Tag Archives: Pure Michigan

DETROIT: Scraptastic !

25 Feb

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Here we are hanging out downtown, coffee at Madcap, lunch at Rocco’s. Driving down Woodward I gaze out the window at MOCAD and then I see it, Robolights Detroit. A quick right turn down Garfield, park in the lot then inside to get a wristband. You can always count on MOCAD to have thought-provoking, eye-catching exhibits; while we’re inside we check out the latest shows. Crossing Night features work by contemporary artists from the Southern Africa region. Organized by A4 Arts Foundation, Crossing Night explores how local politics, urban landscape and place shape personal identities through photography, video and sculpture. The photographs are quite lovely, my favorite is the one of the kids laying in the sand, I can almost feel the warmth transcending the photograph. Richard Prince’s New Portraits is a study of appropriation, it asks the viewer to consider where do our expectations and perceptions around privacy and consent lead us when using social media? What are you consenting to when posting? Reproduced and enlarged versions of Instagram posts on canvas cover gallery walls, people strike their pose, write a message; most times I feel like they are speaking a secret language. Standing there staring at their images I find myself experiencing a range of emotions; some make me smile, others make me uncomfortable. 

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With our paper wristbands installed we head out back to Robolights Detroit. Kenny Irwin Jr is the creator of this site-specific installation on the lawn of Mike Kelley’s Mobile Homestead. Irwin is the California artist behind the original “Robolights” project built over more than 3 decades on the property of his Palm Springs childhood home. Let’s see what he has in store for us. The phrase ‘massive found-object installation’ really didn’t prepare me for what I was going to see! Think carnival, junkyard, fun house, science-fiction movie, Christmas and Halloween all rolled into one. Tunnels, pathways, structures, thousands of Christmas lights. Inflatable Santa, robots, Pikachu, toilet seats, wreaths, Middle Eastern motifs and a snarling purple dragon; that’s just to start…

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Winding through the grounds we stare up at towers of printers and computer keyboards spray-painted solid yellow, pink, blue, purple or chartreuse; perhaps they are alien Christmas trees? Gold, plastic-faced rabbits form a ring around the trees. The gates are open on the wooden tunnel, the front is a face, we enter through its toothy mouth. Hundreds of colored lights drape the walls, plastic toys are mounted to the ceiling, I think to myself, this would be really cool in the dark. Perimeter walls are created from wood, turntables, boom boxes, stacked neatly and sprayed bright pink. Santa Claus rides an inflatable tank, an old snowmobile atop a wood platform looks out at the toilet merry-go-round, a pirate ship is manned by a crew of skeletons wearing Santa hats, snails on the roof top add a little whimsy; it’s a wacky, dizzying, dazzling display.

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Several structures lure us inside. A row of robots on the porch of the candy cane house look harmless, inside narrow hallways lead us past artwork into a room of toasters and toaster ovens, white lights and garland adorn the items. A gold robot with vacuum cleaner legs stands on guard, sword raised, there’s that purple dragon again… Behind wooden fencing a skeletal dinosaur serves dinner to her newly-hatched youngsters; Mickey Mouse anyone? Another indoor space has a floor of cords, I like the way the sun illuminates the glass-bottle window. We enter another structure through a refrigerator, this one could be tough if you’re tall. Past the train with yet another Santa is the clown house, I’m not a fan of clowns but step inside anyway; there he is, the creepy clown who gives all clowns a bad name. More clowns ride the mini ferris wheel, a couple of hairy beasts join in the fun. So much to look at.

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The Mobile Homestead is a full-scale replica of the home in which Mike Kelley grew up: a single story ranch-style house in the suburb of Westland. A companion exhibit of Sci-fi-themed pen and ink drawings by Irwin hang on plain white walls. These are amazing; the flying saucer towing the water skier makes me laugh. There are some cool automotive drawings along with outer-space scenes, the detail is incredible. We exit through the front door, taking one last look as we walk back to the car.

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Karl’s Coffee Shop is located on the second floor of the Siren Hotel. This old-fashioned diner takes us back to the days of paper place mats with crossword puzzles and local advertisements, chrome trimmed tables and chairs, salmon and turquoise colored upholstery, neon lighting. The website states: Karl’s takes inspiration from Chef Kate’s great, great grandparents and the bakery they once owned on the east side of Detroit; it certainly feels as though we have stepped into the past. The menu features diner-style food taken up a notch, which is reflected in the price. We’re just here for a drink; Spanish coffee for me, whiskey on the rocks for Kris. Slowly consuming our cocktails we complete the crossword puzzle with the provided pencil, look at black and white framed family photos, check out the view from the large windows. The ambiance is quaint, the vibe chill and the Spanish coffee is excellent!

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2019 Romeo Barn Tour

20 Jan

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Today I’m taking you back to a sunny day in September; the sky is blue, the grass is green and the breeze is warm. The Romeo Historical Society is hosting its annual Barn Tour;  for a fee of $15 you get to drive through beautiful countryside gazing at cows, horses and farm fields in addition to access to 6 local barns. What are we waiting for? Let’s go.

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 Kenrick Farms on Boardman Road is our first stop. The 350 acre farm began in the 1890’s, today it produces hay to be sold to other farms. The first barn is selling hand-made goods and refreshments, a cold lemonade sounds perfect! Our guide shows us around the property, he explains what they do here and how it’s done, farm equipment is at rest but they hope to do demonstrations if the weather cooperates. The far barn is stacked with both round and square bales of hay, the front barn has hand-hewn posts and trip-sawn boards. A hand-written sign details the difference between 3 stacks of hay; First Cutting: highest yielding, used for all livestock, second and third cutting: yields only a third of first cutting but has higher nutritional content, wheat straw: basically what’s left at the end of the season, used for bedding, archery targets and fall decorations. We thank our guide as we walk toward the Jeep. Pausing for a moment we take in the details of the Victorian home on the property, done up in grey with burgundy and black decoration she’s quite lovely.

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The Bishop Family Farm on Fisher Rd is picturesque; large white farmhouse, rolling grounds, swans gliding in a large pond, an artist paints under a shade tree, serene. You might think this charming, weathered barn has always sat on this spot, it has not. It was originally located in Oakland Twp, Oakland County. Mr. Bishop spotted the barn, at the time most of the siding had been removed, the owner agreed to part with it. The Bishop family dismantled the 30’x40′ barn, numbering all the timbers, moved it to their property and went about reassembling on a new floor. Damaged timbers were replaced with Pine cut from their property. The windows in the gables were said to have come from the Romeo train station. I think it looks perfectly at home. A new barn is in the process of being built, made of pine with a metal roof, it’s nestled into a small orchard; the apples are lookin’ good. The property is a Michigan Centennial Farm, it has been owned by the same family over 100 years.

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This next barn is full of beauty, intrigue and sheep… You can look at all of the pretty pictures Kris took while I tell you the story. Let’s start at the beginning. The main house was built by the Sibley lumber family of Detroit. In 1932 it was purchased along with 128 acres by Mr and Mrs Glen Averill of Detroit as a summer house. The couple resided in the Whittier Hotel in Detroit, he was a retired policeman, she an accountant for an architectural firm. Between 1932-1941 the couple built all of the out buildings, extensively remodeled the house, added porches, landscaping, walkways, stonework. They acquired a total of 628 acres on 5 surrounding farms, built 7 homes, purchased a Canadian retreat and a Ft Lauderdale vacation home. You might be asking yourself how does an accountant and a retired police officer afford such extravagances? Alleged embezzlement, running whiskey from Canada and black market beef. Then they got caught. They owed $11 million in unpaid taxes for 1962 alone. The government seized the property, threw Mrs Averill in jail. When she got of prison she was broke, her husband had fled to Canada, she died shortly thereafter. In 1963 George Kovacs came along, he had patented screw injection molding of plastics and had become extremely wealthy. He decided he wanted to be a farmer; he purchased all 628 acres, the homes, 400 cows, all of the farm and dairy equipment, furniture and crops for $225,000.  Mr Kovac had no idea what he’d gotten himself into, it was too much for him to keep up. The dairy herd and milk routes hung on for a few years. In 1991 his car got stuck in the snow by the 6-car garage. He didn’t want to spend money on a tow truck. He had a heart attack in his car and sadly, died with over $100,000 in his pocket.

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The current owners purchased the property from the Kovac estate in 1992. They named it Mt Bruce Station after Bruce Mountain in New Zealand where Yvonne lived–it’s a coincidence the property is also in Bruce Twp. Peter and Yvonne began restoring the badly neglected buildings, all original from 1937. They started sheep farming and added a peach orchard. We wander around the large barn, it was named Michigan Barn Preservation Networks 2019 Barn of the Year. A bake sale is going on, poster boards detail the history of the barns. Walking from one building to the next each has been beautifully restored. A small pavilion and pergola have been added and match the main house, hydrangea are in full bloom, pots of colorful annuals decorate the property, porches are lush with blooms, the main house is a beauty. At the time of our tour the house and property were for sale.

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After a short drive we’re in Leonard. Originally the Caleb and Mary Gilbert property founded in 1836, a portion of the 80-acre parcel is the highest point of Lapeer County. A grey farmhouse is surrounded my mature trees, the sun directly overhead has spurred the heat bugs into song. The owner Mike is talking to a group of visitors, we join up and listen. At one time he considered pulling down the old barn until a visitor pointed out that this was actually a historic barn. Once owned by a German family, they lost it during the Depression. The original barn rests on it’s old foundation, the hay track and hand-hewn posts can still be seen. Mike, a painter, explains that barns were traditionally red because ocher, linseed oil and rust were mixed to use as paint to make them red. Hhmm. Very interesting.

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Following the map we find ourselves on Romeo Rd in Addison Twp, a huge white barn can be seen from the driveway. With an added third floor the barn has over 10,000 square feet, did I mention it has a 13 x 22 elevator? They call this a bank barn, two stone ramps allow tractor access to the second floor. We enter on the side, the interior is vast, look straight up, the wood ceiling is amazing. Interesting things are mounted to the walls, tucked into corners, displayed on tables; tool collections, antique furniture, vintage toys, mini bikes and a snowmobile each have their place. We make our way through each floor, we get a wonderful view from the upper windows. The lower level is home to individual stalls, there’s even a whole woodworking shop inside. Our program tells us the barn was built in 1920 at a cost of $12,000, when finished it hosted a barn dance, “With floors of matched timber and the room brilliantly lighted with the Delco system of electric lights, Chinese lanterns and American flags, it was a sight to behold.” The exterior of the barn matched the pretty home on the property; white with blue trim and stone accents.

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Our last stop on the tour is Cold Frame Farm on Campground Rd. The buildings on the farm have a much more modern look to them. When we arrive Matt is leading a tour of the property, we follow along out to the recently finished family home. Dark in color, with handsome timbers the home is built with the latest energy efficient technology. Walking towards the garden beds we pass a row of green and white stacks of what look like drawers but are bee hives. Multiple garden bed fill the land growing flowers, greens and assorted vegetables; this is a USDA Organic Certified farm. Next to the produce barn are three 96 x 30 ft high tunnels, or hoop houses, inside we find tomato vines that are taller than me! The hoop houses collect energy from the sun year round without the aid of heaters or fans, vegetables are produced year-round without the use of chemicals or electricity. Inside the barn I ooh and aah, it’s super charming with lights strung from the ceiling, colorful vegetables like carrots, broccoli, eggplant and tomatoes are all for sale, bunches of garlic and flowers are hanging to be dried. Bunches of flowers drink up water in buckets placed outside for purchase, glasses of fresh lemonade with basil are selling quickly. I choose some vegetables, grab us some lemonade, hot and tired after our adventure I can’t think of a better way to end the day.

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Metamora: Pony Up…

3 Oct

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There are certain events that fill the squares on my calendar from year to year; one of my favorites is the Metamora Hunt Stable Tour. Held annually in August, it’s such a wonderful tour I find I have to write a post about every time we attend. You don’t have to know anything about foxhunting, horses or riding to thoroughly enjoy the tour. You’ll simply spend the day driving on lazy dirt lanes over rolling countryside from one gorgeous stable to the next. You’re sure to encounter spectacular views, beautiful horses, friendly people and if you’re lucky, some really good snacks. C’mon along with us as we travel some of the 36 square miles in Metamora Hunt Country.

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The tour begins at The Hunt Kennels on Barber Road. Proceeds from the event help the club maintain more than 100 miles of bridel paths on private land in Metamora Hunt Country. We grab our maps, I visit with the hounds and we’re off. Our first stop is an extraordinary farm; here’s how the description begins in the tour booklet: “The owners have been creating their estate on 160 acres of prime Metamora Hunt country and have done much of the work themselves.” As pretty as it is from the road you can’t really appreciate all of the detail in the buildings until you’re up close. All of the buildings are a mix of stone and wood with great angles, a little stained glass and even an observation tower on the house. The house and barn complex overlook a pond on one side and a large open space behind. Once the house was finished they built the woodworking shop, it’s a busy place right now with the construction of the barn complex, I really like the live edge on the wood siding. We wander freely through the buildings, once inside I feel so small. Docents are on hand to answer any of our questions. As we leave we pause in front taking in the scene, Kris snaps a couple of photos and we roll on.

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Flying D Farm is next on our agenda. The property was one of the first in Metamora Hunt. Fred Alger built the barn in the 1920’s as a weekend getaway for he and his Grosse Pointe friends to go foxhunting. From the 1960’s through the 90’s it was turned into a Thoroughbred breeding facility. Today the barn and 55 acres are what remain from the past. Kris maneuvers the Jeep down the freshly-mowed path through a field until the red barn comes into view, it looks freshly painted with crisp white trim; as he makes the turn to park I swear I catch a glimpse of an airplane peeking out the large center door. Approaching the barn we get a clear view of the hand-built yellow airplane belonging to the owner. Inside this is one of the nicest barns I’ve ever seen; quaint, rustic, charming. Fresh flowers welcome today’s visitors, a cheerful woman approaches us offering mimosa’s, a buffet of cookies and banana bread is laid out on a counter. What a nice surprise. The driveway to exit the property leads us past the home, beautifully landscaped and made of stone, it looks like it belongs in the countryside of France.

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A short drive later we arrive at Horseshoe acres, a 22 acre working horse farm. Founded 28 years ago it’s home to driving horses, a trail horse, 4 dogs and 2 cats. The horses are having lunch but after a little convincing they make their way to where I’m standing at the fence. Of course they’re hoping for a treat but they settle for some petting then get back to eating hay. We wander in and out of the horse barn and indoor arena, they have an old carousel horse on display, I like the horse weather vane up on the roof too. The property also has woodland trails for carriage driving.

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Gaitway Farm has a completely different look with a paved asphalt driveway, black fencing dividing the 10-acre parcel, white stable, and lots of pink and purple flowers in pots and trailing from window boxes. A horse and donkey are the first to greet us, they seem perplexed buy the amount of humans coming and going past their gate. The current residents have been owners, breeders and exhibitors of American Saddlebred Horses for over 25 years and have owned several World Champions. Currently the farm is home to a few retired equines. Looking across the property I take in the beautiful scenery and gently rolling hills. The house matches the stable, large pots of bright pink flowers decorate the porch.

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Matador Farm was built in 2016 to be the Hunter/Jumper division of Rattlewood Farm. Situated on 260 acres the location offers a board and training business, sales program and riding school. The stable has 21 stalls, the wood is pretty enough to be used as paneling in a home, metal bars and trim are black; no two properties are alike. We visit with horses as we walk from one end of the building to the other. Just outside horses graze lazily in the sun, the breeze rustles their tail and mane, in the large outdoor arena props used for jumping sit idle. A thick tree-line is seen in the distance.

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Our last stop on the tour is Noble Hills Farm. The farm is a working Quarter Horse breeding farm named after the owners grandfather. Their hand-picked broodmares are bred to some of the best stallions in the industry. The prospects they produced have won several World Championships and compete all over the world. The building is outfitted in several shades of gray, sliding doors allow us entry into the stable. The unique interior has everyone talking; the open ceiling shows off the contrast of the metal roof and wood beams. There are no horses inside at the moment so we make our way outdoors. Horses of all colors and sizes nibble on the tender greens growing beneath their feet. Standing in the hot summer sun we watch as horses take turns going from person to person, as curious about us as we are about them. Watching them eat reminds me that it’s time for lunch.

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We arrive at Pine House Kitchen and Bar  in Dryden, originally The Chuck Wagon, a western-atmosphere-style restaurant that opened in the early 1960’s; the exterior has changed little. Through the rows and rows of televisions you can still feel the rustic mid-century vibe from days gone by. Original wagon wheel light fixtures and western decor still adorn the venue. New owners stepped in after the passing of second owner, Lenny Miller, renovated the place and opened the bar and restaurant to the delight of locals who sorely missed the dining establishment. We arrive between the lunch and dinner rush, except for one other table we have the place to ourselves. Seated near the fireplace we quickly scan the menu and make our selection.  Fortunately our food arrives quickly, I’m super hungry. The Buffalo Chicken sandwich is buffalo chicken tenders topped with lettuce, tomato and bleu cheese crumbles served on ciabatta. The chicken is tender and juicy with just enough heat, it’s delicious. Alongside the sandwich is a pile of sweet potato fries, crispy outside and soft inside they’re cooked just right. As we finish our meal the restaurant begins to fill up, looks like we timed it perfectly. 

Wheeling Around Lansing

31 Aug

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Curiosity has lured us back to REO (pronounced Rio not R-E-O) Town, Lansing’s oldest settlement, on this hot summer day. Like many districts in Midwest cities this part of Lansing had fallen on hard times. Independent businesses have breathed new life into the area where Ransom E Olds began producing automobiles in 1905. Beginning with the fancy curved-dash models, production continued with utility vehicles and finally semi-hauling big rig trucks into 1975. Today the landscape is one of small shops, sidewalk cafes, flower pots, murals and parallel parking.

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REO Town Marketplace has been open nearly 2 years, filled with all female-owned businesses, it’s a great place to wander into and have a look around; let’s do that. Original terrazzo floors lead the way to several vintage shops; Vintage Junkies has a little bit of furniture, home decor items, candles, glassware. Thrift Witch carries oddities, handbags, clothing, jewelry and art from mostly local artists. If you like spiders, you can pick up plenty of spider-inspired items. She has an outstanding collection of Care Bears too! Community Finery has the largest footprint offering retro and vintage clothing and accessories from the 1920’s to modern day. She carries sizes from 0-4x, very unusual and greatly appreciated. The owner is also a seamstress so she’s able to rescue and repair clothing that might otherwise be thrown away. She has a wide selection, you could purchase a party dress and a Halloween costume all in one trip.

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HomeMade Capital City shares the adjacent space selling industrial cabinets, unique rolling coffee tables made of pallets and creative shelving. Places like this give me great ideas for things to do in my own home. The Record Lounge is Mid-Michigan’s only all-vinyl store; they buy, sell and trade. It’s a really great space with a listening lounge, vintage stereo equipment and a ton of new and used vinyl; I love looking at the cool art work on the album covers. They even have an album from the 1958 dealer announcement show called “This Is Olds mobility” starring Bill Hayes, Florence Henderson and the original Broadway cast; I don’t think it won any Grammy’s…

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We dash across Washington Ave to Blue Owl Coffee Co. They were closed last time we were in town so we’re anxious to drop in today. The community-based coffee shop uses essential oils for flavoring instead of syrups. The interior feels light and airy with big front windows, open ceiling and exposed brick. Sitting at the counter we talk with Heather who transplanted herself here from West Africa about a year ago. We ask her advice on the many selections of Nitro and Cold Brew coffees. Goodies come from Sweetie-licious in nearby DeWitt, it’s hard to choose so we give the white-chocolate-chip orange scone a whirl. Both the coffees and the scone are excellent, as is the conversation. I love when we can connect with people in such a casual and comfortable environment. One of the baristas suggested we check out the gardens up Washington Ave so we’re off.

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We pause outside to take in the super-cool REO Town mural, I like the phrase “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” worked into the scene. Walking further up the street we cross the river coming to the Water and Light Central Substation. A narrow sidewalk follows the river alongside the building, we come to an open space, plants are clustered into a living garden wall; up ahead on the left is Scott Park and the sunken garden.  In 1907, on the corner of what is now S. Washington Ave and Malcom X streets stood the former residence of Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Cahill. Richard H Scott, former president of REO Motor Car Company purchased the residence and adjacent property. He razed the home then in 1934 used its foundation to construct the sunken garden to be enjoyed by the residents of Lansing. In 2018 as part of the construction of the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s Central Substation the garden had to be moved to the west. It was disassembled and reassembled brick by brick, 99% of the plants were kept and have been replanted in the new garden. Original plants include Blanket Flower, English Lavender, Bachelor Button, Sedum and Fern-Leaf Peony. The plants are struggling a little in the heat, I expect they will thrive as soon as it cools down.

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Cooley Gardens were planted in 1938 when Eugene F Cooley gave the land to the City of Lansing for a park. The family home was demolished, a pavilion now stands on that part of the site. The design of the garden was based on the English concept of a series of outdoor rooms, it was completed in 1942. The gardens were rescued decades later from serious neglect, this is now a popular space for outdoor weddings, gatherings and formal photographs. We walk through the lower garden, past the old carriage house now used for storage. Peonies have finished blooming and are gearing up for next year. Mature plantings of Shasta Daisies, daylilies and roses are keeping the butterflies and bees busy, a sweet fragrance lingers in the air, barberry bushes are really colorful. The pavilion is lovely, I can imagine a wedding ceremony taking place. Stone pathways lead us through sun and shade. Off in the distance is an automotive plant with a big picture of a Cadillac CTS and the caption “Built Right Here”. If you want to buy local this might be the car for you.

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Our next stop is the R E Olds Transportation Museum in Lansing. I have a special connection to the museum in that they have my dad’s triple red 1979 Delta 88 Royale in their collection. Visiting the museum is like taking a tour through history. Displays begin with a young Ransom Olds and the P.F. Olds and Son company in Lansing in 1880. Things have been moved around and re-arranged since our last visit, I like when museums do that. The first section is the personal side of Ransom, black and white photos of the family and home, personal items and furniture. Throughout the museum you’ll find a wonderful collection of photos, signs, advertisements, name plates, hood ornaments, and of course automobiles.

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Most antique automobile enthusiasts are familiar with the curved-dash Oldsmobile, it was his signature and what made him different from the hundreds of other auto makers at the time. Did you know the original Lansing-made mower was designed and built by R E Olds? The man did everything (well, almost…) He patented his design for his Ideal Engine Co in 1916, he made stationary engines. Later, REO Motors got into the lawnmower business, his lawnmower engine was easily recognized by the unique slant head cylinder; his mower was driven from the cam shaft not the crank shaft. They look very stylish too! At the peak REO was the largest builder of power lawnmowers in the world. The unique REO engine was also used to power snowblowers and the one-of-a-kind Trollabout, a complete kit to convert your rowboat to an inboard-powered craft. In 1954 the mower operation was sold to Lansing’s Motor Wheel Corp. Be sure and check out all of the cool wheels on display too. See what you learn when you stop and read all of the signs.

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There are engines all over the place from stationary to experimental, about 70 in all; an engine is covered in the signatures of the people who built it. We look at old dealer signs and promotional items, old time bicycles share space with classic automobiles from 1886-2003. They can’t display all of their vehicles at the same time so they rotate the collection. The 1926 Olds 2-door Roadster is stunning in Turquoise, an old Lansing police car is guarded by a German Shepard police dog. They say the 1937 Olds Model L37 Club Coupe was really the first 98. You could get an L Model (luxury) or an F Model (standard), this was the first time in the modern era that Olds offered two models. How about the Olds Mini Toronado, a one-of-a-kind built for use as a push car.The REO Speed-Wagon takes up a lot of real estate, I like these old trucks.

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There are too many beautiful, amazing cars for me to list, you can look at the photos Kris has taken and get an idea of their superb collection. I like the names of things back then: The Olds Rocket, The Hurst Hairy Olds, trim pieces and hood ornaments are mini-sculptures, available colors span the rainbow. Look at the awesome vintage “Sun” Motor Tester, traffic lights are huge when you see them up close. I like the exhibit filled with awards for Years of Service or Retirement, they’re all automotive-themed; a mini crankshaft, engine block, rods, neat. Near the exit is a poster featuring all of the vehicles made in Lansing: Camaro, Cadillac CTS, Cadillac ATS, Buick Enclave and the Chevy Traverse; something to keep in mind next time you’re shopping for a new car.

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At last we arrive at Zoobies Old Town Tavern at the east end of Old Town, we have admired the mid-century sign outside for years. Though the current owners bought the building in 2012 it has been called Zoobies since 1973. They came in and renovated, respecting the history of the place and leaving the original 80-year-old bar. It’s a mix of styles that work well together, I’m especially fond of the Sputnik light fixtures. We focus on the Pizza Pie side of the menu settling on “The #9 in the world”, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Boursin cheese, red sauce, tasso ham, andouille sausage, roasted red peppers, mozzarella cheese and cajun dust, delicious! They have 14 beers on tap and are known for their unique wine selection, truffle-oil popcorn… and their pizza. Next time you’re in town for a Spartan Game or to visit your kids at school be sure and get out and explore all that Lansing has to offer.

Cars at the Crossroads…

20 Jul

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The 1960’s brought Urban Renewal to the city of Flint.  ‘Progress’ often means the demolition of historic buildings and neighborhoods; such was the case as plans for constructing I-475 meant losing important pieces of Flint and Genesee County history. The first two buildings that garnered public attention were the Buzzell house and the Wisner carriage barn. Recognizing their importance, the highway commission donated the buildings, they were moved to the Genesee County Recreation Area where they still stand today; hence Crossroads Village was born. The Sloan Museum in Flint is part local history museum, part transportation museum; it holds a unique collection of 100 vehicles and archives telling the story of the significance Flint and Genesee County have played in the development of the American automobile industry. Its namesake, Alfred P Sloan was once longtime president and Chairman of the Board of GM. The museum is currently closed for renovation therefore the 47th Annual Sloan Museum Auto Fair is being held on the grounds of Crossroad’s Village.

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We park in a large grassy area and make our way the to the village entrance in the scorching heat, at only $7 a person, it’s a bargain. We follow the dusty road into town, at first glance it appears we’ve gone back in time; 19th century buildings line the street, antique cars are parallel parked, village employees are dressed in period costumes. The first block of block of buildings includes the general store, opera house Dr. Barbour’s office and the dry goods shop; the original buildings were located in Fenton and rebuilt at Crossroads for the 1978 season. Notice the FLT in the brickwork of the opera house, it stands for the Odd Fellow’s motto: Friendship, Love and Truth. Antique cars are parked in front; there’s an old 1930’s Ford with a wood body, a 1900’s yellow Buick with brass lamps, a grey Buick from the 19-teens sits in front of the lovely T.N. North & Son bank. We traverse our way through shops, go upstairs to see the opera house, the Singing Minstrels are coming on soon. Buildings are furnished with artifacts from 1860-1880; every effort was made to make this a living village from the post Civil War era.

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Further down the street it’s nice and shady; there are over 30 structures at Crossroads, some are brick, many are white-painted wood. In front of the Clayton Town Hall a Ford Model A has yellow spoke wheels, the body is two-tone, black and green. This year’s spotlight is “A History of Stock Cars” and look, there are some right here. The green 1969 Hemi Charger 500 is gorgeous, they made less than 100 of these. I’ve always liked the orangey- butterscotch color on the 1970 Cyclone Spoiler, don’t you love the red and white 1969 Mercury Cyclone? This one is unique, it’s a Cale Yarborough Special. The checkered flag emblem on the ’55 Dodge Stock Car is super-cool, the 1970 Superbird race car looks track-ready.

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We walk past Master’s Orchard then stop in at the church to have a look around; did you know people have weddings here? Such a great venue. There’s a sign up ahead directing us to a large open area to the right, a long line of vintage tractors form an aisle. John Deere, is the most popular brand with a few other brands thrown into the mix. There’s a pretty red barn built into the hill, it has the sliding doors that are so popular now. Stretched out in front of us is a wide variety of original, custom and restored cars and trucks. Where do we start? The 1967 Charger looks great in turquoise, the 1965 Mercury Colony Park woody station wagon is awesome! Look at that wood trim, you could haul a lot of stuff with this car. We zig and zag as different vehicles grab our attention, I think I’ll stand in the shade an look at the 1967 Coronet R/T and the blue ’78 Trans Am. Custom trucks are always fun to look at, the green Chevy C-10 is well done. Oh and the luxury cars… The 1960 Buick Electra convertible is sweet.

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We wander some more, this time stopping in buildings. The Buzzell House was the first building brought here, built in 1854 by John Buzzell the home was lived in until 1968. The home and furnishings are modest but comfortable looking. The Eldridge-Hanner house is quite affluent in comparison; rooms are larger, furnishings are a bit fancier, detailed plaster is found in ceiling medallions. Blacksmiths are hard at work in the Wisner Carriage Barn. Judge Charles H Wisner built the barn in the Italianate style back in 1878. He served as the 12th Governor of Michigan and built the very first automobile ever constructed in Flint. See how amazing the history of this area is. All throughout the village you’ll find sights and sounds of what life was like back then. In the print shop we watch and listen as typesetting is demonstrated, we watch a young woman as she makes brooms, in the fall you see cider-pressing and butter churning. There’s an ice house and a meeting hall, a mid-20’s Model T is parked in front of the Mason Inn.

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Down by the lake is the 1912 Charles W Parker carousel. We step inside, the ride is still, horses anxiously await visitors. A display explains the restoration process the horses went through, there’s just something about a carousel that guarantees a smile. We loop back around, vintage motorcycles are parked on the wooden sidewalk.

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Harley and Indian models span the decades. The seat’s on the 30’s motorcycles look like they could use a little more padding… Over by the Sweet Shop a crowd has gathered around the 1956 Buick Century X. The car is one-of-a-kind, built for designer Bill Mitchell, GM’s design staff president for 18 years. I can see what all the fuss is about. The blue is an outstanding color, the interior matches it with just a splash of red on the door panels. The front seats rotate, you can turn your seat to get in and out of the car and the passenger can turn the seat to face the rear, on top of that, it’s a convertible! Mitchell and his team incorporated all kinds if unique details; the exhaust exits through the rocker panel trim, it has power headrests, a console, special Century and Buick script and trim. Current owner Don Mayton found the car back in 1991 on the west side of Michigan, he purchased it in 1995. He has been able to document that the car belonged to Bill Mitchell and spent years researching and restoring the car; well done!

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We head to downtown Flint for a late lunch, we have been meaning to try Table & Tap on Saginaw St, today’s the day. The patio is inviting but the air conditioning inside is bordering on frigid, inside it is! The restaurant offers 30 Michigan craft beers on tap and homemade BBQ smoked daily. Our server greets us quickly with menus and icy glasses of water, we order fast then decompress from the heat. Our food arrives on a metal tray, we can’t wait to dig in. I try the mac and cheese first, crispy on top, creamy sauce and el dente noodles, delicious. The cole slaw has a kick of garlic, nice. The Smoke-House sandwich is pulled pork topped with bacon and white cheddar on a brioche bun, it’s really, really good. There are 6 homemade sauces on the table, if you squirt out a puddle of each you can have a different sauce with every bite. The homemade chips dipped in the onion sauce are excellent. It’s been a fun day. Content, we can just sit and relax before we point the car south toward home.

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The Burbs: Natural History…

17 Jun

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Sometimes you just want to be out in nature; fortunately the metro area has plenty of options. Today we’ll enjoy the beauty of nature and explore some amazing local history in the Shelby Twp, Rochester area. Our journey begins at River Bends Park, covering nearly 800 acres the park offers ball fields, soccer fields, trails for walking, hiking and biking, an archery range and rental pavilions. Let’s start at the Burgess-Shadbush Nature Center. Just outside the building we find a beautiful garden, I can’t resist gardens. A sign tells us this section is filled with deer-resistant plants, I find that a hopeful statement… Barberry shrubs are vibrant colors, several stunning varieties of Iris are in bloom, the purple Columbine are so pretty. Inside a gated area we find an attractive combination of annuals and perennials, I’ve never seen a smoke flower before, poppies are ready to burst open, white anemone, pink hardy geraniums bloom on this late spring day.

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Inside the nature center a large stone fireplace, picture windows overlooking the woods and knotty pine make us feel like we’re up north. Aquariums hold lizards, snakes, a leopard frog (I think he’s awesome) and other amphibians. I get a kick out of watching turtles swim, two are stacked on top of each other in a roomy tank by the wall. Displays identify different species of turtles, birds and rodents. Maps mounted to a wall show us the parks of the 1920’s-30’s; have you heard of Swiss Valley, Green Glen or Broadway? Look at the way the river twists and turns. It seems the Clinton River was the top recreation spot for people living in Detroit back in the day. In the next room photos and descriptions lay out the history of the area, pretty fascinating stuff. From 1850-1864 part of the land was Spring Hill Farm. Landowners Sarah and Peter Lerich were known for their strong views on anti-slavery. Peter dug a spring for the farm and enlarged the spring house to form a cavity that could hide several people, a large Cedar tree atop the spring house was known as the Beacon Tree, marking it as a station on the Underground Railroad.

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In 1939 Joe Louis purchased Spring Hill which was then a well-known riding establishment; he was an avid horseback rider. Mr Louis made many changes to the farm; he added a track at the bottom of the hill for horse shows along with bleachers and box seats. The house was renovated and made into a restaurant and nightclub (really!) I saw a photo of an old postcard featuring the house with a map of the location, it reads: Joe Louis’ Spring Hill Farm “A Good Place To Eat And Drink”. I’ll bet it was something to see! He used the farm as a training camp to prepare for fights. He lost the property due to financial difficulties, the Michigan Conservation Department purchased the property in 1944.

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In another section of the park the first large Public Works project in Michigan was getting underway in 1838; the Clinton and Kalamazoo Canal. The canal would have made it possible to cross Michigan by boat from Lake St. Clair to Lake Michigan. Lack of finances ended the project in 1843 after only 12 miles of the canal were completed. Evidence of the canal can be found in several places. Walking from photo to photo one in particular grabs my attention. In 1957 the farm became one of four Nike Missile Bases in the Detroit area. It was manned by members of Battery B-516th AAA Missile Battalion until 1964. In 1974 the Michigan DNR regained control of the land and added it to the Rochester/Utica state recreation area. 

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Time to get out in the fresh air. We follow the back stairway down the steep hill to the Boardwalk Trail, the sky has cleared, we are surrounded by tranquility. Mushrooms sprout from fallen trees, everything around us is green and lush, woodland flowers are in bloom, it looks as if the boardwalk will be enveloped by plants soon. The trail leads us through the Tamarack Swamp, deer travel the ridge trail above us, sweet honeysuckle scents the air. The trail ends at the river, the water level is high, we turn around, going back the way we came. Extending our time outdoors we head east following the old forgotten trail along the ridge. The terrain changes from grassy to sandy to forest. Birds sing, deer are busy eating but take off as we approach. Remnants of the past are found in piles of railroad ties, concrete pads, partial structures of things that fell down or burned down over the years. The land has come full circle and is wild again.

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It’s Tuesday, if we time it right we can get over to Bloomer Park in Rochester Hills and watch the cyclists practice at the International Velodrome. The IVBP is an outdoor, 1/8 mile/200m oval with banking from 13-44 degrees. Paid for with private donations and built by volunteers from the cycling community, it was given to the city of Rochester Hills. A lone bicyclist is taking laps on the track. We get right up to the railing and have a good look, the bank looks steep to me but the rider handles it effortlessly. Kris notices a tunnel that leads to the center of the track, we traipse down the hill, find an asphalt path and enter the interior of the track. Wow, this is cool. More riders have arrived, they’re putting on their equipment as we wander over to them. One strikes up conversation with us, he lets me lift his bike, at less than 15 lbs I’m shocked at how light it is. All three riders are out on the oval now, they stay in pack form as we watch, each lap takes them a little higher. There are races here every Friday night throughout the summer, we’ll have to come back and catch one.

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Exploring the park further we find ourselves at the stone shelter, to me it looks like an old ski lodge. Built during the depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps, it’s made up of big stones, wood-shingle roof, wood ceiling, the far wall is a fireplace; so charming. We walk around inside then out the back to the balcony overlooking the park; you can follow the nearly 200 steps to the bottom of the hill. Did you know there was a ski jump right around here in the 1920’s? The story goes like this, ski jumping was very popular during the roaring 20’s, 6 brothers from Ishpeming MI formed the Detroit Ski Club in 1925, purchased 11 acres of land from the Newberry Farm on Bloomer Rd then spent $40,000 to build a competition-grade ski jump standing 112 feet atop Newberry Hill’s 230 ft elevation. More than 10,000 people attended its inaugural competition. The jump was destroyed by high winds in 1934 and rebuilt, it was destroyed again by winds in the 40’s, it was never replaced. 

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I’m hungry. A few minutes later we’re standing in line at Lipuma’s Coney Island on Main Street in downtown Rochester. We’ve been coming here forever and are never disappointed. I order the food, Kris grabs a table, a moment later my tray is loaded with food. It’s beautiful out on the deck, we relax to the sound of the river flowing by and the chatter of ducks. It doesn’t take long for us to polish off our food; 2 tacos for me, a Chicago dog and a Mexican dog for Kris. This is good stuff. For dessert we head to Dino’s Cookie Dough Bar on University. With more than a dozen flavors it’s not an easy decision, thank goodness they give you samples to try; butterscotch it is. A sweet ending to a great day.

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DETROIT: The Freer House

31 May

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Many years have passed since our last visit to The Freer House, there’s a special tour today and we have tickets! First, let me tell you a little bit about the man who lived here. Charles Lang Freer made his fortune manufacturing railroad freight cars, a very lucrative business in the late 1800’s. In 1887 Freer began amassing his art collection; while other collectors purchased pieces by Rembrandt, Monet and daVinci, Freer was attracted to Asian art and works by contemporary  American artists; Dwight Tyron, Abbot Thayer, Thomas Dewing, Frederick Church and most notably, James McNeill Whistler. Freer often developed friendships with the artists he collected. At the time of his death he had accumulated 9,500 art objects, more than a thousand of them by Whistler.

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 The home, designed by Wilson Eyre Jr, was built in 1892 in the American shingle-style. Take a good look, it’s elevated slightly from the street, it definitely feels masculine to me, dark colors, leaded glass windows, stately, handsome. Step inside to a large open area, doorways lead to separate rooms. Off the front door is the parlor, if you came to visit this is where you would wait for your host. Much of the house, including this room is undergoing restoration, our docent passes around a case filled with swatches of the original paint colors. Everything was made precisely for the room, the fireplace tucked into the corner, the art in designated spaces, I like all of the unusual angles. This was not a family home, Freer never married, the house was built as the setting for his art. As his collection grew so did his home, additions were made three times. In the main room a large fireplace sits central, furniture is tucked tight against the walls creating a wide walkway to view the art, light fixtures are unique, they look like leaves and twisted vines made from metal.

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We traverse the main floor, reproductions of original art hang on the walls, it’s like being in a tiny art gallery. In a room off to the side is the only original painting to the house, Flapjacks by Frederick Stuart Church. It’s a whimsical piece with bears making and eating flapjacks; they look pretty happy. It was a housewarming gift from Church to Freer. After Freer’s death the painting changed hands several times, it recently showed up at auction, donors bid on it and brought it back home. The original doorbell; a bronze bear with his head cocked listening for the bell to ring, sits in the main room on a side table along with a sconce. In the corner is a safe built by the Detroit Safe Company; in those days people would lock up their silver, Freer also stored art in his. The dining room is a pleasant buttery yellow, just as it was originally. Each room has built-in cabinets and a fireplace along with uniquely shaped ceiling angles.

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I’m pretty excited because on today’s tour we will see the entire house. On the second level many of the rooms are occupied by the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute and Wayne State University and not generally open to the public. Much of the interior has been painted that institutional taupe color, restoration work is ongoing, the hope is to one day have the rooms back to their original colors.The stairway is wide, the side is solid wood panels and a basket-weave screen, it feels very open. Pausing on the landing I notice more of the same leaf and vine light fixtures, wood beams cross the second floor ceiling, a window faces in giving the feeling of being outdoors. At the top of the stairs we have a lovely view of the home’s architectural details, lots of leaded glass windows, arches, wood and of course the art. Bedrooms are now offices, each has a fireplace, built-ins and a window seat.

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The remainder of the house is dedicated gallery space; we move from room to room, a skylight remains in one, a couple of fireplaces have Pewabic tile, leaded glass windows are decorative art themselves. In areas under renovation photographs are displayed showing the original space. We reach what used to be the Peacock Room. In 1904 Freer purchased the Whistler-painted dining room of Frederick R Leyland’s London home. Freer had the room built to the exact dimensions of the Peacock room, for many years peacock’s roamed the grounds here on Ferry Street. I love the giclee reproduction of Rose and Silver: The Princess From The Land Of Porcelain, it hangs in the exact spot the original once occupied. Color photos show how truly spectacular the room was, not only the paintings but the globe pendant gaslight fixtures, the ceiling design. In 1906 Freer donated his entire collection to the Smithsonian Institution with the agreement that everything stayed in Detroit until his death, he funded the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. at a cost of $1 million. After his death in 1919 everything was moved to the Smithsonian.

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The rain has let up enough for us to walk around the newly revitalized courtyard gardens. Trees and plants reflect Freer’s original combination of American and Asian plants. My favorite thing is the hand-carved, exact replica of the Japanese stone garden lantern. Feel free to check it out next time you’re in Midtown. It’s exciting to see the progress the Freer House members have made from reproductions of original paintings, restoration of rooms to the beautiful courtyard and landscaping. We look forward to our next visit.

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How about some lunch? Shield’s Pizza opened on Woodward across from the DIA on April 8th. For those of you who don’t know, Shield’s was one of the original Detroit-style pizzerias. Shield’s Bar opened at the corner of Davison and Shields Street in Detroit in 1937, they later began making square, deep-dish pizza; that location closed in the 1980’s as they expanded to the suburbs. The space here in the Maccabees Building has turned over several times in the last few years, it now has a completely new look; televisions, sports memorabilia, Detroit nostalgia, funky light fixtures. We sit at the bar, order a square, deep-dish veggie pizza and an antipasto salad. We have great service and the food is delicious. Crisp greens in the salad, their unique dressing, lots of meat. The pizza is that great Detroit style, a little crispy on the edges, tender crust, fresh toppings. After a 30+ year absence, we say Welcome Back!

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Not ready to go home just yet we stop in at Detroit Shipping Company on Peterboro. Located on the upper track is -320 Coffee and Creamery. Here you can get a great cup of coffee or homemade ice cream made right before your eyes with liquid nitrogen. The pizza and salad did us in, having room only for coffee Kris gets a nitro-cold brew and I enjoy a steaming hot cup o’Joe. We relax at a table overlooking the ground floor, lots of food being distributed from the 3 restaurants below. Bold colored canvases peek out from the gallery space opposite me, Kris and I walk over to check them out. Phillip Simpson’s colorful cartoon art lines the walls; I suppose with the name Simpson, you would naturally paint characters from The Simpsons. I like the different smiley-face renditions, as intended, they do their job, I’m smiling.

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DETROIT: New Kids on the Block…

19 Apr

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 We’re parked near the Opera House, the meter is full and my sweet-tooth is talking to me. Good thing Dilla’s Delights is only a short walk away. The donut shop is owned by Herman Hayes, aka Uncle Herm to late Detroit Hip Hop legend J Dilla. Dilla’s two daughters are the ‘delights’ in the equation. The petite shop is tucked into the end space on the ground floor of the Ashley Building, decor consists of photos of old Detroit, baseball players, portraits and posters of Dilla. The main attraction of course is the donuts. Made with organic flour and fried up in the kitchen at Avalon bakery, Uncle Herm offers 15 flavors including vegan options. It’s a tough decision; Brewster’s Banana Pudding Cake, apple fritter, Cakeboy Chocolate Cake, cinnamon raisin, blueberry. We follow the advice of the man behind the counter; one of the original classic John Doe Cake and a raised and glazed lemon lime; good advice. 

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Our walk continues to John R Street and the old Metropolitan Building, now the Element Detroit Hotel. Abandoned nearly 40 years, this is a perfect example of a building that nobody would have dreamed would be restored. Standing back we take in the 14-story, wedge-shaped, Neo-Gothic structure. The terracotta, brick and granite exterior is adorned with escutcheon and pieces of armor to accent the Gothic appearance. Built in 1925 it was informally nicknamed the jeweler’s building; floors 5-10 were leased to jewelers, diamond cutters, goldsmiths, watch-makers and silver workers. Other floors were leased to milliners, beauty and dress shops. Now part of Marriott’s Starwood Collection, it’s an extended-stay hotel. There are 3 restaurants planned including a rooftop cocktail lounge named the Monarch Club, Yesss…

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We step inside, walk a few feet then, taken aback by the beauty of the Great Hall, we just stop. Wow. Pink marble walls are topped by ornate plaster moldings, a beamed Medieval ceiling with cayenne-colored plaster rises above, glossy wood frames doorways and windows, simple globes and new recessed lighting light up red, yellow and blue designs high on the walls. The grand staircase is to the right, more pink marble and ornamental bronze grillwork. A quick trip to the second floor reveals terrazzo floors, divided storefronts and a large window overlooking the city. Returning to ground level we walk the hall marveling at the restored archways, magnificent plaster moldings, original floors. A lounge area displays large historic photographs of the Metropolitan in different phases. Decor hinges on Mid-Century here, the fireplace looks inviting. The Roxbury Group spent $33 million restoring this unique skyscraper, they’re the same group that restored the David Whitney Building/ Aloft Hotel. Nice job and Thank You!

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Farmer Street has been completely transformed. With the creation of the Shinola Hotel a new building stands where a short time ago was just a gravel lot. Up for a little shopping? Good Neighbor, a clothing boutique, sells casual pieces for men and women, if you’re into Levi’s you’re in luck, they have a large selection. Other items include jewelry, handbags, jackets, shoes and scarves. The Velvet Tower is next door, Long Island transplant Emily Bernstein has been collecting for over 2 years to amass enough vintage pieces to open her own resale shop. Pieces are high quality, she has a nice variety of casual and upscale pieces, hats, shoes, household and fun things. 

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Madcap Coffee has just opened its first location outside Grand Rapids, time for a coffee break. Roasting beans and serving coffee since 2008, we have enjoyed their offerings for years; now that they’ve arrived in Detroit we can indulge more often. The all white interior is accented in black, shelves hold logo merchandise, bags of coffee beans and several styles of pots to brew your own.  I’m glad to see they have nitro cold brew; one for me and one for Kris and we’re off again.

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A sharp right out of the building leads us to Parker’s Alley, a block-long walkway behind the new Shinola Hotel, a few independent storefronts face the alley. Remnants of old painted advertising still clings to the brick wall. Around the corner a 4-story enclosed bridge connects the hotel to the new building, large lights illuminate the walkway, planters already celebrate Spring. Organic raw juice company Drought has a location here. Their cold-pressed, glass-bottled juice has become the leading brand in the Midwest. The Lip Bar cosmetic boutique makes products that are vegan and cruelty-free. Have a seat on a swing at your own personal vanity; sample lipstick and lip gloss that moisturize your lips thanks to shea butter, coconut oil, avocado oil and vitamin E. Fun colors and cool packaging; what more could a girl want? The smallest space belongs to Posie Atelier, a charming florist that also sells houseplants, unique gifts and jewelry. I love the colors of exotic tropical flowers.

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Time to eat. Penny Red’s (Buckets and Biscuits) is a carry-out fried chicken stand located on the Farmer St side of the building. The modest space with wood paneling has a mid-century feel to it. There’s one window for ordering, one window for pick-up. Shelves in a recessed area hold rolls of paper toweling, secret recipe sauces, and disposable wood silverware. We place our order and are given a pager, we’re going to eat next door in The Brakeman. A simple doorway leads us into the beer and rec hall. It’s one huge, attractive, industrial-looking space that will seat 200 people at community or high-top tables. There are two bars, big screen TV’s, foosball, table shuffleboard, beer pong and ping-pong tables. You can even reserve a Beer Tap Table. Roll-up doors and windows run the length of the front and back of the building, this place will be packed in nice weather.

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A token booth stands at the far end, $7 gets you a token good for a single draught beer or a flight of three. I take my token to the bar serving beer and select a Short’s Soft Parade Shandy. The second bar serves cocktails and accepts cash. The pager goes off, I pick up the food and meet Kris back at our table overlooking Farmer Street. The food looks and smells delicious. The Classic sandwich is a chicken breast topped with urban ranch, sweet pickle and hot honey; very tasty. The crispy brussels are tender and flavorful with a smoked maple sauce and crunchy topping. Honey butter biscuits come dry or dunked, we got ours dunked, yum. Several times today I thought to myself, where am I? People fill the sidewalks and alley, empty spaces are disappearing as new buildings take their place. Travelers come and go from a long forgotten skyscraper. My eyes can hardly believe it. Detroit is alive and well.

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FLINT: Art & History

4 Apr

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The city of Flint is roughly 66 miles northwest of Detroit, it’s the 4th largest metropolitan area in Michigan. The city is steeped in history. Add to that the current revitalization and restoration of downtown buildings, an influx of entrepreneurs, new businesses, restaurants; it equals a destination of fun and good food.

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Driving around a forgotten, historic neighborhood we come across the Stockton House Museum, a sign out front reads Open Today. Let’s go! This lovely, Italianate home was built in 1872 by retired Civil War Colonel Thomas Stockton and his wife Maria. The house is nestled among 4 1/2 acres of treed grounds, a natural mineral spring runs through the property, prompting the Stockton’s to name their home Spring Grove. The once elegant exterior is now a work-in-progress, white paint wears away revealing multi-colored stones at the first level and red brick above. Fancy architectural details surround the porch, large wooden doors gain our entry into the foyer.  A friendly, knowledgeable woman is our docent, we’re getting our own private tour.

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Thomas was a military man through and through serving in the Mexican-American and Civil Wars, after retiring in 1863 he continued to work as a recruiter for the Union Army. Note the military stars incorporated into the design of the home. Maria was the founder and first president of the Ladies Library Association, she used a room in her home for lending books before there was such thing as a library. The group later became Flint’s first public library. The Stockton’s prominence is evident throughout their home; ornate plaster ceiling decoration, rosettes and medallions anchoring elegant light fixtures,thick moldings, uniquely detailed maple and oak hardwood floors. The home has 14 rooms, 12′ ceilings, a workshop and staff areas. Upstairs we find a series of photos and newspaper articles documenting the house through its uses as a private home, hospital, old age home and then returning to a private residence. There’s a collection of historic family photos, memorabilia and miscellaneous hardware. We tour the master suite and bedrooms, the current owners did extensive research, returning the home to its former beauty.

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In 1921 the Sisters of St Joseph acquired the house and established a hospital. At one point they ran out of space and built a 3-story addition. Walking toward the back of the house we enter the addition, it’s kind of creepy in an old-time-medical-facility kind of way. This section of the house was kept and restored because of its significance to the history of Flint. The surgical wing was here on the second floor, the tile floor is original. One room is staged with actual items from the time this was a hospital; I’m glad to be living in 2019. We take the elevator down to the first level, which is actually slightly below ground level. If you were on this floor of the hospital chances were you were going home. Crossing back into the home this is where we find the kitchen, dining and staff areas. I’m having a hard time reconciling the fact that when you enter the front door of the home it is actually the second floor. Once we get outside and I have a look, it falls into place.

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I could go for a coffee, Totem Books is right around the corner. “Books” does not begin to describe Totem; yes it’s an independent book store but it also sells used books, new and used vinyl records spanning decades and genres, cd’s, cassettes, dvd’s, vintage t-shirts, collectible Flint postcards, maps and photos. It’s a great place to grab a beverage or a sandwich and just browse. I sip on my coffee, walking under globe lights looking at owl figurines, I meet up with Kris by the vintage matchbooks, I hand him his iced coffee as we continue our trip through time. Totem is a cool shop and it’s located in a funky part of town with great murals. I highly recommend stopping in.

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Over at the Flint Farmer’s Market we take the last two remaining seats at the counter of MaMang. The tiny space with the beautiful mural of a woman and scenes of southern Asia is always hopping; the line to order is long, their food is always worth the wait. The menu of Vietnamese cuisine is made up of the basics; Pho, Bahn mi, spring rolls and Taiwanese treats. We place our order and watch as ladles of broth fill large bowls, pickled vegetables are placed on sandwiches and white plastic shopping bags are filled carry-out containers. When our turn comes we devour tasty spring rolls, a bahn mi filled with braised bbq Chinese pork, pickled daikon, carrot, cucumber, cilantro and mayo on a toasted baguette. The veggie Pho is outstanding; bone broth with rice noodles, Asian spices, Thai basil, ginger, green onion and bean sprouts, definitely enough to share.

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I don’t think the Flint Institute of Arts gets the proper attention it deserves. It’s a wonderful museum, their glass is world-class; which is exactly the reason we’re here today. Their Contemporary Craft Wing contains 3 distinct, expansive galleries; 2 permanent collection galleries and 1 for temporary exhibits. Shall we have a look? We traverse our way through the museum taking in extraordinary paintings and sculptures, we reach the Center Gallery and our pace slows. The glass pieces are extraordinary, each one grabs my attention and pulls me to a stop. I love flowers so Inventing Flowers by Ginny Ruffner is one of my favorite pieces–look at those Tiger Lilies and Tulips. The Daffodil vase and Tulip Panel and Daisies really put me in the mind of Spring. The glass is manipulated in all different fashions; blown, cast, acid polished, fused and kiln formed, amazing isn’t it?  Even something simple like the bowl with the red circular insert is stunning. 

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There are pieces that change as you walk past, optical crystals, or as I call them, optical illusions. There are whimsical pieces like the Red Apple, glass characters; a dancer, a blue man and a piece called Circus. No collection is complete without something from Dale Chihuly, his Paris Blue Persian Set with red lip wraps is gorgeous! Look at how the artist created an animal out of glass shards, the Falcons are made of blown and sculpted glass. Glass art is special here at FIA, they have a free glass-blowing demonstration every Saturday from 11 am – 4 pm.

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You have to check out the paperweight collection, it’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. The art of making paperweights started in Venice, they are prized for their beauty, grace and rarity. Colorful canes in complex designs are encased in crystal; popular subjects are flowers, bouquets and animals. A video runs continuously showing an artist creating a paperweight, fascinating. The truth is I like all of them from the simple swirls of color that remind me of old-fashioned hard candy to millefiori: a thin cross-section of cylindrical canes made from colored rods to resemble little flowers to the lampwork pieces: flowers, fruit, butterflies or animals constructed by shaping and working bits of colored glass. Some of them look so life-like; the fish, flowers, snake, even the little bees. It’s like a whole world encased in crystal. 

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Ypsi Doodle Dandy

28 Feb

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The Yankee Air Museum resides on the grounds of Willow Run Airport in Ypsilanti. This is the sight of the historic Willow Run manufacturing plant built by Henry Ford in 1942 to build B-24 Liberators for WWII. The plant’s main structure, designed by Albert Kahn, was 3,500,000 square feet of factory space that included an assembly line that stretched over a mile long. The first Ford Liberators rolled off the line in September 1942. A total of 8,685 B-24’s were produced at the plant. The original museum was destroyed by a devastating fire in 2004, most everything except the planes were destroyed. YAM is currently located inside a former technical school on the airport grounds; plans are underway to relocate the museum to a preserved portion of the original bomber plant. A couple of planes are already in place, it’s the first time since 1952 that aircraft has been in the plant. When completed it will be called The National Museum of Aviation and Technology at Historic Willow Run. Let’s take a look around.

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Planes are parked here and there on the grounds, Kris walks out to take photos. We enter through the gift shop, pay our admission fee and step into a world of aviation history covering global conflicts from WWI to present. I study the photos of the Guinness Book Record winning photo of the most Rosie the Riveters in one place, 3,734 with 58 original “Rosies” present. The first thing I notice about the museum is there are few ropes or barriers separating us from the exhibits, we can get right up close, sometimes even touching them. The timeline starts at WWI with a fighter aircraft, the SPAD XIII is partially tucked into a garage, a mannequin soldier nearby. Next up a B24 Liberator is under restoration, the polished fuselage perfectly displays thousands of rivets. In 1944 Willow run built one of these planes every 63 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week….Wow!!

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We walk around vintage aircraft, I notice instructions and labels stenciled in white on the exteriors, Danger is spelled out in red, arrows are in yellow. Humongous aircraft engines share floor space with a top turret, Army half-track vehicle, Vietnam era helicopter, a linktrainer. Norden and Sperry bombsights look highly technical, weapons and grenades are reminders of the casualties of war. Near the back is a work area where volunteers spend endless hours on restoration. Have you ever been in the cockpit of a plane? Check out this one, I’ve never seen so many dials, gauges, switches, buttons, levers; it’s a lot to take in. We see guided bombs and learn the basics of how they work, there are transmitters, transreceivers and power supplies. 

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The USAF Thunderbirds display is something I can kind of relate to simply because I have seen these high-flyin’, fancy-maneuver, aerobatic shows in person. The paint scheme on the plane is super-cool, all red, white and blue, the Thunderbirds logo is pretty sweet too–love the eagle with the planes in the center. Next to that is the US Navy Blue Angels exhibit, this is the Navy flight demonstration squad. Created in 1946 to raise public interest in naval aviation and to boost Navy morale, the Blue Angels are only the second formal flying demonstration team to have been created in the world. Something about this museum makes it seem more personal than your average museum, maybe it’s the way it’s laid out, everything kind of close together, certainly having few barriers helps, photographs look like they came from family photo albums.  The story the museum tells is one that encompasses the world while at the same time honoring the local angle; a footlocker stamped with the name of a man from Ferndale MI, biographies of local men and women who served our country, the importance of the bomber plant, how Detroit Saved the World. Here we are near the exact site where it all happened. Amazing.

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Hungry? Yes. Ollie Food + Spirits is on Cross St. in historic Depot Town. One of the things we love about Ypsilanti is it’s quirky, independent, fun nature. Architecture runs the gamut from Victorian to Mid-Century Modern, they have some great drive-in restaurants still in operation. You can find food to satisfy your ethnic yearnings, a great burger or some healthy, modern cuisine. Ollie caters to the vegan, vegetarian or omnivore diet–what’s not to love? The interior is quaint, rustic with an artistic flare; I love the art of Gary Horton that hangs on the walls. We enjoy an outstanding meal of the market omelette, well seasoned breakfast potatoes, lightly dressed farm greens and a side of jalapeno cornbread pudding; I need to learn how to make this….. 

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More independent shops are open each time we visit. I do a little shopping then we stop in at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum, we visit any time we’re in town. Coffee is the next order of business, we walk back to Ollie and the adjoining storefront Cream & Crumb. They serve Michigan-made ice cream, baked goods, Hyperion coffee (locally roasted right around the corner), tea and booze. I first scope out the baked goods, the 3-layer lavender cake is gorgeous, love the purple fade from layer to layer, giant cubes of cereal treats, cupcakes, mini-cheesecakes, oh the choices! Still a little full from lunch we opt for a single decadent peanut butter cookie studded with Reeses pieces and chunks of peanut butter cups, yum, and some coffee of course. Out the window we stare as pedestrians stop to watch a sidewalk artist at work, when we’re finished we stop too; we smile at the little green dragon taking shape, a chunk of missing concrete the basis for his design. Thanks Ypsi, it’s been fun, see you soon.

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