Tag Archives: Preservation Detroit

DETROIT: The Fillmore

25 Mar

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Picture this: Detroit, 1928, Saturday night. You are dressed up, walking down Woodward Ave with a group of friends to see a movie; theaters seem to line the streets, marquees are dazzling. You pass the newly opened Fox Theatre followed by the State, entering Grand Circus Park, the Madison, Wilson, Capitol, Adams, United Artist and Michigan Theatres all compete for your 35 cents, the cost of a ticket. For that 35 cents you will see a newsreel, a cartoon and feature film, if you’re lucky, you may even see a Vaudeville show. Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton dominate the big screens, Disney’s Steamboat Willie premiers, making the official introduction  of Mickey Mouse, Janet Gaynor stars in Street Angel, for which she will win the Oscar for Best Actress, Greta Garbo stars in the Divine Woman. The smallest of these theatres, the Adams, seats 1,770, the largest, the Fox seats 5,041, that’s a lot of popcorn!

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Our deep affection for 20th Century architecture is clearly evident in the photos alone contained in DetroitDvotion. The ultimate objects of our affection are old theatres; the designs drip with the ornate, indulge in fantasy. We are taken to far away places that may or may not exist. Every day folks were surrounded by beauty and fine things: enormous chandeliers, marble columns, murals, grand staircases; the reality of daily life shelved for a few hours. Today we are joining Preservation Detroit for a tour of the State Theatre, now known as the Fillmore; designed by C Howard Crane, who also designed the Adams, Detroit Opera House, Madison, Orchestra Hall, Fox, United Artist, Garden Theatre, Majestic, Bonstelle and Olympia Stadium, thank you Mr Crane. The State opened in 1925 with 2,967 seats. At the time of its opening, the State was one of America’s grandest film palaces featuring oversized chandeliers, paired ionic columns, rich draperies and an elaborate ceiling dome. The theatre operated continuously from 1925-1981, in 1937 the name was changed to Palms-State, then The Palms in 1949. Thankfully, Charles Forbes, a pioneer of Detroit historic preservation purchased the building in 1979, (He also saved the Fox, Gem, Century, Colony Club and Elwood Grill)  it re-opened as the State once again in 1983

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Our tour begins in the lobby of the Palms Building, it was common in those days for a theatre to adjoin an office building, that way if the theatre did not succeed, the office building covered the expenses of the building. This section was modernized in 1960, a few original Beaux-Arts touches remain such as the gorgeous elevator doors, one elevator is still original too. We make our way through the State Bar into the outer lobby of the theatre, here the ceiling is coffered, burgundy, green and gold cover the walls and plaster details, gold leaf adds pizzazz. Moving toward the auditorium, a beautiful, curving, marble staircase leads to the mezzanine level, above it the entire ceiling is an oval medallion of design. We ascend the staircase and find ourselves in the inner lobby, a barrel-vaulted ceiling rises overhead, the original 1925 chandeliers are aglow, walls are decorated in high detail from top to bottom, giant mirrors reflect beautiful images, original sconces cling to the walls. On ground level side exit doors are stained glass framed in dark wood, at this moment they are lit up by afternoon sun.

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We proceed into the auditorium itself, walking all the way to the front of the house and onto the stage, the uninterrupted view spectacular. There are three levels, the main floor has been converted to cabaret-style seating as has the mezzanine level, the balcony retains theatre seating. At first my eyes are drawn all the way up to the dome ceiling, it feels stately and serious, further down the walls semi-circular grates rest upon pairs of columns, below that are more archways. A scallop design defines the mezzanine level it appears as if individual box seats fill this level, the facade highly decorated; we get a sense of the immense seating arrangement.  From this position we are in close proximity to the knights decked out in full armor guarding stage right and left, they appear at the ready if the need arises. We make our way back to the Main Floor, walking toward the back we turn and face the stage to take in the proscenium, it’s spectacular, the green and gold color scheme carries over into the theatre, an eagle rests on the highest peak. From here we notice huge stained glass ceiling panels, the off-white glass pieces are embellished with a spider web design, high on the walls grates are backlit in red, the original organ pipes are still tucked away in these walls. As we make our exit we take notice of the framed rock and roll posters clinging to the walls, fitting now that Live Nation leases the theatre.

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Back in the State Bar & Grill the last group begins their tour, leaving plenty of open tables, we choose one near the front windows and order lunch. The State Bar opened in 2000 and features rescued architectural remnants from Detroit landmarks such as Downtown Hudson’s and an eastside church, the space is quite attractive. Directly across the street is Comerica Park, I imagine this place is pretty busy on a game day. We order the Spicy Western Burger; a half-pound burger topped with BBQ sauce, deep-fried jalapenos, pepper-jack cheese and onion rings, served with a pile of homemade chips, we split the burger and an order of cheese sticks, yum! There was more than enough food for the two of us. It has been another great afternoon in the D, we walk away from the building with a feeling of contentment. The building has withstood the test of time, for the last 90 years people have been entertained in this theatre, the current tenants have been thoughtful caretakers of this palace, we appreciate that.

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DETROIT: Cultural Center Tour

28 Sep

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Now and again we like to be ‘tourists’ in our own city; these days tours of Detroit can be taken daily, choices vary from walking and bicycle to segways and buses, today our feet will take us through Detroit’s Cultural Center. We begin our tour at the McKenzie House, a lovely 1895 Queen Ann style residence that is now Preservation Detroit’s (f.k.a. Preservation Wayne) headquarters. As Detroit’s largest and oldest historic preservation organization, members have worked tirelessly since 1975 to preserve, promote and protect the city’s rich architectural heritage. Over the years we have trekked through the streets of the city, gone inside private homes and seen amazing buildings on tours led by this all volunteer organization. We meet inside the house, a large group has gathered for this Saturday morning tour, we pay our $10 and head out the door, gathering on the Cass Ave sidewalk.

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As we make our way over to Woodward, our guide Kathleen, shares interesting stories and histories of buildings we pass, her assistant Susan adds to the conversation. On Woodward we see large historic homes, reminding us that this once was a residential neighborhood, many are currently owned by Wayne State University and used for storage and administrative purposes. We pause in front of the Maccabees Building, built in 1927 for the fraternal organization Knights of the Maccabees, the elaborately carved limestone facade is incredible. The main entryway deserves a few moments of our time, we stop and study  intricate patterns and series of solemn knights that surround  the elongated arch, I see columns and faces, two knights stand atop the door frame, above them a fanciful clock is anchored to the building.

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Just down the street we enter the Detroit Public Library Main Branch, designed by Cass Gilbert in the Italian Renaissance style, it was built in 1921 of Vermont marble and serpentine Italian marble trim. If you have never been inside the library, you need to see it. To the right is the Children’s library, I love the fireplace. Mary Chase Perry Stratton created the tiles, large ones represent fairy tales, others shimmer in her signature luster glaze. We ascend a staircase, an ornate coffered ceiling comes into view. At the top of the stairs a barrel-vaulted ceiling is illuminated by lantern style lights hanging from a single chain. Adam Strom Hall is spectacular, a mural is painted in three sections, a man fills the center space, he holds the past in one hand and the present in the other, Kathleen has much to tell us in this room. We exit the building through the back, this is the 1963 addition to the building, do not miss the magnificent mosiac fascade.  

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The Detroit Historical Museum is our next stop, out front is Legends Plaza, a collection of hand prints set in concrete of men and women who have called Detroit home. As I listen I walk around placing my hands inside the hand prints of Al Kaline, Elmore Leonard, Lily Tomlin, Gordie Howe and Alice Cooper. Further up Woodward the George L Beecher House is being refurbished, this 3-story yellow brick and limestone home was designed by HJ Maxwell Grylls and built in 1894, one of the most outstanding features is the original Tiffany stained glass window on the east Ferry side of the home. Across the street stands the  Hecker-Smiley mansion, you have probably seen this castle-like structure as you have driven down Woodward. The once private home is marvelous, designed by Louis Kamper it is 20,988 sq ft of French Renaissance Chateauesque design, Kris and I have previously been inside, the interior is spectacular. Around the corner on Ferry Street is the former home of Charles Lang Freer, he was a Detroit industrialist with a passion for collecting art, at one time he purchased Whistler’s Peacock Room and had it installed in his home; it is now housed at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC.  Across the street a series of four restored Victorian homes and two carriage houses make up the Inn on Ferry, a lovely alternative to staying in a hotel when visiting the city. The East Ferry Avenue Historic District was originally part of the Ferry Seed Company, the neighborhood was developed in the late 1800’s into an upper-class neighborhood. The street is gorgeous, great architecture, mature trees and today, a flawless blue sky. 

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The College for Creative Studies Ford Campus is located on Kirby, buildings represent many different time periods and architectural styles, large sculptures dot the campus. Further down Kirby we arrive at the Scarab Club, the brown brick building is rich in details, home to artists studios and galleries it’s a fascinating place. We round the corner at the DIA and walk up Farnsworth, The Rackham Education Memorial Building rests here, built in 1941 for the Engineering Society of Detroit it is made of Georgia marble, black granite and features cast bronze windows. The building houses a 1000 seat auditorium on the main level and a ballroom on the lower level, darn, we can’t go in! Our attention is diverted by the sound of music and stomping feet, as we near the front of the DIA we find an outdoor stage playing host to Flamenco dancers and a guitarist, passersby marvel at the sight, some take a seat and stay awhile. Our tour group moves to the front of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a wedding party poses for photos on the front stairs, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect day, the bridal party is quite elegant, the building entrance providing the backdrop. Rodin’s Thinker looks as if he has a lot on his mind today, bankruptcy can do that to a guy. Our tour ends here. Preservation Detroit’s tour season continues through the month of October, guides are friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about Detroit. If you’d like to get a closer look at many of the places we visited today, come downtown on December 7th for Detroit’s 41st Annual Noel Night; music, art, historic buildings, authentic Christmas spirit–don’t miss it!

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My stomach rumbles as a reminder that it is lunchtime, we are heading over to the Jefferson House inside the Pontchartrain Hotel. Named after the legendary ‘Pontch’ hotel that once stood on the corner of Woodward and Cadillac Square, this hotel opened in 1965. Recently re-opened as a Crown Plaza, we are anxious to have a look. The front wall of the Jefferson House restaurant is all windows, sunlight seeps in, our table overlooks Jefferson and the reconstruction of Cobo Arena turned ballroom and convention space. The room is done up in cream and taupe with rich wood accents, the ceiling is decorated in a metallic finish and lit from the edges,adjacent to the space is the Urban Cellars Bar.  Our server is cheerful and informative, if you were visiting from out-of-town she could make great suggestions of things to see and do while in the city–a great asset to the hotel. The menu is creative, a nice variety of ingredients, we quickly decide and place our order. First to arrive is the salad; tender spinach leaves are tossed in house made dressing along with goat cheese, bacon, julienne apples and poached pears. The presentation is gorgeous, piled attractively on a rectangular plate that reminds me of slate. The veggie sandwich is a spinach wrap stuffed with sautéed vegetables then grilled, the flavors are melded together perfectly. Both items were delicious and reasonably priced, portion sizes are good too. When we are finished we walk through the lobby area; very attractive in white, long fringe type curtains divide the spaces, a cool circular inset in the ceiling has an iridescent finish, very modern, striking. The hotel is already sold out for the Auto Show in January!

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