Tag Archives: People For Palmer Park

DETROIT: Let it Snow !

6 Mar

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It’s late February in Detroit; the sky is overcast and gray, snow blankets the ground and the temperature hovers around 30 degrees. The People For Palmer Park are hosting Winterfest at the park; we put on our heavy socks and long johns, bundle ourselves up in our coats, scarves, gloves and we’re ready ! You may not realize it, but Palmer Park has acres of lawns, woodlands, hiking and biking trails and Lake Frances; perfect for a winter playground. We arrive just as the festivities begin, a line has already formed for the horse and carriage rides. We make our way through the snow to the shoveled sidewalk that surrounds Lake Frances, at a table volunteers are handing out a list for the scavenger hunt, nearby, folks are signing up  for the doggie fashion show to take place a little later. We pop in the warming tent, the heat feels great, musicians are setting up equipment, there’s a buzz in the air. The Green Zebra food truck is at the ready to provide food and beverages to attendees, mmmmmmm, smells delicious! We continue our walk around the lake, a portion of the ice surrounding the lighthouse has been cleared and is waiting for the skaters to arrive. Past the log cabin a large pile of snowshoes lay under a tent, volunteers invite us to give snowshoeing a try, why not? After we are safely buckled in to our over-sized footwear a guide offers to take us through the woods, she tells us there is a fire pit where we can warm ourselves. As we trek across the snow-covered trails I am struck by the beauty of the park, as we get deeper into the woods we are surrounded by the peaceful quiet that only comes from nature. I am no longer cold as the effort it takes to walk with snowshoes is far greater than boots alone. It is just the three of us, Kris, myself and our guide; as someone who has lived in the neighborhood for most of her life she tells us about the park and the changes she has seen through the years.

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The smell of firewood permeates the air, in the distance we see the low flames from the fire pit. When we reach the fire we lean against makeshift benches, a row of long sticks rests on a log across from us, wait, is that a bag of marshmallows? Why yes it is! Being careful not to trip and actually fall into the fire, we make our way to the other side, push a jet-puffed marshmallow into the end of our stick and begin the age-old ritual of roasting marshmallows over an open fire, it doesn’t get much better than this! When they are a perfect golden brown we extract them from our stick, put them in our mouth and smile with pleasure that comes from such a simple act. Our fingers become tacky with leftover white bits; a small price to pay for such deliciousness. A group approaches the fire, the children spot the bag of marshmallows and immediately get to work. We leave the cozy fire and head back into the woods, taking a different trail back to the festivities. We return our snowshoes to the tent and thank our guide. The time has almost arrived for the fashion show to begin; the line of canines stretches far down the sidewalk.  Dogs of every size and color are dressed for the occasion, from the simple fleece coat to full costume, we see a pirate, bumble bee and a super hero, some accessorize with scarves and sunglasses. The announcement is made and the parade begins; cameras click as both pet and owner pose, everybody is having a good time, including us!

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It’s time for lunch, we drive down Woodward into downtown and stop at Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe; not only are we hungry, but I need a few things for home. The building is created in the Art Deco style; its tan-colored stone and black trimmed windows make it an attractive part of the streetscape.  Seemingly modeled after the old-fashioned neighborhood markets, the shop carries a modest selection of groceries, fresh produce and household items. The main attraction is the fresh-cut meat, seafood and deli counter. Also featured are ready-made meals, soups, rotisserie meats, and a fantastic salad and olive bar. We choose a sandwich from the deli counter, employees are very friendly, we sample a few salads and settle on the pesto pasta salad, I scoop out chicken noodle soup from a large pot and we have ourselves a lunch. Another nice thing about the shop is the seating area along the Woodward facing windows, we have a seat enjoying both the food and the scenery. When we finish I grab my few items for home and we are off. UPDATE: Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe closed February 2014

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With so many new businesses opening in Detroit, it is fun to check them all out. We drive the few blocks over to 3rd Street where The Bottom Line Coffeehouse resides in the Beethoven Building. Through the black wrought iron gate and down a few steps the coffeehouse is located in the basement; exposed brick walls, counter seating and tables around the perimeter give the space a warm and welcoming feeling. Daily selections are posted on the chalkboard menu near the register; in addition to espresso and coffee drinks, they serve pastries from Traffic Jam & Snug, soups from Beautiful Soups and a variety of sandwiches and salads, all of it looks appetizing. I order a mocha and Kris an espresso to go, the barista informed me they used Calders chocolate milk for their mochas and hot chocolates……Yum! A splendid ending to our winter day.

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DETROIT: Palmer Park

25 Oct

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I can’t even begin to tally up the number of times we have driven down Woodward past Palmer Park, we’ve attended countless home tours in Palmer Woods and the University District, and yet we’ve never been to the park itself. That was about to change; The People for Palmer Park were hosting an Architecture Tour of Palmer Park and the Historic Apartment District and we were going. A little history on the park: Designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (Central Park NY & Belle Isle Park) and Charles Eliot in the late 1800’s, it was donated to the city of Detroit by Thomas W Palmer in 1897 “for the good of everyone.” The parkland is 296 acres of lawns, woodlands, tennis courts, playgrounds, a public golf course, outdoor pool, hiking and biking trails. There’s Lake Frances, a historic log cabin and the Detroit mounted police horse barn. Palmer himself kept Percheron horses and Jersey cows in addition to orchards on the land. As recently as three years ago the city threatened to close the park; local residents stepped in and the park and surrounding apartment district are undergoing an amazing renaissance.

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We arrived right on time for our tour; people were everywhere. Thankfully the rain had stopped and the sun was coming out; October 6th and we Michiganders were already wearing gloves. With tour books in hand our group walked from Unity Temple Church to Palmer Park stopping in front of the Merrill Palmer Fountain; built at a cost of 1 million dollars it was moved to this location in 1926. When I first see the fountain I am distracted by the weeds growing in the open spaces in the large circular pool at ground level, my eyes travel up one level to the smaller clover shaped pool, then up again to the centerpiece of the fountain; a large arch decorated with delicate carvings of cat tails and water lilies. The interior of the arch is inset, reminding me of a seashell; a large marble turtle is flanked by stylized fish, in my mind I can picture water flowing from the mouth of the turtle into the urn-like pool below. No longer bright white, time has not been kind to this incredible marble sculpture, yet it is still beautiful. It is easy to imagine the pools filled with water, the sound of water splashing on a hot summer day, how wonderful that would be!

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We follow the wide sidewalk around the outer edge of Lake Frances, the cool nights have started to turn Maple trees red and orange, Weeping willows stand gracefully near the lake. Ahead is the log cabin, built in 1885 the Palmers used it as a summer home, the word “cabin” hardly does it justice, think more like “lodge”. Today the large wooden structure is secured with boards over windows, plastic drapes the chimney. We are told the interior is in good condition, it was open to the public back in June for tours. Walking around the cabin I notice the spectacular view of the lake, a miniature lighthouse is over to the left. We follow the group further on pausing at the Spanish Bell, in a fenced in area the horses are out enjoying breakfast and a bit of sunshine.

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The Palmer Park apartment district has to be seen to be truly appreciated. We have gone past these buildings for years always wondering what they looked like inside, today we get our chance. The architecture runs the gamut from Spanish and Venetian to Moorish and Art Moderne, with a little bit of Egyptian thrown in here and there. We walk the neighborhood streets, buildings all bear names: The Florentine, The Luxor, The Cumberland Manor and Madrid Court etc. We arrive at The Walbri Court; built in 1925 at the request of Walter Briggs, Albert Kahn (who else?) designed the Georgian Style apartments for families with children. The apartments are now condos, one owner was kind enough to open his home for the tour. Each unit is 2,600 square feet, no, that is not a typo, and  is located in its own wing, making them very quiet. This condo was stunning; the owner did a fantastic job of incorporating the old with the new.

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The Spanish/Moorish style apartments are fantastic; usually asymmetrical the entrances are always in the center. Built by the fine craftsmen of the day, details are everywhere; carved stone, colorful tiles, wrought iron light fixtures, and that’s just on the outside! The Trucadero sports barrel tile roofs, the Luxor with its gold-colored brick is rich in decoration; a Moorish arch surrounds the front door, above it tile from the Flint Faience Co. shimmers in gold, the vestibule a testament to the beauty of the tile company’s work. The lobby is an unexpected surprise; moorish arches lead to hallways on either side, the ceiling is painted and stenciled, wooden beams are stenciled to match, get this: they are original to the building. Both of these buildings were built in 1928 and reflect the popularity of the style at the time.

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On Whitmore we travel forward in time; 999 Whitmore built in 1937 is early Art Deco. Constructed of cast concrete, each townhouse is two stories. Our guide told us the building originally had a roof garden with a fountain, very cool. Proceeding on Whitmore we continue to move forward in time; 900 Whitmore built in 1944 is done in late Art Deco style, buff colored brick, casement windows and an oval courtyard in front make this building very appealing. Next door at 950 picture windows replace casements, it has a little more Moderne feel to it, 850 was built in 1952 and has much cleaner lines and surfaces.

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As we walk through the neighborhood we are in awe of the contrast of buildings; fully occupied structures share the same block with nearly empty shells. Some apartments have been completely restored and others have always been lived in. The styles are vastly different too, making it a welcome departure from the type of building that goes on today. Near the end of the district we come across the Whitmore Plaza, built in a time when anything Egyptian was popular it snuck into every design style; here it is combined with the Moorish design and it works perfectly. Our last stop was one of the best on the tour; recently renovated and now accepting renters, La Vogue on Merton is the epitome of eclectic Art Deco. Burnt orange bricks are laid in fanciful patterns, green Spanish tiles accent porches, multi-colored tiles are scattered throughout the facade, a medallion of a sailing ship is located near the front door, the original address marker still hangs on the wall. The lobby is a marvel of Art Deco shapes and designs; painted in yellow and green it’s a knock-out. Apartments were open to tour; the floors are still the original, the units are  updated with today’s modern conveniences. The owner of La Vogue owns seven other buildings in the district, all are to be renovated.

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Time to eat! You may have noticed a whimsically painted house resting on the corner of Woodward and Golden Gate; this is the Innate Chiropractic Center and Golden Gate Cafe. Not sure if they were serving lunch on Saturday we parked in the lot in front of the house and investigated further. There’s a lot going on outside; sculptures, a pond with a water feature, landscaped gardens and cafe tables. We followed the walk to the front door; it was quiet inside, we were facing a counter and behind it shelves filled with dried herbs and other natural supplements. We heard voices to the right and followed them into the cafe. The informal cafe occupies a tiny space with just enough room for 1 large table and seating at the L-shaped counter. Chalk boards let us know the soups of the day and daily specials. A young man steps out from the kitchen and greets us; we decide on a bowl of black bean soup and the tempeh burger. Sitting at our table we conversed with a couple of nice ladies sitting at the counter who were raving about the soup. Our meal arrived; a giant bowl of soup garnished with house-made pita chips, very tasty! The burger was topped with sautéed onions. mushrooms, lettuce and tomato, delicious! A quirky, cool place to lunch, I’m glad we stopped in.