Tag Archives: Historic Homes

Haven Hill

7 Sep

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Edsel Bryant Ford was born in Detroit in 1893, he was the only child of Henry and Clara Ford. From an early age he was passionate about art, with Henry Ford as his father he naturally went into the family business, Ford Motor Company. In 1916 he married Eleanor Lowthian Clay, they went on to have 4 children together, in 1919 he became the youngest president of Ford Motor Company, that same year Henry and Edsel became sole owners of Ford Motor Company, not bad for a 26 year-old man. In the early 1920’s Edsel began buying up land in Highland and White Lake Townships with the intention of building a self-sufficient retreat to escape city life; what he created was a 2,422 acre estate called Haven Hill. Today we’re in the Highland Recreation Area for the Haven Hill Festival.

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We park near the Gate House, built in 1927 this was the original entrance to the estate, anybody entering would have to pass through security to gain access to the property, remember these were the days of kidnapping, labor unrest and gangsters during prohibition. Today it serves as a headquarters for the festival. Inside a man is finishing talking about the property, restoration of the remaining buildings, historic photos and renderings cover the walls and tables. Jens Jensen and Genevieve Gillette worked together on the original landscape design, I’m not sure how much of it remains.

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We make our way to Goose Meadow, a line of Model A’s from members of the Livingston A’s Driving Club are on display; Edsel was responsible for the design of the Model A. The brass band is playing in the distance as an 1860’s era baseball game is finishing up. Under a canopy historic photos of Edsel, Eleanor and their children at Haven Hill are on display; in those days Edsel held the world on a string. We take the Jeep up a narrow lane that winds through the park till we arrive at the Carriage House. The building, a charming log cabin nestled into the woods, still looks to be in decent condition, windows are boarded up for protection. Originally intended to house the chauffeur and the Ford family cars, it became the playhouse for Henry II, Benson, Josephine and William Clay.

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Just up the hill is the site of the Lodge, the 6,900 sq. ft. hilltop residence at Haven Hill; only it isn’t there anymore. In 1999 the building burned to the ground due to arson; I find the site absolutely fascinating. Concrete steps lead us under an arch, up a hill to the homes footprint, historic markers are placed about representing the various rooms of the estate, placards display black and white photos of the room in which we are standing. Footings remain, spray paint maps out the floor plan, the grand stone fireplace is crumbling. I stand in front of the photo that includes the fireplace, in my mind I can see the family gatherings that took place, well-known visitors such as Thomas Edison, Charles Lindbergh, Jackie Cooper, the Prince of Wales and Admiral Richard Byrd were frequent guests.

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The terrace patio remains, a photo shows a group of lounge chairs providing a restful place outdoors. Here and there colorful stone remains, random groups of flowers are in bloom. I meander room to room; photos display conservative furnishings, a child’s bedroom holds a canopy bed, crib and rocking chair. A few steps lead to the top of the hill, the view now obscured by trees. We look around for what’s left of the swimming pool and tennis court, the path is overgrown and impossible to pass.  It’s kind of eerie, here we are standing in what remains of the grand lodge where the Ford family spent 20 years, their children grew up here, they had a 3,000 ft tow-return toboggan run, they rode horses and went fishing, such personal stories laid out for all of us to see.

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On the way down from the lodge we notice a pair of pretty cupolas in the horizon, a closer look reveals a group of buildings once used for the Ford farm, now used as the maintenance shop for the Highland State Recreation Area. The Edsel Ford Barn was built in the 1930’s, a large section of it was blown down by high winds in 2008, crews are currently working on restoring the remaining section of the barn. Haven Hill was a working farm, Henry Ford once said “With one foot in industry and one foot in agriculture America is safe.” Wise words from a wise man… The barn originally housed 1,500 sheep, later it was home to horses and cattle. The barn with its 3-tiered roof is actually quite lovely, I’d love to come back and see it when it’s done.

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Edsel Ford was the longest running president in the history of Ford Motor Company, he introduced the Model A, Mercury and the Continental. He was a supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s trans-Atlantic flight, Admiral Richard Byrd’s North and South Pole flights, he was the chairman of the DIA. In 1943 at the age of 49 Edsel died at home in Grosse Pointe. Three years later Eleanor sold the Haven Hill Estate to the Michigan State Park System. State budget cuts lead to the closure of the structures in the 1980’s, the riding stables and lodge were lost to fire. Now the Friends of Highland Recreation Area and Michigan DNR are working together to bring the 3 remaining structures back to life, it’s an incredible piece of history that has gone largely unnoticed for decades. 

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On our way out of the park we make a stop at Teeple Lake Beach, a canopy on the beach is ready for a wedding ceremony, the shelter is set up for the reception. The small lake is a pretty sight; wildflowers sprout near the shoreline, the water is almost still, a picturesque wedding venue. We are headed to the Village of Milford for lunch, this quaint little town is home to nice boutiques, restaurants, parks, and a trail system, it’s not unusual to see bicyclists riding through town. The rain has begun, we luck out and get a parking space on Main Street directly in front of Palate. The attractive interior has a rustic, old-fashioned feeling to it, dark wood, brick, wooden barrels stamped with names of local breweries. Servers are friendly and helpful. We are having the Fried Chicken and Waffle sandwich: buttermilk-soaked fried chicken, pickles, 3-pepper gouda, bacon and chipotle aioli all stuffed between two golden malted waffles. The sandwich is delicious, the chicken is crispy and juicy, the cheese and aioli provide a little kick and the waffle is a tasty and tender alternative to a boring bun. Served with a side salad, it is plenty for the two of us. 

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Driving through town we notice the Milford Historical Museum is open, let’s go in. The museum is located in an 1853 Greek Revival home built by local cabinet maker John Wood—seriously. The structure has seen time as a family home, Doctor’s office, village offices and police department, it as been the local history museum since 1976. Milford began as a rural mill community, the Huron River was attractive to settlers from New England and New York. Farmers raised cereal grains, mills processed timber and farm products. The railroad arrived in 1871; there was a door knob factory in the 1880’s, residents manufactured window screens and furniture. Henry Ford created one of his Village Industries along the Huron River and began manufacturing Ford carburetors here in 1938, that’s quite a history for a small town.

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Inside the tiny museum we are greeted by volunteers, near the stairway is an exhibit taken from the old Milford Post office. Up the stairs rooms are furnished in the late Victorian-era, many of the items were manufactured in Milford. I like the rose-colored glass of the hanging light fixture in the formal parlor, the kitchen is full of labor-intensive gadgets. The bedroom has a rope bed high off the floor, the toy room is popular with visitors. The Log Cabin exhibit is a depiction of the Bigelow cabin built in the south end of Milford in 1833. The fireplace was not only a source of heat for the family it was essentially the stove too. It was in this cabin that Mrs. Bigelow started the first school for children in the area.  I always enjoy visiting little local history museums, they share the history and heritage of the town and its residents. Without fail we gain insight into the past helping us to understand the present and have fun while we’re at it.

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A Little North…..

2 Jun

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We are in the Village of Romeo, there’s an estate sale at the former Prospect Hill Bed and Breakfast at 439 Prospect Street. We’ve always wanted to see the inside of this 6,000 sq. ft. beauty, today’s our chance. We park on the street and approach the hill-top property, curiosity-seekers and shoppers enter and exit through the front doors. The imposing structure is quite lovely, immediately in the entry way a staircase leads us up, we make our way from room to room noticing antique light fixtures, wide moldings  surrounding the ceiling and doorways and the unique feature of inset sinks in the bedrooms. Fireplaces are marble, floors are wood, medallions grace a few of the ceilings. Everything is for sale. 

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Having satisfied our curiosity we decide to take a stroll through the neighborhood. The area now known as Romeo was originally inhabited by Chippewa Indians and called Indian Village, as more and more people moved into the village homes were put up, businesses began to grow; the town was re-named Romeo in 1838. Much of the architecture you see today dates to the 19th and 20th centuries, most of it Victorian in style, including the picturesque downtown. The entire Village of Romeo is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We stroll up and down Main Street, beautiful Queen Anne homes sport lattice, spindles, fish-scale and shake siding. Elaborate paint schemes make the most of architectural details, porches are large and inviting, baskets of flowers hang above. 

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Throughout the neighborhood homes have leaded glass windows, graceful columns, stone is a popular feature whether used for a chimney or the lower level of a house, I like the way it looks. Flowering trees are still in bloom, lawns are deep green and lush. Greek Revival and Italianate styles join the Queen Anne’s with their colorful exteriors. We spy a pale yellow home with the fanciest trim I think I’ve ever seen, from the distinctive columns and window pediments to the third-story dormers and decoration under the eaves, it’s spectacular. The green Second Empire at 240 Sisson is gorgeous, as are so many of these well cared for homes. Romeo still maintains its agricultural history with farms and orchards throughout the city. 

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A short drive and we’re at Blake’s Ciderhouse and Winery in Armada for lunch. Gerald and Elisabeth Blake along with their 13 children started the historic farm back in 1846, they now have over 500 acres of orchards and farmland. The business has passed down through the generations and is one of the most popular cider mills in the area. With the addition of hard cider, wine and beer a whole new clientele is being introduced to the Blake’s family. The Ciderhouse and Winery is housed in a charming, rustic-looking building. The interior is an attractive mix of wood, wrought iron and decorative concrete, a large open fireplace rests in the center of the room. Wood shelves and cabinets hold craft ciders in glass bottles and aluminum cans, wine is sold by the bottle in several varieties.We have a seat at the bar, check out the latest ciders and place our order. I am having the Cransylvania Cider, a mix of blood orange and cranberry, it’s refreshing and delicious. Kris is drinking the Flannel Mouth, a nice, sweet apple-y hard cider. Our bbq chicken flatbread arrives; a sweet tangy bbq sauce is layered with chicken, smoked gouda cheese and sliced red onion, yum! Have to leave room for dessert…..

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Achatz Handmade Pie Company has been making pies using recipes passed down through the generations since 1993, we are at the North Ave location in Armada. If you have seen the name but aren’t sure how its pronounced, it rhymes with jackets. The space is homey, comfortable, shabby chic, vintage items are re-purposed as shelving and displays. You can purchase salsa’s, salad dressing, jam, honey, popcorn and of course pie! The length of the room is one long string of tasty offerings from homemade soups to desserts. There’s a lot to choose from so we have to give this some serious consideration, we finally agree on the Turtle Cheesecake. We order a slice at the counter along with espresso for Kris and tea for me. We take our tray to a seat by the roll-up door. The caramel cheesecake rests on a chocolate crust then is topped with a chocolate ganache and pecans, rich and delicious. We take our time enjoying our sweet treat, the afternoon sun and the breeze coming in through the door. Life is Good.

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Marshall: C’mon In…

6 Jan

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After a wonderful lunch at Schuler’s we are refreshed and ready to get back on the tourist trail, the Honolulu House Museum is next. Built for Judge Abner Pratt in 1860, it is said to resemble the executive mansion he lived in while serving as US Consul in Honolulu from 1857-59. They say after he came back, he missed the islands so much, he built this house as a reminder. The intriguing structure stands beside a small park near the intersection of highways US 12 and US 27, it is a most unusual design and has a place on both the National Register of Historic Places and the Historic American Buildings Survey. The home was occupied by several residents through the decades, in 1951 Mr Harold C Brooks acquired the property when it was threatened to be replaced by a gas station—Thank You Mr Brooks! These days it serves as the headquarters for the Marshall Historical Society and is open for tours.

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Entering the home from the back door, we step inside and are stopped in our tracks, elaborate designs cover the walls and ceiling, a massive curving stairway bisects the space between front and back, we follow the sound of voices; we have arrived just in time for a guided tour. You absolutely won’t believe your eyes, this is NOT wallpaper, each wall, ceiling, border, trim, pattern and scene is painted by hand! Plaster ceiling medallions are chunky and rich with detail, exquisite chandeliers are designed to run on gas and electricity, windows are rectangular and tall bringing sunlight into the home. They call the design of the building Italianate Gothic Revival with Polynesian influence, I call it spectacular! Originally the interior of the home had a much more tropical look, decorating styles changed, white fireplaces were replaced with black, dark colors became en vogue; from the period furnishings and authentic replicas of the carpet to the stunning hand painted finishes, this is Honolulu House in its 1880’s splendor.

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From room to room I am awed by the beauty, the ceiling in the dining room is a series of squares, each a different design and color pallet, gold leaf glimmers, border after border travels down the wall. A gorgeous rectangular piano graces the music room, wall sconces are ornate, portraits are placed throughout the home. Back in the foyer we all stop to admire the incredible sweeping staircase; made of ebony, teak, mahogany and maple, it leads to……nowhere….there is no second floor. What it does lead to is an observation platform on the roof, I’ll bet Judge Pratt had quite a view back in the day. The den has a more masculine feel, gold leaf is prevalent, the chandelier is simple, less frilly. Throughout, painted designs appear 3-dimensional, each room a work of art, door frames are fancy, all but one stained glass window surrounding the front door are original.

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Another set of stairs lead us to the basement, this is where the kitchen is located. Cast iron pots rest on a huge antique stove, the space is plain, made for cooking and eating, not entertaining. A butter churn, wood rolling-pin and grinder are at rest. Built in cabinets display china and crystal from a previous occupant. The floors are wide planks, an original white fireplace remains, there was no need for it to be replaced since guests would never see it. A wall of photographs shows the labor-intensive restoration, amazing! We ascend the stairs and are again mesmerized by the beauty of the home, I pause at every second or third step to admire the view. Kris snaps photo after photo in effort to capture the pure elegance of the home, it’s a place you really have to see for yourself.

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It’s time for us to meet our tour group at Trinity Episcopal Church for Marshall’s 35th Annual Candlelight Walk. The walk is a guided tour of five historic homes decorated for the holiday season, led by residents of the neighborhood, I’m so excited! We check in at Trinity and are treated to a buffet of homemade cookies, brownies, candy, coffee and hot chocolate. Once finished, we take the opportunity to check out the church. Completed in 1864, Gordon Lloyd of Detroit was the architect, he made a name for himself with the success of the building and went on to design numerous subsequent buildings: Christ Church and Central United Methodist, the Wright Kay Building and David Whitney house, all in Detroit. If you’ve ever been to The Village at Grand Traverse Commons, (formerly the Northern Michigan Asylum) he designed the castle-like Building #50, just to name a few.

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The church is in the Gothic Revival style, the dark wood of the ceiling, trusses and pews are Michigan Black Walnut, so luxurious and grand. The late afternoon sun lights up the dazzling stained glass windows, they are a variety of styles installed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Each is lovely and unique featuring Christian symbols, flowers, images from nature, Jesus and Mary; colors range from pastel to bold. Chandeliers are opulent, square in shape they dangle from delicate chains, the interior is simple and resplendent at the same time, fine details accentuate railings and trim. The pipe organ was custom-made by the MP Moller Company of Hagerstown MD and features 37 ranks of pipes installed in 3 chambers which flank the chancel.

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Helium-filled, colored balloons are tied to pews, we are in the “gold” group, we take a seat in the appropriate section waiting for everyone to arrive. The tour begins right on schedule, 5 groups of 30 people each stream onto neighborhood streets, every group starts at a different home creating an easy flow of traffic in and out of houses. The neighborhood exudes charm; each home is unique, many were built in the late 1800’s, styles include Colonial Revival, Queen Anne, Italianate, Greek Revival, Farmhouse and Federal, creating an old-fashioned, quaint, ambience. The weather is perfect, mild for December and not a hint of a breeze, the sun is low in the sky. We approach a lovely Princess Ann home with a large wrap-around porch, it’s just lovely; inside a Christmas tree is positioned near the fireplace, candles glow in place of logs, the hardwood floor gleams, decorations reflect the home’s period, miniature lights here and there add sparkle. Back outside dark is falling, Christmas comes to life; lights are strung across gutters, draped on fences and wrapped around trees. Kris and I pause here and there looking at different houses, there’s a darling yellow one with black shutters and fancy white trim that really catches our eye.

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In the next home flames roar in the fireplace, white lights, popcorn and cranberries hug the Christmas tree; rooms are simple, uncluttered and cozy, love the built-in china cabinets in the dining room. It’s wonderful to see the owners’ personality reflected in their furnishings and decor. The next stop is downtown on W Michigan Ave, it’s quite a distance, the scenery is picturesque so nobody seems to mind. We stop in front of the Mole Hole, we are seeing the apartment above, Kris and I really like these kinds of spaces. Inside, the place looks like a designer showroom for comfort, coziness and cute. This is the family’s first Christmas here so they pulled out all the stops, it’s gorgeous! An outdoor deck glitters with lanterns and lights, candles flicker in bedrooms, ornaments fill glass vases, ribbon and tulle drape walls, dressers and floral arrangements. The Christmas tree lights up the main living space, there’s a cool pool table in the room, looks like a fun place to hang out!

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Outdoors Michigan Ave is glowing, it’s like a scene from a postcard or storybook; the antique holiday lights are lit, they sparkle above the street and storefronts, we casually make our way back to the neighborhood. The last two homes are beautiful as well, each has its own distinct style, decorations make the rooms festive, they all look ready for a party. The Colonial Revival on Mansion Street has a great front porch, many of us take a seat, chit-chat and look out over the area; it has been a real treat to take part in the Candlelight Walk of 2014. Before we leave town, we stop at the Brooks Memorial Fountain, festooned in blue LED lights, a life-size manger scene takes center stage. After taking one last look we point the Jeep East.

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Nothing puts me to sleep faster than a drive in the car, it seemed we had just left Marshall when Kris nudged me awake in Jackson to grab some dinner. He has been telling me about the burrito bar he ate at during the summer called Chilango’s on Michigan Ave, I’m excited to give it a try! As my eyes adjust to the light I follow Kris to the back of the restaurant, it smells delicious. I watch as a man behind the counter takes a ball of dough places it in a press of some sort, and removes a fresh, warm, huge flour tortilla. Both of us are starving, everything sounds appealing, Kris points to one of the burrito combinations on the menu, I nod in agreement. We watch as meat, beans, veggies, cilantro and sauce are layered into the tortilla, which is then neatly folded, my mouth is watering  just thinking about it…..Taking a seat in the front window we revel in our tasty burrito, folks pass by on their way to and from Saturday night festivities, this our last stop for the night, what a night (and day) it has been!

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DETROIT: Cultural Center Tour

28 Sep

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Now and again we like to be ‘tourists’ in our own city; these days tours of Detroit can be taken daily, choices vary from walking and bicycle to segways and buses, today our feet will take us through Detroit’s Cultural Center. We begin our tour at the McKenzie House, a lovely 1895 Queen Ann style residence that is now Preservation Detroit’s (f.k.a. Preservation Wayne) headquarters. As Detroit’s largest and oldest historic preservation organization, members have worked tirelessly since 1975 to preserve, promote and protect the city’s rich architectural heritage. Over the years we have trekked through the streets of the city, gone inside private homes and seen amazing buildings on tours led by this all volunteer organization. We meet inside the house, a large group has gathered for this Saturday morning tour, we pay our $10 and head out the door, gathering on the Cass Ave sidewalk.

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As we make our way over to Woodward, our guide Kathleen, shares interesting stories and histories of buildings we pass, her assistant Susan adds to the conversation. On Woodward we see large historic homes, reminding us that this once was a residential neighborhood, many are currently owned by Wayne State University and used for storage and administrative purposes. We pause in front of the Maccabees Building, built in 1927 for the fraternal organization Knights of the Maccabees, the elaborately carved limestone facade is incredible. The main entryway deserves a few moments of our time, we stop and study  intricate patterns and series of solemn knights that surround  the elongated arch, I see columns and faces, two knights stand atop the door frame, above them a fanciful clock is anchored to the building.

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Just down the street we enter the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, designed by Cass Gilbert in the Italian Renaissance style, it was built in 1921 of Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim. If you have never been inside the library, you need to see it. To the right is the Children’s library, I love the fireplace. Mary Chase Perry Stratton created the tiles, large ones represent fairy tales, others shimmer in her signature luster glaze. We ascend a staircase, an ornate coffered ceiling comes into view. At the top of the stairs a barrel-vaulted ceiling is illuminated by lantern style lights hanging from a single chain. Adam Strom Hall is spectacular, a mural is painted in three sections, a man fills the center space, he holds the past in one hand and the present in the other, Kathleen has much to tell us in this room. We exit the building through the back, this is the 1963 addition to the building, do not miss the magnificent mosiac fascade.  

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The Detroit Historical Museum is our next stop, out front is Legends Plaza, a collection of hand prints set in concrete of men and women who have called Detroit home. As I listen I walk around placing my hands inside the hand prints of Al Kaline, Elmore Leonard, Lily Tomlin, Gordie Howe and Alice Cooper. Further up Woodward the George L Beecher House is being refurbished, this 3-story yellow brick and limestone home was designed by HJ Maxwell Grylls and built in 1894, one of the most outstanding features is the original Tiffany stained glass window on the east Ferry side of the home. Across the street stands the  Hecker-Smiley mansion, you have probably seen this castle-like structure as you have driven down Woodward. The once private home is marvelous, designed by Louis Kamper it is 20,988 sq ft of French Renaissance Chateauesque design, Kris and I have previously been inside, the interior is spectacular. Around the corner on Ferry Street is the former home of Charles Lang Freer, he was a Detroit industrialist with a passion for collecting art, at one time he purchased Whistler’s Peacock Room and had it installed in his home; it is now housed at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Across the street a series of four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses make up the Inn on Ferry, a lovely alternative to staying in a hotel when visiting the city. The East Ferry Avenue Historic District was originally part of the Ferry Seed Company, the neighborhood was developed in the late 1800’s into an upper-class neighborhood. The street is gorgeous, great architecture, mature trees and today, a flawless blue sky. 

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The College for Creative Studies Ford Campus is located on Kirby, buildings represent many different time periods and architectural styles, large sculptures dot the campus. Further down Kirby we arrive at the Scarab Club, the brown brick building is rich in details, home to artists studios and galleries it’s a fascinating place. We round the corner at the DIA and walk up Farnsworth, The Rackham Education Memorial Building rests here, built in 1941 for the Engineering Society of Detroit it is made of Georgia marble, black granite and features cast bronze windows. The building houses a 1000 seat auditorium on the main level and a ballroom on the lower level, darn, we can’t go in! Our attention is diverted by the sound of music and stomping feet, as we near the front of the DIA we find an outdoor stage playing host to Flamenco dancers and a guitarist, passersby marvel at the sight, some take a seat and stay awhile. Our tour group moves to the front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a wedding party poses for photos on the front stairs, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, the bridal party is quite elegant, the building entrance providing the backdrop. Rodin’s Thinker looks as if he has a lot on his mind today, bankruptcy can do that to a guy. Our tour ends here. Preservation Detroit’s tour season continues through the month of October, guides are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about Detroit. If you’d like to get a closer look at many of the places we visited today, come downtown on December 7th for Detroit’s 41st Annual Noel Night; music, art, historic buildings, authentic Christmas spirit–don’t miss it!

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My stomach rumbles as a reminder that it is lunchtime, we are heading over to the Jefferson House inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. Named after the legendary ‘Pontch’ hotel that once stood on the corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square, this hotel opened in 1965. Recently re-opened as a Crown Plaza, we are anxious to have a look. The front wall of the Jefferson House restaurant is all windows, sunlight seeps in, our table overlooks Jefferson and the reconstruction of Cobo Arena turned ballroom and convention space. The room is done up in cream and taupe with rich wood accents, the ceiling is decorated in a metallic finish and lit from the edges,adjacent to the space is the Urban Cellars Bar.  Our server is cheerful and informative, if you were visiting from out-of-town she could make great suggestions of things to see and do while in the city–a great asset to the hotel. The menu is creative, a nice variety of ingredients, we quickly decide and place our order. First to arrive is the salad; tender spinach leaves are tossed in house made dressing along with goat cheese, bacon, julienne apples and poached pears. The presentation is gorgeous, piled attractively on a rectangular plate that reminds me of slate. The veggie sandwich is a spinach wrap stuffed with sautéed vegetables then grilled, the flavors are melded together perfectly. Both items were delicious and reasonably priced, portion sizes are good too. When we are finished we walk through the lobby area; very attractive in white, long fringe type curtains divide the spaces, a cool circular inset in the ceiling has an iridescent finish, very modern, striking. The hotel is already sold out for the Auto Show in January!

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Roadtrip…….Grand Rapids; Meijer Gardens,Van Andel Public Museum

5 Jun

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We were hoping to get away for a little bit over the holiday weekend, with the prediction of sunshine and temperatures in the 80’s for Monday, the west coast of Michigan seemed an ideal place to go. We left Sunday morning and headed directly to Grand Rapids. We are regular visitors here, and have watched it change and reinvent itself over the years.  There are so many things to see and do here, you can easily spend a few days in town.

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We started with a visit to Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, this place is incredible! The tropical conservatory is the largest in Michigan, along with a stunning collection of plants there are several water features, but that is only the beginning! The five-acre Children’s Garden is unlike any other I’ve seen, anywhere, and it’s not just fun for kids. There is an amazing tree house, get to it from a wooden stairway and elevated walkway, it even has a swinging bridge. Kids love to play in water, here  the bodies of water are actually the shape of  the Great Lakes, they surround the concrete patio area that is of course in the shape of Michigan, lots of splashing and giggling takes place here. The outdoor gardens are stunning, there are benches to sit and rest before visiting the Midwest’s most significant outdoor sculpture collection, seriously. Major works by artists with names like Rodin, Moore, Rickey, and Marshall Fredericks, very impressive. You can do a walking tour or take a tram. All in all there are 125 acres of nature and art, which go hand in hand beautifully.

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While downtown has been making great strides, now surrounding districts are too. Streets like Wealthy and Cherry are seeing a surge in independent entrepreneurs; boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants are popping up in these neighborhoods. We had lunch at the Cherry Deli on, well, Cherry. Order at the counter from an extensive deli menu, then take a seat, we went Al fresco, and your order will be brought out to you. Ours was a panini with a stack of turkey, crispy bacon, and melted cheese, all smothered in a herb mayo, excellent. The Pasta salad was quite good too, no mushy noodles here, all in all good food for a good price. We needed some time to re-charge our batteries, The Sparrows Coffee Shop and Newsstand is a relaxing place to hang out. Serving organic coffee and tea, they also sell local pastries and over 75 magazine titles and newspapers. It’s a cozy space located in the lower floor of a historic building, it seems to be a favorite of neighborhood residents. We had iced coffees and some kind of multi-grained bar with pieces of dried fruit that was scrumptious.

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The Grand Rapids Public Museum was next on our list, this is one of those spectacular museums with top of the line exhibits. With three floors of things to see and do plan on spending a couple of hours here. I always enjoy the “Furniture City” section, which is what Grand Rapids has been primarily known for. The “Streets of Old Grand Rapids” is very popular as is the “Habitats” display. There are life-size items suspended from the ceiling and in the galleria, learn about the history of Grand Rapids and the state of Michigan. One of the big attractions is the 1928 antique Spillman Carousel housed in the Cook Pavilion. It is one of only three of its style known to have been produced by the company. Take a ride; young or old, all are invited to enjoy a spin revolving to the music of a Wurlitzer band organ.

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We had dinner at The Winchester on Wealthy Street, it is a restaurant and bar, but it feels more like a bar. We had a nice dinner at a fair price, but it was pretty loud. Afterwards we went for a walk in the Heritage Hill Historic District, this is one of the largest urban historic districts in the United States. You could walk for hours and never get bored looking at the homes. They just held their 42nd annual home tour in May, this is the first time they scheduled it in spring, instead of fall. We have been on the tour probably a dozen times, and enjoyed the variety of stately homes each time. Grand Rapids hosts a large scope of architectural styles running the gamut from Queen Ann and Frank Lloyd Wright, all the way to Mid Century Modern.

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Back downtown we had a nightcap at one of the newer places in the city called The Viceroy. Come in the door and step back in time to the 1930’s. The decor is retro and cool, red is the preferred color here, from the tin ceiling and walls to tabletops and seats and it looks fabulous. A funky mix of musical styles play in the background adding to the atmosphere.  Their cocktail menu is unique in that in features a wide variety of timeless cocktails; a Perfect Rob Roy, an Old Fashioned, or Kris’s selection for the evening, a Sidecar. I went the boring route with a simple glass of wine, which by the way, was excellent, because one of us needed to be able to drive back to the hotel. Kris found his Sidecar quite enjoyable, and we had a great conversation about Detroit with the manager who had moved to Grand Rapids only recently from Ferndale. It was really a splendid place to end the evening, unique setting, unusual cocktails, and  peaceful enough to have a conversation without yelling across the table. Next time we’re in town we’ll definitely come back!

Just over two hours away from the D, Grand Rapids makes a great get-away.