Tag Archives: Pioneer Building

DETROIT: Behind closed doors…..

18 Nov

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Ever driven by a cool old building and wondered what’s inside?? Us too, today we’ll get a chance to show you a few….It is DoCoMoMo Tour weekend in the United States, coast to coast the whole country is celebrating Mid-Century Modern architecture and design with 50 tours in 40 individual cities. In Michigan we have four tours going on this October weekend, today we are joining the Detroit Art Deco Society for “Modernism Reinvisioned at 1528 and 1520 Woodward” in Detroit. We meet our tour group in front of what was originally known as the Arts League Building, in 1960 The United Foundation renovated the structure, then moved their headquarters into the building; you may remember the massive U/F on the facade. Our guide, Rebecca Savage from DAADS explains the history of the building and that it went from its original classical design to Mid-Century Modern style; ground level exterior walls were finished with tiny blue tiles, the upper floors were covered with a stainless steel grill. The ground floor was once home to the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company, I am told you could come here back in the day to get free light bulbs. Today a bicycle rental station sits in front of the newly renovated building, Dan Gilbert purchased it in 2012, it is now simply called 1528 Woodward, he has wasted no time getting it ready for new tenants, Yay!

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Just inside the doors we find ourselves in the lobby, original tiny blue tiles cover the right wall, elevators are stainless steel, the wood around the reception desk remains from the 1960 renovation, a seating area is arranged off to the left, the design complimentary to the existing elements. We take the elevator up to the floor inhabited by Sachse Construction; floors are polished concrete, wood is very light, much of the space is bright white accented by lime green, it looks fantastic! Desks are arranged in an open workspace, I would most certainly be distracted by the outstanding view afforded by the huge Woodward-facing windows. Near the back a giant vintage black and white photo of Detroit is used as wallpaper around and over the elevator door. The next level greets us in bright blue and lime green, walls are covered in designs from Detroit Wallpaper, seating areas sport funky, cool furniture, I would say it’s ‘groovy’, each floor has great city views.

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Down a level we are led into a meeting space, original wood designs from the 60’s are still in place as are the great light boxes, my affection for the darker wood of the 60’s continues to grow. We are led down a hall, past what Rebecca calls the Lego wall, picture a wall made of massive white Lego’s and there you have it; it too was part of the 1960 renovation, reproduced during the current resto. We pause outside a door, a small sign to the right says “Sterling Cooper Room”, the door opens and indeed we feel as if we have arrived on the set of Mad Men. The room is amazing; gorgeous wood panels surround the room, the conference table is original, gorgeous, huge. Light fixtures are new versions of the old ‘sputnik’ fixtures popular in that time period. Again you have that marvelous street view. It is nice to see how the current designers have embraced the past and make it work with the present.

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Back outside we walk over to 1520 Woodward, built in 1917, it was purchased by Lane Bryant in 1945 and redesigned to the current facade. It was the flagship store for the women’s clothing chain for nearly 40 years. Dan Gilbert purchased the building in 2011, having sat vacant since the 80’s much of the interior had to be gutted. An elevator awaits us in a small attractive lobby area, artwork hangs on the walls, a cool fixture lights the space, a swanky railing lines a down staircase. Currently mobile App developer Detroit Labs occupies the top two floors, today they are hosting an event so we will not be able to see their space, bummer… Instead we roam around an empty floor, a work-in-progress, so to speak. The space is wide open, you can see new plumbing and mechanicals, huge steel beams run the length of the room. On one floor old “sale” signs are still visible on some of the walls, rafters are exposed, rusty steel beams act as support columns. These first four floors are just awaiting tenants. Our tour ends here, but our adventure continues.

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We could use a little pick me up, Chickpea in the D has taken over the tiny space at 2 John R formerly occupied by Good Girls Go To Paris Crepes. Serving gourmet hummus, sandwiches, soups and smoothies, it’s a great place to grab a quick lunch or snack. As we wait for our Sunny Day smoothie made from Strawberries, bananas, pineapple juice and yogurt, we try samples of the pumpkin and the asparagus hummus, both were quite good. 

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By the time we arrive at Detroit Vegan Soul on Agnes St our smoothie is gone and we are ready for lunch. Co-owners Erika and Kirsten started out as a meal delivery and catering company before recently opening the restaurant. The cozy little space is lovely; today sunshine pours in through the large front windows, the room is painted in earth tones of green, rust and brown, the right wall holds a series of street sign photos. The menu consists of “veganized” comfort foods; Mac-n-Cheese, collard greens, black-eyed peas, yams, they even serve catfish tofu. We sip on house made Hibiscus Punch as we wait for our food. The sesame kale salad is piled high in a shallow bowl; sun-dried tomatoes, sesame seeds and a homemade sesame dressing that is absolutely delicious. The DVS Burger is a veggie millet burger patty, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, red onion, pesto aioli served on a whole grain bun, it is hands-down the best vegetarian burger Kris and I have ever had. Served with a side of cole slaw and yam fries the combination made for a tasty and satisfying lunch!

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We are driving over to the Milwaukee Junction area, named for the 1858 intersection of the Detroit & Milwaukee and Chicago, Detroit & Canada Grand Trunk Junction railroads, it became the automobile industry’s central location for manufacturing in Detroit. By 1910 Ford and Everitt-Metzger-Flanders were the world’s largest automakers, other nearby plants included Anderson Electric, Brush, Cadillac, Dodge, Hupp, Packard and Regal; their suppliers chose locations in the area, creating a hub of auto body and stamping plants. A host of machine shops producing tools, dies, jigs and fixtures for the stamping companies were also found here. While today some stamping operations remain here what we mostly find are unoccupied American industrial buildings from the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century; buildings range from basic frame and brick to Art Moderne and Romanesque Revival designed by notable names such as Charles Agree, Smith, Hinchman & Grylls and you guessed it, Albert Kahn. There has been a movement over the last decade to convert these obsolete structures into artist studios, such as the Russell Industrial Center, and our next stop the Pioneer Building.

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Located at 2679 E Grand Blvd the Pioneer Building began life in 1908 as the Trippense Manufacturing company, producing stamped metal planetariums and tellurions, in the 1920’s the company also produced open auto bodies for Ford, Chrysler and Rickenbacker. Somewhere along the way the building was renamed The Pioneer after the furniture company that once occupied it, the name has stuck ever since. Today this sturdy old structure has been divided into studios rented by artists from all over the metro Detroit area. Generally not open to the public, today is a special occasion, it is the annual open house, all are welcome. The atmosphere is festive, crowds of people fill hallways and individual studios, one room is dedicated to food, drinks and music, everyone seems to partake. We traverse the art lined hallways stopping at each studio, all mediums are represented; oil, watercolors, ceramics, photography, sculpture-you get the idea. I can barely drag myself from the studio of Teresa Petersen, her pieces are eclectic and humorous; collages, sculpture and even trading cards, each telling a story that is sure to make you laugh…a lot. In the main hall a kids area is set up, youngsters don oversized shirts and try out their painting skills. One studio features courtroom sketches from the Kilpatrick trial, the likeness and emotions captured on paper are amazing. One artist makes sculpture from found objects, it is fun to try to identify the components of a piece. 

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As we are about to exit the building I notice a small square of paper that says: “You’re invited to an Exclusive first look: The Historic Art Stove Building”, just around the corner at 1401 E Milwaukee, we’re on our way. We park on the grassy lot, without hesitation we enter this long vacant century-old building, it even smells old. New owners have just recently taken possession, they are on site to chat with visitors. The building was constructed in 1907, this ornate brick structure was the showroom for Art Stove’s production of the Laurel brand of cast iron stoves, ranges and furnaces; it was one of five major stove companies in Detroit, before becoming the Motor City, Detroit was known as “The Stove Capital of the World”. In 1923 Art Stove was absorbed by the Detroit Stove Company. Today the main floor sits empty sans a pile of old lumber resting in the middle of the space. Kris and I follow one of the owners as he leads us to the rotunda that served as the buildings grand entrance. We climb the dark, creaking, wooden circular stairway, it is still beautiful. The second story looks much as the first, fallen plaster, peeling paint, but somewhere beyond all that a lovely building remains, most of the wood moldings and window frames are in tact, a fireplace sits empty…for now anyways. The owners are filled with energy and determination, if they have their way a new group of studios will fill the empty rooms and artists will make themselves at home. I am looking forward to the day when we come back and see it all finished.

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DETROIT: 3rd Thursday

27 Apr

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As the art scene continues to grow at an astonishing rate in Detroit there is an increasing number of cool things to do most any night of the week. Tonight is the 3rd Thursday of the month, Art Detroit Now has  big plans for the evening; a combination of contemporary art, amazing artists and extraordinary venues; let’s go! We arrive at the Pioneer Building on East Grand Blvd, years ago we heard that it had been turned into studio spaces for artists, we’ve always wanted to check it out, tonight we finally get our chance. We park alongside the building, rain is coming down in buckets, we make a dash for the door. Inside, we grab a studio floorplan, we hear voices nearby and use them as a guide to find the first studio. Spaces come in all shapes and sizes, often larger studios are shared by two or more artists. The first one we enter is a small, cozy space, completed pieces dot the walls, the smell of paint thinner and oil paint hang heavy in the air, music plays quietly in the background. After we  look around we proceed back down the hall, pieces of art from studio tenants grace every wall, the work is fantastic. We meander in and out of first floor studios; styles range from striking to serene, colors cover the gamut from subtle to intense. We are greeted warmly by Joan Farago, for the last two years she’s had pieces in Art Prize in Grand Rapids; it’s wonderful to have an opportunity to talk about her art and Detroit’s continually expanding art scene.

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We climb the stairs to the second floor and then the third, the structure feels solid, indestructible in the way only old buildings do. The wood plank floor is quiet and easy on my feet, huge load bearing  beams are made of wood, remnants of its early history are still visible. Built in 1908 by the Trippensee brothers, the building was originally used to manufacture enclosed bodies for Buick and Ford. In the early 1920’s it was the home of Rickenbacker Motor Co. It spent most of its days as a manufacturing facility, in 1960 Pioneer Office Products took it over. In 1994 the building was purchased and renovated by the current owners who turned it into 29 distinct studio spaces complete with large windows and fantastic industrial views.

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We wander into studio # 303, Birgit Huttemann-Holz stands off to the side as we admire her work. A large table sits central in the space, on it are jars of what appears to be hardened wax, open containers of powdered pigment represent every color of the rainbow. She approaches us, I compliment her work.  She explains  that she does not use paint, that each piece is ‘painted’ with beeswax. Having never heard of this she sees she has piqued our interest and demonstrates the procedure, we are fascinated. She lights the blow-torch, yes, a blow torch, and completes the process, the beeswax gives the colors a luminescent look, as if you can peer right into them, absolutely stunning!

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We continue our journey through the Pioneer Building stopping into each open studio, hosts offer a variety of goodies; cookies, candy, even wine, we meet an array of interesting folks. The back wall of Jeanne Biere’s studio is lined with vintage black and white photos, as we draw closer we realize that they are not photos, but paintings of photos, each image is captured perfectly. Teresa Petersen  creates art from found objects, her collages use vintage items, they are whimsical and fun.   The building is generally not open to the public with the exception of 3rd Thursday. If you can’t make it down on a Thursday, write this down, on the first Saturday of October they host the annual Artist Open Studios, an open house of sorts complete with food and live music; you are welcome to come in, tour the building, meet the artists and purchase their work. It’s already on my calendar!

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Having spent way more time than expected at the Pioneer we can no longer ignore our hunger. Since there are more activities  going on in Eastern Market we head to Supino Pizza for a quick dinner. We place our order at the counter and have a seat at one of the smaller tables, I love the homey feel of the place; black and white checkered floors, community tables and quirky art formed from ordinary items. Kris sets our drinks on the table just as the house salad arrives, that was fast. We douse the tender greens in the house made lemon basil citronette, delicious. Our pizza arrives just as we finish off the salad, a tasty combination of pepperoni, mushrooms, green pepper and a kick of spice melded together by gooey mozzarella.

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We dodge the raindrops once again as we head down Russell Street to Germack Coffee, open until 10pm for the occasion, they have live music tonight.  The Chili Mexican is my favorite drink, but tonight I want something warm; I order a cappuccino, unfazed by the weather Kris asks for an iced coffee with a splash of  house made vanilla simple syrup. Steven whips up our drinks, we move to the back of the shop where the music is set to start. A trio by the name of The  Marble Fauns, begins to play; two guitars, two women and one man, their music would probably be described as folk, I would call it old-time folk. Voices blend beautifully in simple harmonies, the music, uncomplicated tunes are played effortlessly. The girls do most of the singing, after a little coaxing the guy agrees to do a number where his voice is showcased, he’s great! Drinking my coffee and listening to the music I feel like I could sit here for hours. I can’t wait for the next 3rd Thursday.