Tag Archives: Fisher Building

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: Something Old Something New….

21 Apr


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We start our fourth year by going back to where we began (more or less) with a visit to Historic Fort Wayne.  Twice a year they host a Flea Market in the Visitors Center gym, the grounds are also open to the public and tours are available, it’s a fascinating way to spend the day. You never know what you might find at a flea market, that’s part of the excitement of going. The gym is transformed into a bargain hunters paradise, rows of folding tables create aisle ways the length of the room, items are stacked on the floor and tabletops, an American flag is draped from the rafters. Crates of vintage record albums, children’s games, dishes and glassware are among the many items for sale. Antique trunks and suitcases have been re-purposed into tables, vintage insulated ice cream carriers are out of the ordinary. Through an open doorway we find ourselves in another room, clothing, doilies and jewelry are plentiful, I am taken with jewelry boxes that open from a simple rectangle into an elaborate display with tops that go up, drawers that open and compartments that unfold. We take one more walk through to be sure we haven’t missed anything then make our way outdoors. 

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The original 96 acres where the star fort and many buildings remain is steeped in history going back to about 1000 AD when 19 Native American burial mounds were present in the area. One burial mound remains, when it was excavated in the early 20th century, human remains dating back over 900 years were discovered, today the area is fenced off but you can still have a look at it. In the War of 1812 Detroit had been captured by the British Army and held for over a year–the only major American city to have this distinction. The US government realized Detroit had no counterpart to British Fort Malden down river at Amherstburg Ontario to resist a British attack on American soil, the Army chose this site, the narrowest point of the Detroit River to build Fort Wayne. Construction began in 1842 and was completed in 1848, it was named in honor of Gen. “Mad Anthony Wayne”, a hero of the American Revolution. In 1861, after the attack on Fort Sumter, President Abraham Lincoln asked for 75,000 troops from the northern Union states, two weeks later the Michigan 1st Volunteer Infantry Regiment was mustered into federal service at Fort Wayne.

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We begin to walk the grounds, starting with the section closest to Jefferson, we pass the Post Theatre built in 1939, a guard-house and a giant bell. On the left is the Tuskegee Airmen Museum housed in a former residence, the door is locked so we move on. A row of non-commissioned officers houses still stands, single residences and duplexes built from 1904 to 1939, houses are on a slight rise from the sidewalk, it must have been lovely. Further on, huge storage buildings seem to have been maintained and are still in use, army green tanks are parked off to one side. The door to the guard-house is open, the floor is wood, a stove was used for heat, jail cells are tiny, cots for the sick fill a small space. A row of Victorian houses line the next street over, a the Post Commanders residence has been restored to its original wood exterior.  The trees are still bare, the grass just beginning to turn green, the abandonment is unnerving; random panes of glass are missing, I imagine the inside to be laden with spider webs, roofs have deteriorated to a weave like pattern of shingles and rafters, I feel as if we have stumbled into a ghost town. Climbing a large hill we have a panoramic view of the grounds and the Detroit River, the riverfront parade ground is now used for soccer games, nets are in place the grass is well maintained. Making our way to the river we have a spectacular view of downtown and the Ambassador Bridge, the river sparkles in the spring sunlight, old concrete is piled along the shoreline, Canada is just a stone’s throw away. Retracing our steps we circle an old storage building on the other side of the hill, it seems it is still in use as a storage facility, everything around her looks really, really old. 

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The barracks were constructed between 1842-49 and are said to be one of the best examples of Federal-style architecture outside the seaboard states. Exterior walls are rough-hewn blocks of limestone that came from Kelly’s Island in Ohio. The interior is set up with tables and chairs today for some type of meeting, upstairs we find the sleeping area complete with bunks, comfortable is NOT a word I would use to describe the sleeping arrangements. Just outside to the right is the Powder Magazine building, it has an arched ceiling and displays showing us what it looked like back in the day. A dry moat surrounds the star fort itself, originally constructed of earth and wood, the fortifications were rebuilt in masonry during the Civil War. We enter a long brick hall through an open doorway, this leads us to the fort itself, we walk up a couple of stairs into darkness, it feels really damp, water is puddled on the concrete floor. Light sneaks through narrow slits intended for attack on the enemy, the fort has never mounted cannons. We feel our way around, larger windows allow us a better view of which way to walk, we travel down another walkway and enter another area of the fort, once again we traverse the few steps into the building. Wrought iron hardware hangs on unbelievably thick wood doors, they did  everything they could to keep the bad guys out. It’s hard to believe this building still exists, thankfully it was dedicated as a military museum in 1950, otherwise it may not be here.

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Of the original 96 acres, 83 still belong to Fort Wayne, the rest belongs to the Army Core of Engineers as a boatyard. The fort was added to the National Register of Historical Places in 1971, it served as an Army base for 125 years. Most people probably do not think of Detroit as a military city, that just goes to show you what an amazing place it has always been.

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I check my watch and am glad to see we still have time to catch brunch at Detroit’s newest restaurant, Zenith. Robert and Melissa Jasper moved to Detroit from the East Coast to open their unique, quirky restaurant on the main floor of the Fisher Building. We walk through the Fisher to the restaurant entrance, one foot in the door we know we are going to love this place! To the left is a small city-scape rising from the floor, the space is huge, 8,ooo sq ft, there’s another 8,000 sq ft on the basement level too, along with the original safe from the bank that originally occupied the space in 1928 and a small banquet room. We are greeted at the door and told we can sit wherever we want, that’s a tough decision in a place this cool. We settle on a table central to everything and begin checking out the menu, the selections all sound incredible. After we place our order we are free to roam around; the pieces they have amassed through the years are awesome; statues of jungle animals, beer displays, original funky artwork, advertisements for household items, food and auto-related products. There’s a fabulous lounge area in the back that puts me in the mind of the 50’s era Cuban style; rattan furniture, exotic lamps, tropical flowers–it’s fantastic! The tiki bar itself is just waiting for the liquor license to arrive to get into full swing, it will be a great place to come and have a cocktail. The original integrity of the building remains, columns have been boxed in, walls and surfaces are painted in bright green and blue, everywhere you look, there’s something to look at.

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Our food arrives, we dig in with enthusiasm, we are splitting the Passion Fruit Pound Cake French Toast (I kid you not!) and the Poutine Deluxe, my mouth is watering as I write this….The french toast is utterly delicious, served with a buttermilk cream sauce it is just the right amount of sweetness. On the other hand the poutine is a savory mix of french fries, scrambled eggs, cotija cheese, hollandaise sauce, 4-pepper gravy and crumbled bacon, alright, so it’s not low in fat, for something this good I’m willing to put in a little extra work-out time.  As we savor our brunch I continue to notice things, like the planters playing host to doll heads, the giant Calypso sign above the kitchen, the Lone Ranger and fun window displays featuring great items from the 40’s and 50’s. The food is a fusion of Southern and Mexican style, with so many interesting things on the menu to try, we’ll definitely be back. So there you have it, from one of Detroit’s oldest places to one of its newest, its been another great day in the city !!

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DETROIT: Checkin’ Out the Fisher…

10 Feb

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Detroit has suddenly become tour-riffic; you can see the city on foot, bicycle, bus, boat or Segway. You can learn about history, architecture, where to eat or have a cocktail, you can even go behind the scenes… Today we are touring “Detroit’s largest art object” otherwise known as the Fisher Building. Built in 1928, designed by (all together now….) Albert Kahn, paid for by the Fisher brothers as a gift to the city, the building is an Art Deco masterpiece. First some stats: The building stands 28 stories tall on W Grand Blvd, it has two 11-story wings, 641 bronze elevator doors and 1,275 miles of electrical and telephone wire. It was built in 15 months by Michigan contractors and workers.

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Pure Detroit is hosting their free weekly tour, we meet our guide Ryan in the lobby, 3-stories tall with a barrel-vaulted hand-painted ceiling, it is breath-taking. Today, in a special exhibit, a group of giant paper mache heads are scattered about the main floor vying for our attention. On loan from The Parade Company, they were originally created by artists in Viareggio Italy, some date back to the 1940’s. Two clown heads greet us first, painted cartoon style, the colors are bright and glossy. Continuing on we meet a pair of reindeer, an alligator and a blue hippo, a purple bug and a bumble bee are super cute.  Further on we come face to face with the Pirates of the Big Head collection, finely detailed, they sport tattoos, gold earrings and a treasure chest. I can see the old Italian newsprint in areas where the paint has chipped away. Many are in need of restoration, the exhibit hopes to encourage individuals to ‘adopt’ a big head, making donations to support the cost of restoration.

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The tour moves onward down the long corridor, we learn the building is constructed of Minnesota granite and Maryland marble. The original theater entrance lobby with it’s fluted marble pillars is stunning; in total, 40 varieties of marble from all of the world line the interior of the building. Near the Grand Blvd entrance, three original mosaics created by Geza Morati are as beautiful as the day they were completed, a brass piece in the floor is roped off, saving it from the wear of foot traffic. On the third floor we marvel at the frescos covering the ceiling; flora, fauna, hemlock, muses and red-haired cherubs were designed by Geza Maroti and painted by Antonio and Tomas de Lorenzo, at this level we can actually touch the arches, chandeliers seem only an arms length away. Ryan tells us the back in the day the ceiling was washed with buttermilk. He goes on to explain the symbolism of the eagles, the inclusion of commerce, transportation, art, agriculture and how the building reflected the new purely American style.

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A single elevator leads to the 26th floor, we must divide into groups as the elevator cannot take everyone at once. The doors open, we find ourselves in the Reception Room; back in the day floors 25-27 had a dining room, kitchen, living room and private elevator as this is where the Fisher brothers had their offices. At one time Persian rugs and massive hand-carved desks rested on the floor, very masculine. Dark walnut paneling, scrolled plaster ceiling, a fireplace and bronze chandeliers remain, I can’t say the same for the rest of the floor. Drop ceilings cap off empty rooms, but then there’s 360 degree view of the Detroit skyline. As we move from window to window taking in the sights Ryan tells us the Fisher building was originally topped with gold-leaf faced tile. During WWII it was feared the glimmering tower would become a target for bombings, it was covered with an asphalt material; after the war, the tower was covered with green terracotta tile as you see today. The Fisher family sold the building in 1962, in 2001 the Farbman Group of Southfield purchased the structure, an interesting bit of info: David Farbman, President and CEO of the Farbman Group has a family connection to the Fisher, Albert Kahn was his Great-Grand Uncle!

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The tour ends, back on the main floor we stop in at Stella Cafe for a cup of coffee. Recently remodeled using reclaimed wood the shop is bright and pleasant. A series of 3 yellow lamps dangle above the counter, the same marble floor graces the space. Stella roasts their own coffee beans, in addition they offer a selection of teas, juices, sweets, yogurt, soup and sandwiches. We drink our coffee surrounded by the beauty of the building. Vera Jane is just around the corner, offering a unique selection of handbags, lingerie, clothing and accessories, I like to stop in anytime we are in the building. Workshop is the latest retail addition, the shop sells handmade furniture created from Detroit reclaimed lumber. Vacant houses are disassembled, the wood is removed, sanded and refinished, James Willer of Reclaim Detroit and Kevin Borsay of Pure Detroit, then create furniture from the pieces. On display are dining tables, benches, shelving and coffee tables; each piece comes with the address of the house the wood came from, cool. I also love the wallpaper which comes from The Detroit Wallpaper Co.

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We stop in at Pure Detroit to say thanks for the tour, referred to as “The Store of All Things Detroit”,  husband and wife team Kevin and Shawn were the first to create a totally Detroit-centric shop. Through the years they have grown from a single store to three, each in a landmark building, and have added Stella and Rowland Cafe to the family.Their passion for the city is obvious in everything they do. We wander among all of the clothing, books, art, Pewabic Pottery and snacks, near the counter is an awesome model of the Fisher built from Legos, groovy! Kris purchases a hat and we are off…..

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The tour and shopping have left us starving, we park in the lot at Third Street Bar to grab some lunch. The room is dimly lit, tables are made from split logs, there’s a fireplace to the left, above it logs have been sliced into thin pieces and attached to the wall creating interesting patterns. It is late afternoon, the skee ball, dart board and shuffleboard table are still. We are here for some Dangerously Delicious Pie. I walk to the back corner where I find a wall- mounted menu of savory and sweet pies, on a table, a doorbell-like button  says “press for service”, so I do. I place the order, pay the man and join Kris back at the table. Before long, two pie tins piled high with leafy green salad and a piece of pie arrive. The BBQ pork is unbelievably delicious, the meat just falls apart, it is juicy and flavorful, the crust is to die for. The ham and cheese quiche is divine, it has the same wonderful crust; you get a nice slice of pie and a generous portion of salad for just 6 bucks. As much as we would like to try a piece of one of the dessert pies, we just can’t do it. The bar is open daily, pies are served for lunch, dinner and late night, we’ll be back………

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The Fabulous Fisher Building

23 Nov

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In August 1927, ground was broken for a new building that would be home to the offices of Fisher and Company. Having purchased seven acres, and employing architect extraordinaire Albert Kahn, the Fisher brothers spent $9 million dollars to create The Fisher Building. A little background here; the seven Fisher brothers developed the closed body for auto manufacturing, you may remember GM cars had “Body by Fisher” at one time, these are the men responsible for that. They amassed fortunes, so money was no object in creating what they wanted to be the world’s most beautiful office building. Often referred to as “Detroit’s largest art object”, it is one of those places you have to see to believe.

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Enter the building from from Grand Blvd or Lothrop for the most impressive view. The main arcade is 30 feet wide 44 feet high and 600 feet long, this place is incredible! It’s difficult to decide what to focus on, my eyes are usually drawn to the towering art deco chandeliers first; ranging from 5 to 8 feet tall they hang from the center arcade and softly illuminate this work of art. Everywhere you look there is something beautiful; 3 original mosaics enhance the grand arcade, solid bronze medallions are laid into the floor, 40 different varieties of marble from all over the world, brass and bronze decorate the interior. The elevator doors are incredibly detailed and vary from floor to floor. Geza Maroti was brought from Hungary to Detroit by Eliel Saarinen to work on Cranbrook, while he was here Kahn hired him to work on the Fisher. Maroti hand painted the frescoes, he also created the lunettes, plaques and mosaics.

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Take the stairway to the second floor; here you can get an up close view of the magnificent chandeliers. From this level you can really appreciate the intricate floor patterns, notice the same architectural design is repeated throughout the building. Walk up to the third floor, now you are in the thick of things. Find yourself surrounded by hand painted decor; there are 60 nude figures painted on the ceiling of the arcade, no two are alike, dozens of eagles, hemlock, and oranges fill up the space. 40 % of the ceiling is gold leaf, and from here it is stunning. Standing in the archway at the end of the hall you are completely surrounded by decoration, it’s tempting to reach out and touch the walls, but don’t! When you have had your fill of sightseeing on the third and second floor return to the main floor for a snack and a little shopping.

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Start at Stella International Cafe for a beverage and a snack, carry it over to the lobby that is across from the Fisher Theatre. Have a seat at one of the tables, make yourself comfortable and just sit there and take in the surroundings. This is my favorite little area, the ornamentation here is insanely gorgeous. The blending of marble and bronze, exotic sconces and more chandeliers, wow! While you are sitting there think about this; this was built as an office building, seriously. Since the 20’s  regular people like you and I would come here to shop, have a bite to eat, maybe see their dentist or accountant. Men would smoke their pipes, couples would dress up to attend a show at the renowned Fisher Theatre.  Looking to do a little shopping? Stop in the Detroit Gallery of Contemporary Crafts, if you are looking for something unique, you can find it here. From glassware, pottery and jewelry to clothing and art objects their selection is first class. While inside note the amazing Pewabic Pottery flooring. If you’re looking for something Detroit, then by all means stop in at Pure Detroit. T-shirts, music, Sanders, Faygo, Pewabic Pottery, and a great book selection; chances are if it’s a Detroit thing they have it here.

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You may not know this but the Fisher building connects to the Albert Kahn building and the old GM building through a series of underground corridors, how cool is that? You have to check it out; from the lower level of the Fisher building follow the the tiled corridors from building to building, they even made these pretty. I love the mailboxes that are built into the walls and the drinking fountains that can be found here and there. This is a great convenience on those cold winter days. We usually come up through the Kahn building, another fine example of beautiful design. Once outdoors take the time to really look at the Fisher building, the main tower is 28 stories, it was originally covered with gold-leaf tiles, but has since been replaced with tiles made of green terracotta. If you listen to WJR you have heard them say they are coming to you “from the Golden Tower of the Fisher Building”, now you know why. Since 1928 this golden tower has  brightened the Detroit skyline, that same year Albert Kahn received the Architectural Leagues Silver Medal, designating this as the most beautiful structure of the year. In 1989 the building was designated a National Historic Landmark.  I invite you to come and experience it for yourself, it is a must-see Detroit landmark!

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Time to eat! We drove a few blocks over to Baltimore to Northern Lights Lounge, you can park in their lot or right on the street. The sign out front is indicative of what you will find inside, that cool 50’s lounge style. They do a nice job with it, great retro furniture and lighting, and shuffleboard too. There’s a roomy sitting area in the front, seating is laid out in a way that makes it easy for small groups to converse. The dining area is large and offers regular or high top tables and booth seating. All the old standards were represented on the lunch menu, we had the cobb salad with their spicy homemade ranch dressing. The salad was huge, thick strips of ham, turkey and swiss cheese were placed on top alongside halved hard boiled eggs; the dressing was good, I liked the kick of spice it added. The sandwich decision was little harder, the Baltimore Burger caught our eye, so we gave it a try. Similar to a Big Boy the burger was topped with cheese, onions, and thousand island dressing, it was served with a pile of seasoned fries that were crisp and tasty. Our waitress couldn’t have been nicer and the service was quick. It’s a good place to keep in mind when you are in this section of the city.

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