Tag Archives: Gar Wood

ALGONAC: Got Wood ??

8 Jul

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We are in the riverside town of Algonac MI, the Michigan chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society is hosting their annual boat show “The Annual Plant Jamboree, Where It All Began” at the Algonac Harbour Club. Michigan has a rich boating history, 4 of the major builders originated here: Chris Craft in Algonac, Century in Manistee, Gar Wood in Marysville and Hacker Craft in Mt Clemens. Since we are in Algonac, it seems fitting to give you a little background on Chris Craft. While I share the story with you sit back and relax, look at all of the beautiful boat pictures and imagine yourself out on the water in a magnificent, restored wooden power boat, cold drink in hand, soaking up the scenery. 

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The significance of Chris Craft and Algonac go hand in hand. It was here that sport and power of power boating began. Over a century ago Christopher Columbus Smith took the first Chris Craft boat out onto this exact spot to go fishing, in 1881 he enlisted the help of his brother Hank to build boats full-time. In 1915 Smith’s boat “Miss Detroit” won the Gold Cup, earning the right to bring the event to Detroit. Garfield A Wood (known as the Gray Fox of Algonac) purchased the boat in 1916 and went on to win the Gold Cup 6 consecutive times, making Algonac the home of powerboating. In those days America was a powerhouse, we could build anything, we were champions of speed and power, we were unstoppable. The Chris Craft family built and maintained the boating empire over several generations, for many years the company was the region’s largest employer, it supported the United States wartime effort with their marine technology. The original water tower and a factory building still stand on the grounds of Algonac Harbour Club. We peek into the old factory, today cars are parked inside, if these walls could talk…

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So here we are in 2016, Algonac is still referred to as the home of power boating, the Venice of Michigan, boating is a way of life here. Residents drive their boats through turquoise-colored canals the way you and I drive through neighborhood streets. Fisherman are in pursuit of Pickerel, leisure boaters skim the water through canals out to the largest freshwater delta in the world, the St Clair Flats, Harsens Island, Muscamoot Bays and the St Clair river. Go north and you’ll spill out into Lake Huron, south will lead you through Lake St Clair, the Detroit River and eventually into Lake Erie. Michigan is special for its spectacular waterways, just look around and you’ll see why.

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Making our way through the marina we pass one beautiful boat after another, registration cards use terms such as woody, skiff, runabout, utility and cruiser. Mahogany gleams under layers of varnish, American, Canadian and Chris Craft flags waver under a cloudless sky. Interiors are upholstered in solid blues, greens and red and white stripes, some have separate seating compartments while others are wide open, dashboards are decked out with gauges, the sun reflects off sparkling chrome. I love the name plates and badges especially the red, white and blue Super Sport, a boat named Tiger Lily catches my eye, what a beauty in light wood and yellow stain. The houses across the canal are dolled up for the summer, petunias spill from large pots, decks look BBQ-ready, what a quaint area to call home.

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We follow the narrow walkway, wooden boats tied to deck cleats bob on tiny waves made from passing boaters, everybody wants to have a look. Some boats look ready for a fishing excursion while others display picnic gear, the vintage water skis are super-cool. The water craft range in size from tiny fishing boats to ocean-going, I overheard one woman say they came up from Florida to be in the show today, the cabin boat she’s on certainly looks like it’s up to the voyage. Engines bear names like Mercury, Chrysler Marine and even Cadillac, chrome horns rest on bows. At the other end of the marina fiberglass boats from the 1960’s and 70’s wait for their turn on the lake; they wear bright colors, metal flake paint and cool racing stripes, James Bond would look perfect behind the wheel.

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August 25-28 2016 will be the 100th running of the Gold Cup Races on the Detroit River, there will be a display of woody boats belonging to the members of the Antique and Classic Boat Society. Looking for something a little more laid back? Head up to Port Huron September 9-10 for the Blue Water Antique and Classic Boat Show. Don’t forget the annual Parade of Lights on the Clinton River in Harrison Twp. August 6.

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Waterfront dining is a must on a day like today, we follow M 29 north to Mc Rae’s Big River Grille. To the left the bar area pays tribute to Vernor’s; walls are covered in vintage wooden crates, a large yellow sign takes up real estate on one side. The dining room is huge, the length of the room is a wall of windows overlooking the glistening St. Clair River. We place our order and sip on cocktails as we watch boats cruise up and down the river. Our food arrives, we dig into the Sweet Honey Chicken Sriracha Flatbread, a little sweet, a little spicy; banana peppers, pineapple, bacon and cheddar cheese. The Coconut-battered Chicken Strips are crunchy and delicious. This is how a summer day should be, a picturesque drive along the water, gorgeous old wooden boats, dining on the river, perfect!



Along The St. Clair…..

22 Sep

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We are driving up M-29 to the city of Algonac, the water speed capital of the nation. You may not know this but Algonac is the birthplace of America’s supremacy in powerboat racing. The city played a leading role in shipbuilding;  from sailing cargo ships to large pleasure-craft, racing boats and landing craft, including the craft used in the Normandy landing. This is where Chris-Craft was born; in 1927 Chris-Craft was recognized as the world’s largest builder of mahogany-constructed power boats. Between 1921-1932 Christopher Smith (Chris-Craft) and Garfield Wood built 10 Miss America’s in Algonac. Gar Wood established the world water speed record of 124.91 miles per hour in 1932 in the Miss America X.

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Just last summer the Algonac-Clay Historical Society opened a Maritime Museum right on St Clair River Drive in a building donated by Fifth-Third Bank, let’s have a look. The 8,300 sq ft space is loaded with nautically themed displays; several boats are set atop water-like flooring, easels display photos, brochures and newspaper clippings, walls are covered in framed boat designs, photographs and flags. Placards tell the stories of the boats; Winning Ticket was won in a local raffle in 1949–check out the vintage Vernor’s cooler. The Aqua Lady is a cool 19 ft Sports Express Cruiser made by Chris-Craft in 1958 as a kit boat. The inside looks surprisingly roomy; a 2-burner stove, storage and banquettes surrounding a table, pretty cozy! Last Gar is a gorgeous wooden boat with an interesting tale to go with it. Outboard motors, racing boats and a showcase filled with trophies are at our disposal, I learned that Gar Wood won the coveted Harmsworth Trophy 8 times.

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On display is a boat dashboard; covered in gauges, shifters, controls and a steering wheel, visitors take a turns being captain. Further on we find another Chris-Craft Kit Boat, this one built by the Algonac High School shop class, next to it is a boat from 1909, both look brand new! There are model ships, a workbench with tools, more literature and facts on Chris-Craft manufacturing. Engines and replacement parts give us insight on what we cannot see ordinarily, it’s fascinating to be able to see the boats up close, there’s so much detail.

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Outside, we make our way to the riverfront, the 1800 ft long boardwalk offers benches that overlook the lovely blue water. We sit and watch as the City of Algonac ferry transports cars across the St. Clair River to Canada and Walpole Island; pleasure boats zip across the water under the afternoon sun. Time to head north. Back on M-29 we pass the house that Gar Wood once lived in; I like being able to connect the past to the present.

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We are having lunch waterside at Anita’s Riverfront Grille in Marine City. The patio is host to picnic tables with umbrellas that hug a view of the river, colorful flowers and vines topple over the sides of planters, live music is provided by a singer playing guitar. We sip on cold drinks as freighters float downriver, swimsuit-clad boaters skip over the water’s surface in speedboats, smaller boats take a more casual approach, checking out the shoreline as they pass. Our Combo Platter arrives, we waste no time digging in. The wet burrito has a chunky sauce with beans, very tasty, The chicken enchilada and soft taco disappear quickly as does the rice and beans. 

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Today we are visiting the Mariner, a former movie palace built in 1927. The current owner completely restored the building which is now home to the RMS Titanic exhibit and multi-use venue that houses fine models, historical items, antiques and art. A new period marquee welcomes visitors, a 1917 popcorn machine and peanut roaster reside in the lobby area, 46 original 1930’s style mohair theater seats have been installed along with antique light fixtures. The place is pretty amazing. We begin our visit in the galleries; each one displays the finest quality models of automobiles, ships, aircraft and locomotives, the detail is unbelievable. America-themed posters hang on the walls, shelves are lined with books, there’s a jukebox, a transparent clock tower with a bell and a cuckoo clock. Case to case we study miniature war ships, farm equipment, engines and machinery, all are available for purchase. 

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The main attraction, of course, is the exhibit: Titanic – The Building Of An Icon. First a quick review: The Titanic was built at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, it was the largest passenger steamship in the world at the time. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg, broke into 2 pieces and sank in 2 hours and 40 minutes. In 1995 the builders of the Titanic approached Fine Art Models (of Marine City) to build the “builders model” of the Titanic. “One very important fact surrounding this model is that by agreement with Harland and Wolff, this model would never be displayed with the artifacts brought up from the Titanic gravesite. Furthermore, the exhibit of this model would never be seen as an effort to profit from this tragic event.” The model has traveled to museums and charitable events across the United States, raising over $5 million to date for non-profits and charitable organizations.

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The 18 ft, 1500 lb Titanic model is housed in a glass case, it is the centerpiece of the gallery. We walk around looking at actual photos of the interior and exterior of the ship, reading placards, getting our fill of information before really examining the ship. Completed in 2002, it took 7 years to build the model; artisans worked directly with the original builders, using original drawings. The decking is real wood, so is the deck furniture, the entire superstructure is constructed of brass, 3,376,000 rivets (yes, that’s 3 MILLION) are all placed in their correct location, it boggles the mind. Looking at the model it’s easy to imagine the excitement the passengers must have felt boarding this remarkable vessel, I can almost picture well-dressed couples, strolling arm-in-arm on deck. The story of the Titanic has captured the attention of people all over the world for decades, what an incredible opportunity this is to see the legendary ship (in miniature, of course) up close, to take it in, knowing its ultimate fate.

Detroit: Belle Isle Clubbing…..

17 Feb


It’s official, on February 10 historic Belle Isle became Michigan’s 102nd State Park. The DNR will now manage the island, the state will work with the Belle Isle Conservancy and the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee in decision-making and upcoming projects. I find it very exciting! The DNR has already begun removing felled and hazardous trees, a shelter has been re-roofed and several picnic tables refurbished. In the next 6 months we should see restoration and reopening of restrooms, clearing of debris on trails, expansion of picnic areas, new signage and lighting, this is only the beginning….YES!



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Today is Shiver On The River, all of the buildings on the island are open to the public, tours are being given at The Detroit Yacht Club. The DYC is one of the oldest and most prestigious private clubs in North America, located on an 11 acre private island in the Detroit River, the 96,000 sq ft Mediterranean-style building was designed by George Mason (Masonic Temple, Gem Theatre, Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island). The DYC was founded in 1868, this building is their fifth clubhouse, it was dedicated in 1923, the same year the concrete McArthur bridge opened, connecting the island to the city. C’mon let’s have a look!


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A long red carpet leads us to the front entrance, the building is lovely, custom-made revolving doors lead us to the first floor. We are greeted by our tour guide then head up the staircase with its gorgeous banister in the main lobby. In front of us windows overlook the Detroit River, floral carpet leads in all directions, Pewabic Tile medallions are placed high along the walls, a nautical theme is carried out throughout the building. First stop, the Trophy Room, the ornate fireplace takes center stage here, it was hand-carved in place, up close I spy a boat, anchor and rope among the carvings. Above it a painting maps out the private island’s place in the river. Trophy cases are filled with large silver cups, photos and memorabilia. Plaster walls are textured, common for the time period, wall sconces and chandelier are original. We are led to Peacock Alley, named after Peacock Alley in the Waldorf Astoria where society ladies gathered for tea, this stretch of hallway oozes elegance. The Pewabic tile floor gleams, chandeliers hang by thin chains in a line, golden leaves and roses, they are delicate, feminine, and formerly inhabited Rose Terrace. Paintings line the wall, at one time this area was called the DYC Art Gallery. 




The indoor swimming pool is gorgeous, Olympic size, every square inch is covered in Pewabic Tile. Mary Chase Perry Stratton was a club member and agreed to provide all of the tile when the club was built; she retained control of all design and placement of tile within the building. Huge windows bring the outdoors in, the water sparkles in the light, colored tiles create an illusion of lanes across the floor of the pool. Walls are tiled half way up, a border of rectangular wave tile surrounds the room, individual hand painted tiles add personality; swans, fish and water scenes. The room is warm, chaise lounges linger pool-side, for a moment I forget it is February. 

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The Ballroom is the largest room in the clubhouse, 3-stories high with a spectacular wood beam ceiling, it is enchanting. I feel like I have wandered into a castle in a far-away land; staff members are busy setting up for what could only be a Fairy Tale wedding. The room is expansive; a gentleman sits at the baby grand piano, music quietly fills the air. The fireplace is enormous, it too was carved in place, the sailboat above a reminder of our proximity to the water. Circular chandeliers softly light the room and reflect off the polished wood floor, my mouth is agape as I take it all in, Kris is engrossed in picture-taking. Reluctantly, we move on to the Library, it is just one beautiful room after another, wood-paneled walls, built-in bookshelves and cozy seating areas complete with table lamps invite visitors to curl up with a good book. Passing through the bar area we are told it was originally a porch, a portrait of Gar Wood at age 70 hangs on the wall. The dining room is exquisite; detailed plaster work and terrazzo floors, the room was recently restored. A splendid fountain was discovered behind one of the walls during renovations, today it is out in the open for all to see. Bronze statues rest on tables in the lobby of the dining room, donated by Col. A Victory Seymor MD, he was a club member and surgeon.

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At one time the Board Room and Billiard room were located on the third floor, the space was converted to a meeting room in 1960, the highlight of the room is the doors that open up to the spectator balcony which overlooks the Ballroom. Here we get up close to the ornate, well-crafted, hand-painted beams we saw from the Ballroom floor, they are stunning. Boarding the elevator (added in 1960) we take it down to the first level where locker rooms, fitness center and Binnacle are located. We wander down a long hall, photos of past Commodores in custom frames cover the walls. Flags from other Yacht Clubs where members have visited wrap around the top of the bar, pictures of club history and historical boats hang on the Grill’s walls. FYI: the private island the DYC is built on was man-made…at that time Detroit was in the process of building skyscrapers downtown, the dirt was removed, then taken over to Belle Isle to create the island the clubhouse rests on today. Our tour guide was a former Commodore, he was filled with interesting stories and information that really made the history of the building come alive!




Time to grab some lunch; a fundraiser for the Belle Isle Conservancy called “Hot Soup” is being held at the Flynn Pavilion; Kris drank hot chocolate here when he was a lad, I have never been inside the building, we are curious to check it out. Built in 1949, this single story, stone facade building is often credited to Eero Saarinen, in fact, the actual architect is J Robert F Swanson. A one time partner of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, he left the firm and started Swanson Associates in 1947. His wife Pipsan Saarinen (you got it, daughter and sister of the previously mentioned Eliel and Eero) oversaw the interior designs. Built to provide shelter and amenities for Summer and Winter activities, the building is a wonderful example of Mid Century Modern Design.




Inside we are awestruck by the knotty pine plank ceiling and beams, the back wall is a grayish-colored stone that surrounds a wood fireplace surround, it’s like we’ve wandered into some cool Modern lodge somewhere up north! Horizontal bands of casement windows line the length of each wall, one side overlooks the Lake Takoma Lagoon, the other the park itself, we are stunned by what good condition everything is in. To the left big pots of soup, trays of Avalon Bread and slices of Dangerously Delicious Pies beckon to us, Stella Cafe is providing the hot chocolate. Each of us has a bowl of vegetarian chili, bread and a white chocolate Macadamia cookie, everything is delicious! What a treat the day has been, there is no end to the amazing things that can be found right here in Detroit.