Tag Archives: Guardian Building

Belle Isle: Statues & Monuments

27 Sep

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Belle Isle is often referred to as the Crown Jewel of Detroit’s public park system, I say it is a jewel with many facets. Originally settled by French colonists in the 18th century, Detroit city fathers purchased the island in 1879 for $200,000 from the Campau family. There is the very public side of the island; the Scott Fountain, Casino, Dossin Great Lakes Museum, Conservatory, Giant Slide, and the picnic pavilions. There are also a number of areas and things that go unexplored by the average visitor. Our goal today was to drive around the island pointing out things you may not have noticed or even knew they existed; to take a walk through the nature of the island, and to share some of the 5 magnificent miles of scenic shoreline. Belle Isle provides spectacular views of the Detroit skyline, Canada, the Ambassador Bridge and a steady stream of freighter traffic.

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Statues pay tribute to important figures in business, music and literature. Johann Frederick Von Schiller who wrote “Ode to Joy” is perched upon a pedestal, book in hand, peacefully gazing at nature. A white marble bust of Dante Alighieri, Father of Italian literature stands tall and serious. James Brady founder of the Old Newsboys Goodfellow Fund holds a small child near to him. A single soldier stands at attention representing the Civil War Grand Army of of the Republic. Quite impressive is the tribute to Samuel Francis Smith, author of “America”; Art Deco in style, eagles sit perched at each corner, a flag pole reaches up toward the sky as Old Glory waves in the air.You have probably seen the large statue of a man on a horse; Major General Alpheus Sharkey Williams, the detail is exquisite. One of my favorites is “Partners”, a newsboy and his dog.

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The island is full of beautiful things; a bridge near the Casino building is just gorgeous. The sides of the bridge are incredibly ornate wrought iron bent into loops and curlicues now painted bright turquoise. The fancy carved stone columns at the ends let us know that it was built by the King Bridge Company in 1893. In another area, situated further back from the roadway rests the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon; this neo-gothic tower was designed by Clarence E Day. Stunning in design and detail, it was dedicated in 1940 to the newspaper columnist who raised most of the building fund from her readers. Today the fenced in area surrounding it looks forgotten, tall grass and weeds grow freely, still, the sound of cast bronze bells continue to ring out and delight all of those who hear it. The William Livingstone Memorial Lighthouse is the only all marble lighthouse in the US; located at the east end of the island it’s owned by the city of Detroit. There’s a path that will lead you out to it, it’s a bit of a walk, but I can assure you it is worth the effort. Designed by Albert Kahn and built in the Art Deco style it’s a thing of beauty. Made of White Georgia Marble and topped off with a bronze lantern room, the light is visible up to 15 miles away on Lake St. Clair. They actually extended the eastern tip of the island 1/4 mile into the river back in 1929 just so they could build the lighthouse on this spot.

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The north east end of the island is quiet and secluded, nature has reclaimed much of it. If you’re the adventurous type there are pathways and nature trails that lead past the Blue Heron Lagoon and over to the shoreline, at one point you get a spectacular view of the open waterway leading out to Lake St Clair. Earlier in the year people from Cherry Creek and Sleeping Bear wineries proposed putting in a vineyard in this area, using the Casino building as a tasting room and sales area, we’ll see what happens…… 

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Shopping Pure Detroit, Midtown, West Willis

16 May

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The day began with a trip to the Guardian Building, originally known as The Union Trust Company, it opened in 1929. Designed by Wirt Rowland and costing $12 million dollars this structure is a true work of art.  With it’s combination of exotic marble, Pewabic and Rookwood tile, Monel metal and stone it is a true Art Deco Masterpiece. We stopped in at Pure Detroit to have a look around, we have been regular patrons since the opening of their very first store back in 1998. Owners Shawn and Kevin are dedicated to Detroit, and that is clearly reflected in their stores. The products they sell all represent the city, everything from T-shirts and hats to local food products, books and gifts. We then proceeded to have a coffee in the cafe, this is truly one of our favorite buildings, I never tire of  staring at the intricate Aztec design, but more on that another time.

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Our minds were set on lunch at Mid-town Shangri- La, a fabulous Chinese restaurant on Cass near Wayne State’s Old Main. We’ve had the Chinese, it is very good, but we come for the Dim Sum, you MUST try it sometime.  I had never tried it before I had it here, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Basically it is small portions of food served in steamer baskets or on small plates, think appetizers, lots to choose from here. Depending on when you arrive, they may have the Dim Sum cart from which you can select the dishes you’d like, or they  can be made to order. I would highly recommend the Shrimp Kau, fresh shrimp steamed in a soft noodle like wrapper, so simple, and so delicious. We also had the Curry Chicken Pastry, so good, I’ve never had such flaky pastry before, the Deep Fried Squid with Spicy Salt, I actually crave this dish, the most tender squid you will ever eat, and of course the Shiu Mai. A friend got this one day when we had lunch together, and it’s been a staple for us ever since. I can’t forget the Bubble Tea, it may look strange if you’ve not had it before, there are large dark colored Tapioca balls sitting in the bottom just waiting to be sucked up the oversized straw. Be sure to chew them! The Mango is my favorite.

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There’s a great little up and coming district over on W Willis, also in Midtown, where Avalon International Breads resides. This is one of those places that once you discover it, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. Walk in the door and enjoy the scent of fresh baked goods, the industrial looking space is warmed up with walls painted the golden color of crusty bread. Large menu signs are suspended from the ceiling, and shelves of large chrome racks are filledwith items fresh from the oven; focaccia, loaves of Motown Multigrain, Poletown Rye, Greektown Olive and baguettes. The mouthwatering counter display of cookies, scones, Amazing Amazon Brownies, and Seriously Sticky Buns are all tempting, and make it nearly impossible to decide. Coffee, espresso drinks, hot chocolate, and smoothies are also available. Avalon has grown through the years, they also offer breakfast, homemade soup, grab and go sandwiches and salads. There are a few tables and limited counter space inside, when weather permits the patio offers multiple tables for outdoor dining. Everything is made with organic flour and tastes divine.

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Joining Avalon on W Willis is Goodwells Natural Food Market, with fresh organic produce, pre-made salads and sandwiches, beverages, and supplements, it is a nice addition to the neighborhood. Next door is Flo Boutique offering womens clothing and accessories. On the corner is Spiral Collective, they sell works by local artists, and have a lovely selection of gifts, and books,  Del Pryor gallery has a space inside too. I love to browse in this store, the selection of items is always changing, and is always top quality merchandise. Rounding out the district is the Willys Overland Loft project. The historic building has been converted to beautiful lofts, exposed brick and excellent views of the city come standard. We were lucky enough to get a personal tour of several different floor plans, 15 of the units have been sold so far.  Right around the corner on Cass is the Curl Up & Dye Salon offering all types of hair and nail services, this part of Midtown continues to thrive, that’s good to see.

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