Tag Archives: Oakland County

Mid-Century Southfield

13 Nov

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The metropolitan Detroit area is home to an extensive variety of 20th Century architecture. Today we are meeting up with the Southfield Historical Society and DoCoMoMo for the Mid-Century Modern Southfield Tour. In 1954 Northland Mall opened in the city of Southfield, it was one of the first shopping malls in the nation; with the mall in place and easy access to major freeways the city became very attractive to corporations and residents alike. Between 1940 and 1950 the population of the area had increased 200%, during the 1960’s Southfield was Michigan’s fastest growing city. It was post WWII, people were feeling adventurous, architecture had taken on a new look, buildings were designed in new shapes, using new materials such as glass, aluminum and concrete, natural light filled open spaces. Come along as we discover Southfield’s amazing collection of Mid-Century Modern buildings.

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Our tour begins at the Shaarey Zedek Synagogue on Bell Rd. Built in 1961-62, the congregation hired Percival Goodman of New York to partner with Albert Kahn Associates of Detroit to design the synagogue; now considered a masterpiece of Modern design. We are led into the sanctuary, it is a large space that seats 1,100; the triangular shape is symbolic of Mt. Sinai, behind the altar stained glass forms an inner triangle, the sun shines directly on the glass; rich red, deep blues, yellow and brown are aglow. Central to the altar a metal sculpture of the burning bush hangs on a tall marble tower, letter blocks on each side represent the tablets. A representative of the church explains the symbolism of what we are seeing, she then opens the door of the Ark revealing the Torah; dressed with a sash, ornaments and a Keter (crown) they are beautiful, magnificent and to me, mysterious. Modern nuances are found throughout, gone is the blonde wood of the 1950’s, deeper brown has taken its place, rectangular cut-outs in the walls are filled with blue glass panels. The walls of the sanctuary are retractable, when opened it creates one large room that can seat 4,000 people. We exit the sanctuary and pass through the inner court, glass showcases display religious items belonging to the congregation, the pieces are lovely. The Chapel is a much more intimate space, also triangular-shaped, the ceiling is made up of exposed wood beams, walls are brick, windows are stained glass and triangular in shape, it feels a bit more private, cozy. It is time to load the bus for the rest of the tour.

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Traveling down Northwestern Hwy we pass a number of Modern structures built between the late 1950’s and mid 1960’s. The driver pulls over to give us an up-close view of the Federal Mogul World Headquarters building, built in 1965 it is designed in the International style, large glass walls are encased in an open white frame. Originally the third and fourth floors appeared to ‘float’ above the ground level of the building, through the years multiple changes and additions have altered the original design. Further on, the Eaton Automotive building, built in 1965 screams mid-century design with its recessed first level and large front portico. The bus parks, we are at the former Northland Theater, built in 1966, it is one of the last theaters in Michigan to be built to seat 1,500 patrons in a single auditorium. Looking at the front entrance I can totally imagine it when it was still a theater. As we approach the building, dozens of folks are exiting, currently the home of the Southfield branch of Triumph Church, the service has just ended. Going against the flow of people we eventually make our way inside, the lobby and auditorium have changed very little; the concession stand now sells cd’s and other items related to the church, a new paint job, a few updates, but still clearly evident it was once a thriving movie theater.


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We arrive at 16200 Northland Drive, the Minoru Yamasaki designed Reynolds Aluminum Regional Office. Built in 1959, it was said to be “an ode to aluminum”. One look at the exterior and there is no doubt it is a Yamasaki, three stories tall, the second and third floor float atop a terrazzo pedestal, gold anodized aluminum grills in the shape of circles wrap the upper floors. The building is sitting vacant, in 1984 Vic Tanny Health Clubs purchased the building; the walls of the first floor were pushed out to the perimeter and a swimming pool was installed, reflecting ponds were filled in, exercise equipment was set up on the upper floors. The exterior of the building looks to be in good condition, inside I am taken aback at what has transpired; the indoor pool sits empty, a drop ceiling directly above, cubicles have been set up and are now vacant. We take the stairs to the third floor, it appears a running track traces the perimeter of the building, the space is divided, by the looks of the color and design, many of the walls are original. We enter a large empty room, here we have a wonderful view of the aluminum grills; the top two rows are thicker circles, the rest are narrow and overlap. The central atrium remains, at the top a large skylight made of a series of pyramids is intact, it must have been a showstopper when the building was new. We spend our remaining time in the building noticing some of the small details that remain. The building has been vacant since 2012 and is currently for sale; as someone who admires Yamasaki’s work, it is tough to see what has become of this once graceful embodiment of Mid-Century design.

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Our route continues past many more Modern buildings, Sphinx Petroleum, Abrecht, Chand and Trowell. We travel Northwestern Hwy, Evergreen and Southfield Rd before arriving in the Cranbrook Neighborhood. The Lockwood Company of Detroit constructed homes in the California Modern Style, modest ranch homes usually between 1,450 and 1,650 sq ft. The bus parks on Lone Elm, three homeowners have given permission for us to wander around the outside of their homes, these are iconic examples of Modern design; low sloping roofs, large front windows, planter boxes, courtyards and see-through garden walls. The owners have done a marvelous job maintaining the home’s character and design. This is the end of the tour; the bus drops us off at the Synagogue, we are long overdue for lunch.

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Jerusalem Pizza has been serving the finest kosher pizza for over 14 years, this is our first visit. We stand inside reading the pizza selections off a menu posted high behind the counter, nothing is harder then deciding what to order when you are starving! With help from the man behind the register we choose a Cholent pizza, a salad and a salt bagel to eat immediately. With our jackets on it is still warm enough to eat outdoors; we have a seat at a wrought iron table on the sidewalk and tear into the bagel, slightly crispy, tender inside, salty and flavorful, we agree it is the best bagel we have ever eaten. The pizza arrives, cheese is bubbly and browned on the edges, toppings consist of Dijon mustard, beans, vegetarian ground beef, potato and kishke, everything works in combination to create a crispy, chewy, tasty pizza. When we have finished, we go back inside, grab a few more bagels and hit the road.

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All Aboard! Destination Holly

13 Mar

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The Village of Holly is located in the northwest corner of Oakland County. Primarily known for the Michigan Renaissance festival and the Annual Dickens festival, this town has plenty to offer year-round. Saginaw Street is the main street through the village, and what a charming one it is; Victorian-style red brick buildings line the sidewalk,  indeed the city looks straight out of Dickens. The town’s personality has changed throughout the years; good things are happening, new businesses are moving in and people are coming to Holly to shop, eat and have a good time.

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The Detroit Model Railroad Club is located in the old theater on Saginaw, they were having an open house so we thought we’d check it out. Wow, what an amazing set-up! The railroad is 1/4″ to the foot, referred to as “0” scale among railroaders. In layman terms that means that the model of a 40 foot long boxcar will be 10 inches long. The amazing display depicts the fictitious Detroit Union Railroad, a freelance double track line running from Detroit to Dorrance MI. The detail is captivating; a downtown complete with hotel, gas station and train station. Tiny figures wait for long silver passenger trains,  others stroll past minuscule buildings. Vintage passenger cars, buses and taxi’s are at the ready to take the townsfolk where they need to go. Mini street lamps and billboards complete the scene. Trains travel from the city to the country and into the mountains, I counted four levels of tracks. The scenery is beautiful; bridges cross over a river, tunnels cut through the jagged rocks. Signs of life in the country include cabins, wells with diminutive red pumps and horses. You have to look closely, but there is something going on everywhere; a truck that lost a load of tires, policemen chasing down a bad guy. And of course, the trains! It’s very relaxing to watch their travel, notice how they slow down as they go up in elevation, they even sound cool. Check their website for open house dates.

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We stepped outside and headed south towards more shops and restaurants. We ducked into the boutique right on the corner called My Sweet Holly, in addition to home goods they have a large selection of Made In Detroit merchandise. A few doors down is one of the newer stores called Great Lakes Marketplace. A Made In Michigan grocery store featuring; Guernsey Ice Cream, Sanders, American Spoon, Cherry Republic, and loads of other food products, both big name and independents, native to the mitten state. When we came in the door a cheerful woman was handing out samples of her homemade candy, the dark chocolate espresso crunch was to die for! (I couldn’t leave the store without buying some….) Up front you can order an espresso drink or a double dip of your favorite ice cream. It was cool to see so many locally produced food items in one place. I am told beer and wine will be stocked soon! At the back of the store is a hallway connecting to the Great Lakes Artisan Village. What a marvelous find! Here you can purchase artwork crafted by Michigan artists, often using a Michigan product. They have a little bit of everything here; gorgeous jewelry, funky birdhouses, watercolor paintings and folk-art. A nice selection of books written by Michigan authors, intricate woodwork and sculptures for indoors or out are found throughout the space. If you’re looking for something unique, chances are you’ll find something here. The back of the store has been turned into a mini theater; on weekends they offer Movies In The Village featuring silver screen classics. What a fun idea! Most of the shops interiors retain their historic charm; some have exposed brick walls and wooden floors, most have tin ceilings, it really adds character.

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 We crossed Saginaw St to Bittersweet Cafe to catch some lunch. We had become quite hungry from shopping and staring at all the different food products at the marketplace. As we looked over the menu it was easy to be distracted by plates of mouth-watering food passing by. Finally a decision was made; the Vintage Pastrami sandwich and a Maurice Salad. The restaurant has classic Victorian appeal, again complete with an ornate tin ceiling. Up by the register is a glass case filled with scrumptious looking desserts. Passerby’s stop in for a coffee to go and linger over the selection. Our food arrived; the salad was a very generous size. Mixed greens with chopped turkey, ham and swiss, I liked the addition of black olives. The dressing was homemade and excellent. The sandwich was served on grilled pumpernickel bread; two slices filled with thinly sliced pastrami, swiss cheese, red onion and pepperoncini topped off with a creamy horseradish sauce, yum! We enjoyed our time in Holly and are already planning a return trip to visit their array of antique shops and other stores. I just may have to have more of that dark chocolate too….

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Next time you’re in the mood to visit a quaint little town with pretty streetscapes, good restaurants, and great shopping, head on over to Holly.