Tag Archives: Ford

Detroit: The Train Station

4 Dec

michigan central 185 (1)

Finally…. For years Kris has avoided taking photos of Michigan Central station. It wasn’t that he didn’t love the building, the architecture, the history; he has fond memories of this place. The family vacation to Colorado in ’72, the Freedom Train in ’76, remembering the beautiful castle-like space from his childhood. But it had become the symbol of the death of the city, the ruin porn capitol, an iconic image of Detroit’s decline. Time after time we’d pass by watching the cars with Illinois, Ohio, Ontario license plates snapping photos and selfies out front, propagating the image of Detroit as the graveyard of skyscrapers… Kris, ever the contrarian, was having no part of the cliche’. Today all of that changes, today we’re going inside and for all the right reasons; the station will live again!!

michigan central 003 (1)

michigan central 007 (1)

michigan central 009 (1)

It’s Friday evening Kris and I have the unique opportunity to see a film inside Michigan Central Station (aka the old train station) in Detroit. Ford, History and the Freep Film Fest are hosting a special screening of Detroit: Comeback City inside the building that inspired the film.  The film explores the rise, fall and epic re-birth through a single building; Michigan Central Station. Detroit, once one of America’s richest city’s is now America’s comeback city. After the film we have about 45 minutes for a self-guided tour. I’ve never set foot in the building, I’m so excited!

michigan central 098 (1)

michigan central 183 (1)

michigan central 074 (1)

The temperature tonight is below average–it’s downright cold, an email suggests we bring blankets so I do. Standing in front of the building I am awestruck by the sheer size and grandeur; it’s beautiful. I have never been this close before, walking with my head tipped back I have to be mindful of where I’m stepping, Kris competes with other tourists taking photos. We pass through that grand arch, a smile plastered to my face, we sign waivers and are given packages of hand warmers, I only half-pay attention, the building and the exotic lighting are captivating. Rows of folding chairs are set up in front of a large screen, we sit in the back, there’s no escaping the frigid breeze that blows through giant window openings; I’m glad I brought a blanket. As I wait for the film to start I gaze at my surroundings, all of the rubble from years of decay and vandalism have been removed, a net clings to the ceiling in case a random brick comes loose, architectural details are highlighted by cool LED lighting. The film begins. Sit back and enjoy Kris’s photos while I tell you about MCS.

michigan central 164 (1)

michigan central 100 (1)

michigan central 180 (1)

Michigan Central Station opened in 1913. It was put into service before it was finished; the old train station caught fire, trains were rushed over to the new station where they came and went until 1988. Designed in the Beaux Arts Classical style it was the tallest train station in the world at that time. The main waiting room stretches the length of the building, it was modeled after the public baths of ancient Rome with walls of marble, vaulted ceilings, bronze chandeliers and massive Doric columns. A large hall called an arcade housed a cigar shop, newsstand, pharmacy, barber shop, telephone booths, baths and an info booth. Brick walls and a copper skylight surrounded the concourse, a restaurant was at the far end. Detroit was a thriving city, an industrial powerhouse; this is where it greeted its visitors and new residents.  I’ve looked at a ton of vintage photos; the massive main waiting room, broad coffered arches, the reading room with potted palms, leather chairs and wood-beamed ceiling, white table cloths in the restaurant, light streaming through the grand Palladian window. It made a statement about the city; when you stepped into MCS you knew you were someplace great.

michigan central 043 (1)

michigan central 061 (1)

michigan central 056 (1)

michigan central 150 (1)

Soldiers heading off to forts, boot camps, WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam left from these tracks.   At the beginning of WWI more than 200 trains left the station daily, in the 1940’s more than 4,000 passengers a day passed through its doors. Whatever was going on in the city or the world the activity centered around MCS. Think about it, at one time the majority of autombiles came from Detroit, trains delivered them across the country. When the factories needed workers, trains brought a huge influx of men from the south. Presidents, movie stars, industrialists arrived in the Motor City by train. We were the Arsenal of Democracy, the capital of innovation, the Silicone Valley of the early 20th Century; from the Model T to music there was a feeling there wasn’t anything Detroit couldn’t do. And then it changed. Here we are today; after decades of decline the city not only survived bankruptcy, it’s thriving. It’s only fitting that MCS, which has become a major symbol for the city through both good and bad times will be restored to its original glory.  Ford Motor Company plans to move 2,500 employees into the building which will be Ford’s research campus for autonomous vehicle development and deployment. The main floor will be public space with shops and cafes.

michigan central 069 (1)

michigan central 068 (1)

michigan central 156 (1)michigan central 153 (1)

With my blanket wrapped around my shoulders I follow Kris’s lead through the main floor of the building, I feel minuscule in the space. Historic photos explain what we are seeing, for the most part each area is still defined; the arcade with its inset spaces, the ticket windows, the restaurant. Much of the detail remains, surprising considering rain, snow, explorers and vandals have trespassed the building for 3 decades. The roof over the concourse has been removed, yesterdays rain lays in puddles on the floor, the brick walls are intact.  Volunteers are positioned throughout to answer questions, I enjoy listening to people telling their stories about the building; coming to see the Freedom Train, the trips they took or coming to pick up a relative, there are great emotional ties to the building. I stand off to the side to take it all in, just seeing the people here tonight it’s easy to imagine excited travelers arriving and departing. When it was announced that Ford purchased the building an anonymous caller told them where they could find the iconic clock that he had been ‘safekeeping’, there have been more than 2 dozen calls offering the return of a historic fountain, a plaster medallion and light fixtures, no questions asked. It’s a weird thing, somehow we Detroiters feel like the building belongs to all of us.

michigan central 089 (1)

michigan central 093 (1)michigan central 082 (2)

michigan central 024 (1)

We’re having dinner at Rocco’s Italian Deli in the Cass Corridor. The red-brick building has a parking lot on the side, very convenient. The interior is one big open space in white with concrete floors, open ceiling, retro lighting and table or counter seating. A pantry area features dry pasta, canned tomatoes, vinegar, oils and crackers. Refrigerated cases are filled with cured meats, cheeses and olives, the chalkboard menu is filled with delicious sounding sandwiches and salads. We sit at the counter and place our order, I’m having a glass of the house red wine to help warm me up. The chicken noodle soup is set in front of me, there’s nothing like a good bowl of soup! Kris digs into the Chop Chop Salad; cubes of cucumber, tomato, beet, garbanzo’s and carrot tossed in house balsamic, the veggies have a nice crunch, it’s delicious. The Breast Chicken Parm sandwich is a fried chicken cutlet topped with tasty marinara, mozzarella and grated parm on the perfect Italian bread, it’s so good. Easy parking, fast and friendly service and excellent food, a nice addition to the city.

michigan central 201 (2)

michigan central 197 (1)

michigan central 191 (1)

Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third in 1949. The facade of the building is burgundy and pink with a great curved entrance. It opened in the glitzy show bar era of live entertainment and Jazz, it was a Detroit hot-spot. Same old story; neighborhood declined, bar turned seedy, padlocked in 1978. Investors from California partnered with the Detroit Optimist Society to breathe new life into the old building. Upon our arrival we are greeted by the official doorman, the entryway is a wood-paneled circular space with a terrazzo floor, a big “W” sits in the middle. The waiting area is closed off from the main space by a thick velvet curtain, we pay our $7 cover charge, get handed glasses of champagne and are led into the bar. I love it.

michigan central 228 (1)

michigan central 210 (1)

michigan central 208 (2)

The only thing left of the original interior was the curved Art Moderne ceiling which has been completely restored, the new bar follows the same curves as the ceiling, the elevated main stage rests snugly behind the bar. One long banquette runs nearly the length of the bar with tables pulled up in front, a second level of booths sit against the back wall; every seat faces the stage. The band starts their set and suddenly it’s 1949 again; the decor, the music, the craft cocktails, the burlesque dancer. Waiters wear matching suits, service is top-notch, no detail has been left out.  Wills Show Bar is reborn.

michigan central 207 (1)

michigan central 223 (1)

michigan central 217 (1)

When the city of Detroit burned to the ground in 1805 Father Gabriel Richard said: Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribus. We hope for better things, it shall arise from the ashes. It seems that is the story of Detroit, a testament to the resilience of Detroiters. We rise, we fall and we get back up again. 

Ford’s Flora…

10 Aug

ford 135 (1)

We’re in the smallest of the Pointes, Grosse Pointe Shores, on a piece of land known as Gaukler Pointe, you might know it as the Edsel and Eleanor Ford Estate. We purchased a membership for a small fee that allows us free access to the grounds nearly every day of the year. Each time we visit the landscape changes in appearance; there’s always something different in bloom, roses, daffodils or phlox perfume the air, the sun sits at different angles in the sky, changing the shadows of the trees, the color of the lake. The one constant is the utter beauty of this secluded piece of land. Thanks to Eleanor Ford’s foresight it can be enjoyed by all.

ford 003 (1)

ford 023 (1)ford 036 (1)
ford 085 (1)

Public access to Bird Island began this spring. Originally a sandbar in Lake St. Clair, Jens Jensen built a peninsula of land that created a protective cove for Edsel’s boats and served as a habitat for songbirds and wildlife. At Edsel’s request the island was planted with seed-bearing herbaceous shrubs, Elm, Ash, Linden, Crabapple, Dogwood and other berry-producing plants. Now connected to the estate by a bridge, Bird Island adds 3,000 ft to their shoreline. We follow the mulched path that hugs Ford Cove, a few boats float perfectly still in the sheltered water. We pause on the wooden bridge, sailboats dot the horizon, a placard explains the transformation of the island with photos of the flora and fauna found here. Clusters of ripe red berries cover low-growing shrubs, fuzzy, cone-shaped plumes grow on others, we enter an area completely surrounded by trees, we get glimpses of the lake through narrow branches, like peeking through Venetian blinds, the only sound we here is water lapping at the shoreline.

ford 009 (1)

ford 054 (1)

ford 038 (1)ford 029 (1)

ford 028 (1)

The trail leads us to an open, grassy area, benches are perched along the shoreline giving us a panoramic view; power boats and jet skis have joined the mix of activity on the lake. Back in the woodlands we enjoy shady areas, a much needed break from the heat of the day. A mass of yellow flowers top tall green stalks, bumble bees and honey bees are enjoying the colorful blooms. The Ford bees are busy making honey, their hives are in a ways from the path, view them from a distance—or with a zoom lens like Kris did. Back in the trails you’d never know you’re just outside a major urban city. Eleanor would often go for walks here, asking to not be disturbed, she valued her privacy. Today we see just one other couple on the trail. 

ford 063 (1)

ford 058 (1)ford 061 (1)

We take a break from the grounds and head to the visitors center, we’re having lunch in the Cotswold Cafe. The charming cafe has a greenhouse-style ceiling and wall that looks out onto the patio, furniture is garden-like, the carpet is green–very outdoorsy; the sun shines overhead lighting up the room. We are having the Avocado and Palm Heart Salad: mixed greens, diced avocado, palm hearts, cherry tomatoes, red onion, yellow pepper and red quinoa lightly tossed in a lemon and mint vinaigrette, so refreshing on a warm day. We took the Croque Monsieur, thick slices of toasted white bread, Dearborn ham, Swiss cheese and Dijon mustard topped with a creamy, browned cheese sauce and turned it into a Croque Madame with the addition of a poached egg on top. The sandwich is absolutely delicious, a nice mix of crunch and sauce, tangy and creamy. We have cleaned our plates, let’s get back outside.

ford 070 (1)

ford 078 (1)ford 079 (1)

ford 074 (1)

Just outside the visitors center is the Tribute Garden which honors Eleanor Ford with a mix of annuals and perennials. The garden provides color all year long with Liatris, Lupine, Zinnia, Marigolds, Tulips, Phlox, Roses, Columbine, so lovely. A small screened in garden acts as a butterfly house, today it’s teeming with butterflies enjoying Verbena, Zinnia, Coneflower and Salvia. Moving onward we pass the shuttle stop, cross a driveway and walk on the grassy shoreline, sunlight glitters on the water’s surface, the number of boats has doubled while we ate lunch. The landscape and gardens were designed by Jens Jensen, he is best known for his natural landscape design. He preferred open spaces, pathways, native plants and materials. The most prominent feature at the Ford house is its long meadow which is visible from anywhere on the grounds. Extending from the house to the gate lodge, running east to west, the great meadow captures the rising and setting sun. Jensen worked on this landscape from 1926-1932, he combines meadows, woodlands, wetlands and native plants to engage all 5 human senses.

ford 098 (1)

ford 084 (1)ford 106 (1)

ford 111 (1)

Water is another element critical to Jensen’s design, the lagoon is a secluded pond, as if we were in the woods and happened upon it, stacked natural rock creates the sides, here we look through and are rewarded with a stunning view of the swimming pool.  The pool is free-form in shape, surrounded by trees, water from Lake St. Clair fills the basin; a docent tells us Eleanor liked it kept at 80 degrees. A waterfall at the end of the pool allows pool water to overflow into the lagoon, at one time the lagoon was open to the lake but was closed for privacy and security. Oh how I’d like to dive in, splash around, take a few laps! 

ford 114 (1)

ford 123 (1)

ford 117 (1)

Walking away from the pool we enter a more formal-type garden, the Rose Garden. Eleanor loved her roses, Jensen, however, did not like formal gardens, the compromise resulted in a lovely collection of rose bushes. On one end an elevated slate patio with benches gives us an overall view of distinguished beds, each featuring a single color of rose; pink, pale yellow, apricot, cream and white, in the center a fountain, stone frogs wait expectantly in each corner for the water to flow. To the left a fountain built into the wall is also dry today. I turn completely around, my eye travels from the pool to the lake, visible through a frame of trees. Roses smell sweet as we pass on our way to the New Garden.

ford 131 (1)

ford 147 (1)ford 142 (1)

ford 145 (1)

In 1939 this space was re-designed by Jensen’s son-in-law Marshall Johnson, here we have straight lines, hedges and a reflection pool, these types of gardens exemplify the Golden Age of Gardening that was popular on large estates from 1880-1940. I like these types of gardens, such a contrast from the natural style, they work well together. Flower Lane is just what it sounds like, a winding gravel path leads us past irregular shaped borders that host a variety of cultivated perennials and shrubs such as delphinium, lupine, veronica, shasta daisies, phlox and daylilies. Edsel and Eleanor chose the plants, white, yellow and blue are the dominant colors; in springtime this area is a mass of Daffodils, Tulips and Hyacinths. The flowers are bordered by overhanging flowering trees, such a sight in May, the grounds are truly beautiful any time of year. After all of this walking, it’s time for a treat.

ford 195 (1)

ford 199 (1)

ford 204 (1)

Sweeties is located on Kercheval in Grosse Pointe Park, this darling shop sells ice cream, candy and coffee, what else do you need? The mint green and white brick exterior gives way to a natural wood paneled interior; on the right tall shelves hold large jars of “penny” candy. Scoop out your desired amount of Mary Janes, Swedish Fish, Black Jacks or Tootsie Rolls. In the mood for ice cream? The freezer holds about 16 varieties of tasty flavors from Mackinac Island Creamery and organic and vegan selections from Reilly Craft Creamery of Detroit. After a few different sample tastes I choose the coffee chip, such a nice deep coffee flavor and big chunks of dark chocolate, yum. Kris is having the salty caramel, so good! We sit at a table in an area resembling a library, bookshelves run floor to ceiling and are packed with thick volumes, vintage board games and a children’s section complete with tea sets, wooden puzzles and books are all for customer use. On the way out I check out the variety of coffee beans, bulk chocolates, nuts and popcorn. So many things to try, we’ll have to come back often…..