Tag Archives: Detroit

DETROIT: Cruisin’ Gratiot….

25 May

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In a yet to be revitalized area of the city, the Assumption Of The Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church has been standing on this very spot since 1847, today it is better known as Assumption Grotto Catholic Church, the building you see today was put up in 1929. The limestone Neo-Gothic structure faces Gratiot Ave, three elongated, arched windows top three ornate wooden doors, wrought iron lanterns hang from winged brackets. Inside the church only a handful of lights are on, there’s still about 30 minutes until Mass.

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Overhead lights illuminate the altar, the marble altarpiece is spectacular. The simple stone interior is adorned with brightly colored stained glass windows, archways line the nave. I look to the back of the church where the organ loft is located, my eyes are drawn to the gorgeous wood-beamed ceiling, funny I didn’t notice that right away. More lights are turned on, candles are being lit, more worshipers arrive. Now painted patterns on ceiling beams are obvious, I can see details in the Italian marble altars, gates and communion rails. The organist has started, Mass is about to begin. 

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Behind the church is a cemetery, scattered through the park-like setting statues stand atop tombstones, crosses vary in size and design, the names Schoenherr, Rivard and Trombley can be found here. Some tombstones are in German, French and English, others resemble rocks with inset designs. A Pelican stands atop the headstone of Father Amandus Vandendriessche, the first pastor of Assumption Grotto (1852). The oldest stones we see are from the 1840’s and 50’s.

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We follow the paved walkway through the cemetery, past the stations of the cross that line each side, to the grotto. It’s a pretty big deal. In 1876 Father V visited the Sanctuary Of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, he was so inspired he decided to build his own holy grotto right here in Detroit; he laid the cornerstone in 1881, it’s been here ever since. In 1882 Pope Leo XII signed a proclamation “granting partial and plenary indulgences” for anyone who visited the grotto and prayed for propagation of the faith, which brought thousands of pilgrims to worship at the shrine. Those sick in mind, body and soul have prayed for the aid of the blessed virgin.

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The grotto is constructed of limestone, boulders around the shrine were carried by farmers from all over Michigan, the fountain in front of the shrine has not been turned on yet. Brick pavers fill the space between the fountain and grotto, a single wooden kneeler faces the open archway. A statue of the Virgin Mary sets high on the rooftop, inside there’s a small altar, inscriptions cover inside walls and ceiling. It is because of the notoriety of the shrine the Church Of The Assumption began to be known as Assumption Grotto. 

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Heading south on Gratiot we turn into the parking lot of  the Better Made factory and outlet store, the original sign still stands since 1934. Unfortunately the public can no longer tour the factory, but, you can buy all of the delicious snack foods Better Made makes! We walk in the front door and find ourselves standing in a small customer waiting area, framed articles about the company hang on the walls, antique potato chip tins rest on shelves, memorabilia items fill a display case. You can buy T-shirts, hats, drinking glasses and key chains all with the Better Made logo. Plexiglas separates the public area from the factory, workers wait on customers one at a time placing cases of potato chips, popcorn, pretzels and other snacks in a passageway, money is slid under a bank-teller-like window. We leave with a stash of potato sticks, cheese balls and dill pickle chips.

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A little further down Gratiot is On The Rise Bakery and Cafe. Sponsored by the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. Bakers have recently been released from prison or have completed a substance abuse treatment program. After bakery trainees complete their allotted time they move on to seek employment elsewhere and a new participant assumes their position. Each purchase supports housing, training, counseling services, educational opportunities and self-help programs AND their bread and baked goods are wonderful! The counter is piled high with individually wrapped brownies, muffins, caramel pecan rolls and pineapple upside-down cake, cookies the size of frisbees fill a display case. We place our order, before we know it our lunch is brought out on a tray. Mildly spiced chili is made with ground beef and beans, we like ours with oyster crackers. Our turkey sandwich is served on multi-grain bread with lettuce tomato and Dijon mustard. Coming here always makes me feel good, I get to eat delicious food and at the same time I am contributing to a worthwhile cause.

 

 

 

DETROIT: Woodward…Under Construction

5 Sep

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Detroit’s Main Street, The All American Road, a Pure Michigan Byway, the first mile of concrete roadway in the country, M-1, all of these descriptions refer to our very own Woodward Ave. If you’ve been downtown the last several months you’ve experienced first hand the major changes taking place along the thoroughfare. First we have track construction for the M-1 Rail Streetcar line; the 3.3 mile circulating streetcar route will travel along Woodward Ave from the Central Business District (Congress), through Midtown, New Center and up to the North End neighborhoods (W Grand Blvd). There will be 20 serving stations serving 12 locations when completed. I can hardly wait. The second thing you’ll notice on Woodward is the ongoing rehab/restoration/reconstruction of historic buildings lining the avenue. 

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Today we’re taking a walk to see what’s new, what’s happening, in the rapidly changing-for-the-better district. We park the Jeep using one of those new fancy parking meters (ugh!), here’s a tip: memorize your license plate number….We start our walk just north of The Spirit of Detroit Statue, looks like the Vinton building is in line for renovation, the number of structures under construction on this block alone is mind-blowing. Scaffolding, paving equipment and orange traffic cones dictate where we can go. Office workers on break watch the progress as they relax in funky seating areas surrounding the Chase Tower–(now known as the Qube); there are so many people milling about.

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Several buildings on the west side of the street near Gratiot are in the process of being renovated; a peek through the telephoto lens of our camera reveals existing staircases with decorative wrought iron. Orange-striped barrels, chain link fence and men in hard hats make up the streetscape. We stand on the sidewalk trying to take in all the changes, luckily many buildings retain their original architectural splendor. On the next block we are amazed at the progress that has been made; just a few short weeks ago the corner building was faceless and minus windows, today it is nearly finished, stainless steel trim frames the windows and facade. A map of the new M-1 Rail line is displayed in an empty storefront.

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The Wright-Kay Building has always been one of our favorites; designed in the Queen Anne style by Gordon W Lloyd, it was completed in 1891 as the Schwankovsky Temple of Music. When the music store closed the Wright-Kay jewelry firm took over the building from 1920-1978. Six stories tall, constructed of brick and brownstone, I have always been fascinated by the corner turret reaching from the second to the fifth floor; at one time there was a ballroom on the second floor.Today the street level is home to John Varvatos, a high-end men’s clothing store–everybody should check this place out!

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The first thing you’ll notice is the huge chandelier, well, it’s actually many chandeliers wired together, creating a very dramatic effect. Everything revolves around the color black, it works fabulously; the space has a masculine, industrial, elegance, there’s so much eye candy we don’t even know where to look. Vintage accents are everywhere; display cases, tables, frames and light fixtures. Photographs of Rock-n-Roll stars hang on dark walls, they are available for purchase. Of course there’s the clothing, I don’t want to undersell that; t-shirts, jeans (made in USA), jackets, scarves and shoes are all attractively displayed, I could pick out at least a dozen items for Kris. Music is a big part of the store; a drum set, guitars and amps stacked two-high rest on a riser. We take the fancy stairway to the second floor, immediately we are greeted by guitars waiting to be played by customers. Further back a seating area surrounded by new and vintage guitars, amps, receivers, turntables, speakers and headphones welcomes us, Kris is mesmerized; I page through coffee table books about music and fashion. 

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 We pop into the David Whitney building, now the 126 room Aloft Hotel and 105 premium residences. Built in 1915 this 19-story building epitomizes America’s Golden Age. A 2-year, $92 million historical renovation has brought the original grandeur back to the building. The main attraction is the 4-story, gold-leafed atrium; lit by skylight, adorned with a fanciful clock, marble and terracotta, it truly is stunning. We exit the building and cross over to Grand Circus Park, the Russell Alger Memorial Fountain is lovely, umbrella’d tables with chairs are available on surrounding concrete. Across Woodward the Thomas Edison Memorial Fountain looks inviting; water spills over into a large basin, the sound is relaxing. Crossing back to the Whitney building our attention is diverted by a giant pink layer cake blocking Washington Ave; a crew is in the process of filming a commercial for Ford Motor Co celebrating the 10th birthday of the Fusion. We watch and we watch some more waiting for the big moment when the Fusion blasts through the cake, alas our hunger gets the best of us–guess we’ll have to wait to see it on TV.

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Central Kitchen + Bar located in the Michigan National Building has only been open a few weeks, we’re giving it a try. The lobby of the building is done in that mix of modern decor and original architectural elements that Dan Gilbert’s buildings have become known for, the lighting is super-cool, we’re fond of the whole effect. The restaurant continues with the same theme of new and old, concrete columns are left as-is, the unrepaired embossed ceiling is painted white, there’s a great black and white photo of old Detroit on one wall. We sit at a table just inside the roll-up door panels, casual seating areas reach out onto the sidewalk along with additional dining space. The lunch crowd is gone, the vibe is chill.

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Lunch arrives without delay, both of us grab a slice of the flatbread; thin crust smothered in fig jam, covered with crispy-roasted brussel sprouts, sprinkled with goat cheese crumbles and drizzled with a balsamic reduction, it’s delicious! The Chickpea burger is a thick vegetarian patty topped with tomato, feta, arugula, capped with Greek yogurt and served on a grain bun, tasty. While eating we look out over Cadillac Square, individuals peer inside the restaurant as they pass, there’s more foot traffic than vehicle traffic; something that hasn’t occurred in a very long time. Before exiting the building we drop into Roasting Plant for a post-lunch coffee. Smack dab in the center of the narrow space is the Javabot, this is where the beans are roasted, stored and blown through a series of custom-designed pneumatic tubes to be sold by the pound or the cup; you can help but be fascinated watching the process.

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Going back toward the car we dodge more barricades, stop for an up-close look at rail construction and admire the new mural on the former Compuware building before heading into Detroit Water Ice Factory .The brainchild of Free Press columnist Mitch Albom, the icy dessert shop recently opened to great fanfare, get this: every penny of profit goes back to fellow Detroiter’s through Goodwill and S.A.Y. Detroit. The menu board hangs behind the counter, eager young servers offer us samples, we comply. Flavors have catchy Detroit-ish names like Woodward Watermelon, (not Chet) Lemon, Honolulu Blue raspberry, you get the idea. I decide on the orange with a swirl of soft-serve vanilla ice cream through the middle; a delicious, refreshing treat! 

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Folks soak in the late afternoon sun on the patio of Townhouse; built out from One Detroit Center the glass enclosed space is pretty spectacular–it even has a retractable roof, you can literally dine under the stars! The decor is very modern, urban, chic. We sit at the bar, Kris has a cocktail while we people watch. We’ve seen a lot today and it all looks great, in two weeks Woodward will look different and again two weeks after that. It’s been a blast catching up on the progress, c’mon down and see it for yourself.

DETROIT: Building Stuff…

19 Aug

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Good things are happening in Detroit; from neighborhoods to the riverfront to downtown it seems everybody has a stake in making the city a better place. As one of Detroit’s most charming neighborhoods West Village hosts tree-lined streets and lovely historic homes that encourage leisurely walks to the corner market, meeting a friend for coffee, a delicious meal or slice of pie. Today Better Block Detroit is sponsoring a community event in the village to help stimulate improvement projects and encourage new business to take up residence in the area. Along with Pop-up businesses in vacant storefront spaces, day-long events are planned to encourage kids to participate in health and fitness activities. 

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We park on Kercheval in front of the old Detroit Savings Bank; engraving along the top of the building reads “The Oldest Bank In Michigan”, indeed it was, it went on to become Comerica Bank. The important-looking structure has recently been renovated; the main floor will be retail with residential lofts occupying the second floor. Inside, three pop-up businesses are set up, showcasing the available space; terazzo floors have been polished to a high shine, a crystal chandelier hangs in the center of the large, open room, sunlight pours in from large front windows, folks mill about checking out the merchandise for sale. First things first, Coffee and (____) is selling cold-brew coffee and delicious pastries, Kris and I each get a coffee and we split a chocolate cupcake–yum! Mor & Co, a lifestyle store hoping to take up permanent residence in the city, offers a variety of outdoor, fun-friendly items for purchase: sidewalk chalk in the shape of downtown skyscrapers, aloe after-sun spray, woven blankets for the beach or picnic and bug-repellent candles. Common Threads Clothing is selling Detroit-themed t-shirts, tanks, hoodies and hats—all Made in America! A florist is setting up permanent shop in the space facing Van Dyke.

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Outside, we admire the building; a covered patio is taking shape along the side where the drive-thru window was once located. Clusters of pedestrians weave through neighborhood streets, a Preservation Detroit Bike Tour is in progress, vegetables growing at Fish Eye Farms are plentiful. Coe St is closed to traffic, Rollerblade clad skaters gather speed as they approach the wooden ramp in the center of the street, each performs a trick, skateboarders follow suit; skaters show off their skills zigzagging between orange cones. Metro Central Christ Church is having a clothing swap, demonstrations focus on renewable energy and sustainability such as solar power and rainwater harvesting, it’s a greener world these days.

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Over on Belle Isle the Great Lakes Chapter of the Antique Outboard Motor Club Inc is hosting an event outside the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, the theme is “Made in Michigan”. At one time there were 33 companies that produced outboard motors in Michigan, more than a dozen in Detroit alone. Outboard motors were an important part of recreational boating heritage; to put this in perspective remember that before the advent of the inexpensive, portable outboard motor, boating was a rich man’s sport. Did you know the world’s first commercially viable outboard motor was invented and marketed by Grosse Ile resident Cameron B Waterman in 1904. We did it all in Detroit, from ship building to stoves to rowboat motors and the automobile, there was nothing this city couldn’t manufacture! 

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Members from across the region have arrived to show off their motors; names like Sea Gull, Sea-bee, Cadet, Sea Queen and Chief identify the models. Rows of motors are held in place by stands, metals are highly polished, paint gleams. Older models are lettered in beautiful script, trimmed in gold. Caille was one of Michigan’s most successful companies, there are many “Red Head’s” here today. There’s a wonderful exhibit of Oliver outboard motors complete with huge signs that would hang in the showroom and outside the building. You can see the way the motor works in the older models, parts are exposed, in the later years the mechanics were shielded by covers in bright colors and cool graphics. As we pad our way across the lawn we pick up bits and pieces of conversation; friends become reacquainted, ask about projects, owners share stories of where they got the motor, how long they’ve had it and how many others they’ve acquired through the years.

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Our attention is diverted to the Detroit River as a series of powerboats skip across the river, splitting the difference between the US and Canada. Brightly colored graphics cover the hull, they sound powerful, lengthy roostertails shoot out behind them, cameras come out and everybody stops what they’re doing to watch, even the helicopter flying overhead. After a couple of passes we go back to what we were doing; we see motors built in 1906, 1924 and 1928. The “Detroiter” was made in St Clair Shores on Mack Ave, the Gierholtt in Marine City, Algonac and Saginaw also manufactured outboards. Several boats are parked in front of the museum; a gorgeous antique wooden boat trimmed in red has a Mercury outboard, the all wood Thunderbolt gets lots of looks, the aero craft looks crude with its multiple rivets. Parts lay on blankets in the swap meet area, shifters bear names like Quicksilver and Shipmaster. It has been fascinating to see the show, but now it’s time for lunch.

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Parks & Rec is a little 30-seat diner that recently opened in the triangular, castle-like G A R Building on Cass and Grand River. The building itself was constructed in 1897 for Civil War veterans, it had shops, a bank and meeting space along with a small auditorium. The last occupant of the building was the Detroit Parks & Rec Department more than 30 years ago. The interior pays homage to its former use with green metal park chairs, tables inlaid with checkerboards, an old shuffleboard with discs and cues mounted to a wall. An old billboard complete with the image of the fountain that welcomed visitors to Belle Isle hangs on the back wall. Milk glass lights, quilted stainless steel and a retro-style countertop give it that old diner feel.

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The restaurant shares the chef and kitchen staff of the adjoining Republic Tavern, they bake their own pastries and breads, make their own preserves and pickles, they even cure their own bacon. Open 7 am to 3 pm daily, the menu is filled with breakfast favorites. We are having the liege waffles, 2 petite waffles made from rich batter, chunks of sugar give them a delicate crunch, topped with real maple syrup and a sprinkle of powdered sugar they are super delicious– served with 2 eggs, we ordered ours scrambled, it’s a nice combo. The Hash was also very good, we ordered our eggs over medium and added sautéed onions to the hash, the eggs were cooked perfectly, soft enough for the yolk to soak into the hash below but not runny. Served with tasty toast and housemade ketchup, we really enjoyed our meal. The desserts looked really good too, next time………

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DETROIT: What’s up at Heidelberg??

16 Jun

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The Heidelberg Project has been drawing visitors from near and far to Detroit’s East side for 29 years. Created by native Detroiter Tyree Guyton, the project is an ever-changing, constantly evolving, open-air art gallery covering a two block area once dense with family homes. Heidelberg and controversy are no strangers to one another; in 1991 and again in 1999 the City of Detroit demolished several homes in an effort to close the project, stating that it deterred development of the area. Since 2013 there have been a number of fires, houses have been burned to the ground; arson is suspected. And yet, on this lovely, summer-like day, visitors roam the neighborhood streets taking one photo after another, cars parked along the curb wear license plates from Ontario, Illinois, New Mexico and of course, Michigan. Conversations in several languages can be overheard. Colors are cheerful, the mood hopeful, discarded objects appear content in their new purpose.

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Sidewalk squares are decorated with Tyree’s signature faces, polka dots are painted in the street, old tires are stacked two deep and re-used as planters. A doghouse belonging to Congo The Art Dog has been erected on a grassy patch across the street, cut-outs allow visitors a silly photo-op, clocks are a recurring theme throughout the landscape, the openings in a section of chain-link fence are stuffed with white shoes. The backyard of Tim Burke’s Detroit Industrial Gallery is filled with whimsical sculpture; giant flowers sprout from the Earth, beings created from found objects stand about, there’s a lot to look at. The Polka Dot House still stands, I can only imagine the stories it could tell…..

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Long dead trees provide the foundation for artwork and shopping carts alike, a toilet looks awkward sitting in the open. The foundation is all that remains of one house; hundreds of items surround the perimeter, baby dolls and stuffed animals wear smiles, making me think they know the answers to so many of life’s questions. Portraits cover automobile hoods and boards, pretty glass panels hang from a wooden frame near Mt Elliot. We peek into the basement of a house on the next block, an assortment of blue-painted shoes are scattered on the floor, a rusty antique stove has baked its last cake. Further down, vinyl records are attached to the frame of a house, completely open, an old-fashioned radio sits central in the space. An old boat has run ashore, dozens of stuffed animals are wedged inside, a giraffe is about to board, perhaps they are planning a trip?

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We walk down the sidewalk past a playground where polka dots have taken up residence, sculptures are created from old doors, trophies cover a makeshift floor and there are more clocks. Kris and I point things out to one another, funny how we each notice something different, art is subjective. Here in the quiet our imaginations run wild, I like that all the unwanted shoes are grouped together, that the discarded gloves have found a new home on chair legs, that some of the old “taxi” signs are still around. To me it is a testament to survival, persistence, perseverance; something every Detroiter knows about.

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It’s a short drive to Milano Bakery and Cafe on Russell Street in Eastern Market; the bakery, originally opened in 1958, has been at this location since 1999. Inside you’ll find a bevy of breads, pastries, whole cakes, tarts, cookies, well, you get the picture. Today we are having lunch in the cafe, large menu boards hang on the wall above the pastry cases, one for pizza, one for sandwiches; everything sounds delicious. We place our order at the counter, Kris takes a seat at a table while I study our dessert options. 

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Before we know it lunch is delivered to our table. We chose an onion roll for the pepper-jack roast beef sandwich; roast beef topped with sautéed mushrooms, red and green pepper, onion, pepper-jack cheese and Milano’s homemade sauce. The onion roll is toasted so it keeps the sandwich from becoming soggy, the meat is tender, the cheese has melted, all the flavors have combined into one tasty combination. Sandwiches come with a side, we had potato salad and ordered an extra side of pasta salad, both are very good; the pickles are excellent too. About the time we came in the door, our willpower went out, it’s impossible to resist temptation with such a gorgeous selection of pastries in view. Choosing which to have is an entirely different dilemma….. Caramel Bumpy Cake proved irresistible; moist yellow cake topped with pastry cream and submersed in caramel frosting, yum! Scrumptious food, delectable desserts and fair prices keep us coming back.

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HAMTRAMCK: Hidden Secrets

22 Oct

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Hamtramck, at just 2.1 square miles, urban life flourishes here. Perhaps it’s the mix of cultures, customs, religions and ethnicities; immigrants from all over the world have settled here for centuries. Maybe it’s the result of the blue-collar work ethic Detroit is so famous for or the authentic everydayness of life in this enclave. Whatever it is, let’s face it, Hamtramck is cool! Today is the 2014 Neighborhood Arts Festival, it’s not like any other ‘festival’ we’ve ever been to. Activities are taking place from one end of the city to another in storefronts, lofts, galleries and homes; from music to dancing, painting to printing, there’s something for everyone.

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Being an afternoon event, we arrive on Jos Campau just in time for lunch; the longstanding Campau Tower has just re-opened.  Serving burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes, it’s sure to be a hit with the locals. The diner is teeny-tiny, we grab the last empty stools, leaving standing room only, the menu hangs above the grill, one of those old-fashioned numbers with the white letters that press into a black felt background, there’s a lot to read. Besides a good scrubbing and some freshening up the restaurant looks the same as it always has. Now, white cafe lights criss-cross the ceiling, a flat screen TV mounted on the wall shows an old episode of Twin Peaks, stained glass lamps dangle by chain from the ceiling. People stop in placing carry-out orders, it’s a busy day at the Tower. Our food finally appears, the Brotherly Love hot dog, which looks amazing, brisket Bao Bun and fries. Unlike the service, the food was really good; the hot dog is split then covered with caramelized onions, peppers and cheese sauce…yum. The apricot brisket bun, tiny and tasty. The menu selection runs from the expected to the adventurous.  Now let’s check out the festival!

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Atomic Cafe Art Gallery is right across the street; the space is long and narrow, black paint covers the walls in the first gallery, a ping-pong table takes residence near the back, a couple is playing as we look at the art. Paintings are bright and colorful, some cartoon-like, near the back, toilet seats are covered in colorful Marvel Comics and shellacked to a high shine, another grouping depicts Detroit scenes: Scarab Club, Belle Isle fountain, the infamous Kowalski hot dog sign. Through an open doorway we enter the next gallery; Kris and I both walk towards the same piece, 12 boards are covered in a highly textured coating, each piece is a different, brilliant color, it’s hard not to touch. A number of artists are represented, the variety of styles and pieces is welcome, cool, old items have been upcycled into lights, there’s a little bit of everything. A few steps away we drop in at Lo & Behold, the shop has an ever-changing inventory of neat things. Kris spots a gorgeous 1940’s microphone, I follow his lead to have a look, it’s a beauty. The shop is fully stocked with vintage 45’s and record albums today, they also offer cassettes of artists who perform here. I make a note reminding us to come for the live music this winter.

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Tekla Vintage is one of those funky vintage stores that offers everything from home goods to handbags, it’s owned by Hamtramck Mayor Majewski. The store is brimming with wild fashions from the 60’s and 70’s, there’s no shortage of polyester here; one look at a pair of platform shoes makes me laugh out loud, literally….   Glass and mirrored shelves hold lovely Polish items such as dolls, plates and vases. Styrofoam heads wear fashionable hats, guys, you can find a great bow tie here. Some of the fixtures and display cases look original to the store, I’m crazy about the glass front doors with the lucite handles. Continuing on Jos Campau there’s an open studio up on the second floor of a building, Carl Wilson and Mariuca Rofick have their work on display. Light pours in from large front windows, art covers the walls, we love getting a peek into these great spaces. At the 9338 Campau Gallery Abigail Alwin plays her cello, visitors are gathered around in the large open room. She plays her instrument and works a series of pedals which allow her to record, then play back a piece of music, looping it so she can add to it, creating a piece with many different parts.

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 Over on Caniff, Public Pool has an exhibit titled “The Last Record Shop”, we have been looking forward to seeing it. Fashioned to look like a record shop, quotes from musicians are painted on the wall, album covers rest on shelves and tables. You must take your time to look at the cover art, satirical and clever, they are great fun. Next we make our way into the neighborhood. A large brick building on Klinger is home to artists studios and Silva Perum Bookstore. When we arrive, adults are guiding children in a number of activities, one man teaches how to ride a skateboard, in the yard kids are drawing and making Halloween masks. Inside we traverse the halls, popping into individual studios, so much amazing stuff goes on here. Time is fleeting and there are still so many things to see; we make our way to Sobieski St.

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A simple, white, 2-story house sits non-nonchalantly, a closer look reveals a series of paintings surrounding the front door. We are welcomed inside by the homeowner who tells us this is her hobby house, a place where she can create, display her art and entertain. She shares the space with another artist, the house is cozy, quaint and a great way to share their talents with the public. Down a ways, we enter the second story home/studio of artist Emily Wood. The hall going up is lined with her framed art, her studio is jammed packed with her work in every medium from paint to pottery to sewing. Kris and I are both in awe of her talent, her painted streetscapes are so life-like. The front room is cluttered with bottles of paint, brushes and works-in-progress, a panel of material sits on a table, the print is her very own drawings of houses in Hamtramck, sweet! 

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We make our way to a quirky little neighborhood in the North end of Hamtramck, a graffiti covered van sits curbside outside the studio of Will C Bevan, a Memphis native who spent the last year in New York before moving to Detroit. His work on display is a series of abstract patterns, very appealing to the eye. It blows our mind to think of what an artistic hub Hamtramck has become, who would’a thought? Filter Detroit is an artist residence owned by a woman who resides in Germany…  For 4 months a year, an artist lives rent free in the back portion of the house, in exchange they must make/leave some sort of contribution, print a book, write a poem, do a painting; in the front room of the house is such a piece, one of the traveling artists created a mural depicting Detroit. An empty lot has become a tree farm of sorts as saplings sprout from the center of old tires.The house next door is called Play House, and for good reason; the house has been completely gutted of interior dividing walls and floors and has become a performance space. We enter from the backyard and find ourselves in a lovely hardwood floor room, a Classical Bengali music concert has just ended, the folks who own the house own several properties on the street, they have big plans for all of them!

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Walking to the end of Moran we see Treasure House, an old 1920’s home, somewhat of a living collage; steps are multi-colored, art pieces, random objects and found items cover the surface, lean against the porch and take up space on the lawn. Across the street an ordinary house has become a monster house; eyes, fangs and large hands  make one wonder what’s inside. The structure is colorful, and oh so interesting with painted globs of slime dripping down the front. Even the fences are tied into the overall artistic statement of the neighborhood, painted up in bright hues, they are aglow in the late afternoon sun. Written words remind us to Keep Singing, Keep Learning, Keep Loving, loose windows and building materials are strewn about. Another house has this awesome life-like painting of a man, it looks as though he is working on repairing the house right this minute, windows are boarded up, random patterns are drawn on the wood. Power House is another public art project, the goal here is to have the house completely functional off the grid. It currently creates its own electricity from wind and solar energy. With so much positive going on in and around Detroit it always makes me wonder why it’s such a secret. Thankfully, events such as the Hamtramck Neighborhood Arts Festival allow us to find the amazing behind the perception.

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DETROIT: ArtPark??

23 Sep

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Have you heard about downtown Detroit’s new art gallery?  Housing an amazing collection of street art created by 27 artists from around the world, it’s open 24 hours a day, free admission, there’s no heat or air conditioning, but you can park your car in it. Yes, I’m talking about “The Z”, Dan Gilbert’s Z-shaped parking garage that zig zags from the corner of Broadway and E Grand River to the corner of Library and Gratiot. Bedrock teamed up with Library Street Collective, bringing street, mural and graffiti artists to design a most unusual parking structure. The massive, white structure is super cool, each level is color coded, at night the stairwell atrium is lit in a rainbow of colors, vertical LED lights illuminate each floor, it’s definitely one-of-a-kind. Not to mention, it does add 1,300 much-needed parking spaces to downtown. 

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Entering the garage on foot, we take the elevator to the roof, even the elevator buttons are color-coded, exiting the enclosure, the air has a chill not representative of September, the sky looks grouchy, a gust of wind rushes past us. Standing still for a moment we take in the panorama of the city, it’s spectacular; skyscrapers, steeples, stacks, the light posts of Comerica Park in the distance, wow! On the Library street side we can see the Skillman branch of the library, other rooftops are littered with cooling units and little rooms that stick up; at 10 stories high we have a birds-eye-view. Graffiti covers both elevator banks, Slow Motion is the work of Wais, an artist from St Petersburg Russia; being out in the open, the array of colors, swooshes, and shapes create an interesting contrast to the surrounding buildings. The plan is to walk down to ground level crossing back and forth from side to side, seeing as much as we can. As we enter the structure, the concrete has been painted along with several long walls, we feel a need to stop and look at each piece, they really draw you in.

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The 9th floor is the fuschia level; a tree that grows baseballs is depicted on one wall, on another a colorful bird is sizing up a worm that is part caterpillar, part car. The longest wall has all kinds of stuff going on; a car/bug is upside down in a human hand, arms protrude from a skull with a baseball bat in hand, a Tiger and a ball are in a ring, creating a story of sorts; this is the work of Ukraine artist Interesni Kazki. Endless Frontier reminds me of the kind of landscape paintings one would see in a museum, the work is beautiful, there are several scenes of uninhabited, far away places. The whole experience of walking through the structure is unique, we are intrigued by the art on the walls, scenes of Detroit are framed in the garage’s rectangular windows. Pausing at one opening, we watch men at work restoring a building, Woodward Ave is in the distance, the David Stott building  rises high above other buildings.

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The 8th floor is the purple level; on one wall, solid color triangular designs remind me of a kaleidoscope. A lengthy mural looks as if one scene has been painted over another; advertisements in blues, orange and yellows seem to be peeling away revealing a black and white scenario featuring lightning bolts, stars and a flag, putting me in the mind of superheros. From this level we get an up-close perspective of decorative terracotta designs and other architectural details of surrounding establishments, occasionally a skyscraper looks as if it is posing for the camera, completely encased by the frame of a window. On the 5th floor we are greeted by a familiar character, Dabs Myla’s happy-faced paint can. It feels as if we’ve stumbled onto a secret cocktail party, the short wall is made up of a repeating pattern of flamingos, a winking sun and martini glasses complete with an olive. The rest of the party is on the other side, the streetscape of a tropical city, palm trees and mini skylines play host to swanky characters with a 1950’s flair, love it!

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Each and every level affords us a different perspective, the varied angles of the parking structure show us tight spaces closed in by tall buildings. Remember, this was built upon empty lots, it sprouted up between buildings of various ages and styles; fire escapes hang tight to an old, brown brick edifice, rusty bars run the length of the windows. Now loft space, remnants of their former use remain, old chains and hooks, a lone stained glass window, pencil thin ladders lead to the roof top, seedlings sprout from gutters. It’s like we passed through some magical door giving us a whole new perspective on our surroundings. A huge colorful piece runs the length of the space, it is so pretty I can’t help but stop and stare; it reminds me of a Monet, as if someone painted a lovely flower garden with a feather duster or powder puff, colors blend one into another it’s so soft and soothing, like a sunset. Colors grow deeper as they travel down the wall until they look hot, like Summer, like fireworks. 

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Some pieces are very geometric, giving a 3-D effect, others are pale and have a look of fluidity. Back to the Roots by Edgar Saner looks straight out of Mexico City.The 4th floor is the lime-light green level, there’s a snazzy piece with a cool tunnel-like effect. The 3rd floor has a fun, cartoon-like mural called Ice Pop, by B from Athens Greece, makes me want to join the party! From here the Harvard Square building is in full view, we can take in the details such as medallions, wrought iron and symbols decorating the Beaux Arts beauty; Detroit has a fantastic variety of early 20th century architecture!

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On the 2nd floor the artwork reminds me of bare trees in a forest with stunning, colorful backgrounds, it’s one of my favorites. On ground level near the exit/entrance is one of the most complicated, intricately detailed pieces; people, animals, patterns, objects, one flowing right into another, it’s outstanding. If you’ve ever seen a Highlight’s magazine, you know they have those pictures where you have to find the hidden objects, this is kind of like that. Colored in pink,red, grey and black, by How and Nosm from Spain, this one is surreal. We walk outside and take the sidewalk to the entrance/exit in the other section of the Z, here Pose and Revok have painted a huge comic-book like piece titled  If You Think You Can Do A Thing. Done in primary colors, it’s a combination of words like struggle, talent, love and rats along with faces and eyes of ones who themselves look like they are struggling. The more you look, the more you notice, it’s a lot to take in, but a pleasure to do so. In the alley behind Vicente’s we notice lights strung above, artists have done murals here too, we recognize the similarity of pieces in the GRCC. We wonder if this will be an outdoor eating space in the future, which reminds us, it’s time for lunch!

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Johnny Noodle King opened to much fanfare September 12, we happened to drive by that day to find not only a line out the door, but groups of folks sitting on the ground waiting for a table. Not expecting to have any better luck today, we drive by the tiny, red-painted brick, cafe on W Fort Street and were surprised to see nobody waiting outdoors. Kris parked the Jeep and I ran in to see how long the wait was, since it was near closing time, we were told it was about a 15 minute wait and we were the last people to be seated for the day, yay! On the way in, Kris takes pics of the exterior; a giant noodle bowl perpendicular to the building has a pair of chop sticks wrapped in neon noodles along with a red neon ‘noodles’ sign, as you may have guessed, this is a Ramen restaurant, the first in Detroit. While we wait we watch photos of Detroit landmarks appear on a flat screen TV on the back wall, each photo is embellished with a giant bowl of noodles in the foreground. The cafe used to be Johnny Ham King, I like that they kept the Johnny and the King part. 

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The menu is simple, and for that I say thank you, it can be overwhelming to turn page after page reading descriptions of dishes. They serve Bowls, Sides and Drinks, what more do we need? Kris suggests trying several different things; we order the Red Curry Bowl, the Carrot Ginger Bowl, the house made pork gyoza and the onigiri. There’s no soda pop here, we get the house saki and a Mandarin and Seville orange jigger. Basically, Ramen is Japanese comfort food, it is broth served with long, thin, springy wheat noodles and toppings. You have to have a great broth, which, they do, the toppings make the Ramen unique, they are. Everything is delicious! Toppings like egg, pork belly, cauliflower, pickled dakion, and nori add tremendous flavor and texture; portions are hearty, most likely you’ll be taking some home. Owned and operated by the same folks who bring us Green Dot Stables, it’s no surprise Johnny Noodle King is an instant success.

DETROIT: Music Mecca

19 Aug

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Have you ever stumbled upon something super-cool and asked yourself, how did I not know about this? That’s exactly what happened to Kris and I a while back when we showed up for a tour of the United Sound Systems Recording Studio on Second Ave in Detroit. Turns out this place was one of Detroit’s first independent recording studios. Early on it was used for industrial and promotional film production, then it became a full service recording studio that gave artists, musicians, writers and producers the ability to record music, cut the record and get airplay without being signed to a major label. You may be asking yourself, I wonder who recorded there? Are you ready for this? Charlie Parker, Max Roach, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Jackie Wilson, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, Isaac Hayes, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bob Seger, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Marvin Gaye, MC5, and Whitney Houston…….to name a few! For more than 70 years some of the best vocalists, musicians and sound engineers came together at United Sound Studios to record an astounding variety of successful Jazz, Rock, Soul, Blues, Rockabilly and Funk records.

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It’s a gorgeous afternoon, we have driven by this building a hundred times over the years and never realized what it was. From the outside it looks to simply be an old house with dark windows on the second floor; a blue sign splits the levels with the name United Sound Systems in white letters. We park in the adjacent lot, walk to the front door; finding it locked I give it a knock and it opens immediately. Explaining we are here for the tour we are welcomed inside and ushered to the gift shop where we purchase tickets. The interior is still a work in progress as tours and events are being established. We wait for the tour to begin in the basement level with a number of other visitors; framed album covers from MC5 and Aretha Franklin hang on the walls. We are led up to Studio B as our guide gives us a bit of history, United Sound is a recording studio, not a label; initially commercials and advertising jingles were recorded in the building. Upstairs, a large window divides the space between the engineering room and studio, the large console is a sea of levers buttons and switches, walls and ceiling are covered in soundproofing materials. Our group gathers in the studio area; folks take turns putting on earphones and make-believe they are singing into the mike, making their own record. A photo of a young Whitney Houston, taken in this room, hangs on the wall.

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Up a flight of stairs we are now standing in what was the original reception area; Rolodex cards that once sat on the secretary’s desk, bear names and phone numbers of Ike and Tina Turner and Bootsy Collins, I love that kind of memorabilia! Through the door is a small theater room, we all take a seat; a short film shares the story of United Sound. Founded by James (Jimmy) Siracuse in the 1930’s it was moved to this residential space on Second sometime in the early 40’s. In 1947, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach recorded “Klaunstance” for Savoy Records, 1948, John Lee Hooker records “Boogie Chillen”, Dizzy Gillespie records tracks here in the 50’s, Jimmy Work recorded his hits “Making Believe” and “That’s What Makes The Jukebox Play” here in the mid 50’s. United Sound was around before there was a Motown; Berry Gordy recorded Marv Johnson’s “Come to Me” at United Sound in 1958 and later released it as the first single on his Tamla 101 label. In the 60’s Bob Seger recorded “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and “Heavy Music”, MC5 recorded “Back in the USA”. Don Davis purchased United Sound in 1971, the studio continued to thrive; 1985 brought Aretha Franklin to United Sound to record “Freeway of Love”, Anita Baker’s Grammy winning album “Rapture” was recorded here too…….. I know, amazing!

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When the film ends, we pass through a room; commercial records cover the walls, upstairs, we check out yet another tiny studio, before heading back downstairs. In the kitchen area, framed and autographed gold records hang on the wall, below that, the echo chamber that helped create the ‘Detroit Sound’ is cut into the wall, a set of blue silky costumes worn by The Dramatics, have been donated and are on display; we take notice of renderings depicting how this space will be used in the future. On to Studio A……. it’s huge! Tons of fancy looking equipment fills the engineering space, the recording console looks as if it could launch spacecraft. Today only, studio A is hosting a Rockabilly reunion; authors of the book Detroit Country Music Craig Maki and Keith Cady are joining some of Detroit’s veteran Rockabilly musicians for some music and memories. Our group files into the performance space, five musicians are busy playing an old Rockabilly tune; pieces of vintage equipment and black and white photos connect the past to the present. When the song is finished Craig Maki introduces the guys who were instrumental to Detroit’s country and bluegrass music scene in the 1950’s; Jimmy Kirkland, Jack Scott, Dave Ronelier, Johnny Powers and Dave Morgan. Each of these men recorded here back in the day; they played in bands that drew big crowds in southeastern Michigan cities like Mt Clemens, Sterling Heights, Pontiac, Utica, Troy, Flint, Detroit and throughout the Midwest.

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The family of Chief Redbird is on our tour; Redbird organized several bands, played fiddle, sang and wrote songs, he was extremely popular. Jobs in the auto industry brought many southerners to Detroit in the early 20th century, making the city a natural for the creation and enjoyment of this genre of music. We listen as musician’s fingers move across guitar strings, vocalists sing the same lyrics they sang more than 50 years ago, everybody is having a great time. This studio was in constant use until 2008, the list of people who have crossed the threshold is mind-blowing; it’s wonderful to see it up and running again! More of Detroit’s incredible past preserved, I’m so happy we came!

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Hygrade Restaurant and Deli was started over 60 years ago on what was then a busy section of Michigan Ave; today, not so much. About a mile outside of Corktown, the deli is definitely worth a visit. The current owner’s family bought the place in 1972, looking just as it does today: metallic gold, blue and red chairs, Formica tables, light wood paneling and white globe lights that dangle from the ceiling; this is not retro, it’s original! There’s still a decent lunch crowd when we arrive; we choose a table along the wall that affords us a great view of the interior, yellow paper menus are already on the table along with glass salt and pepper shakers and the old-fashioned glass sugar dispenser. There’s really no need to look at the menu, the Reuben is the house specialty, can’t argue with that. We do add a cup of mushroom barley soup and a side of potato salad.

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A few patrons sit at the counter, it’s way cool with its low counter, multi-colored stools and great colored panels behind; the work area is all stainless steel and sees a lot of action. Before long our meal arrives, the sandwich is split onto two plates, each with its own pickle spear. The corned beef is fantastic; cooked to perfection, it is so tender and lean it just falls apart, there’s a good ratio of sauerkraut and dressing too. The soup was flavorful; the barley makes the broth silky. The potato salad is the traditional mustard-style, exactly what you’d expect from an old-school deli. There’s no shortage of nostalgia in Detroit!

 

DETROIT: Wayne State Walkabout

6 Aug

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Kris and I consider the campus of Wayne State University to be one of Detroit’s hidden gems. You may have driven by Old Main on Cass Ave, remarked on the attractive building as you passed and not given it a second thought. Most do not realize that a walk through WSU’s campus is a study in Modern architecture. Present day WSU began its existence as a university in 1933 when a combination of Detroit colleges came together to form a single institution. The former Central High School building at Cass and Warren became what is now Old Main; other residential and commercial buildings in the surrounding neighborhood were re-purposed to fill the needs of the college. A master plan for the campus was created in 1942 by yet unknown architect Suren Pilafian; the GI Bill passed in 1944 and enrollment swelled; buildings had to be built. The end of the 1940’s were just the beginning of the Modern architectural style; the tone was set. 

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In 1948 State Hall, designed by Pilafian was the first building built specifically for the university, followed up by the Community Arts Complex and College of Engineering, all were designed in the Modern style. The names of other contributing architects is pretty much a who’s who list of Modern design; Alden B Dow, Harley, Ellington and Day, Glen Paulson, Albert Kahn, Giacomo Manzu and Minoru Yamasaki. It doesn’t matter if you recognize these names or not; what I want you to know, or, what I’d like you to appreciate, is what an important place Detroit has always been. This city was prominent, wealthy and proud; buildings were designed by the best in the business —– many lived here in metro Detroit. The money was here to attract the best of the best whether in business, music, art or design. Let’s go for a walk…………

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Our main agenda for the day is to spend some time at the McGregor Conference Center’s newly restored reflecting pool, designed by none other than Minoru Yamasaki. The building was the first of four that Yamasaki would design for WSU between 1957 and 1964, in my opinion it is one of his best. Finished in 1958, the pool had suffered much damage to its foundation through the years, it was drained in the late 90’s; repaired and restored, it received much attention when it was again filled with water in 2013. I knew it would be lovely, but I really wasn’t prepared for just how wonderful it is. It’s large L-shape design and shallow pool project peace and tranquility; large boulders are scattered about the onyx colored bottom, rectangular concrete islands are connected by dark planks. On one end a single figure on a pedestal gazes into the water thoughtfully; Giacomo Manzu’s The Nymph and The Faun bronze sculptures look perfectly at ease on one of the islands; the nymph reclines in the sunshine as she lifts her head to study the crouching faun; this piece was added in 1968. The water is perfectly still, the clouds and blue sky are mirrored on the surface. Large circular white planters add a pop of green to the black and white background. I love the floating staircase that leads from the McGregor to the center island. The College of Education, another Yamasaki building is seen in the distance.

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We continue our walk through the urban campus on sidewalks, under porticos and through grassy expanses intermixed with concrete plazas, sculptures and sitting areas. The Community Arts Center and Music Building has a very 50’s feel to it, The Shapero Hall of Pharmacy starts out small at ground level and gets bigger with each story; elongated windows look out over raised planters and lush lawn. Alumni House with its smoke colored glass becomes part of the surrounding landscape. Newer buildings have been integrated and seem to fall into place with original structures, it all works together. The Jacob House, built in 1915 in the Mediterranean style is now the residence of the President of WSU, the Chatsworth Tower apartment building is an elegant 9-story building built in 1929, not far from that is the new Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center. After the McGregor, the Helen L DeRoy Auditorium is my favorite building here, also a Yamasaki, it has such great lines; the ribs and eaves create an almost floral design; I hope one day the reflecting pool will be restored. Walking back toward Cass we cross the Meyer and Anna Prentis Building, designed by Yamasaki and built at the same time (1964) as the auditorium, it is distinctly Modern. We pass the former William C Rands residence, a huge stone house designed by George Mason, built in 1913, now used by the university, the Music Annex and finally our car……time for lunch.

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Northern Lights Lounge has a new patio; just a short ride from WSU, we are there in no time. It is mid-afternoon and we have the brick patio all to ourselves; newly planted trees take up residence along with pots of colorful annuals. Sandwiched between two buildings and closed off in back by a bright orange fence, the space feels secluded from the rush of the city. We are no strangers to the menu here, so ordering was quick and easy. We relax under the comfort of a large umbrella, sipping our drinks and watching pedestrians pass on Baltimore when our server arrives with lunch. The veggie nachos here are outstanding; white corn tortilla chips covered with two kinds of melted cheese, piled with black beans, tomato, onion, green pepper, black olives and pickled jalapeno, yum! The Julienne Salad is loaded with ham, turkey, swiss, american and a hard-boiled egg scattered over salad greens, we like the homemade ranch dressing. 

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Dessert is a great way to end such a nice afternoon, we head over to  Avalon Breads, they always have an excellent selection of sweet treats. We stare at cookies, brownies, sticky buns and scones, then we see the sign: Ice Cream Sandwiches! Choose either Sea Salt Chocolate Chip or Oatmeal Raisin cookies, a scoop of Ashby’s Vanilla in the middle and there you have it. Without hesitation we go with the chocolate chip; as the sandwich is being assembled I order an iced coffee and meet Kris back at a table. The cookie is soft and chewy, the vanilla ice cream a perfect complement to the salty and sweet flavor of the cookie….add iced coffee to the mix and you have perfection! 

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DETROIT: This Is How We Roll

21 Jul

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In 2005 a group of high-spirited, hard-working, competitive women joined forces to form The Detroit Derby Girls, a women’s flat-track roller derby league based in Detroit. Through the years the league has grown to include more than 120 skaters, 5 home teams and 3 travel teams that compete inter-league. This is not the old-fashioned banked-track derby of the 1970’s where hair-pulling, tripping, punching and chair-throwing was the norm. Today skaters have backgrounds in speed skating, hockey, even figure skating; they are very athletic. These women pay-to-play; they spend their hard-earned dollars buying equipment, practice time, massage therapy, band-aids and ice packs. They practice several times a week, pay for their own travel expenses and manage the league. Players come in all shapes and sizes; during the day they work as doctors, teachers, lawyers, mothers and shop-keepers. 2009 was an amazing year; Drew Barrymore arrived in Detroit to film “Whip It“, many of our local skaters took part in the film, how cool is that? That same year the DDG were ranked #2 in the North Central Division and made a trip to the Nationals. Home bouts are played at the magnificent Masonic Temple; ticket cost is minimal, bouts offer everything: hard-hitting action, speed, competitiveness, live music and lots of fun. The girls still use great names such as Black Eyed Skeez, Ghetto Barbie, Cool Whip, Fatal Femme, Racer McChaseHer and Zooma Thurman, keeping the kitsch part of derby alive. It’s a blast!

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Today the DDG is having a FREE bout outdoors at Eastern Market, using the parking lot behind Shed 3. It’s one of those days when the weather changes every five minutes; we are flip-flopping between pouring rain and sunshine. When we arrive it’s pouring, spectators and skaters are gathered inside the shed waiting for the rain to stop. Today a mix of skaters from all home teams will make up the Motown Wreckers vs the Motor City Dis-assembly Line; dressed in blue and yellow jerseys they are ready to roll. The sun comes out, refs and skaters alike make short work of sweeping the puddles off the asphalt; the temperature hovers in the 80’s so it dries quickly. The track area is laid out with spray paint lines, rocks and debris are cleared and the pack lines up. One blow of the whistle and the jam begins; blockers, pivots and jammers whirl around the track, to say it’s a little tricky skating in a parking lot is an understatement, but the teams rise to the challenge. Spectators who planned ahead are sitting comfortably in lawn chairs, the crowd grows with passers-by checking out the action. Kris makes his way to the top of the parking structure to get a great overall view and take pictures, others are there just to watch. Rows of white folding chairs make up the team benches, the skyline of the city peeks out above the roof of Shed 2, the sky cannot make up it’s mind if it will rain again. It’s inevitable that skaters will fall, one good hip-check or shoulder is all it takes,  the parking lot surface is unforgiving; instead of sliding the surface grabs hold of both clothing and skin…ouch! Taking it in stride the two teams battle it out, the crowd loves it! Keep an eye on their Facebook page for upcoming bouts and events, the regular season usually begins in November.

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We are having lunch at Topsoil, a vegetarian/vegan restaurant located inside MOCAD on Woodward.  We enter the museum and hang a right down a short hallway to the restaurant/performance space; rectangular tables are pulled together creating long community tables, sunlight pours in through the glass roll-up door in an otherwise dim space. I walk to the counter to check out the menu and place our order. It’s really hot outside so we’re looking for something cold, something light; the cold sesame udon, blk seed, sea salt, carrot salad  and the kale, Farro, lemon and evoo salad fit the bill. Everybody who eats here tells us we have to try the hot dogs, well, Tofu dogs, so I ask the gent behind the counter which one he likes best, ‘Zombie’ is his reply, Zombie it is. I join Kris at the table while our food is being prepared in the open kitchen, before I know it a tray is placed on the counter and my name is called. I am sure to grab silverware and plenty of napkins, we’re sharing everything. The first thing we dive into, of course, is the Zombie, a tofu dog tucked into a bun topped with house-made peanut butter and house-made vegan kimchi………..it is soooo good! The dog tastes like a regular hot dog, no funny texture or anything like that, the combination of flavors is excellent! Both salads are generous portions and quite tasty; when all the food is gone, Kris says, we should have gotten 2 hot dogs!

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The museum is still open, so we have a look around. MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) is a non-collecting institution, its purpose is to explore emerging ideas in the contemporary arts. The 22,000 sq. ft. building is a former auto dealership; the huge open spaces are perfect for art exhibitions. In addition MOCAD hosts lectures, musical performances, films, literary readings and educational activities for children in the historic space. Today the main exhibit is a show called La Bella Crisis by Jose Lerma, a Puerto Rican artist. The gallery is transformed into an art fair; Lerma created a ‘booth’ a day for 30 days, now complete, the floor is covered in a silver tarp, canvasses hang at different levels, each space is unique. Detroit Native Steve Locke has an exhibit in one of the smaller galleries; “There is no one left to blame” is a series of male portraits on canvas. Midwestern Voices and Visions showcases the work of highly talented artists of color in Midwestern residency programs. Along the back wall is Dana Friedman’s video installation “Projecting”. We like that the museum is ever-changing, there’s always something new to see anytime we pop in. If you’d like to check it out you don’t have much time, the museum and restaurant will be closed from July 28 through September 11 for renovations, so get there soon!

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DEARBORN: Goin’ Back In Time

7 Jul

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

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

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

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

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

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