Tag Archives: Tour

Detroit: This is Weird….

3 Sep

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To some Weird is distasteful, uncomfortable, unpleasant. In others it piques their interest, curiosity, a sense of adventure. Kris and I definitely fall into the second group, which is why when we learned Detroit was hosting its first Weird Homes Tour we purchased tickets immediately. WHT are given in Austin, Portland, Detroit, Houston and New Orleans; 10% of gross ticket sales go to a local non-profit. Addresses are not given out until a day or two before the event. The tours are self-paced, self-driving visits to homes of artists, architects, collectors; you never know what you’ll see.  

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We decide to attack the map from east to west; I feel like I’m on a scavenger hunt, I’m really excited about what we’re going to see today, one never knows what hidden gems are right under our nose… I love when things exceed my expectations, the first house definitely does. From the art gallery just inside the front door to the art on the walls, bold colors, vintage furnishings, to the hand painted murals to the pool on the roof, all I can say is Wow! Down a narrow hall, we enter a vast space filled with great pieces of furniture arranged around a very modern and unique fireplace. The building is constructed of grey cinder blocks, huge windows make the space bright, a circular theme is carried out in the round kitchen, circular stairway and black and white spiral on the kitchen floor. The owner created much of the art work herself, including the fireplace; furniture and accessories have been collected for more than 20 years. We exit through a doorwall onto the patio, a small table and chairs rest against a mural, up a flight of metal stairs we reach the roof. On the deck another mural serves as a backdrop to a small circular pool surrounded by lounge chairs and seating areas, greenery fills planters, massive trees in the distance make us feel far away from the city. What a way to start the tour!

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The next stop couldn’t be more different. The owners of this quirky Victorian home have lived here for about 30 years. Through the Detroit Land Bank Authority the owners were able to purchase the rubble-filled side lot for $100. They’ve turned that space into a gorgeous cut flower farm called Detroit Abloom . Their office is located here along with a flower arranging shed, a hoop house and a root cellar. A few blocks away they have a larger flower farm, a few blocks from that is their vegetable garden; yep, farms, in a neighborhood, in the city. We walk under the purple pergola and step into the hoop house to find baskets of heirloom tomatoes and bars of lavender soap for sale. The place is amazing, so green and lush, so many plants, so many beautiful things. We walk next door to the multi-hued home, the purples and blues give it a whimsical feel. Inside we find all of the lovely characters of an old home, wet plaster walls, archways between rooms, built-ins, hardwood floors.

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There’s a funky little house near Eastern Market that seemed to just pop up one day out in the middle of nowhere, it’s the next house on our tour. If you’ve been to eastern Market you’ll recognize the house immediately, its covered in colorful hand-painted murals, lots of bright blue, red and a guy’s head with a house coming out of the top–yes, that one. The 900 sq. ft. home was built by Cranbrook Architectural Masters students; the home is their thesis statement. We spend a lot of time walking around the outside admiring the paint job, I really like the green and blue, lacey, spiro-graph-thingy’s all along the bottom. I learned that it is built of a mix of modern and salvaged materials and the upstairs wall is finished with tongue and flooring from a 1913 house. Want to see it for yourself? You can book a stay here through airbnb.

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You’ve probably heard about homes and businesses being built out of steel cargo shipping containers. Did you know that these containers naturally meet all building and safety codes? Using containers saves about 25% over lumber construction, buildings go up in about half the time and can cut energy costs by 70%. How do I know this? I learned it at the next house on the tour. We’re at the Model Center of Three Squared, this 2,800 sq. ft. home itself was constructed of 6 containers; 3 layers of 2 side-by side containers, 3 more were stacked to create a balcony on each level. The exterior has that sort of modern look about it, it’s attractive in olive-green and russet. The open-concept interior is well laid out, family room, kitchen, island, dining room, all well decorated; my favorite thing is the black and white photo-wallpaper of the old Corktown Neighborhood sign. It’s really nice, the corrugated walls add interest. Giant blueprints of the home line the stairway wall, this is actually 2 units, a 2-story, 2 bedroom unit (the first and second floor) and a 1-bedroom unit on the third floor. 

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How about some lunch? We go from the shipping container house to Detroit Shipping Company, a restaurant collective, beer garden like space made from 21 refurbished shipping containers on Peterboro. Right now there are three food-truck-style eateries, two full service bars, indoor and courtyard seating and a gallery. At Brujo Tacos and Tapas we order 3 of today’s tacos. I grab a table and wait for the food while Kris gets us a beer. The corn on the cob from Coop Caribbean Fusion is outstanding! Cooked perfectly it’s loaded down with tamarind aioli, toasted coconut, queso fresco and cilantro; seriously the best corn we’ve ever had. The tacos are delicious; bbq chicken, the pickles on top are a nice touch, lamb chorizo, just the right amount of spice and curry vegetable, a nice twist on a taco. When we’re done eating we take a look around, it’s a really great place, upstairs in the West Gallery the featured artist for August is Jacinto, “A Detroit State of Mind” we really like his work. We walk through lounges and exit to the balcony overlooking the courtyard, what is it about those strings of white lights that we all like so much? Armadillo Printwear does on-demand screen printing, stop in pick out a shirt, a design and bam they print it up for you while you wait. They are also responsible for all of the Detroit Shipping Co merch. A coffee and ice cream shop along with two more restaurants are in the works, come check it out.

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Back on the road we arrive at our 5th house on the tour. Wrist-banded tourists from across the country mill about the 3-story craftsman style home in a vibrant, historic neighborhood. The owners, both artists, have a fascinating collection of art and novelties like the antique pigeon racing clock from Belgium. There are mini-collections everywhere; yarn sculptures, pigs, pop bottles, lots of odd do-dads. The hand-made, stop motion, photography pieces were created by the owners.  Upstairs everyone is marveling at the beer-cap-mosaic floor in the bathroom, must have been fun getting supplies for that one…

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The Bankle Building on Woodward in Midtown Detroit is not your ordinary building. This is the half-time home of automotive designer and artist Camilo Pardo. Inside, large automotive oil paintings are a blast of color against stark white walls, a messy work table and blank canvases are a sign of works-in-progress. Tulip chairs, Egg chairs, chrome sculptures show the artist is clearly a fan of mid-century and pop art. The art in the adjoining space is more female-centric. We even get to see where he stores his ’67 Mustang.

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The next house is a little further away but worth every mile to get here.  The exterior of the home provides no clue to what we’ll see inside, kind of mysterious.  Immediately we understand the owner is a collector with an amazing talent for displaying her treasures. Every wall is a collage, each room has a theme. The yellow room is an homage to music; boom boxes are grouped together, she even has a boom box pillow, cassette tapes, vinyl albums and then the unexpected–necklaces, fun right? Every room holds another surprise; video games, religious items, Jazz, framed magazine covers, a sassy red couch. The basement is her showroom for her business Dollface Couture, along with her statement clothing we find a far-out couch, a burger telephone and a sweet doll collection. Fun and stylish indeed.

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We’ve reached the last home on the tour, as soon as we see the exterior and the vintage green Oldsmobile in the driveway we know we’re going to love it. Mid-Century and Magnificent is the description in the booklet, they nailed it. The house was built in 1963, miraculously it has made it to 2018 without any remodeling. The couple that lives here now totally get the house, they’ve embraced and furnished it just as it would have been 55 years ago; it’s awesome. Look at the fireplace, the bar, the original Nutone built in radio, the booth-seating in the kitchen, and the light fixtures…Did I mention the geometric wall of mirrors? How cool is that. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the owners have been collecting mid-century decor for a couple of decades. It has been a wild, wonderful and delightfully weird day, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Flint: We’re still here…

15 Aug

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We’re in Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event.  There’s still a ton of stuff to see and do, we better get moving…

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The Capitol Theatre opened in 1928 as a venue for live Vaudeville performances. It became a movie palace then a rock venue hosting concerts like Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Green Day, it closed in 1996. The building was purchased by Uptown Reinvestment Corp and The Whiting; after a complete $37 million dollar restoration the theatre is once again hosting live music, comedy, film, dance, and it’s on today’s tour. The exterior is definitely unique, they call it Hispano-Italian style, I call it gorgeous! The terracotta form work along the top of the building is exquisite, molds were made from the existing pieces and meticulously replicated, I can’t tell the original from the new. The original ‘Capitol” blade sign and marquee were restored, I bet it looks super-cool at night. Just inside the front doors lies the outer lobby, a geometric maze of plaster painted in gold, burgundy and purple hints at what we’ll find inside. In the lobby the ceiling arches up, rosettes fill coffers, everything is trimmed out in gold. Heavily textured walls are parchment colored, the original light fixture seems small for the space, stairways lead off to the sides. We make a slight detour exiting through a side door into a long hall. Almost everything except the floor has been updated, this section is home to concessions and ticket sales.

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Now we make our entrance into the grand auditorium itself; it’s stunning. At first we’re in an area with a low ceiling, we’re actually under the balcony, the plaster work is spectacular, really chunky and with great depth. Our guide points out an original section of ceiling they left untouched during the restoration, you can see how they matched the original colors and took them up a notch, I love that they left that. Walking deeper into the theatre we have a clear view of it in its entirety, this is what they call an Atmospheric Theatre, this one is made to look like a Roman Piazza, some make-believe village in Italy. I don’t know where to look first so I start at the top. A lovely blue glow illuminates the night sky of the domed ceiling, stars twinkle in the twilight, if you look closely you can pick out constellations. My eyes travel down from there, row after row of ornate molding surrounds the stage, the proscenium arch is richly detailed. Ornate plaster is everywhere, lots of leaves, scrolls, faces. Looking at the sides gives me the feeling of being in a tiny village, lower block walls give way to mock structures with doorways, gates, windows, balconies; no two are the same. The light fixtures and sconces are opulent, all of them original and re-worked for l.e.d. bulbs. 

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The group is invited onto the stage, it has perfect sight lines to get the entire atmospheric effect, wow! Some in our group talk among themselves, I overhear them telling others about how they used to come here in their youth, others are seeing it for the first time. The rigging and lighting systems have all been updated with state-of-the art technology. Because the stage area is small, large productions such as musicals are held at The Whiting. Descending from the stage we make our way across the main floor and up the stairs to the balcony, everybody spreads out, some sit while others are busy taking photos. From here we have a completely different view of things, now it’s like we’re right in the village; I feel like I could walk through the gate or sit on one of the balconies. It took 14 months to complete the restoration, the theatre officially opened in June.

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The street level of the Capitol Theatre building is home to new businesses Shift and Floradora share a space. The boutique sells eclectic items for the home, jewelry, gifts, fun accessories and clothing; I like the funky decor. Floradora is an extension of the shops main space in the Flint Farmer’s Market. Pick up a bouquet of fresh flowers or place a custom order for that special occasion. It’s great to see new retail coming into the downtown area, shops like these really attract foot traffic to the area. Now you can shop, eat and grab a coffee or cocktail in a walkable district.

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Alley Fest is taking place in the Buckham and Brush alley’s between 1st and 2nd streets, all we have to do is follow the sound of the music. Strings of lights zig zag between buildings, artists display their wares under canopy’s, pastel portraits of iconic stars are painted on the wall. The free festival is just getting started so it’s not too crowded yet. We check out clever t-shirts, painted skateboards, large canvases and metal jewelry. A crowd has gathered in front of the band at the far stage. The festival focuses on all things Flint from the bands to the artists. There are lots of things with the image of the water tower, it gives me chills.

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A steel door is propped open, people go in and out, I want to see what’s inside. Near the door a dog lays comfortably in his bed, beyond him a set of shelves hold men’s shoes and boots, we’re inside Sutorial Boot and Shoe Makers. This place is way cool, old industrial sewing machines are put to use creating custom hand-made shoes and boots for clients. Cut-outs of soles and forms lay scattered about, the owner is talking to a group of curious people like us. There’s barely room to walk in the space that serves as showplace and workspace. It’s nice to see things being done the old-fashioned way.

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We’ve covered everything in the downtown area, we’re ready to move on a little further. As we drive over to Grand Traverse Street I read a piece of graffiti on a wall that says “The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of the evil but because of the people who do nothing about it.” The people of Flint know that all to well. Time to kick back and have a beer. Tenacity Brewing occupies a beautifully renovated brown brick building that used to be a firehouse; food trucks are parked out back, hops grow on the patio. The interior is casual, low-key, comfortable. Unique little gathering spaces are tucked away here and there, clear growlers turned into pendant lights hang above the L-shaped bar. Unable to choose one or two to share we do a flight of six; they also have cold brewed coffee and root beer on tap. We drink hard cider, stout, a smoky porter and ale, a really good variety. The stout is my favorite, Kris’s is the Honey Blu Blu Cider. By the amount of pewter mugs filling the shelves behind the bar I’d say they have a loyal following. Here’s what it says on their website: “The story is quite simple. A few of us who happen to like beer and love Flint got together and decided that our town needs a brewery. So we went to work creating one. Keeping with the resolve and determination of Flint despite its ups and downs, and because we knew opening a brewery would not be easy, we named it Tenacity Brewing.” These are the kind of people who make a difference, they change a city, change perceptions, change minds. I hope you’ll make your way to Flint soon and see all the good things happening for yourself.    

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Cranbrook: Artiful…

13 May

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Cranbrook Academy of Art is known as the ‘cradle of American modernism’. In 1904 George and Ellen Booth purchased more than 300 acres of land that would eventually become Cranbrook. George Booth, newspaper baron and philanthropist, dreamed of creating a cultural institution on the property. He envisioned Cranbrook Academy as a place where students learned under the guidance of masters in their field. Eliel Saarinen was brought in to oversee the architectural and landscape development of the campus; the environment he created is one-of-a-kind. The campus is a National Historic Landmark, considered the most complete example of Saarinen’s genius, it is a treasure of architecture and horticulture. The original structures were built from the late 1920’s through 1942. Once a year Cranbrook hosts Open (Studios), today the studio doors are open to the public, we are free to wander in and out of places ordinarily off limits. Students will be on hand to answer questions, their work is on display and in many cases for sale. Let’s get started.

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We begin our journey at the Cranbrook Museum of Art (1942), water sprays skyward from Carl Milles Orpheus fountain, water ripples with sunlight in the shallow pool. Inside the museum visitors fill the galleries; Open Studios includes free admission to the art and science museums. I tend to meander in art museums, I let my eyes be my guide; from the colorful lucite display to the metal wall sculpture to the art of projected images I travel this way and that way. I enjoy the photographic light boxes, whimsical paintings and giant canvases, I find architectural models fascinating. On the lower level we check out Stephen Frykholm’s Essence Of Summer posters for the annual Herman Miller Picnic. They truly capture the essence of summer; fruits, vegetables, popsicles, red-checked tablecloths, sunny days; I bet the picnics were quite the shindig. When we finish both museum floors we head out to the studios.

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The Cranbrook Academy of Art is an independent, graduate degree-granting institution offering an intense studio-based experience where 10 artists-in-residence mentor 150 graduate students for a full-time 2-year studio-based study–no classes, no grades. At the end of the 2-year period students prepare a written Masters Statement and exhibit their work in the Graduate Degree Exhibition at Cranbrook Art Museum. Individual studios, shared spaces, production facilities, critique rooms, social areas and kitchens create a unique peer-to-peer community. Let’s start in the painting studio. Interiors are stark white, providing zero distraction from the art on display; from realism to abstract, small to large, multi-hued to monotone the work is amazing. Kris speaks to one artist about her work, she has taken old photographs and turned them into paintings, specifically focusing on one character in the scene, creating a whole new perspective. Katherine Adkins pieces are intriguing; bold colors and designs, funky shapes and textures, bumpy, puffy, shiny, I want to reach out and touch them.

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Here’s what I’m going to do. Kris has taken plenty of photos,  I’ll take you on a walk through studios and campus and let the photographs speak for themselves; not to mention I can’t remember which pieces are where… The next building over is the sculpture studios. Artists strike up conversations, visitors eagerly participate; we are literally surrounded by art. We are as captivated by the architecture as we are the art. Leaded glass windows open to grassy squares or courtyards, thoughtfully placed buildings form connections from one to the other. A cool spring breeze drifts in, natural light floods the space. Up stairs, down stairs, narrow halls, each turn rewarding us with another spectacular view or the outstanding creativity of artists.

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We make our way to 2D, 3D and Print studios, always glad to escape to the outdoor, enchanted kingdom that is Cranbrook. Formal courtyards, brick walkways, ornamental gates, porticos, brick and stone arches. We move from one place to another going from a closed space to an open space, from a narrow tunnel to a wide expanse. We follow arrows and signs from on building to the next, in a basement studio artists are happy to see we found our way to their space, I love the piece on the floor, it looks like a glittery land fairies would like to live. Large windows, artist sinks and storage spaces are a constant reminder these buildings were intentionally created for artists. The Academy of Art was officially sanctioned in 1932 with Eliel Saarinen as President. The artists who lived and worked inside these walls truly changed the design world; Carl Milles, Eero Saarinen, Ray and Charles Eames, Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Marshall Fredericks, Jack Lenor Larsen, Niels Diffrient, Duane Hanson, Nick Cave, just to name a few. Some of the greatest design talents the United States has had in modern times lived here, worked here.

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The Print Media studios are closer to Lone Pine Rd, I enjoy seeing the personal side of the artists in the way they decorate their space; the Desk-O-Matic emblem is super-cool. Water colors, mixed media pieces, each telling a story, sending a message. Cabinets and drawers hold a stockpile of supplies. A group of students has moved outside to drink in the long-awaited spring air; student works are displayed on sidewalks. The Architecture studio is a good distance from where we are, we enjoy the stunning landscape as we walk. The space is somewhat garage-like, concrete floors and huge open spaces, large lights hang above work spaces. Tree stumps rest on the floor, wooden legs and table tops are on display. The Hangar Photo building is really crowded, Kris and I both like photography.

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We walk across campus paying careful attention to architectural details, even the doors are gorgeous. We pause at the Triton pool, I could look at it for hours, Kris photographs it from all angles. New Studios (2002) includes Metalsmithing, Ceramics and Fiber, it’s the last building on our list. Ceramics are my favorite, students create everything from utility items to decorative pieces. One artist has a lovely selection of bowls and cups decorated with an airbrushing of blue, another has a variety of figurines and faces that make me wonder what they’re thinking. It’s getting warmer as we walk, we’re in the area where they fire the pieces; kilns range in size and shape from floor-models to walk-ins. It’s too warm here. I have a soft spot for the stuffed animals often found in Fiber departments, these are quite hugable. We end with the metalsmithing floor, it’s a wonder what they can do with metal.

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We are having a late lunch at Market North End on a quiet section of Old Woodward. We have been by here so many times and never knew what the restaurant was called, the only visible signage is for the ABOOD Law Firm. There are open tables on the screened-in-patio, it feels good to sit. The hostess recommends their pizza, who am I to argue? Ice cold glasses of water hit the spot as we wait for the food– which doesn’t take long. The Market Chopped Salad comes out first; chopped tomato, cucumber, radishes, onion, jalapeno, radicchio, tossed with a little lemon juice and evoo. I like that everything is chopped the same size, it’s so fresh, delicious. The Quattaro pizza has a white sauce topped with ham, caramelized onion and cracked egg. I cut up the egg and evenly distribute it among the slices. We eat at remarkable speed, when finished there isn’t a crumb left. This is the first time we’ve had an egg on our pizza and I have to say it is quite good.

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It has been a remarkable day, going to a place we know so well yet seeing an entirely new side. George Booth hoped to create something of lasting value and significance, a place that would elevate the lives of those near there, those who lived there, visited there; I say he succeeded beautifully.

The Palace: Nice knowing you…

6 Apr

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In 1988 a brand new, state-of-the-art arena was built in Auburn Hills; businessman Bill Davidson spent $90 million, entirely paid for with private funding, building a new, permanent home for the red-hot Detroit Pistons. In turn the Detroit Pistons rewarded him with their first NBA championship in the 1988/89 season, they followed that up with a second, consecutive championship in the 1989/90 season. The third one took a while, it came along in the 2003/04 season. Mr. Davidson passed away, then in 2011 Tom Gores and Platinum Equity became the principal owner of the Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment. The Pistons final regular season game at the Palace will be played April 10, 2017, the 2017/18 season will be played at their new home, Little Caesars Arena in Downtown Detroit.

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We’re at the Palace for a tour, we have great memories of this place; we’ve seen dozens of Piston games with friends and family, Kris was here for the ’04 Championship game, he and I watched as the Detroit Shock won their first (of 3) title–those were good times. We’re in the 117′ tall Dodge Atrium, to the left replicas of the Pistons 3 Championship trophies are encased in glass, our guide is here and she’s ready to go. Our guide explains the Palace is an all-encompassing entertainment venue hosting concerts, family shows and sporting events; did you know Sting was the first musical act to perform here?  The first stop we make is a suite reserved for performers and family members of players; lots of room to stretch out and make yourself at home. We pass Hooper’s cannon as we make our way to the Piston’s locker room, the oversize door is illuminated in blue LED light. We’re in a long hallway, pictures of current team members and legendary players cover the walls, we slide into the locker room for a peek. The Pistons logo is front and center on the floor, comfy-looking chairs rest in front of each roomy locker, the white board the coach uses is a clean slate. Player’s shoes are on the floor, I can’t resist comparing mine to theirs, I laugh, my foot is completely dwarfed by the size 22.

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Further on, a photo captures each of the team’s championship rings, that’s some good-looking  jewelry. The next room is home to a hot tub and massage tables, the last room in this area is the player’s lounge. This is where the players hang out, the space is handsome, masculine; dark wood covers the floors and walls, sleek furniture, a gorgeous two-sided fireplace and a humongous flat-screen TV fill the room, very nice. On to the hardwood… There’s something really cool about standing on the actual playing surface of a professional sports team, looking around, the floor seems so small, the 3-point line so close to the basket, it’s like some kind of optical illusion. The floor is laid in sections, I can see how the pieces fit together. This is where it all happens; games are won and lost, trophies are held high in the air, fantastic plays are captured to be shown later on ESPN. Championship banners and retired jersey’s hang high above the court, American and Canadian flags join the group. The Palace 360 scoreboard was installed in 2014. Looking out, the arena feels vast, LED ribbon boards encircle the lower and upper level.

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The visitor’s locker room is comparably laughable to the home team’s; plain, bare, open wood lockers and folding chairs– I’m sure some high schools have nicer locker rooms! The PNC Courtside Club is luxe; lots of chrome and marble, button and tuck banquette seating. Hot food is served to courtside-seat-holders before the game, cocktails, dessert at half time, not a bad gig. In the studio I recognize the backdrop where coach VanGundy fields questions from reporters, another area is used for recording interviews, it’s all so familiar from seeing it on television. Moving along we check out the suites, they’ve all been renovated with wood floors and contemporary furnishings, kind of reminds me of a hotel room; the view is awesome. The Palace was considered the first of the modern-style NBA arenas, with multiple tiers of luxury suites it set the standard for every arena built after it.

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We walk past the control room with its array of wires, components and computers, a chair sits on a platform for a spotlight operator. Up here we have a spectacular overall view of the arena with an up-close look at the championship banners. The Fan Duel Club is a full-service open-air lounge on the 3rd level, stats and player photos decorate the walls. We take an elevator back down to the main concourse level, there have been a lot of upgrades since the new ownership. The East Terrace hosts the Blue Moon Bar and Atwater Biergarten, there’s no shortage of places to eat or drink here. We say one last goodbye to The Palace of Auburn Hills; this building has seen 3 NBA Championships, 3 WNBA Championships, big stars have performed here, live albums have been recorded here. It has been the place to go for nearly 30 years. Thanks for the memories…

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We’re having a very late lunch at Lockhart’s BBQ in Lake Orion, the sign on Lapeer Rd (M-24) tells us we’re 6 miles away. We arrive at the charming red-brick building in time for Happy Hour. The restaurant is named after Lockhart TX, the bbq capital. Here in Michigan the owners have come up with their own unique blend of Detroit and Texas resulting in superior flavor and tenderness. We sip on $3 cocktails and beer, indulge in the complimentary jar of pickled cucumbers, carrots, and onions as our food is prepared. The #3 sandwich is set before us, it’s so tall I’m not sure if I can bite it…. loaded with sliced brisket, sliced red-hot link, fried onion rings, dill pickles, white cheddar and bbq sauce on a homemade bun, I find a way to get the perfect bite. It’s absolutely delicious, a great combo of flavors and textures. The cornbread is top-notch, moist and tender, served warm. The side of tater tots drenched in queso, sprinkled with green onions makes a nice companion to the sandwich. I’m glad we came here. It’s been a good day filled with old, familiar things and new experiences.

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DETROIT: Library After Dark

20 Dec

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Detroit is extremely fortunate that many of its outstanding 20th Century buildings still exist; the Detroit Public Library on Woodward is one such place. In 1912 Cass Gilbert was commissioned to construct the building; WWI and other delays slowed the completion, finally, in 1921 the amazing Italian Renaissance library opened its doors. This is the 4th largest library in the United States, it welcomes 222,000 visitors a year. 

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Tonight the Detroit Public Library Friends Foundation is hosting “The Library At Night” tour. For over 70 years the Friends Foundation has provided funds, books, materials, and special programs to the library community through gifts, grants, general contributions and event fees. Tonight’s tour will highlight the architecture of Cass Gilbert, craftsmen and artists, followed by appetizers, wine, craft beer and live music in the Fine Arts room. Using the Cass Ave entrance we walk the long hall toward the front of the building, we pause at the front entrance, majestic bronze doors have been permanently folded to the sides. Wreaths, garlands, red bows and strings of white lights decorate railings, columns and stairways. We meet up with our tour group in the original Children’s Library, we’re ready to begin…

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The large room is an eclectic mix of old and new, funky lighting hangs from the ceiling, benches are upholstered in olive-green, cinnamon and navy. Original architectural elements have held their ground for over 150 years. Our guide points out the Pewabic Tile fireplace surround; done in shades of blue, tan, yellow and gold it depicts scenes from favorite childhood stories, it’s gorgeous. Above it a pictoral map of Michigan by Frederick Wiley shows the arrival of the French to the wilderness of the territory. I never noticed the little door hidden in the bookshelves, we get a peek inside the secret room. In the hall, I’m once again reminded of how much I love this building. Tonight between the holiday lighting and the darkness beyond the windows it looks extraordinary. 

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Walking from the original building to the 1963 addition we find ourselves surrounded by mid-century design. The transition between old and new is thoughtful and seamless. We enter the new Children’s Library, here stuffed animals, picture books and rhyming stories entertain youngsters; be sure to check out the mosaics hanging on the wall, kids from Detroit Public schools had a hand in making them. The library is also an art museum of sorts, beautiful art can be found everywhere and it’s all out in the open. The hall leading to the Burton Historical Collection is lined with rows and rows of card catalogs, they’re over 100 years old and span the history of Michigan and Detroit from the 1700’s to the present– there’s no plan to modernize or get rid of them, some things should stay the same. The 2-story room that holds the collection is very 1960’s in style, the tall narrow windows allow natural daylight to saturate the space. One of the highlights is Stalin’s Gift, a lovely jewel chest commissioned for the Russian Royal Family in 1883. Joseph Stalin gave it to Charles Sorensen of Ford Motor Company for Sorensen’s help establishing Russian auto plants during WWII; his widow donated it to the library.

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We’re on the move again, we pause at Frank Varga’s mosaic of Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, it was donated to the library in 1974. The Friends Foundation used tour proceeds to purchase the spotlight that illuminates it tonight. The Grand Staircase is made entirely of marble, it’s exquisite, as we ascend the stairs we get glimpses of the spectacular Italian Renaissance ceiling. Throughout the building you will find gold leaf, symbols, figures, Greek and Roman motifs and themes of books, knowledge and wisdom. Every room on the 3rd floor features a ceiling designed by Frederick Wiley, most are reproductions of ones found in European palaces, all are stunning.

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The 3rd floor is my favorite, the view of the ceilings and murals is fantastic; then there’s Adam Strohm Hall… Adam Strohm was the first library director to work in the building, there’s so much beauty in one place it’s mind-blowing. Check out the bronze entrances around the doors before you step in. Immediately our attention is directed to John Stephens Coppin’s “Man’s Mobility”, the painting features three era’s of transportation from horse and buggy to rocket ships. The mural on the opposite wall is Detroit’s early history by Gary Melchers. The windows you see are not stained glass but painted, the idea was stained glass was too dark, painted windows would let in more light for reading. Then there’s the ceiling, I’d like to just lay on the floor and stare at it for a while, take in the whole room…The ceiling in the Art and Music room was a new design, it’s very simple compared to the others; Cass Gilbert liked it so much he used it again in the US Supreme Court Building.

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The tour ends in the Fine Arts Room, another gorgeous space. Tonight we’re in for a special treat, they have opened a window and allowed us access to the loggia. There are 7 mosaics underneath the loggia windows, each depicts quotes from Shakespeare’s “Seven Ages of Man” monologue from As You Like It. The mosaics were created by Mary Chase Stratton (Pewabic Pottery founder), Horace Caulkins and Frederick Wiley; you can see their names affixed in gold leaf at one end, Cass Gilbert’s at the other. Just being out here is amazing! We have a picturesque view of the DIA lit in red and green for the holidays. Most people don’t even know the loggia exists, it’s a special privilege to be standing outside, under the stars on a Friday night. One of the volunteers has removed a colored gel from the spotlight so we can see the mosaics in their true colors–awesome. We climb back in the window; a woman sings as I stand in line for appetizers and wine. Kris ducks out into the hall for pictures, he has the floor to himself. It’s been wonderful to revisit this treasure and extra special to do the tour at night.

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We’re grabbing a bite to eat at The Peterboro in Detroit’s historic Chinatown. We were here for the soft opening and keep meaning to come back, tonight’s the night. Serving contemporary Chinese American cuisine they offer both small and large plates.  I find the space really attractive, large red lanterns cast a warm glow over the otherwise dark room, red and white lights wrap black-painted ducts, a large canvas features a fierce looking tiger. We decide on several small plates, each arrives at the table as it’s prepared. The Seaweed salad is the first to arrive, crispy quinoa and pickled mushrooms add crunch and unique flavor. The Market Veggie Rolls are nice, I like the sweet chili sauce. Mom’s Roast Pork is boneless rib tips marinated in hoisin and honey, nice flavor, odd texture. The Crab Rangoons are our favorite dish, crabmeat and cream cheese deep fried in a crunchy shell, what’s not to like? 

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Chrysler: Stylin’

3 Nov

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If you love cars images in this post may cause excitement, drooling, rapid heartbeat and verbal outbursts. All other readers, please take into consideration what an amazing experience it is to be able to wander around the Design Studio of a major automaker, step foot in the Design Dome, sit inside concept cars, be in the space where designs are born, put on paper and carved into clay, as I said, AMAZING! Chrysler pulled out all the stops for this open house; future and current models are on display, they dug deep into the archives pulling out and dusting off concept vehicles of different eras for our viewing pleasure.

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We have crossed the building from one end to the other finally arriving at the Design Studio, the door is open, let’s go in. From the instant we enter the studio I know I’m going to have my hands full keeping up with the boys; at the very first sight of vintage muscle car art hanging on the walls their eyes begin to glaze over, they don’t know where to look first. I see other visitors with the same affliction bumping into folks, their eyes focused only on what’s in front of them, nothing breaking their concentration. I have to admit, this is way cool… We are in the Product Design area, we come face to face with a gleaming silver luxury sportscar called “Firepower”, very sleek-looking, I love the two-tone interior. In this area walls are a deep putty color, bold, abstract-ish paintings of muscle cars pop on the neutral background. In a large open area trucks, Jeeps and cars intermix with employee work space. On the far side, glass enclosed offices belong to brand executives, we get an insiders peek at the personality of each; one has a great Pop Art poster of Virgil Exner.

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There’s stuff everywhere; photo-art of a 1960 Imperial Dash, a vintage Challenger interior. An actual clay 1970 Challenger dashboard stands on a cabinet, (Hey, I used to have a ’70 Challenger!) this is the original model from which they were made. Underneath we find shifters, switches, panels and gadgets. Renderings fill large bulletin boards, big chunks of clay and modeling tools allow kids and grown-up to try their hand at car design. A Jeep Treo is getting a lot of attention as is the also-never-produced Demon convertible. Through a doorway we enter a room with a Turbine Car, a video tells the story of this exceptional car on a screen nearby.

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There it is, the styling dome… It’s much larger than I expected, lights in the ceiling remind me of stars in the sky, droves of people mill about; Kris, our friend and I each head off in different directions. It’s like some sort of dance the way people shift from one remarkable car to the next, all the while smart phone in hand. There’s a white Challenger T/A, a blue Viper Indy Pace Car, I’m sorta fascinated by the Mopar Drag Pak Challenger, I notice Kris can’t take his eyes off the red Charger concept from back in 1999. People pose for pictures in front of one-off cars and trucks as if they are celebrities. 

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Making my way through the crowd I meet back up with the boys outside on the Design Court; a handful of unique vehicles await us. I like the Africa Jeep concept, there’s a snazzy Chrysler 300 Super S with a blue matte finish paint job, the Mopar Edition Charger looks good, the Challenger GT AWD concept looks tough with the black hood, roof, trunk, wheels and tires.

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Back inside we move on to the next area, the black 1968 Charger R/T stops us in our tracks, muscle car photo art hangs on the wall. Vehicles are scattered about; an orange Wrangler with plaid seats looks ready to hit the trails, folks climb into the grey “Stitch” Jeep, I heard the seats are actually Viper seats. A WWII military Willy’s Jeep reminds us how long they’ve been around, a half-Jeep is mounted on the wall.

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A small section is dedicated to Viper, love the far-out renderings; how about that snake-skin green? Check out the new 340 Daytona, this one has a clay front end, I like the pic Kris took of the Daytona Hemi hood decal. The futuristic drawings of the Challenger are awesome, a large board shows us examples of the Hellcat logo. Trucks are next, this is the first time I’ve seen the 2012 Lil’ Red Express Truck concept, stacks and all. The bright yellow Dodge Ram Rumble Bee truck is extremely popular, I’m glad to see the Bee is still around. A father and daughter work together on the truck clay model, this is truly a family affair.

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Work areas are dark in the next department, more great automotive art hangs about. This must be the Silver section the silver Chrysler 300 concept is stylish as is the Chrysler Nassau concept from 2007, the ME 12 Chrysler is more charcoal than silver, it’s streamlined, elegant, graceful, slick, wouldn’t it be fun to get a ride in this one? The Brilliant Blue custom Jeep plays homage to the old 1976 Cherokee’s, love the color. As I walk I notice shelves stacked with modern wheels, huge automotive photos on the walls, posters with pictures of cars and trucks and their progression through the years.  The boys and I meet up by the Renegade on the scanning machine, even thought I don’t know how it works it’s captivating to look at. We’re so impressed, enthralled and excited by everything we’ve seen, I especially like the way the vehicles are all connected through time; the past, present and future all in the same space. A big thank you to our friend for taking us on this exquisite journey and another thank you to Chrysler for the privilege of seeing the inner-workings of the company. A great time was had by all. 

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