Tag Archives: Kessler

Lansing: Modernism

5 Sep

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Lansing is known as a blue-collar town. In 1897 Ransom E Olds first drove a Oldsmobile down a Lansing street, soon laborers flocked to the city to work in factories. These hard-working men needed a place to go after work, somewhere they could grab a cold Amber Cream Ale; the Lansing Brewing Company was born in 1898. Prohibition closed down the brewery in 1914. Fast forward 100 years later, the city is building Camaros and Cadillacs and the Lansing Brewing Company is once again producing its Amber Cream Ale along with The Angry Mayor IPA, the Official Union Golden Ale  and a list of other craft beers. LBC is the only full-scale production brewery in the city, they also produce Vodka, Gin, Rum and Rye. And they serve food; we’re starving! Located in the Stadium District  it’s surrounded by things to see and do.  

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The spacious interior features community tables, reclaimed wood, an open ceiling and white subway tile. We choose a high-top table right in front of an open roll-up door; Kris checks out the food menu while I study the beer. After a few samples I order the Velvet Villain Ale, a Porter-Imperial/Double style beer, it’s fantastic. Overlooking the large patio we watch as people play lawn games in the afternoon sun. Our server arrives with our lunch. The Couscous Ca Choo salad is a bed of peppery arugula topped with Israeli couscous, dried cranberries, toasted walnuts, queso fresco and tomatoes dressed with an orange balsamic vinaigrette, delicious. Lots of flavors and textures going on. The Hamburguesa De Desayuno is a chorizo burger loaded with queso fresco, bacon, egg, and a maple syrup and smoked pepper hot sauce, the combination just works, its fabulous; the fries are really good too.

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We’re at the Michigan History Center to see the “Minds of Modernism” exhibit. Items include architectural drawings, building models, photographs and commercial products from the Modernist Era. One of our favorite architects, William Kessler is featured along with other notable Michigan architects and designers like Saarinen, Yamasaki, Eames, Knoll, Dow. Kessler came to Michigan to work with Minoru Yamasaki in the early 1950’s, he eventually opened his own firm; as a matter of fact he designed the building we’re standing in. It was challenging to design one building to serve as the Library, Archives and Museum. He used Michigan’s natural resources like copper and white oak, a color palette of greens and blues and a White Pine planted in the center of the courtyard surrounded by a reflecting pool echoing the 4 Great Lakes that touch Michigan. Photographs, blueprints and placards take us through his career. There’s an exhibit of the bank he designed in Mt. Clemens, commonly referred to as the “Flying Nun”, it’s for sale if you’re interested… The Beckwith house in Farmington, an urban housing development in Mt. Clemens, his former residence in Grosse Pointe, he even designed the Timber Shores Travel Trailer Resort near Grand Traverse Bay.

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More than 130 modernist structures were built in Lansing and East Lansing between 1940 and 1970. We look at photos of commercial buildings and residences. Kenneth Black’s Lansing Public Library, Frank Lloyd Wright’s home designs and Alden B Dow’s Washburne House made of styrofoam and sprayed with concrete are all very cool; how about the Airplane House? Furnishings had to be re-styled to fit these new spaces, architects and designers opened their own shops; think of Saarinen’s Tulip Chair, Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, Harry Bertoia, Herman Miller. Some of the greatest Modern designers and architects were in Michigan, they won prizes from LA to Paris for their designs. A space is set up as a Mid-Century family room, I like the starburst-design clock, the wallpaper is groovy too. Have a seat on a reproduction chair and watch a full episode of the Jetson’s. Designs were very futuristic, space age, vibrant and fun. Art was part of everyday living, even playground equipment was cool, like Jim Miller-Melberg’s turtle.

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Further on in the museum we check out more Mid-Century in permanent displays like the interior of a home with its pendant lights, stone fireplace, iconic Eames lounge chair and ottoman, pink appliances in the kitchen–sweet. The replica S&H Green Stamp store has lots of modern goodies available for redemption; pastel colored dishes, one of those funky clocks, a badminton set, metal tumblers or a stand mixer. Kris is already admiring the 1957 Auto Show exhibit when I wander in. From the Faygo-orange Corvette and the Plymouth Fury to the spectacular dashboards chrome trimmed and loaded with gauges, the world was certainly a more colorful place back then.

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We leave the museum and head over to Moores River Drive, this is one of the prettiest residential areas in Lansing. We follow a street that leads to Frances Park, we get out to have a look. Dozens of rosebushes are blooming in the Memorial Rose Garden, I walk the rows breathing in the perfumed air from pink, white and red blossoms. Up ahead an arbor resides on a hill, the overlook provides a breathtaking view of the Grand River. This is a popular spot for weddings, it’s easy to see why. Canna Lilies, Caladium, tall grasses and pink annuals crowd rectangular flower beds.

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We drive around finding ourselves in the Riverside Homes Association neighborhood, you will find Lansing’s greatest collection of early 20th Century homes here. Established in 1921, this is where the wealthy built their mansions. The house on the right looks strangely familiar, wait, it’s the Airplane House we saw photos of in the museum. It has a low-pitched roof, wide-eve-overhang, there’s curved plexiglass in the end windows to give the effect of a cockpit; amazing. Mr. and Mrs. Talbert Abrams were both licensed pilots, while flying over the Atlantic they saw the shadow of their airplane on a cloud, that was the inspiration for the design of their house. Completed in 1951 it was built using the best materials and technology of the day. On the next street is the Kenneth and Mary Black house; this home was also featured in the museum exhibit. The structure is long and low, the concrete ornamentation is a combination of solids and voids, I really like it. Back when this neighborhood was platted residential lots were big, these home designs favored horizontal lines to fill the wide spaces, streets are winding; it’s really quite lovely.

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We’ve had a great time in Lansing. I have to admit I didn’t realize the amount of Mid-Century architecture that exists here; it seems each time we visit we discover something new. New shops and restaurants are opening all the time, the downtown area has a lot going on. Can’t wait to see what happens next!