Tag Archives: Junior League of Detroit

DETROIT: Purdy…

1 May

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There are places or things that one never tires of seeing, for me, the Fisher Building is one such place. No matter how many times I pass through the revolving doors I am always taken aback by the sheer magnificence of the place. Did I ever tell you I saw Debbie Reynolds in the Unsinkable Molly Brown here at the Fisher Theatre? It was amazing. Kris and I are here for  Stella Good Coffee; you’d be hard pressed to find a more elegant space anywhere to have a cup of Joe. The compact shop features locally roasted coffee beans, tea, Avalon baked goods, soups from Russell Street Deli, gift items and beverage accessories. You can sit inside surrounded by murals or do like we do, sit at one of the cafe tables in the lobby. Today we are drinking iced coffee and sharing a delicious cookie with moist, chocolatey chunks of brownie. Look at that ceiling, elegant chandeliers, gold leaf and marble–oh my!  The corridors are beginning to fill up with people, it’s time for Pure Detroit’s free tour of the building. We’d better be moving along.

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The Junior League of Detroit is hosting the 2018 Designer’s Showhouse SNEAK A PEEK today. The house is the Charles T Fisher Mansion on W Boston Blvd. Kris and I have been in this house on public tours before, spectacular is a word that comes to mind…. I’m anxious to see it again. We park on Boston Blvd with relative ease, I pay the entry fee and am given a handout about the house. What??! They’re not allowing photos of the interior, argh… Sans pictures here’s what I can tell you about the Fisher Mansion. Designed by George D Mason ( Masonic Temple, DYC, The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island), constructed in 1922, the 18,000 sq. ft. estate was outfitted with hand-carved American Walnut panels, Flint Faience tiles, ornate plaster; it even has its own gymnasium. There are 14 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, a liquor vault (think prohibition) and a pipe organ. The Estey Opus 2383 was installed in 1925, there are nearly 1000 pipes throughout 4 levels of the house.

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We meander through rooms guided by arrows, docents and pathways. In every room a smart phone appears, a tourist trying to capture some beautiful detail, a chandelier, fireplace or doorway, they are gently reminded of the no photo policy. I feel like I hardly recognize the house, walls have been removed, walnut paneling is gone, ceilings are bare, much, much rougher than expected… I was happy to see the hand-carved Italian marble fountain still in place in the solarium. Up one flight of stairs, bare studs and visqueen sheeting, then another flight, here we find the maids quarters and gymnasium. We are routed back down, through the kitchen and into the lower level Grand Ballroom. The space is basically a construction site, gone are the elegant plaster ceilings and the pub. There is a glass wall panel that allows us to see the inner-workings of the pipe organ, we have a perfect view of the self-playing Mills Violano. Around the corner the vault is still in place. Actor, best-selling author and philanthropist Hill Harper purchased this house in September 2017. He has generously allowed the Junior League of Detroit to use his home for the 2018 Designers Show House. Be sure and visit the finished product September 15-October 7. Oh, and you will be allowed to take pictures.

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Lunch time. le petit zinc moved from its longtime home in Corktown to Midtown about a month ago. This is our first visit to the new location. The restaurant occupies the ground floor space in the Strathmore Apartment Building recently vacated by Dangerously Delicious Pies (Oh how we miss those pies!) The interior is decked out in shades of blue, heavy blue curtains seal the dining room off from the rest of the building, the open kitchen is in the center of the room, diners sit at cafe tables and counter seating. The vibe is laid-back and comfortable. The restaurant serves French-inspired breakfast and lunch items; sweet and savory crepes, baked eggs, croissants, Quiche, toasted baguette with jam. We’re having the ham and brie Quiche, it comes with a side salad. Cutting into the neatly folded crepe I am delighted to see melted brie ooze onto my plate, it’s so good. We follow that with a butter and sugar crepe, as I chew I get that nice butter flavor mixing with the sweet, soft crunch of sugar, yum! 

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The Milwaukee Junction neighborhood recently welcomed a new bar to the neighborhood, Kiesling, it rhymes with Reisling. The building was constructed sometime in the 1890’s, in the 1920’s it was the Kiesling Saloon; it also spent time as a cafe and a general store before becoming Edith’s Hideaway, a bar where cops hung out in the 1970’s. The place closed in the 1990’s and stood vacant; time, money, imagination and a good dose of elbow grease have brought it full circle. We arrive at 4:00, just as the bar opens, we’re greeted by a familiar face, Rob Wilson is the bar manager. We have his enjoyed his cocktails all over Detroit, looks like he’s landed in a pretty sweet spot.

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The place is beautiful, sort of a mix of stylish speak easy and cozy saloon. Unique character comes from the eclectic light fixtures, wood beams, original terrazzo floors and wainscoting. Custom, handmade wallpaper covers ceilings and walls. During the restoration original murals from 1913 were revealed, now meticulously restored, the panels depict deer in all 4 seasons. We sit at the end of the 14-seat bar, the bar top itself is oak and quartzite with copper rails, a remnant from the recently closed Lord Fox in Ann Arbor. The antique back bar came from an old bar in southwest Detroit.  Kiesling serves classic and original cocktails, beer and wine. The menu offers a nice variety of seasonal and classic drinks, all on the one-page menu. Kris orders whiskey, I’m having the Honey Bearing; gin, green Chartreuse, honey, lemon, bitters, salt and a dash of bee pollen on top, I find it outstanding. In fact it’s so good I have two! 

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Olde Grosse Pointe

2 Dec

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Today we are touring the Provencal-Weir house, believed to be Grosse Pointe’s oldest surviving residence, it dates back to 1823. Originally, the house sat near Provencal and Lake Shore roads; home to Pierre and Euphemia Provencal, they raised their daughter Catherine and 20 adopted children in this tiny home. In 1800 Father Gabriel Richard first came to the Pointe as a visiting priest saying mass on the lawn of this home. The structure has gone through many transformations serving as a family home, a summer cottage, it was moved to its present site and became a grocery store, a real estate office and a rental house. The Grosse Pointe Historical Society bought the building, renovated it and turned it into a museum and One-Room school.

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The original wide-plank floors remain as well as the timber frame, the rest of the house has been reconfigured numerous times and is decorated in the style of the 1850’s-60’s. We begin our guided tour in the museum shop area and proceed to the dining room, around the corner an old-fashioned stove sits across from a modern kitchen. In the family room walls are covered in patterned wallpaper, a fireplace hugs the inside wall; kids are hard at work making crafts today. Upstairs women’s clothing is displayed along with hats, antique furniture and oil lamps. A table is set with a sterling silver serving set, vibrant red glasses,dishes and china tea cups. Bathrooms were updated when it was a rental unit, someone put in Pewabic tile floors. The remainder of the upstairs is used as a one-room school where second through fifth graders get the opportunity to see what going to school was like 100 years ago. 

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At about the same time Cadillac arrived in Detroit many French settlers were making a new life for themselves in Grosse Pointe. In the 1700’s the Pointe was heavily wooded and swampy, the French began clearing land for farms and orchards; the women farmed while the men hunted and traded with the Indians. All farms had water frontage, usually 300 ft and ran back about a mile, these long narrow plots were called ribbon farms. Some of the early settlers came directly from Normandy France, others went to Quebec first, then the Detroit area. Early residents include Moran, Vernier, Gouin, Trombley, St Antoine and Rivard–recognize their names? They can all be found on street signs all over the Pointes as well here in the St. Paul Cemetery.

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Located at Moross Rd and Country Club Lane, this is the only cemetery in Grosse Pointe; the earliest burial dates back to 1831, Catherine Vernier. The grassy lot is dotted with headstones, crosses, monuments and statues. We walk around the seemingly forgotten cemetery reading names and dates of the departed. Many have worn down through the decades making it impossible to make out the inscriptions, headstones have sunk into the ground, I push the dirt with my foot to get a better look. Many of the Vernier’s are here, the Melton headstone has decorative ceramic pieces that remind me of a ‘partridge in a pear tree’. A large statue of a woman holding a child is surrounded by a Gothic style arch.

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From the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s lumberman cut down trees, taking away the woods, the wealthy from Detroit came in and built mansions on the lakefront giving them names like Bellevue, Tonnacour, Rose Terrace and Otsikita Villa. Senators, attorneys, businessmen and merchants moved in, the Pointe was divided up into smaller communities: Grosse Pointe Farms, The Village, The Park, The Shores and Grosse Pointe Woods. While many of the grand old mansions have been torn down, a great deal still remain. Between the Provencal-Weir House, the Grosse Pointe Historical Society and the cemetery, the history of this quaint community lives on.

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We’re having lunch at Hydrangea Kitchen over on Fisher Rd. Housed in a 1-story red-brick building, when I first walk in I feel like I’ve entered a little boutique. Mismatched tables and chairs are scattered throughout the seat-yourself space, a tall framed chalkboard menu stands behind the counter. As soon as Kris sees the JL Hudson Maurice salad, he knows what he wants; I pick the sandwich. I grab a cup of coffee from the serve yourself thermos and check out the decorative items around the room, much of it is for sale, so I guess it is a boutique and a restaurant. Our plates arrive, each with a half salad and sandwich; the panini is a combo of country Brie, melted butter and sliced Granny Smith apples on a warm, crisp ciabatta roll. The Maurice is really good, they even got the garnish of green olives and gherkins right, but Kris will tell you it’s not ‘Hudson’s’ good.

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Today we Sneak-a-Peek at the future Designers’ Show House sponsored by the Junior League of Detroit. Located at 15500 Windmill Pointe Drive, we have been keeping an eye on the place as work has progressed, I’m so excited to have a chance to get inside! The home is a beautiful 3-story English Tudor built in 1927 for American aircraft designer and VP of engineering at Packard Motor Car Company, Colonel Jesse G Vincent. The house was recently sold, emptied and the new owners have donated the place to be used as the 2016 Show House. The house is opened for two days for a ‘bare bones’ tour before the designers take over. The thing about these old houses is, even empty, void of any decoration, they’re still stunning.

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The cement contractor is hard at work getting the driveway poured, we pay our $5 and anxiously step inside one of Grosse Pointe’s most distinctive homes. Foot traffic is directed by a series of arrows and human traffic controllers telling us which way to go; we’re happy to see many of the original light fixtures, radiator grills and fine details are in tact. The wood is gorgeous, I’m guessing dark walnut, it’s all over the place; paneled walls, steps, floors and beams. Bathrooms are fully tiled in yellow, lavender and blue, pedestal sinks remain. We’re a bit curious about the temperature settings in the shower: Cold, Hot and Scalding…. We meander through bedrooms, sitting rooms and a turret on the second floor, there’s a balcony that overlooks the living room, wow! All of the leaded and stained glass in the home is unique, window pieces are square-shaped, the front door is circles, I like that a lot.

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The third floor is the ballroom, it’s huge, it even has a stage area where a band probably played. It’s just one big empty space now, it’ll be interesting to see what the designers do with it. We are directed back downstairs where we get an up close look at the living room, dining room and kitchen; lots of wood, ornate plaster and the view, we have to talk about the view….. There’s an unobstructed view of Lake St Clair everywhere we look, today the sky and the water are almost the exact same shade of blue, the backyard fountain is in the process of being restored. This lot has its own canal that runs from the lake to a dry dock under the living room, impressive eh? The Show House runs May 7-22, put it on your calendar so you don’t forget. Maybe we’ll see ya there!