Tag Archives: Pure Detroit

DETROIT: Checkin’ Out the Fisher…

10 Feb

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Detroit has suddenly become tour-riffic; you can see the city on foot, bicycle, bus, boat or Segway. You can learn about history, architecture, where to eat or have a cocktail, you can even go behind the scenes… Today we are touring “Detroit’s largest art object” otherwise known as the Fisher Building. Built in 1928, designed by (all together now….) Albert Kahn, paid for by the Fisher brothers as a gift to the city, the building is an Art Deco masterpiece. First some stats: The building stands 28 stories tall on W Grand Blvd, it has two 11-story wings, 641 bronze elevator doors and 1,275 miles of electrical and telephone wire. It was built in 15 months by Michigan contractors and workers.

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Pure Detroit is hosting their free weekly tour, we meet our guide Ryan in the lobby, 3-stories tall with a barrel-vaulted hand-painted ceiling, it is breath-taking. Today, in a special exhibit, a group of giant paper mache heads are scattered about the main floor vying for our attention. On loan from The Parade Company, they were originally created by artists in Viareggio Italy, some date back to the 1940’s. Two clown heads greet us first, painted cartoon style, the colors are bright and glossy. Continuing on we meet a pair of reindeer, an alligator and a blue hippo, a purple bug and a bumble bee are super cute.  Further on we come face to face with the Pirates of the Big Head collection, finely detailed, they sport tattoos, gold earrings and a treasure chest. I can see the old Italian newsprint in areas where the paint has chipped away. Many are in need of restoration, the exhibit hopes to encourage individuals to ‘adopt’ a big head, making donations to support the cost of restoration.

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The tour moves onward down the long corridor, we learn the building is constructed of Minnesota granite and Maryland marble. The original theater entrance lobby with it’s fluted marble pillars is stunning; in total, 40 varieties of marble from all of the world line the interior of the building. Near the Grand Blvd entrance, three original mosaics created by Geza Morati are as beautiful as the day they were completed, a brass piece in the floor is roped off, saving it from the wear of foot traffic. On the third floor we marvel at the frescos covering the ceiling; flora, fauna, hemlock, muses and red-haired cherubs were designed by Geza Maroti and painted by Antonio and Tomas de Lorenzo, at this level we can actually touch the arches, chandeliers seem only an arms length away. Ryan tells us the back in the day the ceiling was washed with buttermilk. He goes on to explain the symbolism of the eagles, the inclusion of commerce, transportation, art, agriculture and how the building reflected the new purely American style.

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A single elevator leads to the 26th floor, we must divide into groups as the elevator cannot take everyone at once. The doors open, we find ourselves in the Reception Room; back in the day floors 25-27 had a dining room, kitchen, living room and private elevator as this is where the Fisher brothers had their offices. At one time Persian rugs and massive hand-carved desks rested on the floor, very masculine. Dark walnut paneling, scrolled plaster ceiling, a fireplace and bronze chandeliers remain, I can’t say the same for the rest of the floor. Drop ceilings cap off empty rooms, but then there’s 360 degree view of the Detroit skyline. As we move from window to window taking in the sights Ryan tells us the Fisher building was originally topped with gold-leaf faced tile. During WWII it was feared the glimmering tower would become a target for bombings, it was covered with an asphalt material; after the war, the tower was covered with green terracotta tile as you see today. The Fisher family sold the building in 1962, in 2001 the Farbman Group of Southfield purchased the structure, an interesting bit of info: David Farbman, President and CEO of the Farbman Group has a family connection to the Fisher, Albert Kahn was his Great-Grand Uncle!

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The tour ends, back on the main floor we stop in at Stella Cafe for a cup of coffee. Recently remodeled using reclaimed wood the shop is bright and pleasant. A series of 3 yellow lamps dangle above the counter, the same marble floor graces the space. Stella roasts their own coffee beans, in addition they offer a selection of teas, juices, sweets, yogurt, soup and sandwiches. We drink our coffee surrounded by the beauty of the building. Vera Jane is just around the corner, offering a unique selection of handbags, lingerie, clothing and accessories, I like to stop in anytime we are in the building. Workshop is the latest retail addition, the shop sells handmade furniture created from Detroit reclaimed lumber. Vacant houses are disassembled, the wood is removed, sanded and refinished, James Willer of Reclaim Detroit and Kevin Borsay of Pure Detroit, then create furniture from the pieces. On display are dining tables, benches, shelving and coffee tables; each piece comes with the address of the house the wood came from, cool. I also love the wallpaper which comes from The Detroit Wallpaper Co.

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We stop in at Pure Detroit to say thanks for the tour, referred to as “The Store of All Things Detroit”,  husband and wife team Kevin and Shawn were the first to create a totally Detroit-centric shop. Through the years they have grown from a single store to three, each in a landmark building, and have added Stella and Rowland Cafe to the family.Their passion for the city is obvious in everything they do. We wander among all of the clothing, books, art, Pewabic Pottery and snacks, near the counter is an awesome model of the Fisher built from Legos, groovy! Kris purchases a hat and we are off…..

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The tour and shopping have left us starving, we park in the lot at Third Street Bar to grab some lunch. The room is dimly lit, tables are made from split logs, there’s a fireplace to the left, above it logs have been sliced into thin pieces and attached to the wall creating interesting patterns. It is late afternoon, the skee ball, dart board and shuffleboard table are still. We are here for some Dangerously Delicious Pie. I walk to the back corner where I find a wall- mounted menu of savory and sweet pies, on a table, a doorbell-like button  says “press for service”, so I do. I place the order, pay the man and join Kris back at the table. Before long, two pie tins piled high with leafy green salad and a piece of pie arrive. The BBQ pork is unbelievably delicious, the meat just falls apart, it is juicy and flavorful, the crust is to die for. The ham and cheese quiche is divine, it has the same wonderful crust; you get a nice slice of pie and a generous portion of salad for just 6 bucks. As much as we would like to try a piece of one of the dessert pies, we just can’t do it. The bar is open daily, pies are served for lunch, dinner and late night, we’ll be back………

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DETROIT: The Amazing Guardian Building

29 Nov

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It was the 1920’s and America was roaring. The Great War was over, the United States was coming into its own. We were changing everything; we put the world on wheels and now we were altering the face of city skylines with the skyscraper. In Detroit buildings such as the Buhl, Book Tower, Fisher and Penobscot soared high towards the sky, in 1929 the Guardian Building joined them. Originally named the Union Trust Building, Wirt Rowland of Smith Hinchman and Grylls Associates was responsible for designing the structure, and what a grand job he did! The Guardian looks as good today as it did in 1929; home to a branch of Bank of America, Pure Detroit, a coffee shop, cafe and City of Detroit offices, hundreds of people come and go from the building each day, free tours are available too. Let us show you around.

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Located on Griswold Street in the Financial District, you can easily pick out the Guardian; while most buildings are made of limestone or granite, Wirt Roland chose a red-tan brick, I read that almost 2 million bricks were used to construct the 535 foot building. Be sure to spend some time taking in the exterior of the building; on either side of the main entrance Indian-like figures carved by Corrado Parducci represent safety and security, colorful tilework patterns enhance outdoor alcoves. Once inside be prepared to be awestruck, the lobby is magnificent. The vaulted ceiling is Rookwood tile from Cincinnati, colorful patterns in blue, green, yellow, red and gold dance across the space, floors are Italian Travertine and Belgian black marble, lower portions of the walls are Numidian marble and Mankato stone. It is here we meet up with our tour guide and Guardian Concierge Christopher; his enthusiasm for the building is apparent the moment he begins to tell us about it.  The building itself is an Art Deco masterpiece, keep in mind it was built as a banking institution. The Indian motif is carried on throughout the entire structure; we find symbols of security, fidelity, safety and progress. Notched arches line the length of the lobby, at the end of each elevator hall are majestic stained glass windows featuring elaborate Indians. Our guide points out splendid lanterns that MichCon had made from the original architectural drawings found when doing renovations. Elevator doors are fabulous; Christopher shows us the letters UT carved into the doors representing Union Trust. We hop on the elevator and go up.

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We stop on the executive floor; CEO’s, CFO’s and board members gathered here for important meetings, it’s very swanky. Beautiful wood lines the walls and floor of the outer area, inside the boardroom a huge conference table and chairs take up most of the space; walls are beautifully paneled, windows are tall and elongated and provide a picturesque view of downtown. Back in the elevator we stop when we reach the top floor: the Ballroom. The decor is reminiscent of the lobby; notched arches, bright colors, but here we get a panoramic view of the city and the river, wow! This time we ride the elevator back to the lobby, then head down the stairs to the safe.  As we descend the design becomes less intricate, but it is not without decoration; Flint Faience tiles add a splash of color. We arrive at the safe, all of us walk inside as Christopher explains how cash was stored in piles back in the day. As we exit we stop and examine the door, they didn’t kid around when it came to protecting money. A small room houses safe deposit boxes, I imagine wealthy ladies wearing hats and gloves making frequent trips here to retrieve their finest jewelry for special occasions. 

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At last we arrive at the Cathedral of Finance, now called the Retail Promenade, it is stunning! A decorative grill made of Monel metal separates the lobby from the cathedral, a Tiffany clock  graces each side of the grill, after many years of being dark it is once again illuminated, it is a true work of art. The main banking room was once lined with 80 teller cages, yes, you read that right, 80. The theme is Aztec design, the ceiling is hand painted in colors popular at the time including turquoise, and terracotta. Oils, acrylics and solid gold were used to achieve the look, it is amazing. The south wall embraces a giant map of Michigan; Michigania, the goddess of our state is placed in the center, symbols of mining, fishing, finance and auto manufacturing define commercial strengths of the time period, it is still in its original condition. Currently Bank of America continues the banking tradition of the space, who wouldn’t love to do their banking here?  There is just so much to look at, it’s hard to take it all in, as many times as we come here I always manage to notice something new. This is where the tour ends, we thanked Christopher for a most enjoyable time. We had a quick espresso drink at Rowland Cafe, you won’t find a coffee shop with a better view, before stopping in at Pure Detroit to check out their latest offerings. From Detroit themed t-shirts and Pewabic Pottery to original artwork and a vast selection of books, the shop is home to “all things Detroit”. Whether you’re visiting from out of town and looking for something uniquely Detroit to take home or a local looking for a way to show your pride in the city, you’ll find the perfect item here!

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We walked over to Woodward for lunch at Forans Grand Trunk Pub; in the mood for a great sandwich and a beautiful setting, it fit the bill perfectly. The building went up in 1879 and was known as the Traub Brothers Jewelry Building. In 1911 it was renovated and turned into the ticket office for the Grand Trunk Railway, the company’s Grand Trunk logo still graces the terracotta detailing on the front of the building. Inside they removed the second floor and installed a gothic style vaulted ceiling, the antique brass chandeliers are still hanging. The place has a definite sense of character, I can visualize folks lining up to buy their train tickets in this very space. The ticket office remained until 1934, in 1935 it was established as a bar and has been one ever since. We arrived after the lunch rush and took a table near the window, our waitress was quick to come over, take our drink order and offer us menus. Forans is well known for its commitment to the city and the state; they have 15 Michigan craft beers on tap and 100 more in bottles, they take the”Buy Local” trend seriously. The menu is filled with delicious things, they even  have some of the old Eph McNally’s sandwiches (oh, how we miss that place!). It has been too long since our last Sabrina Duncan; turkey breast, dill havarti cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and honey mustard on an onion roll…..it was even better than I remembered. A side salad with their homemade maurice dressing and a pile of Better Made wavy chips completed our meal, it was delicious! Did I mention they serve Faygo? Yep, regular flavors come in a glass bottle, diet in cans, you just can’t beat a Faygo Root Beer. 

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Shopping Pure Detroit, Midtown, West Willis

16 May

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The day began with a trip to the Guardian Building, originally known as The Union Trust Company, it opened in 1929. Designed by Wirt Rowland and costing $12 million dollars this structure is a true work of art.  With it’s combination of exotic marble, Pewabic and Rookwood tile, Monel metal and stone it is a true Art Deco Masterpiece. We stopped in at Pure Detroit to have a look around, we have been regular patrons since the opening of their very first store back in 1998. Owners Shawn and Kevin are dedicated to Detroit, and that is clearly reflected in their stores. The products they sell all represent the city, everything from T-shirts and hats to local food products, books and gifts. We then proceeded to have a coffee in the cafe, this is truly one of our favorite buildings, I never tire of  staring at the intricate Aztec design, but more on that another time.

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Our minds were set on lunch at Mid-town Shangri- La, a fabulous Chinese restaurant on Cass near Wayne State’s Old Main. We’ve had the Chinese, it is very good, but we come for the Dim Sum, you MUST try it sometime.  I had never tried it before I had it here, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. Basically it is small portions of food served in steamer baskets or on small plates, think appetizers, lots to choose from here. Depending on when you arrive, they may have the Dim Sum cart from which you can select the dishes you’d like, or they  can be made to order. I would highly recommend the Shrimp Kau, fresh shrimp steamed in a soft noodle like wrapper, so simple, and so delicious. We also had the Curry Chicken Pastry, so good, I’ve never had such flaky pastry before, the Deep Fried Squid with Spicy Salt, I actually crave this dish, the most tender squid you will ever eat, and of course the Shiu Mai. A friend got this one day when we had lunch together, and it’s been a staple for us ever since. I can’t forget the Bubble Tea, it may look strange if you’ve not had it before, there are large dark colored Tapioca balls sitting in the bottom just waiting to be sucked up the oversized straw. Be sure to chew them! The Mango is my favorite.

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There’s a great little up and coming district over on W Willis, also in Midtown, where Avalon International Breads resides. This is one of those places that once you discover it, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. Walk in the door and enjoy the scent of fresh baked goods, the industrial looking space is warmed up with walls painted the golden color of crusty bread. Large menu signs are suspended from the ceiling, and shelves of large chrome racks are filledwith items fresh from the oven; focaccia, loaves of Motown Multigrain, Poletown Rye, Greektown Olive and baguettes. The mouthwatering counter display of cookies, scones, Amazing Amazon Brownies, and Seriously Sticky Buns are all tempting, and make it nearly impossible to decide. Coffee, espresso drinks, hot chocolate, and smoothies are also available. Avalon has grown through the years, they also offer breakfast, homemade soup, grab and go sandwiches and salads. There are a few tables and limited counter space inside, when weather permits the patio offers multiple tables for outdoor dining. Everything is made with organic flour and tastes divine.

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Joining Avalon on W Willis is Goodwells Natural Food Market, with fresh organic produce, pre-made salads and sandwiches, beverages, and supplements, it is a nice addition to the neighborhood. Next door is Flo Boutique offering womens clothing and accessories. On the corner is Spiral Collective, they sell works by local artists, and have a lovely selection of gifts, and books,  Del Pryor gallery has a space inside too. I love to browse in this store, the selection of items is always changing, and is always top quality merchandise. Rounding out the district is the Willys Overland Loft project. The historic building has been converted to beautiful lofts, exposed brick and excellent views of the city come standard. We were lucky enough to get a personal tour of several different floor plans, 15 of the units have been sold so far.  Right around the corner on Cass is the Curl Up & Dye Salon offering all types of hair and nail services, this part of Midtown continues to thrive, that’s good to see.

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