Tag Archives: Michigan Historical Museum

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!

LANSING: Something Old, Something New…

12 Mar

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We’ve been wanting to get out to Lansing to visit the new Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, today was finally the day! Nestled on the campus of Michigan State University this new modern, funky building is quite a departure from the stately brick and stone buildings that have graced the grounds for over a century. Kind of like a UFO that lost its way …The asymmetrical, pleated stainless steel and glass structure immediately instigates conversation, I like that about it. We spent some time walking around the outside of the building; looking at it from different angles, no two sides look the same. Curious as to what the interior looks like we head inside. Upon entry we are greeted by an exhibit entitled “The Gift: Lansing MI”. Basically it’s a wall of portraits taken in an instant photo lab in downtown East Lansing, of local residents; from time to time new photos are placed in the frames and old ones removed, creating an ever-changing exhibit and putting a real face on the people who call Lansing home. At the end of the exhibit we are in the central part of the gallery, it’s really cool!

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Everywhere I look things are on an angle; walls, windows, galleries, kind of like a fun-house…. in an artsy way. The facility is 46,000 sq. ft. and most of that is dedicated exhibit space. We are directed up a stairway, large windows and skylights allow the sunlight to pour in. We begin on the top floor,we are drawn to a series of black screens showing video art, one by one we stop and stare at the images dancing upon the screen; some thought-provoking, some scary and others, bright and colorful, are simply beautiful. No two spaces are the same, the odd-shaped areas are intriguing and make you want to investigate whats behind every turn. My favorite exhibit on this floor is a sequence of floating human figures sculpted in papier-mache’; it reminds me of children playing, I wish I could float alongside them. The main floor is home to smaller galleries and the cafe, even the drinking glasses are angled to reflect the building’s design. Broad MSU is a wonderful addition to the contemporary art community!

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Our next stop is just a short drive away; the Michigan Historical Museum. The museum consists of five levels of exhibits that take us through Michigan’s colorful past up to the late 20th century. We know we’re going to be here for a while, there’s soooo much to see, we  hang up our coats and get started. Boarding the elevator that takes visitors to the beginning of the exhibits; we find ourselves in the very early days when Indians of the Chippewa, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Huron tribes roamed the land. We travel through time as we roam from one area to another; it is now 1820, the Toledo War is  waging as both Michigan and Ohio fight over the strip of land that is Toledo, seriously….at last the territory of Michigan signs a compromise giving Toledo to Ohio and the western 2/3 of the present Upper Peninsula to Michigan. In 1837 Michigan becomes a state; between 1830 and 1840 we grew faster than any other state or territory. Next we are introduced to Copper and Iron mining in the UP, a display recreates what it was like to be down in a copper mine, definitely not a job I’d like to have. Next,  I can’t help but gawk at the antique cast iron stoves, they are each a work of art; did you know Detroit led the country in stove manufacturing too?

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The next big boom was the Lumber Industry, a replica of the Hackley House shows us some of the beautiful ways  that lumber was put to use.  There’s a wonderful exhibit depicting the 1920’s here in our state, it is very much like the Streets of Old Detroit at the Historical Museum downtown. We get a peek into the past through department stores like Hudson’s and Kresge’s, there’s an old movie palace where you can sit down and watch a short film; the ticket booth is circa 1927 and comes from the Eagle Theatre in Pontiac. Cars were becoming popular, check out the auto dealership featuring a 1925 touring car made by the Flint Motor Company on display. Following the time line it’s the Great Depression, then WWII and Michigan’s part in the Arsenal of Democracy. Michigan threw all of its resources into the war effort; automakers converted factories to make war products such as tanks, trucks, Jeeps, ambulances, bombers, guns ammunition etc. Detroit ranked #1 in the nation in war production, amazing!

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We move on to brighter times, the 1950’s, this is our favorite era in the museum. From the furniture to dishes and cars this was a very stylish time period; pink appliances, space-age design, big fins on cars, very chic, hip. The 1957 Detroit Auto Show Gallery is hands-down Kris’s favorite spot in the museum. A bright red Corvette sits on the floor while a Plymouth Fury is suspended in the air, everything looks very futuristic. A series of 3 dashboards are mounted on the wall in red, white and blue; lots of chrome and gadgets, what an awesome time period. A sampling of paint colors takes us back to the days when you could order a car in pink and interiors were available in more than black, grey and tan. At one time engineers from Chrysler helped to produce the first rockets, a Redstone Rocket facade sits behind a glass case, reminding us that they too were Made in Michigan. We end our journey in the Upper Peninsula, a “Vacationland” map showcases the area attractions such as Soo Locks, Pictured Rocks and Brockway Mountain Drive. There’s a great exhibit on the Mackinac Bridge complete with commemorative dishes and glasses. We have thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

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Lunch is a no-brainer, Kris’s favorite Mexican food can be found right here at El Azteco on Saginaw. If you went to school at MSU, chances are you have eaten at one of their two locations. In business at this location since 1976, everything is made from scratch; corn and flour tortillas are prepared fresh daily. The food is unlike any other Mexican we have ever had, spices and sauces are uniquely El Azteco! We take a booth near the bar, a basket of chips and a dish of salsa greet us just after we are seated. We cannot help ourselves, our hands are immediately drawn to the smallish corn chips, many of them twisted and folded, and dip them into the thick spicy salsa; one bite and you’re hooked. We ordered the mild beef combination: 2 beef enchiladas, beef taco, tamale, beans and rice. Again, it is delicious, the seasonings in the meat, the sauces, are like no place else. We love the Topopo Salad; a huge pile of a salad consisting of iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, shredded chicken, cheese, jalapenos, peas and scallions sitting on a bed of tortilla chips spread with frijoles, melted cheese and guacamole, you have to try it to really appreciate how good it is. We kept eating but the salad never seemed to get any smaller…..how will we have room for the Sopapilla?! We packed up the leftovers to take home with us, they will make for a great snack later.

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One last stop before heading home; a coffee for the road. Most of you are probably familiar with Biggby coffee(FKA as Beaners) by now. It seems they’re popping up all around Metro Detroit. Did you know this Michigan based chain originated in East Lansing?  We have been coming to their original location since they first opened their doors in 1995, in a former Arby’s on Grand River. We popped in, ordered a couple of beverages to go, then eastbound on Grand River enjoying the scenic ride home. A great way to spend a Sunday…

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