and warm donuts outside and sit near the creek. We eat to the sound of falling water, every once in a while a breeze rustles the leaves, donut-scent fills the air. This is perfect.

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DETROIT: New Center Vintage

1 Mar

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A few times a year A Detroit Flea takes over the Jam Handy building on East Grand Boulevard; we’re excited to check it out. The building itself has lived several interesting lives, if my digging is correct here’s what I found. It was built in 1919  as the Maranatha Baptist Tabernacle, then in the late 1920’s the building was home to the Bellows-Claude Neon Co. factory. Bellows refers to Mr. L. F. R. Bellows, a licensed manufacturer of Claude neon tube electric signs and Claude refers to George Claude of France, the man who invented Neon lights. It was here that the neon signs were manufactured for Olympia Arena, the GM Building, the Penobscot Air Beacon and the Ambassador Bridge. An article in the February 1929 Detroit Free Press describes the sign like this, “Two main towers emblazoned on the sky in fiery letters 6 feet high, nearly 400′ above the river will be the words Ambassador Bridge.” Wow! Not long after, Henry Jamison Handy (Jam Handy), a 1904 Olympic bronze medalist swimmer, turned the building into a film studio making industrial, educational and commercial films. He made over 7,000 films for the armed services during WWII, he was hired by GM to make short training films, he did 1965’s “Detroit: City On The Move”, a promotional film for the City of Detroit. Jam was contracted as the Chicago-Detroit branch of Bray productions, he produced animated films–that’s cartoons to you and me.

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On this gloomy Saturday the white terracotta building sits non-nonchalantly on the boulevard, its blue marquees blank. It has been turned into an event space; weddings, parties and today a Flea Market. The wooden entry doors are unlocked, the lobby greets us with long tables of homemade food; snacks, hot food and baked goods, yum. At this community flea market vendors bring their own tables and decorate their space as they wish; all it costs is the donation of a baked good. There’s a buzz in the air; music plays in the background as we traverse the space, they have everything here. Vintage clothing fills multiple racks, the old guitars are cool, metal tins, typewriters and sewing machines rest on tables. Shoes, cowboy boots and old-fashioned suitcases are neatly stacked on the floor. Some people have a knack for arranging items into attractive displays. Beautiful old linens mingle with kitchen items, jewelry and perfume bottles join purses and matchbooks on a gold tablecloth.

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The building is pretty interesting too; we walk on old wooden floors, decaying sound-deadener clings to brick walls, there’s a lot going on in the ceiling–check out the skylights. I look through boxes of books, smile at board games I played as a kid, admire antique glass pieces and try to think of a reason to buy them. Flea markets are exciting, there’s such an array of items you never know what you’ll find. Need an old VCR, ceramic ash tray, money bag or a funky 70’s tunic? I know just the place…

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On to the Fisher Building, since the new owners of  have taken over the building has come alive; renovations, new shops, a bakery and people wandering about in awe. You have got to see this boutique, The Peacock Room, 3,000 sq. ft. of pure elegance. Check it out. Walls are cool shades of blue and cream with plenty of gold trim, the ornamental detailing in the plaster is stunning. Opulent crystal chandeliers hang from the barrel-shaped ceiling. Look at that wreath pattern on the upper section of the walls, beautiful pastels all hand-painted by Theresa DeRoo of Paintwork Detroit; it’s a magnificent space.

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Crossing the threshold is like being transported to a Parisian boutique. The formal dresses are as lovely as the space they inhabit; bridal wear, gowns, shawls and jackets for that very special occasion. Clothing hangs on racks that seem to disappear into the walls, built-in display cases exhibit new and vintage items. Mannequins wear flirty vintage-style dresses, tables, racks and glass cases offer glamorous jewelry; handbags range in size from petite hand-held to over the shoulder bags. The shop has an assortment of fun socks, greeting cards, candles and gift items. The merchandise is well curated, everything looks hand-selected, displays are extremely attractive; Rachel Lutz (owner) has really outdone herself. If there was absolutely nothing in the space I’d still come here just to admire the surroundings! It’s hard to believe all of this was covered up for years when this was a bank. 

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Shopping always makes me hungry, let’s eat. Down the hall and to the right from The Peacock Room is the newly-opened City Bakery. This is their first location outside of New York City and Japan; it seems they have a thing for old buildings. The white-painted space is drenched in sunlight, be sure to notice the beautifully embellished plasterwork. We walk to the counter to see what’s on the menu today, there isn’t really a menu (yet), large bowls are filled with colorful salads and pastas, muffins, cookies and scones fill serving platters. This is how it works, everything is the same price, pick out the items you want, then choose the size of bowl you desire. Small bowls are $5 and hold one item, medium bowls are $7, large are $10, you can mix as much or as little of anything you want in the larger bowls. We’re having a small roasted brussel sprouts with bacon and dates, and a medium rice noodle salad with carrots and peanuts with a scoop of the butternut squash salad, it’s all delicious! Everything is made from scratch in the kitchen below the bakery space. You can’t come to City Bakery and not get the hot chocolate…have you ever had Spanish hot chocolate? This stuff is the best; rich, thick, deeply chocolate, like drinking warm chocolate pudding, it’s heavenly.

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Our last stop in New Center is blvd beat; a fun, quirky, vinyl record, vintage shop on Woodward. Hours are kind of hit-or-miss, we’ve lucked out today. This is one of those fun places where you can buy anything from a vintage apron to a rare vinyl pressing of some obscure band. I love the white ball lights that dangle from the ceiling, hhmm, I wonder what hides beneath those ceiling tiles; the floor is still terrazzo.

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Record albums have the largest footprint in the store, I don’t know anything about the collectability but the cover-art is super-cool. Items are grouped into eye-catching displays, pieces from different decades hang out side by side. They have an eclectic variety of clothing, home goods and knick knaks; hey, my mom used to have one of those chairs that open up for storage. Hats, handkerchiefs, throw pillows with Mod patterns, so much to explore. Vintage photographs, a stereo, loads of VHS movies. Pop, Mod, Mid Century, Art Deco, funky; everything is priced reasonably. Nothing we have to buy today but we’ll be back, shops like this are like traveling through time.

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Detroit: Alive & Noel…

13 Dec

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Tonight we’re just wandering around Detroit; we’ll dip our toe into Noel Night, visit the downtown Holiday Markets and finish up with dinner and drinks in Southwest. All of the featured places are new to Detroit’s growing list of places to eat, drink and shop. Let’s begin with Noel Night, being seasoned veterans of this event we tend to steer clear of  the crowds at larger venues such as the DIA, Library, Science Center and the like. Instead we head over to Third Street, the Detroit Design Center has a sculpture park next to the building, one-of-a-kind pieces decorate the open space, flood lights illuminate the art casting funky shadows on the wall. Tonight the building is open to the public, artists are busy putting on the finishing touches. Huge carbon steel sculptures reach toward the ceiling,  metal statement pieces are grounded to the floor, I’m crazy about the swing. Pieces are made of glass, metal and wood, you can purchase art for a wall, a tabletop or desk; the metal skyline organizer would look great on my counter.

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In 1949 the Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third Street, it was an entertainment hot spot featuring live Jazz. As the area declined so did the clientele; the building was closed down and padlocked in 1978. Today the building wears a fresh coat of paint, the Art Moderne exterior shines, a sign painted on the Willis side of the building announces the re-opening of this memorable venue. The Detroit Optimist Society and a group of L.A. investors plan a January 2018 re-opening, the 75-seat bar will serve 1960’s inspired cocktails and bar snacks, the stage will host live Jazz, Blues and Soul artists cabaret style. I can hardly wait!

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Does anybody remember the Hammer and Nail building on Woodward? This 12-story Mid-Century building was built in 1965, the hammer and nail was originally intended as a tribute to a local carpenter’s union. The building, now called The Plaza, recently underwent a complete restoration and is now home to 72 apartments. As part of the Noel Night festivities the building is open for tours, let’s take a look. A lovely Christmas tree adorns the lobby, through a glass doorway the neon hammer and nail have found a new resting spot on an interior wall, we are told this space will be a public bar in the future, it’s fun to see this landmark lit up again. A tour guide loads 5 of us into an elevator stopping on the 10th floor, we are seeing a 1-bedroom corner unit. From the dimly lit entrance we follow a short hall past the laundry room into the living space, one left turn and we’re looking out a wall of windows at the Detroit skyline. Everybody stops in their tracks, our host has not turned on any lights, giving us a clear look at the spectacular view, each of us gravitates toward the windows; Ford Field glows in Christmas colors to the left, Little Caesars Arena to the right, the Ambassador Bridge further in the distance–wow! We see pedestrians crowding the sidewalk on Woodward, the towers of the Renaissance Center are red, I can see Motor City Casino too. 

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Next we drive over to Capitol Park for the holiday markets; from now until January 7 a series of pop-up businesses will fill the park. At first I don’t even know where I am, I mean, I know the surrounding buildings, but the outdoor space has been completely transformed. Local shops fill terrarium-like little glass booths; you can purchase art, a toboggan, a wreath or even a fresh-cut Christmas tree. The air smells of evergreens and food, deck chairs surround a log table, people are making s’mores at the fire pit, visitors are packed into Eatori’s booth drinking cocktails by the Christmas tree. White lights are strung everywhere, zig-zagging above public spaces. We walk down State Street to Woodward and find trees tightly wrapped in miniature lights, fresh landscaping includes garlands and branches spray painted in red and white, it’s a winter wonderland.

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Campus Maritus is buzzing with activity, ice skaters fill the rink, the Christmas tree is the prettiest one yet, the line to rent skates is long, with hot chocolates in hand, nobody seems to mind. We cross over to Cadillac Square, picnic tables, deck chairs and fire pits fill the space between to long rows of glass booths. Food trucks, Detroit City Nut Company, fudge and popcorn are available to hungry spectators. The Cadillac Bier Garten is a good place to rest and take in the city, and have a beer of course. At the far end a large tent has been transformed into a Lodge; couches, comfy chairs, blankets and rugs welcome chilly pedestrians. Chandeliers are made of branches, strings of white lights make the tent festive. People are waiting in line to get in, we take a peek inside then continue walking. 

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The Woodward Esplande is gorgeous; the concrete pathway leads us though grapevine arches, surrounding landscape is lit with spotlights and miniature lights, people are taking advantage of the many photo ops along the way. The pathway opens up, here LED lights are strung above us, colors rotate from one shade to the next, it’s stunning, I feel like I’m in a Hallmark Christmas movie. The One Woodward building is decked out for the holidays; a tall, slender tree, elegant in white stands on one side of the lobby while a trio of gold and white ornaments anchors the other side. Standing at this level we overlook the Spirit of Detroit Plaza, clear igloos offer passersby food and drink, while large blocks make up an ice-cube maze; we need to get a closer look. This is amazing! In one igloo we find ping-pong and air hockey tables, another sells goodies from Good Cakes and Bakes, how about a cup of coffee from New Order? Unfortunately we’re here after most of the shops have closed for the evening. Families giggle as they make their way through the ice-cube maze, again everything lights up and changes colors, I swear the Spirit of Detroit is smiling…

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How does pizza sound? PizzaPlex opened a few short months ago on W Vernor in Southwest Detroit. It’s more than just another pizza joint, there’s a strong sense of community here from the employees to the events that take place in the adjoining space. The pizza oven came straight from Napoli, a pizza cooks in just 90 seconds, that’s good news for us, we’re starving. I order at the counter, #17, the Nikolette is a combo of fresh mozzarella, porcini mushrooms, roasted poblanos, parmigiano, basil and olive oil. I add a house salad and a pour-over coffee. In addition to tasty food, offerings also include coffee drinks and a limited selection bar. Sitting in a booth we are awash in blue LED light, basil grows on shelves mounted to the wall, a movie plays on the screen in the community room. Our food is brought to the table; the pizza is delicious, the crust the perfect amount of crisp and chewy, a nice balance of toppings, we eat the whole thing…

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Just down the street the Detroit Optimist Society has opened a Tiki-themed bar called Mutiny. Inside, the casual space has all the thing we’ve come to expect from a tiki bar; Hawiian-shirt wearing bar tenders, bamboo, the ceiling a mass of colored lights, netting, high-back wicker chairs, large paper umbrellas, thatch, framed vintage menus from high-profile bars back in the day, you get the picture. Tiki mugs and interesting serving glasses line the back bar, check out the photo of the waterfall. The tropical cocktail menu lists all your favorites, with a twist. We order drinks at the bar and watch as the bartender measures shots, shakes concoctions, pours them into specific mugs, he even sets some on fire. Kris’s drink comes in a stemmed coconut glass, mine in a fish mug advertising Plymouth Gin. The drinks are good, the atmosphere laid back; a nice ending to an incredible night.

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DETROIT: New Center

10 Oct

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The city of Detroit was booming in the 1920’s; throngs of pedestrians crowded downtown sidewalks, elaborate movie palaces surrounded Grand Circus Park, skyscrapers began to fill the city skyline. Large plots of land were hard to come by, available lots were expensive. About 3 miles north of downtown Henry Ford was building a new hospital, railroads traversed Milwaukee Junction, the Piquette plant attracted large numbers of workers to the area. From 1900 to 1930 the city’s population swelled from 265,000 to over 1.5 million! In 1922 General Motors headquarters opened on Grand Boulevard, the Fisher brothers followed suit, the Fisher Building opened in 1928. Automobile wealth created what they hoped would become the new downtown or New Center. Professionals and executives built spacious, lovely homes, large apartment buildings housed the influx of workers in the automotive and manufacturing trades. Life was good.

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By the 1960’s the area had become run-down. Instead of moving out of Detroit, GM spent millions of dollars on a project called New Center Commons; they renovated existing homes, added new commercial development, added landscaping and then they did something really daring, they re-routed traffic around the historic neighborhood to the north of New Center, transforming Pallister Street into a scenic park. The hope was to stabilize the neighborhood and encourage executives to move back into the area. It didn’t happen. It did stabilize the neighborhood and in the long run it protected the historic houses. Let’s take a walk.

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Pallister Street is a narrow, brick, tree-lined, picturesque, pedestrian-only road surrounded by elegant, beautifully restored homes lovingly tended to by their owners. Old-fashioned street lamps add to the feeling of going back in time. No two houses are the same; Neo-Georgian, Arts and Crafts, Neo-Tudor and bungalows are rooted side by side. Ornate chimneys, leaded glass, columns, cedar shingles and decorative brick patterns adorn the homes. Bright accent colors surround windows and doors, shrubs are neatly trimmed, flower pots are bursting with color. Porches are big, ferns hang from hooks, wide overhangs protect residents from bad weather. I stand at the end of the block overlooking the street while Kris takes pictures; it’s so pretty, so unique, a treasure tucked away from the traffic of the city.

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We walk and we walk some more, up and down adjacent streets past more historic homes and apartment buildings, the architecture of the time was really quite magnificent; tile roofs, glazed brick, tile ornamentation. Squirrels are busy gathering up nuts, leaves rustle under our feet. Now a commercial and residential Historic District the work continues as more houses, apartments and buildings are being restored. General Motors moved to the Renaissance Center in 1996, their old building is now called Cadillac Place, it houses the State of Michigan Detroit offices. The QLine transports people from downtown to nearby Grand Boulevard.

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As usual I’m hungry. Avalon just opened a new cafe and biscuit bar on Grand Blvd in the 1920 Boulevard West Building. Enter through the main entrance, make a quick left and you’re there. The cafe is bright, large windows allow the sun to illuminate the space, yellow and black pop against the otherwise white room; the decor is distinctly Mid-Century. I really like the open section of the ceiling with the floating white tiles, the giant whisk light fixtures are pretty cool too. Enclosed in glass cases are the usual Avalon offerings; bread, cookies, baked goods. Here we also have light offerings such as fritattas, soba noodle salad, and the reason we’re here, BISCUITS! I stare at the chalkboard menu, mouth watering as I read. Kris and I each select a biscuit to split. While we wait I’m drawn to a piece of art made from the seat of wooden chairs arranged in a shingle-like pattern. The painted scene depicts the streetscape of the original Avalon on W Willis, the way the pieces are layered almost gives it a 3-D effect. The Food: Delicious. I mean, here we have a perfect, delicate, buttery biscuit, split and layered with creamy ricotta cheese and a mixed berry jam, the outer edge of the biscuit has that slight crispness, what’s not to like? The other biscuit is the ALT; avocado, lettuce, tomato and herb mayo, sinfully good. It was hard not to get the biscuit with vegetarian sawmill gravy… next time. The cafe also has a full coffee bar and serves all day breakfast and lunch. 

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Over on Brush Street we are visiting America’s first sustainable urban ‘agrihood’. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI) has transformed a long-vacant apartment complex and about 3 acres of land into a farm in Detroit’s North End. Founded in 2011, MUFI is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization looking for solutions to urban problems such as vacant land, poor diets, nutritional illiteracy and food insecurity. General Motors, BASF, PPG, Borg Warner, Weber Shandwick, Herman Miller, Stanley Black & Decker and others are working together to turn the former apartment building (circa 1919) on the property into a community center for residents and visitors while also being a showplace of innovation and energy efficiency. The goal is to uplift and empower urban neighborhoods.

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From the moment we see it, it’s clear this is a farm. We start at the mural-covered structure; flowers, veggies, a bee, a skyscraper, all painted in pretty colors represent Detroit. A billboard of sorts credits organizations responsible for making the project happen. A strip of Zinnias add a splash of color between the sidewalk and the curb. There’s a hoop house in the distance, we follow a wooden walkway toward the orchards; a split rail fence surrounds 200 young fruit trees. A sign tells us Scott’s Miracle Gro gro1000 Initiative is a contributor. I see Bees in The D has a honeybee hive here too. Raised beds are overflowing with marigolds, an antique red tractor is parked off to the side, rows and rows of vegetables are laid out in the distance.

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More than 300 vegetable varieties are grown here, which yields about 20,000 lbs of produce annually. MUFI volunteers harvest the vegetables, the fresh produce is available on Saturdays from 10-4. The food is FREE to the more than 2,000 households, food pantries and churches within 2 sq. miles of the farm. I watch an oscillating sprinkler give thirsty plants a drink, mounds of yellow and orange marigolds grow at the end of rows. Leaf lettuce appears in deep greens and red, cabbages are green and purple varieties; I’ve never seen so many eggplant plants. Kale and Swiss Chard grow in a rainbow of colors, peppers cling to tall plants. Tomatoes are plentiful, they have their own section, plants are tall and lush, branches are heavy with unripe fruit, sizes range from the tiny grape tomato to beefsteak. A plant I’ve never seen before has piqued my curiosity, what is it that grows on these large-leafed, burgundy-stemmed, stunning white flower plants? I ask a volunteer, okra is his response. It’s absolutely gorgeous, I may have to plant some next year. As Detroit moves forward re-making itself I’m happy to see it’s honoring its past; renovating buildings, revitalizing neighborhoods, instilling a sense of community. Hazen Pingree would be proud to see all of the community gardens and farms. 

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DETROIT: Home Sweet Home…

15 Sep

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In 2013 the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy. Abandoned buildings, broken streetlights and vacant lots were all too familiar sights to residents and visitors. What would happen next? What would Detroit look like in the future? Here we are 4 years later, let’s take a look. Tucked into a neighborhood near Grand River and 16th Street is a community of Quonset huts called True North. The development features 9 live/work units surrounded by neatly edged lawns, young trees, outdoor gathering spaces and concrete sidewalks that connect building to building. Each unit was designed with a different trade in mind; rent the space, run your business out of it by day, live there full-time.

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We park on the street then get out to have a look around. I have to tell you, I really like the way it looks, it’s refreshing to see something different, unique–kind of futuristic… Quonset huts in varying heights and widths, fluted glass, a cinder block back wall, all clustered together to form a neighborhood. Patio chairs and potted plants reside near front doors.  Mild temperatures have enticed residents to fully open their doors, we pause long enough to take a peek at each of the interiors; we pass a yoga class in session, I hear the instructor reminding students to breathe. We’re here just before an event is to start, we talk with event planners that live in one of the units, they give us permission to look around. The interiors feel pretty cozy, in winter they are kept warm by radiant in-floor heat, air conditioning units protrude from the upper levels. There are 7 full-time residences, 1 gallery space for short-term rental, one studio space and one airbnb. Units vary from 500-1600 sq. ft. True North was the winner of the 2017 Progressive Architecture Award given by Architecture Magazine. This first development is sort of a test to see how it goes, I hope it’s successful and grows.

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The Architectural Salvage Warehouse is a stone’s throw away. It’s always fun to stop in and see what they have. The gates to the yard are wide open, windows and door frames lean against the brick building. Inside shoppers mill about, I find myself standing in one place, scanning the space from ceiling to floor. Light fixtures are old, new, modern and traditional, prices are fair. Toilets in an array of colors and shapes take up a large section of floor space. From architectural pieces to decor they have a ton of stuff. Knick Knacks? Yes, they have them, today there’s a nice collection of owls. Register covers are fancy, glass lamp shades and sconces rest in boxes and on shelves. Bricks, wrought iron pieces, glass block and tin ceiling; everything is rescued from buildings before they’re demolished. Doors and more doors, wood trim, molding, planks, flooring, wainscoting, railings, banisters and spindles, if you’re restoring a house or just want something vintage, this is the place to come.

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Let’s move on to another new construction project. Cass Community Social Services has just built a neighborhood of “tiny homes” on Detroit’s northwest side. The non-profit bought 25 vacant lots from the city for $15,000, professional tradespeople built the houses, volunteer teams completed the finishing jobs such as drywalling, tiling, painting and gardening. Residents are a combination of senior citizens, college students, formerly homeless people; all of them are working, have a steady income, but qualify as low-income. Get this: Residents pay $1 per sq.ft. per month, so a 250 sq. ft. house is $250 a month, after 7 years they own their own home–it’s theirs! They can stay there, or if they wish, they can sell the home, so now if they sell it and get say $40,000 dollars, they will qualify for a loan and have money to put down on a bigger place. This is the only model of its kind in the country, they call it “Rent Then Own” instead of the usual rent-to-own. It’s life-changing. Brilliant isn’t it?

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We park on Monterey Street between the Lodge Service Drive and Woodrow Wilson, the first thing I notice is each house has its own architectural style, no 2 are the same. One has a blue metal roof, another is sided in wood shingles and has a flat roof. Annuals spill from flower pots, rose bushes are covered in blooms, lawns are freshly mowed. Each home comes with a dishwasher, washer, dryer, stove and refrigerator, some have lofts. The yellow house has fish-scale siding on the second story–charming. The crisp, white trim on the burgundy house is very attractive. The blue house has a sharply slanted roof, reminding me of mid-century design. The miniature Tudor was the first house built in the neighborhood, it’s fairy-tale like with the stone chimney and dark wood trim. Each renter must take financial literacy classes, they also have access to mental health, education and nutrition programs. They are learning how to succeed. The neighborhood consists of 7 houses with another 18 on the way. 10 slightly larger versions for families are in the future. What a wonderful way to rebuild a city.

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Time to eat! The Common Pub resides on the ground level of the beautiful Belcrest Apartments. Built in 1926 as a luxury hotel, the t-shaped, brick and terracotta building is gorgeous. The original wrought iron entry remains, the interior has been modernized and turned into apartments. It’s a lovely afternoon, was ask to be seated on the patio. Our table is (kind of) pool-side, a few residents lay in lounge chairs soaking up the sun. The menu has a lot of interesting items, we choose a few to share. While waiting for our food we duck inside an take a look around. Original plaster and opulent moldings remain in some areas. Lunch has arrived; one of today’s specials is the jalapeno corn dog, deep-fried to a golden brown the cornbread coating is crisp on the outside, moist inside and has a little kick. The Beet and Goat Cheese slider is tasty with its basil pesto and arugula. Both of these are served with duck-fat fries–delicious. The Mac and Cheese is a generous portion, the noodles are cooked perfectly, the sauce is a combo of white cheddar, manchego and smoked Gouda, we really like it.

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It’s been another pleasurable day in the city. Old and new are succeeding side by side, the future is looking bright.

DETROIT: Mid Century

14 Aug

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Detroit’s Historic Palmer Woods is a 188 acre subdivision best known for its lavish homes, winding streets and early residents named Fisher, Van Dusen, Burton, Prentis, Sanders and Briggs. Landscape architect Ossian Cole Simonds is responsible for the rural feel of the neighborhood; mature trees, no curbs, spacious, irregular-shaped lots, no two are the same. From the mid-teens to the late 1920’s this is where the rich built elegant (mostly) Tudor-style homes on streets called Wellesley, Suffolk, Gloucester, Balmoral and Strathcona, very England-like. After the war styles began to change; half timbers, steeply-pitched roofs, mullioned windows and high chimneys were replaced with concrete, pane glass, steel, brass and geometric patterns. Wealthy professionals were still lured to the beauty and seclusion of Palmer Woods, the houses they built distinctly reflect this new Mid-Century Modern design.

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It’s a beautiful July afternoon, we’re in Palmer Woods for the 2017 Home and Garden Tour; this year 5 Mid-Century homes and 8 gardens are open to the ticket-buying public. We pick up our tour map at the check-in station, after a quick look at the addresses we park in a central location and begin. Kris and I love mid-century design; clean lines, glass walls, open floor plans and organic curves. Homes such as this tend to be more horizontal, it’s gorgeous; deep,open spaces, the fireplace is long and low, white interior walls, columns add interest; unique sliding doors separate rooms. Glass walls bring the outdoors in, the pool and garden seem integrated into the house.

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Approaching the next house I point out the Modbox mailbox, it hints at what we will find inside… The interior is mid-century fantastic! It’s a time warp. Room decor and furnishings recreate the era perfectly, the recessed ceiling backlit in rose is outstanding. Blonde wood, slate floors, fabulous lighting, bold wallpaper, original built-in stereo, wow. Then we descend to the basement. Tiki Paradise. Seriously. Where should I begin? How about the exotic lighting, plant groupings, bamboo, thatch, tikis. How about the wall of Tiki memorabilia? More tiki mugs than I’ve ever seen in one place, hula girls, birds, vintage menus from the Kahiki. There’s a bar with cool stools, an awesome table and chairs and of course, a tiki chess set, more fabulous wallpaper, very Polynesian. In the backyard the mid-century theme continues, even the birds live in stylish houses.

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The map leads us past great Modern architecture, down pathways alongside houses into lovely garden retreats. Down the block a newly installed metal sculpture sits on the front lawn of the “Butterfly House” designed by William Kessler in 1956, beautiful gardens surround it. Stone benches, tall grasses, Cardinal Flower, Elephant Ear Caladium and grass pathways give the yard a naturalized feel. One of my favorite features of mid-century architecture is the courtyard; ivy covers the ground in this one, a delicate red maple adds color and interest. A peek through the back glass wall reveals a modern interior with colorful art accents.

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Moving on,  this house is a bit unusual in appearance but there’s no mistaking it’s modern influence. The docent standing near the front door tells us a bit about the home, we learn it was built in the 1960’s by Florine Mark, you know, Weight Watchers, that Florine Mark. We step inside and are awed by what we see. I would guess not much has changed since Florine lived here. Slate floor, dark wood panels, field stone half-walls with built-in planters, decorative aluminum screens and the bar….. This is one of the coolest built in bars I’ve seen, kind of triangular in shape with overhead panels, a column with shelves to hold glasses, even a place to rest your feet. Check out the parquet floor, the modern design of the plaster ceiling, love the corner fireplace. The dining room with the grass weave cabinets, the big brass round surround of the door knobs,how about that Nutone intercom, the double ovens, built-in speakers. The living room and family room are outstanding too, the ceiling fixtures rock;  like I said everything still looks original. One of the docents told us there are scales built into the bathroom floors upstairs, I guess that explains her trim figure.

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As we walk down neighborhood streets  I begin to notice a lot more of the Mid-Century homes, many have distinct features like wrap-around corner windows, fluted glass, teak wood and architectural details.We visit several beautifully landscaped gardens; mounds of Hostas, neatly trimmed shrubs, hydrangeas in full bloom, cozy seating areas, ponds and even a waterfall. The spaces are tranquil, peaceful, urban retreats.

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The last home on the tour is a large brick multi-level house with a huge front lawn. The interior retains many of the original features like the built-ins, field stone fireplace, paneling, indirect lighting, I’m not sure what the knobs in the wall do… Behind a pair of what appears to be closet doors is an awesome bar. Clearly having your own bar was a ‘thing’, this one is pretty sweet, love the mirrors. We exit the back door into a huge yard complete with an inviting in-ground pool. More field stone makes up a back garden wall, I really like the concrete dolphin, I wonder if it’s old or new?

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Our last stop on the tour is the garden at the Dorothy Turkel House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Detroit. Completed in 1956, it’s a 2-story beauty in the Usonian style. We are lucky enough to have been inside the house before, this is our first look at the recently completed gardens. The owners of this home also own Blossoms florist in Birmingham and Detroit so I’m expecting something spectacular—I’m not disappointed. The grounds are lush, art, statues and accents are tucked into the landscape.

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Hydrangeas strain to stand upright, metal-framed spheres add interest to an already beautiful space. Hostas form massive mounds, a pea gravel path leads us to a pond with a low fountain. Turquoise glass forms look like they are growing from the earth, abundant foliage provides a colorful background. Near the house a deer statue is perched on a pedestal. On the patio we study the Lego version of the Turkel House, it seems the builder has captured every detail; it looks like quite a soiree. We roam through the gardens again noticing things we missed the first time; shiny silver balls threaded on metal stakes, the rusty man near the tree. The simplicity of the of the house,  just glass and concrete, make it so visually appealing, it becomes part of the landscape, the way man and nature come together is truly stunning.

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We’re having a late lunch at Alley Taco . After operating out of Marcus Market they have a new space on Willis to call home. Serving up California-style Mexican food from tacos and burritos to tortas and melts they have earned a loyal following. The inside of the restaurant is a combination of reclaimed wood, blacktop counters and wheat-pasted newspaper and poster walls. The menu hangs behind the register, we order then take a seat on the patio. Before we know it plates of Mexican delights are placed in front of us. I try the bowl-ritto first, tasty shredded chicken, beans, tomatoes, cheese and herbs on a bed of rice, it’s really good. We chose the bbq sweet potato, chorizo and crispy fish for our 3-taco combo, each distinctly delicious. There are 4 salsas to choose from including “hot 2 death”.  This casual and flavorful eatery is a great addition to Midtown.

DETROIT: Kahn Artist…

24 Mar

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We’re at Lawrence Technological University’s Detroit Center for Design + Technology in Midtown. The 30,000 sq. ft. building rose from a long-empty lot in 2014; it was one of the first new structures built as part of the redevelopment of the Woodward Corridor. This building is home to the Architecture and Design programs; classrooms and meeting space allow for co-working and collaboration between students, faculty, designers and professionals.   The star attraction today is Albert Kahn At The Crossroads: The “Lost” Belle Isle Aquarium and Horticultural Building Blueprints. I’m very excited, you see, these particular blueprints are made from the original 1901 architectural drawings used to build the structures; they are the only known surviving copies of the originals and have been kept in private hands. The blueprints lead the way for the Belle Isle Conservancy’s continuous  renovation  of the aquarium and conservatory.

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We talk about Albert Kahn a lot on DetroitDvotion, he was the ‘architect of Detroit’. He is the foremost American industrial architect of his day, he revolutionized the design of industrial buildings around the world. Together with his engineer brother Julius, they developed a new style of construction using re-inforced concrete instead of wood in factory walls, roofs and supports. Kahn helped to create industrial America; designing more than 1,000 buildings for Ford, several 100 for GM, he designed 500 factories in the Soviet Union not to mention the many commercial, institutional and residential structures here in Michigan. Here’s a smattering of his buildings: The Fisher, Edsel and Eleanor Ford House, Packard Plant, Temple Beth-El (now the Bonstelle) SS Kresge World HQ, Cranbrook House, Detroit Athletic Club, Willistead Manor, Russell Industrial Center and multiple structures on the University Of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. That’s just the tip of the iceberg…

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We step inside the gallery, white-legged tables are covered with black cloths, we have the place to ourselves, we head up the stairs to have a look around. Long work tables sit empty in conference rooms, drawings are tacked to walls, scale buildings are in the process of being assembled. We are surrounded by glass and windows, like we’re sitting in a nest above Woodward. From the landing we can look out over the gallery, let’s take a look at those blueprints. One by one we take the cloths off the tables revealing the original blueprints under glass. We study the North and South Elevation of the buildings, the entrance of the Beaux Arts style aquarium with its spectacular pillars and carvings. Opened in 1904 this is the oldest public aquarium in North America, it is also the oldest aquarium/conservatory combo in the world. How’s this for cool; the basement of the aquarium served as a speakeasy during prohibition!

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The conservatory was originally called the Horticultural Building, this is how it is referred to on the blueprints. The oldest continually running conservatory in the U S, it was modeled after great garden pavilions of the late 19th century, specifically the Crystal Palace and Palm House at Kew Gardens in London. Moving from print to print we take in architectural ornamentation long missing from the horticultural building. Sections of the cornice, palm house, vestibule and lantern of the Palm House are all familiar to us, I really like the one of the dome. One of the drawings reveals the walkway that once connected the two buildings, the conservancy hopes to restore it making it possible to go from building to building without ever stepping outside. Black and white photos show construction of the structures from 1902, I stare at the frame of the dome before the glass was installed, another shows the progress of aquarium rotunda, fascinating!

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Outside we get our first up-close look at the QLINE in action, streetcar #288 is out on a test-run. Rock City Eatery is just across Woodward; we haven’t been to the new space since they moved from Hamtramck, I’m anxious to give it a try. The interior features a Detroit Rock theme, the space is raw with exposed rafters, Rock and Roll Icons grace the walls, patio lights are strung across the ceiling. The menu retains its creative style of offerings. We start with today’s special: BBQ Potato Chips, homemade chips loaded with bbq pork, green onions and a sprinkling of feta cheese, so good…. The Middle Eastern Pizza is topped with Harissa, date, lamb sausage, onions, goat cheese, zakatar, caramelized fennel and parsley; great combo of flavors, delicious!

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Moving on, Kris is thinking ice cream, Treat Dreams is just a block away on Cass, let’s go. We find an open space right in front of Mills Pharmacy + Apothecary, I’d like to take a look inside. Mills has been a staple in Birmingham since 1946, the Stuber-Stone building is currently their additional location while they hunt for a permanent Detroit spot. This is one of those stores that smells really good; the shop is filled with skin care items, bath and spa products, fragrances for you and your home. They carry global brands such as Mad et Len, Panier des Sens, Leonor Greyl and Korres. Products are displayed on tables, shelves racks and cabinets, labels are pretty. Soap, candles, perfume and lotion, I sniff my way through the store.

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Now for the ice cream. Treat Dreams features unique flavors of homemade ice cream, baked goods and coffee. The interior is a cheerful combo of purple and white, chalkboards call out today selections. On the ice cream board they have Holi Canoli, Blueberry Paczki and Dirty Martini to name a few; there are also vegan flavors and sorbet to choose from. Kris and I are having an espresso shake made with Salted Caramel ice cream, the woman behind the counter promises we’ll like it. Sitting at a table that overlooks Cass we drink our shake, the only words coming from our lips are about how good it is. The cup is empty faster than either of us would like, we leave the shop feeling sweetly satisfied.

DETROIT: Glass Art

21 Feb

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The Scarab Club opened it’s doors on Farnsworth in 1928 joining the year-old DIA building in Detroit’s newly formed Cultural Center. The beautiful Arts and Crafts structure was designed by architect and member Lancelot Sukert. Home to an artists club, gallery and studios, artists and art lovers meet here regularly to socialize and talk art. Back in the early 20th century Detroit gave birth to a new art form: automotive design and with it the evolution of automobile advertising art. Many of the original founding members of the Scarab Club were automotive designers, illustrators, graphic artists, photographers, architects and automobile company owners. It’s only fitting that American Dreaming: Corvette, 7 Generations and Beyond is on exhibit in the main gallery.

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The documentary, American Dreaming, about the Detroit artists who designed cars from 1946-1973 is in the process of being completed; the film covers Ford, GM, Chrysler, Packard, Studebaker, Nash and Hudson, this exhibit focuses solely on the Chevrolet Corvette. Introduced in 1953 the Corvette became the iconic American sports car. Here we see original drawings and models created by General Motors designers, the fact that these drawings still exist and are on display for all of us to see is incredible. In the design studios talented men and women put pencil to paper sketching cars straight from their imaginations. Studios were closely guarded, manufacturers considered the drawings company property, artists were not allowed to keep their work, instead most was destroyed. Once the artists figured out what was happening they found a way to sneak their drawings out, it was risky, you could lose your job if caught. They took their chances.

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Just look at the photographs of the framed sketches; side pipes, flames shooting out from dual exhaust pipes, bold colors, sleek designs all expressing the American optimism of the time. Concept cars were futuristic, they could fly through space, drive on elevated super-highways, they were race cars for the ordinary guy. Cars were beautiful, elegant, glamorous, exotic. One of my favorites is the gold Corvette with the #1 by Allen Young, the 1956 by Brock looks like a cousin of the Batmobile; drivers wear helmets, their faces carry the look of speed. We see the Corvette from all angles, some drawings focus on tail lights or the grill, monotone or color they’re all incredibly cool! The plain white paper has yellowed over the years but the designs look as fresh as if they were done yesterday. These rare, vintage drawings still capture our attention. Concept art is finally getting its due and being recognized as fine art.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at Bucharest Grill on Piquette Ave. This wildly popular restaurant began as a take-out counter inside The Park Bar. After a parting of ways Bucharest has branched out with 3 Detroit locations. The food is all handmade from original recipes, they serve Romanian dishes, Middle Eastern cuisine and hot dogs. Everything is fresh, fair-priced and delicious! Shawarma is a must, throw in a couple of hot dogs and we’re set.

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We take a seat at the window overlooking Piquette while we wait for our food to be prepared, it doesn’t take long. The chicken shawarma is the best I’ve ever eaten; grilled marinated chicken breast, tomato, lettuce, pickles and to-die-for garlic sauce all wrapped in a pita. The Hamtramck is a kielbasa dog topped with braised red cabbage, bacon and spicy mustard tucked into a sesame seed bun, so good. The Detroiter is knockwurst drenched in coney sauce, grilled onions and cheddar cheese on a sesame seed bun, yum! This place is always packed but they get you in and out quickly. Amazing art and tasty food; not a bad way to spend the day.

DETROIT: St. Francis D’Assisi

5 Jan

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It’s 11 pm on Christmas Eve, we’re on Wesson Street in Southwest Detroit, soft light glows in the windows of St. Francis of Assisi Church, we join the other early arrivals climbing the stairs to celebrate midnight mass. Completed in 1905 the majestic Italian Renaissance building is a wonder of Malvern brick, Bedford trim, Corinthian columns, trumpeting angels and massive oak doors. In the vestibule volunteers are busy arranging trays of cookies, cupcakes and chrusciki; a large urn brews coffee. Friends and family members greet one another with heartfelt hugs and handshakes.  

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The interior is dimly lit, the organist plays Christmas carols, the choir sings in Polish and English. The church is big, I read it can seat 1,700 people. We walk around a little, seeing what we can before settling in a pew. Altar boys appear out of the darkness, candles are lit, it’s time… Suddenly the lights go out, there’s a stir at the back of the church, Fr Cruz leads a procession down the center aisle, everyone joins in to sing Silent Night. The procession makes its way to the manger left of the altar, as we sing the words “Christ the Savior is born” a bright light appears in the night sky above the manger, next the sky is filled with stars; excitement and anticipation fills the church, Fr Cruz holds up a doll representing the baby Jesus, the baby is placed in the crèche.

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Instantaneously lights start to come on, one after the other; the cross atop the altarpiece is first, next the altarpiece itself, then the chandeliers, the dome, the ceiling, the perimeter, more lights than I have ever seen in a church, more than I can count–it’s spectacular! So begins midnight mass in marvelously dramatic style. From our vantage point we can see everything, we listen as the priest speaks, all the while taking in stained glass windows, the exquisite vaulted ceiling supported by a row of arch columns and the spectacular altarpiece–it’s like a church in a church. Angels are everywhere; four of them are holding up the roof. Directly above us hangs one of dozens of opulent chandeliers; angels surround the perimeter, brass acanthus leaves hold marbled stained glass in place, there are more than 25 bulbs in each, they’re truly works of art.

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We take in our surroundings, the most unique feature has to be the recessed lights in the ceiling, they form a cross in the nave and transept, they surround the ceiling medallions and frame the cupola. Mass has ended, parents carry sleeping children out to their cars. Now we are free to roam; tonight the church is adorned with decorations, white lights wrap Christmas trees and wreaths, red bows are tied to branches, pots of Poinsettia are staggered on the altar steps. Turning around we see the organ loft, pipes of varying heights remind me of a city skyline. Side altars are lavishly carved and painted in ivory and gold. Cross-shaped candle stands are placed throughout, handsome dark wood confessionals hug the wall; there’s one beautiful thing after another.

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St. Francis D’Assisi is one of only 3 churches consecrated in the archdiocese of Detroit. The parish has seen many changes throughout the last 111 years. What began as a Polish church now serves many families of Hispanic heritage as well as the children and grandchildren of Polish Americans. Being here is truly an experience. I couldn’t have asked for a more special Christmas Eve.

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