Tag Archives: Travel

Detroit: The Train Station

4 Dec

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Finally…. For years Kris has avoided taking photos of Michigan Central station. It wasn’t that he didn’t love the building, the architecture, the history; he has fond memories of this place. The family vacation to Colorado in ’72, the Freedom Train in ’76, remembering the beautiful castle-like space from his childhood. But it had become the symbol of the death of the city, the ruin porn capitol, an iconic image of Detroit’s decline. Time after time we’d pass by watching the cars with Illinois, Ohio, Ontario license plates snapping photos and selfies out front, propagating the image of Detroit as the graveyard of skyscrapers… Kris, ever the contrarian, was having no part of the cliche’. Today all of that changes, today we’re going inside and for all the right reasons; the station will live again!!

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It’s Friday evening Kris and I have the unique opportunity to see a film inside Michigan Central Station (aka the old train station) in Detroit. Ford, History and the Freep Film Fest are hosting a special screening of Detroit: Comeback City inside the building that inspired the film.  The film explores the rise, fall and epic re-birth through a single building; Michigan Central Station. Detroit, once one of America’s richest city’s is now America’s comeback city. After the film we have about 45 minutes for a self-guided tour. I’ve never set foot in the building, I’m so excited!

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The temperature tonight is below average–it’s downright cold, an email suggests we bring blankets so I do. Standing in front of the building I am awestruck by the sheer size and grandeur; it’s beautiful. I have never been this close before, walking with my head tipped back I have to be mindful of where I’m stepping, Kris competes with other tourists taking photos. We pass through that grand arch, a smile plastered to my face, we sign waivers and are given packages of hand warmers, I only half-pay attention, the building and the exotic lighting are captivating. Rows of folding chairs are set up in front of a large screen, we sit in the back, there’s no escaping the frigid breeze that blows through giant window openings; I’m glad I brought a blanket. As I wait for the film to start I gaze at my surroundings, all of the rubble from years of decay and vandalism have been removed, a net clings to the ceiling in case a random brick comes loose, architectural details are highlighted by cool LED lighting. The film begins. Sit back and enjoy Kris’s photos while I tell you about MCS.

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Michigan Central Station opened in 1913. It was put into service before it was finished; the old train station caught fire, trains were rushed over to the new station where they came and went until 1988. Designed in the Beaux Arts Classical style it was the tallest train station in the world at that time. The main waiting room stretches the length of the building, it was modeled after the public baths of ancient Rome with walls of marble, vaulted ceilings, bronze chandeliers and massive Doric columns. A large hall called an arcade housed a cigar shop, newsstand, pharmacy, barber shop, telephone booths, baths and an info booth. Brick walls and a copper skylight surrounded the concourse, a restaurant was at the far end. Detroit was a thriving city, an industrial powerhouse; this is where it greeted its visitors and new residents.  I’ve looked at a ton of vintage photos; the massive main waiting room, broad coffered arches, the reading room with potted palms, leather chairs and wood-beamed ceiling, white table cloths in the restaurant, light streaming through the grand Palladian window. It made a statement about the city; when you stepped into MCS you knew you were someplace great.

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Soldiers heading off to forts, boot camps, WWI, WWII, Korea and Vietnam left from these tracks.   At the beginning of WWI more than 200 trains left the station daily, in the 1940’s more than 4,000 passengers a day passed through its doors. Whatever was going on in the city or the world the activity centered around MCS. Think about it, at one time the majority of autombiles came from Detroit, trains delivered them across the country. When the factories needed workers, trains brought a huge influx of men from the south. Presidents, movie stars, industrialists arrived in the Motor City by train. We were the Arsenal of Democracy, the capital of innovation, the Silicone Valley of the early 20th Century; from the Model T to music there was a feeling there wasn’t anything Detroit couldn’t do. And then it changed. Here we are today; after decades of decline the city not only survived bankruptcy, it’s thriving. It’s only fitting that MCS, which has become a major symbol for the city through both good and bad times will be restored to its original glory.  Ford Motor Company plans to move 2,500 employees into the building which will be Ford’s research campus for autonomous vehicle development and deployment. The main floor will be public space with shops and cafes.

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With my blanket wrapped around my shoulders I follow Kris’s lead through the main floor of the building, I feel minuscule in the space. Historic photos explain what we are seeing, for the most part each area is still defined; the arcade with its inset spaces, the ticket windows, the restaurant. Much of the detail remains, surprising considering rain, snow, explorers and vandals have trespassed the building for 3 decades. The roof over the concourse has been removed, yesterdays rain lays in puddles on the floor, the brick walls are intact.  Volunteers are positioned throughout to answer questions, I enjoy listening to people telling their stories about the building; coming to see the Freedom Train, the trips they took or coming to pick up a relative, there are great emotional ties to the building. I stand off to the side to take it all in, just seeing the people here tonight it’s easy to imagine excited travelers arriving and departing. When it was announced that Ford purchased the building an anonymous caller told them where they could find the iconic clock that he had been ‘safekeeping’, there have been more than 2 dozen calls offering the return of a historic fountain, a plaster medallion and light fixtures, no questions asked. It’s a weird thing, somehow we Detroiters feel like the building belongs to all of us.

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We’re having dinner at Rocco’s Italian Deli in the Cass Corridor. The red-brick building has a parking lot on the side, very convenient. The interior is one big open space in white with concrete floors, open ceiling, retro lighting and table or counter seating. A pantry area features dry pasta, canned tomatoes, vinegar, oils and crackers. Refrigerated cases are filled with cured meats, cheeses and olives, the chalkboard menu is filled with delicious sounding sandwiches and salads. We sit at the counter and place our order, I’m having a glass of the house red wine to help warm me up. The chicken noodle soup is set in front of me, there’s nothing like a good bowl of soup! Kris digs into the Chop Chop Salad; cubes of cucumber, tomato, beet, garbanzo’s and carrot tossed in house balsamic, the veggies have a nice crunch, it’s delicious. The Breast Chicken Parm sandwich is a fried chicken cutlet topped with tasty marinara, mozzarella and grated parm on the perfect Italian bread, it’s so good. Easy parking, fast and friendly service and excellent food, a nice addition to the city.

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Willis Show Bar opened on the corner of Willis and Third in 1949. The facade of the building is burgundy and pink with a great curved entrance. It opened in the glitzy show bar era of live entertainment and Jazz, it was a Detroit hot-spot. Same old story; neighborhood declined, bar turned seedy, padlocked in 1978. Investors from California partnered with the Detroit Optimist Society to breathe new life into the old building. Upon our arrival we are greeted by the official doorman, the entryway is a wood-paneled circular space with a terrazzo floor, a big “W” sits in the middle. The waiting area is closed off from the main space by a thick velvet curtain, we pay our $7 cover charge, get handed glasses of champagne and are led into the bar. I love it.

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The only thing left of the original interior was the curved Art Moderne ceiling which has been completely restored, the new bar follows the same curves as the ceiling, the elevated main stage rests snugly behind the bar. One long banquette runs nearly the length of the bar with tables pulled up in front, a second level of booths sit against the back wall; every seat faces the stage. The band starts their set and suddenly it’s 1949 again; the decor, the music, the craft cocktails, the burlesque dancer. Waiters wear matching suits, service is top-notch, no detail has been left out.  Wills Show Bar is reborn.

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When the city of Detroit burned to the ground in 1805 Father Gabriel Richard said: Speramus meliora; resurgent cineribus. We hope for better things, it shall arise from the ashes. It seems that is the story of Detroit, a testament to the resilience of Detroiters. We rise, we fall and we get back up again. 

Indiana Dunes

18 Nov

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 We’re heading south to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore for the Century Of Progress Home Tour. We get an early start, surrounded by the blue of the lake and the cloudless sky we’re following the shoreline down; the lake is on the right, stunning beach homes on the left.  Our tour leaves from the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center at 11:20. After checking in we have a little time to check out the Century of Progress Historic District display. Here’s a little background on what we’re going to see. In 1927 Frederick Bartlett purchased 3,600 acres of land along the Lake Michigan shoreline for a planned resort community, the land was plotted into thousands of home sites. The Great Depression brought the development to a halt, many of the plots were never built on. In 1933 Frederick’s brother Robert purchased the development, he named it after his daughter, Beverly Shores was born. Robert had a brilliant idea, the extremely successful Chicago 1933-34 Century of Progress World’s Fair had come to an end. Why not purchase some of the demonstration homes and move them to Beverly Shores? He did. He bought 16 buildings in all, four of the houses on the tour were moved by barge across Lake Michigan to the spot they still sit today; the fifth home was brought by truck. Surely the notoriety would bring publicity to the area and the development.

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Our tour guide works for the National Park Service, as we drive he explains that with the creation of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in 1966, the National Park service began acquiring land and buildings including the Century of Progress homes. Indiana Landmarks has leased all of the houses from the NPS, subleasing them to private individuals who restore them using their own funds, we’re talking millions. We make a left, soon the lake comes into view, a right turn and the bus parks. All 25 of us disembark, the Armco-Ferro House sits on a bluff to our right, the Chicago skyline can be seen clearly across Lake Michigan. The house was originally all metal; walls, floors and the roof were corrugated steel panels, the exterior panels were porcelain-enameled. In 1933 the house was touted as having a maintenance-free exterior; over time the elements took their toll, the roof leaked, water got in everywhere, there was rust and deterioration, not to mention the house was basically set on a sand dune. Fortunately for all of us, the perfect people leased the house, they had it raised and a new foundation installed. The house has been restored with a mix of old and new materials; exterior panels are now stainless steel, windows are restored originals, it looks awesome! Inside, period furniture fills the rooms, the view from the front windows is exceptional, magazine articles from 1933 are framed and on display. I love the little Art Deco touches. 

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We walk next door to the House of Tomorrow, this one is under restoration by Indiana Landmarks along with the National Trust. The $2.5 million project will recapture the 1934 appearance. Standing outside, it reminds me of a giant wedding cake; you wouldn’t know it by looking at it today but the second and third stories of this 3-story, steel framed house were clad in glass–talk about solar energy! The main floor contained the workshop, mechanical room, garage and of course what every 20th century family needed, an airplane hangar. At the World’s Fair people were drawn to its innovative structure, prefabricated and modern materials; Modernism had arrived. Sandwich boards display photos and information about the building, it was pretty amazing for its time. The interior is a maze of studs, work lights, flaking paint and rust. A circular stairway leads us to the second and third floors. Parts of the original kitchen remain, the Elgin nameplate still clings to the steel cabinets. Light leaks in from open spaces caused by missing floor boards, be careful where you step. I find it fascinating to think people actually lived here more than 80 years ago. There’s a story that says when the house was on display in Chicago it got so hot inside during the summer months the docent had to stand outside…

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The theme of the 1933-34 World’s Fair was technological innovation, American Rolling Mill Company and the Ferro Enamel Corporation sponsored the first house, the House of Tomorrow was designed and sponsored by Chicago architect George Fred Kreck, he set out to change the direction of residential architecture. The next house was sponsored by the Southern Cypress Manufacturers Association. They hired Chicago architect Murray D Hetherington to design a structure to promote cypress as a building material, which brings us to the Cypress Log House and Guest House. As we stand in line waiting to go in Kris and I admire the building, it has all the charm of a mountain lodge; stone chimney, gorgeous dark wood exterior, cedar shingles, window boxes, green-painted window frames, it even has bird houses built into the design. I wish you could see the inside, it looks straight out of a magazine with Martha Stewart as the decorator. Lots of wood, floor to ceiling windows overlooking the lake, a huge stone fireplace; I want to sit down and have a cup of coffee in one of the comfy-looking chairs. This is the house that was moved to Beverly Shores by truck. It’s lovely.

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Now remember, this was 1933, the Great Depression still gripped the nation. My father-in-law lived in Chicago at the time, I love to imagine him as the 10-year-old boy that he was, riding his bike around the fair. Visitors got a glimpse of the latest wonders in rail travel, automobiles and architecture. The Houses of Tomorrow exhibit allowed people to dream of a better time with new, modern home conveniences, exciting designs and new building materials. The Wieboldt-Rostone House designed by Walter Scholer blended Art Deco and Art Moderne elements to showcase the use of steel and masonry for a modern family home. The Indiana Bridge Company provided the structural system, including wall framing and corrugated steel roof panels. Unfortunately for this house the exterior was clad in an experimental synthetic stone (Rostone) composed of shale and limestone waste. It failed in 1950 and had to be replaced with Perma-Stone. In the 1980’s the Perma-Stone began to fail, the lake levels rose causing problems with the septic field, the roof leaked, damaging the interior. The exterior has been completely restored right down to the landscaping; the original Rostone still surrounds the front door and entry hall. The bathroom managed to survive and in a word its fabulous! The house is right on the beach so the view is amazing. 

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For us the Florida Tropical House was the true gem of the tour. First of all, who can resist a Flamingo-pink-colored house? Second, who wouldn’t want to live on Lake Michigan? Third, who doesn’t love Art Deco? The state of Florida sponsored this house to entice people to come to Florida for a tropical getaway. At that time Florida was in the early stages of becoming a ‘vacation paradise’. From the moment we step in the door I’m speechless, I walk along tapping Kris’s arm and pointing at things; the hand-painted Art Deco murals, the soaring windows, the aluminum hand rails and stairs, decorative door knobs and hinges; truly glamorous in an old-Hollywood kind-of-way. The furniture is all period-perfect, the colors tropical, the overhangs and roof decks, wow–the only thing missing is a Palm tree. The house is magnificent. The owner has completely restored the building including installing 192 foundation piers to level it and provide a firm footing. I wish we could show you the interiors but photos are not permitted. Time to load the bus and head back to the Visitors Center.

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Before heading back we take a drive through Indiana Dunes State Park. We park and take a walk on one of the beaches, funny we’ve never really explored this part of Lake Michigan before. Old Art Deco buildings stand in sandy parking lots, trees and shrubs grip the dunes, Chicago skyscrapers loom in the distance. We leave the park driving on a two-lane road through forest and wetlands on our way to Michigan City  ,we don’t pass another vehicle. We’ve run out of snacks and bottled water, time to get some real food.

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We were out this way last May and found a great little microbrewery in the Elston Grove Historic District, that’s where we’re having lunch. Zorn Brew Works originally opened in 1871 when Bavarian immigrant Phillip Zorn migrated to Michigan City IN to start his own brewery; unfortunately it closed in 1938. 77 years later Michigan City’s oldest microbrewery became its newest as Zorn Brew Works was reborn at 9th and York streets. It’s a great old brick building with tons of charm and character from its brass chandeliers to the cool old beer posters and memorabilia. The beer is great, I had the Elston Grove Oatmeal Stout, Kris had the Carriage House double IPA. The food is delicious; I could just drink the beer and eat the pretzel bites dipped in beer cheese but then I would miss out on the excellent sandwiches, we had the Zorn, yum! It’s a great place to stop in and just chill out, especially after a busy day like we’ve had.

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Back up the coast we go, if you really look you can find tiny roads that let you ride along the water, the houses along the shore are pretty amazing too! One of our favorite places to drive though in the area is Beachwalk, a resort development of cottages and beach homes that looks like a box of crayola crayons. Let’s take a drive through. The streets wind past lavender, turquoise, lime, yellow, coral and blue cottages. All are surrounded by a white picket fence, sand and dune grass replaces traditional lawns. Homes range from one to three stories, balconies, decks and porches are trimmed out in crisp white. We have been driving through here for years, the development started with 7 homes, today there are nearly 200.  Many of the cottages have been closed up for the season, shades are pulled, grills are covered, fallen leaves gather on porch steps. 

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Driving north along the lake we pass through charming beach communities in Michiana, Grand Beach and New Buffalo, I highly recommend the drive. Not only is Lake Michigan gorgeous but the array of houses perched on the bluff is fantastic. You’ll see everything from a traditional brick ranch to an old stucco beauty from the 1920’s, there are Tudors, orange tile roofs, contemporary homes and mid-century moderns. The one feature they all share is large windows; who can resist that view?

St Joseph

5 Nov

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From the tip of the Mitten to the cuff, there is no shortage of charming little towns along the Lake Michigan shoreline. Today we’re about 190 miles west of Detroit in the city of St. Joseph.  It’s locale, about 90 miles northeast of Chicago, made it a huge tourist destination complete with miles of sandy beachfront and an amusement park back in the day. This lovely port town sits on a bluff overlooking the lake, a pair of lighthouses flank the St Joseph River; inland some of the country’s finest orchards and vineyards cover the rolling countryside. This is the largest non-citrus fruit-growing region in the nation. Every summer tourists swarm the city; they swim in the cool blue water, shop in unique boutiques, eat ice cream and fudge and watch spectacular sunsets. At this time of year the bulk of tourists have gone home, there are no lines, we share tree-lined streets with locals and parking is easy.

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The first order of business is lunch; we prefer someplace with a scenic view, Schu’s on Pleasant Street is perfect. The restaurant has an old-school, resort town feel; lots of wood, a stone fireplace, an upside down boat dangles from the ceiling, and of course, it has a view of the water. Service is speedy and friendly, before we know it we’re enjoying a delicious burger cooked perfectly medium with a pile of crispy fries. When we’re finished I grab my umbrella out of the Jeep and we take a stroll through town. Rain has begun, we duck into Cafe Tosi to grab a coffee, the caramel bomb looks too good to resist, I meet Kris at the table with our drinks, a sweet treat and two forks. The sunny yellow interior is opposite of the dreary scene out the window. The place is buzzing with activity, everybody seems to know each other, I like that. When I think of St Joseph one of the first things that comes to mind is the elegant Maids Of The Mist Fountain. Cherubs join two female statues nicknamed Constance and Hope sitting beneath the largest of three basins as water cascades into the pool below; I really love these old fountains. Built in 1872 by JW Fiske Ironworks of NYC, the owner of the Whitcomb Hotel purchased it out of Chicago and moved it to Lake Bluff Park in 1892, it has become a city landmark.

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By the time we’re finished the rain has stopped; time to explore. Many of the storefronts look unchanged, flowerpots are filled with colorful blooms, water bowls offer furry friends a little refreshment. In and out of shops we go, Michigan-themed shirts, hats, bags and drinkware are found in Lazy Daisy. There’s a cool consignment shop called Re Imagine filled with do-dads, art and craft supplies, fun gifts, repurposed items, jams and honey. The whimsical cows of the ‘cow parade’ make me smile. A couple of shops offer wine tastings from local vineyards, South Bend Chocolate Company has all kinds of chocolate treats, cakes and cheesecakes. No Michigan tourist town is legit without a Kilwins, I can smell the fudge from the sidewalk; this one is doing a brisk business today. We find the antique shops in town have a nice selection of Mid Century Modern pieces. In addition to furniture and accessories this one has a fantastic collection of cameras tucked snugly into wooden cubbies. The only brand names I recognize are Polaroid and Kodak. They have some great movie cameras too along with vintage advertisements.

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Black Rose Jewelry’s storefront is gorgeous; black vitrolite and unique showcase windows that you only find in a jewelry store. I wonder if this has always been a jewelry store. I imagine many businesses have come and gone through the decades. Perennial Accents is a good example, now a kitchen-goods store filled with gadgets, small appliances, linens, colanders and graters, a brass plaque on the floor tells us this was originally Gillespies Drugstore in 1866. Schaller Gallery housed in an attractive brick building sells fabulous handmade pottery. White walls and simple tables and shelves allow the pottery to get all the attention. Teapots, dishes, mugs are all beautiful, you can eat off of art. Our favorite building is an old bank that houses Wanderlust, an outdoor apparel and gear store. We go inside to see if any of the old architecture remains, we’re delighted to find thick moldings, columns and original ceiling details. The coolest part is the safes, they’re gorgeous! Look at the hinges, gears, decorative patterns everywhere, they use some of them for dressing rooms–makes me want to try something on.

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 In 1891 the Silver Beach Amusement Park opened on the land between the lake and the mouth of the St Joseph River, think Coney Island in NY; rides, concessions, games of chance, bumper cars and a boardwalk; they added a roller coaster in 1904 called Chase Through The Clouds. In 1910 a carousel was brought in; 44 hand-carved, life-like horses; it was hugely popular.The carousel operated continuously until 1971 when the amusement park closed. Today thanks to the dedication and fundraising ability of the Silver Beach Carousel Society a replica carousel has been placed at Silver Beach Center, an entertainment center below the bluff just yards from Lake Michigan’s Silver Beach. We park in the center’s lot, the building is part museum, part activity center. Inside large black and white photos and memorabilia  give us a peek at Silver Beach in its heyday; crowds of people on the beach, a rollercoaster, rides and several buildings including Shadowland Ballroom which opened in 1927; a caption reads “This place was so cool”.  People came by car and train to this amazing summer play land. Next we check out the carousel, in operation since 2010, it was built by Carousel works in Mansfield OH. There are only a few riders this afternoon. We watch as bejeweled horses rise and fall to old-fashioned music, there’s a serpent and a peacock chariot for those who prefer an even ride. Rounding boards around the top depict historical themes of southwest Michigan; computer graphics artists created the boards using a montage of colorized, historic photos. Around the carousel we find vintage cars from rides, penny arcade machines and a gypsy who will tell us our fortune for pocket change.

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We only have 1 day in St Joseph so we’re trying to do as much as possible. This area of Michigan is largely agricultural, grapes are plentiful, which means so is wine. The northern route of the Makers Trail runs through Stevensville, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, Coloma and Watervliet. Let’s start with Karma Vista Vineyard and Winery. The view of the vineyard and farm from the tasting room is outstanding. Light rain continues to fall across the landscape, it feels good to be inside. I head straight to the counter to do a tasting, Kris looks around a little taking photos out the large windows, you can see the tractor marks in the freshly mowed lawn, vines are dense with leaves and heavy with dark clusters of grapes. With Kris’s help I taste about 6 different wines, I’m impresses with their Cabernet; I like all of them, seriously. I choose a few bottles to take home and we’re off to the next winery.

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Vineyard 2121 is on Red Arrow Highway, it’s pretty popular on this late Friday afternoon. Wooden steps lead us from the gravel parking lot to the red-sided tasting room. There’s live music on the far side, there are 2 open seats at the circular bar. A group of girlfriends have gathered for a bite of food and glasses of wine. I order a glass of white wine and sip on it while checking out the merchandise; they have many varieties of wine along with t-shirts, glasses, all the usual things one finds at a winery. As we drive to the next place we pass rows and rows of grapevines, they are loaded with fruit, part of me just wants to stop and pick a grape and eat it straight from the vine. It’s harvest season, someone told us that on a nice day an enticing grape scent fills the air–like smelling grape juice. Speaking of grape juice, this is where a lot of the grapes are grown for Welch’s Grape juice.

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12 Corners Vineyards is my favorite winery of the day. The cozy interior has a knotty pine ceiling, large wooden beams and a stunning view of the vineyard. It’s a big place; there are a couple of bars for tasting, cafe tables for drinking and rack after rack of Estate and Ice Wine, oh and Big Daddy Hard Cider too. I check out the tasting menu, it’s a long list. People around us are super-friendly and share tips on their favorites. We tried a little of everything; red, white and fruit wines. When we were finished and making our decision on what to purchase they served us each a piece of chocolate from Vineyards Chocolate, wine and chocolate? It doesn’t get better than this! 

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Ypsilanti: Calling All Cars

16 Oct

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Once upon a time in the United States over a thousand automobile manufacturers existed; storied names like Packard, Imperial, Hudson, Desoto and Oldsmobile rolled off the assembly lines in Detroit. Slowly they faded away taking factories and manufacturing jobs with them. We’re all familiar with GM, Ford and Chrysler and their recently departed subsidiaries; Pontiac, Mercury, Oldsmobile, Plymouth. In the early 1900’s there were many other big names; Studebaker, Duesenberg, Nash, Hudson, Maxwell, Stutz, on and on… Some of these were bought up by the Big Three, others were phased out over time. Today we’re celebrating their memory at the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum‘s 22nd Annual Orphan Car Show, a tribute to vehicles from manufacturers that no longer exist. The featured brand is Plymouth, introduced in 1928, production was discontinued in 2001 making it 90 years old today. Plymouth was Chrysler’s entry into the low-priced market, during the Great Depression Plymouth significantly helped Chrysler survive through a decade when many other car companies failed. Let’s check them out, what do you like? The Art Deco ’39 has square headlights, daring for its time, the “Mayflower” hood ornament is way cool. The Sport Fury convertible is a beauty, love the copper interior. Maybe you’re into muscle cars, Superbird, GTX, or Duster anyone?

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When we arrive at Riverside Park, beautiful automobiles are parked as far as the eye can see. Throughout the day vehicles will do a Pass In Review; one brand at a time cars drive the park loop, each pausing in front of grandstands, the master of ceremonies speaks about the car and does a short interview with the owner, it’s really interesting to hear the stories of how long they’ve had the car or where they found it, some significant detail, that kind of stuff; Kaiser-Frazer’s are being reviewed when we arrive. Vehicles are parked in groups by brand, the first one we see is Imperial, it was originally a brand of its own till the late 60’s. Let me tell you, the coral-colored ’57 is stunning; look at the fancy lettering, the “I” of Imperial has to be nearly 6″ tall, little crown emblems are here and there, look at the rocket-ship-style taillights. The white convertible with the red interior is gorgeous; Imperials have always been one of Kris’s favorite brands. The late-model DeSoto’s are pretty sweet too, love the 2-tone paint jobs where the roof is a different color. I stand on the side looking down the row of cars, this is the finned era, massive chrome bumpers flank the front and back, space-age-like taillights, decorative chrome molding is everywhere — in those days, beauty trumped cost. Steering wheels are stylish and dashboards are dazzling, like you’re driving a juke box…

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This cluster of DeSoto’s span a decade, from the pale yellow 1940’s model to the heavily chromed grills of the 50’s, they always remind me of a mouthful of big teeth, the Firedome V8 nameplate is snazzy; how about those wide white walls?  That’s a pretty fancy glass hood ornament on the ’42 model. Zigging and zagging in the afternoon sun we see an electric vehicle, a Mercury Lynx, it’s funny, when you read the nameplates you say, oh yeah, I remember those. The Mercury Cougar convertible looks great in blue, did you know that Canadian Mercury’s were called Monarchs? The Lucerne is pretty luxe, I like the big crown badges. Seems like you could do anything back then.

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Pontiac, they always seemed so stylish. The green ’53 is gorgeous, I love the mid-century chief medallion, the hood ornament lights up too, seriously. A mid-70’s Grand Am, 1964 GTO, a red Fiero and a gold 1979 Trans Am are also representing. Oldsmobile, the pride of Lansing, a late 50’s Super 88, seemingly wearing as much chrome as paint, is glistening in the sun. The 1965 442 is a great example of Oldsmobile’s contribution to the world of musclecars. I’d bet they caused their fair share of trouble on Woodward avenue back in the day.

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The Packard plant on Grand Boulevard is well known in the Detroit area, for years urban explorers have taken clandestine trips through its hallowed halls. Tours are offered to explore the decaying remains and offer hope for the future. Somewhere along the way I wonder if the resplendent automobiles that rolled down the assembly line have been forgotten in the process.  Always known for their elegance and signature grille, Packard’s have always appealed to me. The ’31 is lovely in beige and tan, how about the Art Deco styling cues of the 1940. I could see myself in the two-tone turquoise 1956 Four-Hundred, the instrument cluster looks like it’s out of an airplane…

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In 1954 the amalgamation of Nash and Hudson Motors formed the beginnings of American Motors Corporation. At the time it was the largest merger of corporations in US history. Hard to believe that the ultra luxurious early 30’s Nash in front of me is a distant relative to the Gremlin! The burgundy Hudson Hornet looks more like a custom with its chopped fastback roofline; it must have looked really slick when it appeared in 1950. I love the medallion on the Marlin Fastback, so mid-century. I’ve got to admit, I think the Gremlin and Pacer are really cute cars; I get a kick out of the one with the Levi interior.

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There are so many cars here, so many brands…We pass a group of Corvairs, they were assembled at the Willow Run plant. In the Brass Era we see a 1913 Cole, a 1911 Ann Arbor and an EMF, none of which we’ve ever heard of before.  The 1929 Willy’s Knight is fabulous, it even has a Knight for a hood ornament. There are all kinds of Studebakers; a ’27 Roadster, a President in blue, a Super Hawk and the unusual 1963 Avanti which came with a super-charged engine from the factory. Edsels are distinct, the taillights on the 1960 Ranger unlike any others. Each vehicle is adorned with a million little details, hood ornaments are works of art, trim pieces, door handles, shifters, fabrics, wheels and dashboards are thoughtfully designed. You knew a Plymouth from a Mercury, a Nash from a Hudson. You could get practically any color of the rainbow, inside and out. The good ol’ days.

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Ypsi is home to really good restaurants, today we’re eating at Bona Sera on Michigan Ave, they serve creative Italian fare with a southern twist. Two walls of windows allow lots of natural light to fill the space, primary colors are used on the walls and in the decor, potted plants give a sense of warmth, paper lanterns and a tin ceiling add a bit of whimsy. Everything on the brunch menu sounds delicious, we order the waffle served with Calder’s whipped cream and a pile of fresh fruit. we are not disappointed. The biscuits and gravy are fantastic; buttermilk biscuits smothered in sausage gravy and topped with two over-easy eggs, it looks like I licked my bowl clean. 

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River St is bustling today, coffee shops, a food co-op and shops have livened up the district. Cultivate Coffee and Tap House serves, as you may have guessed, craft coffee and draft brews, we’re here for the coffee. I read the list of selections while I stand in line, I order two cold brews; Kris has found us seating at a community table towards the back. The space is cozy and attractive and very busy today; I’d say the sales of beer to coffee is about equal. Feeling revived after a nice meal and a coffee it’s time to hit the road.  

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Port Huron: Floating Sculpture

3 Oct

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The Michigan chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society is hosting the 2018 ACBS International Boat Show on the Black River in Port Huron. Participants began arriving earlier in the week; group activities and tours through the St Clair Flats show people around the Blue Water Region, guides tell visitors about the amazing local boating history and legendary men Christopher Smith and Gar Wood. Boaters, collectors and curious people from the United States and Canada are gathered along the length of River Street Marina, nearly 200 boats have made the trek and are on display for the public. We arrive early in the day, fog hangs low, I hope it burns off soon. A stairway leads us down to the river bank, we start at the 10th Street bridge, looking ahead we can see boats double and triple parked all the way to the Erie Street bridge, crowds of people mingle along the sidewalk, excited visitors wearing orange life jackets line up for a free ride on a classic boat.

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We don’t own a classic boat, it’s the beauty, styling and craftsmanship that brings us here today. Chris Craft outnumbers brands such as Lyman, Century, Higgins, Larson, Gar Wood; each one unique and eye-catching. Mahogany, Teak, chrome, red is a popular interior color, signs are on display listing the brand, size, motor and owner’s name. The humidity is high, the fog beginning to lift as we proceed down the river. Some owners go to great lengths with their displays; Lily has her own lily pads, “Rhubarb” is here all the way from Washington State with lots of pretty little rhubarb details, tables are set, picnic baskets are filled with goodies, antique water skis are ready to go. Boat designs reflect the automobiles of the time; steering wheels, big chrome emblems, dashboards filled with gauges, knobs and levers, tinted windshields, chrome exhaust tips. Engine compartments are open, men on docks stand and stare, fiberglass bodies are designed like automotive fins, wide stripes, bright colors, so cool!

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All shapes and sizes are present; cruisers, runabouts, classic launch and utility. The Higgins is a showstopper in red and white, I love the wrap-around windshield. The two-toned Chris Craft looks sweet with a red interior, I’m liking the wooden boats with the black-painted sides too. Kris’s favorite so far is the 21′ 1961 Chris Craft Continental with a Lincoln 275 hp motor, it’s fabulous in turquoise, gold seat inserts and funky roof supports, it screams 1960’s. A pair of silver boats are tied to a dock, they look like something Batman would drive. I’m surprised how many boats have multiple levels, I can only imagine the view from the top. The woodwork and attention to detail is exceptional, everything was thoughtfully designed, beauty was as important as function. Restoration photos always blow my mind, the time and effort put in can only be described as a labor of love. My favorite photos are the ones of the father and son, brothers, best buddies, arms around each others back, wide grins, standing in front of the finished project.

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Vendors are set up on the grass, they come from all over to sell boat-centric items from jewelry and clothing to wax and ACBS souvenirs. The most adorable boat wagons I’ve ever seen, ok, the only ones I’ve ever seen, are for sale along with rocking horse boats and wooden boat hats, all very clever. We climb up the stairs pausing on the bridge, here we have a great view of the show, a whole different visual perspective of the boats, a gorgeous sight. Following the Black River we end up at the mouth where it joins the St Clair River, boats are filled with passengers coming and going, all enjoying the deep blue water and now sunny sky. Freighters pass in the distance, a little red boat with polka dot curtains looks minuscule in comparison. The old railroad bridge still reaches straight up, it’s become a bit of an icon, a landmark, I hope they never get rid of it.

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Walking back through the show we stop at several boats to get a closer look, some of the cruisers are open to the public to come aboard. This time I notice the steering wheel of Wilgold is on the left like a car. I ask around and learn that boat propellers turn clockwise. Hulls used to be designed in such a way that when there was torque on the prop the right side of the boat would rise up. The steering wheel was put on the right so the weight of the driver would counteract that. Modern hulls don’t have that problem but the design stuck. Most racing boats have the steering wheel on the left.  A trailer contains a Lyman display, photos show the old factory in its glory days in Sandusky OH. We actually stopped in that building last summer. It’s now event space but the owners have kept a bit of the Lyman heritage alive with boats and memorabilia.

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Back at 10th Street we climb the hill towards the parking lot. A group of antique cars are on display for the festivities. Packards, Pierce Arrow, Lincoln, Auburn (a boattail of course) and even a Wills Sainte Clair join the gathering. Ernest Camera Shop has a vehicle here with antique reproduction Kodak advertising on it, looks great. Time to get some food, it has turned into a perfect September day, waterside dining is a must.

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Courses is located in the Culinary Institute of Michigan, part of the Baker College system. Students get world-class training in baking and pastry, culinary arts, food and beverage management. Students learn the art and business side of the food service industry. The building sits on a grassy hill next to the old Thomas Edison Inn, now the Double Tree Hotel, overlooking the St Clair River, Canada and the Blue Water Bridge–how’s that for scenery? Students are the hosts, servers, bartenders and chefs. A tv above the bar allows you to watch the students at work in the kitchen. There’s an open table right in front of the windows, perfect, we are greeted quickly, given menus and water.  Our server arrives with the signature bread basket, takes our order and heads to the kitchen. We satisfy our hunger with pretzel rolls, cranberry bread, bread sticks and sweet muffins topped with blue cheese. The food arrives and we dig in without hesitation. I’m having today’s pasta which is fettuccine with a vodka sauce topped with roasted vegetables, it’s wonderful. Kris has the German stew, tender chunks of meat in a rich smoky sauce with peppers and onions topped with spaetzle, very good. Courses is open Wed-Fri from 11:30 – 2:00 when classes are in session. Check the website before you come, a reservation is never a bad idea. The food is delicious, prices are fair and the view is unbeatable.

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Metamora

21 Sep

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This year Metamora Hunt is celebrating its 90th year. We’re here for the 10th Annual Hunt Country Stable Tour, a self-guided tour that allows participants an up-close, personal visit to 6 area farms. Metamora Hunt Country is the area from Ray Rd to Sutton Rd and Metamora Rd to Havens Rd; proceeds from the tour go toward maintaining the bridle paths. We start at the Hunt Kennels on Barber Rd where we purchase tickets and pick up our maps; the first stable is just down the road. Red House Farm was established in the 1880’s by the Morse family, the current owner added a horse stable and a smokehouse. As soon as we arrive we see the namesake Red House trimmed in white, porches are adorned with fancy spindles and trim, seasonal wreaths hang on the doors. The in-ground pool behind the house surprises us, it’s so inviting it’s hard not to be tempted to dive in. Perennial gardens are jam-packed with tall grasses, Black-Eyed Susan, butterfly bush and Russian sage; the Cleome are stunning.

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Old Magnolia Farm is just as beautiful as I remember it. 100 acres of riding trails, wooded areas, hay fields and of course the elegant home and stable. The grass is green and lush, the split-rail fence is black, gentle, rolling hills make up the terrain; you’d swear you were in Kentucky horse country. We stop in the tack room with its casual sitting area, cold bottles of water and sugar cookies in the shape of horses set out for guests. Horses appear content in their luxurious surroundings, they don’t seem to mind the extra attention from today’s visitors. We stroll along the covered walkway leading from the stable to the main house, mounds of Hydrangea wrap the corners of the home. Standing in the front yard we pause to take in the sight, there is tons of architectural detail, from the wrought iron on the second level to the more than a dozen arches surrounding the front porch, shrubs are perfectly manicured, flower-studded urns flank the front patio–sigh. Yeah, it’s that beautiful.

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Black Fawn Farm covers 15 acres, the stable and house match in grey with crisp white trim and black shutters. They have a great horse weathervane. Outside I visit with the animals, a donkey shares yard space with horses, he’s doing his best to get his share of attention. There are 5 fenced paddocks, a carriage barn and a horse barn with a pretty southern yellow pine interior.

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Stonehedge is home to many of the country’s top Arabian horses, it’s also a prominent breeding facility. The long, rustic-looking stable sits on wooded property, inside, horse stalls wear the name of each tenant; as I pet each one I call them by name. We wander around the barn complex into the arena, we end up in the indoor round pen designed by the owner, definitely unique.

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Stonefield Farm is 80 acres of land, the home, designed by architect John Vinci, is built in the style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Horizontal in nature the structure looks as if it’s built into the landscape, there are lots of windows to overlook the property, landscaping is naturalized. It’s s bit of a hike back to the barn built earlier this year. I’m going to make it up and say the barn is built of Pine, whatever kind of wood it is, it’s lovely. We enter through a sliding door and find ourselves in a cozy family room type space. That same beautiful wood makes up the interior, couches look comfy and inviting, there’s even a mini kitchen. The stable area has that same cozy touch; the wood and wrought iron stalls give the barn a very open feel, I could definitely hang out here.

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Stump Lane Farm has been owned by the same family since 1956, the name comes from the grass lane lined with tree stumps set on end, you can find more tree trunk sections embedded into the cement in the old section of the barn. The house is a beauty in white with black shutters, flowers spill from window boxes. We walk over to see the horses, the white fellow catches a glimpse of us and trots over for a visit. Before we leave we cross the road and watch the herd of cows in the pasture. The little ones seem as curious about us as we are about them.

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Let’s eat! White Horse Inn re-opened in November of 2014 after a complete restoration, with its equestrian theme and homage to the days of fox-hunting and stagecoaches it’s the only proper place to eat today. As much as I love the interior, the weather is patio-perfect. Striped umbrellas hover over wrought iron tables and chairs, the exterior of the beautiful stone fireplace and weathered cedar adds a lovely touch. We start with the Orchard Salad; mixed greens, blue cheese, diced apple, candied walnuts and dried cherries splashed with maple vinaigrette. I love the different textures and the balance of sweet and tart. There’s a grilled cheese sandwich on special today; thick bread grilled with a blend of cheeses, sautéed onions and jalapeno peppers, the bread has a nice crunch and the filling oozes out with every bite, yum! The waffle fries are excellent.

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After much anticipation Metamora General has opened right across the street. Brought to you by the same folks who own White Horse, the store is a blend of neighborhood coffee shop, convenience store, boutique and wine shop–you really have to see it to get it. It is no surprise the shop is beautiful; from the relaxing patio area with casual seating and fall decor to the interior with its opulent chandeliers, cafe tables, grey subway tile and the handmade wood floor. The shop is still in its infancy, you can get an espresso and drink it in the quaint surroundings, pick up a bottle of wine and a gift your party host, find a scarf or new handbag or grab one of Max’s donuts and a fountain drink for the road. Eventually there will be more food items and wine by the glass so stay tuned.

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One more stop… Red Barn ~ Metamora is this great home accessory, found objects, antiques, furniture, gift shop located inside of, you guessed it, a big red barn. Outside Kris checks out the old tractor, I head inside, it’s extremely charming–that may have something to do with those strings of white lights I’m always telling you about. Items range from wicker chairs, antique bed frames, art deco, old signs, bird cages, milk glass, vintage mirrors, milk glass, candles, well, you get the idea. The owner has a great eye, she chooses quality merchandise and arranges it in a very appealing way. Every time we come there’s always something new. The stable tour only happens once a year but you can take a nice scenic ride to horse country any time.

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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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FLINT: Touring..

3 Aug

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Today we are about 66 miles northwest of Detroit in the city of Flint MI for the Be A Tourist In Your Home Town event. You have undoubtedly heard of the water crisis that started in 2014 and is still ongoing. Progress is being made; the city is back on the Detroit water system, lead pipes are being replaced, water is being monitored closely; it’s a process. A century and a half ago Flint was a center for the lumber industry, revenue from lumber financed the local carriage-making industry. As horse-drawn carriages were replaced by automobiles, Buick, AC Spark Plug and Chevrolet all took up residence here. By 1908 Buick became the largest manufacturer of automobiles thanks to William C Durant, founder of GM. The city thrived, beautiful buildings sprouted downtown, lovely neighborhoods were built. Then as it often happened to industrial cities, factories closed, moved away, jobs left; Flint was devastated. Today manufacturing still leads employment with medical and education not too far behind. These days the city is reaching out to the youth who attend U of M Flint, Mott, Kettering and Baker, making it more appealing for them to stay put with a revitalized downtown that includes new retail, coffee shops, cafes, trendy restaurants and breweries. We’re excited for the opportunity to show you the positive side of Flint.

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We purchase a wristband for $1 each, this gets us into historic buildings, bus tours and cultural institutions; a program lists attractions, participating restaurants and bus routes. The 7-story  Ferris Wheel Building is our first stop, built in the late 1920’s the Art Deco structure was the home to Pringle Furniture, Gainey Furniture and most recently Ferris Bros Furs; hence the name. At approximately 40,000 sq. ft. the building has been vacant for nearly 40 years. Now a shared workspace, the building is home to entrepreneurs, inventors, small businesses, a community meeting space and event venue. Foster Coffee Company is located on street level in what is basically the lobby of the building, a large seating area fills the main floor of the adjoining building, tables and counter seating along the front window are in the Ferris space. We order a couple of cold brew coffees, choose a vanilla bean scone and take up residence in the front window; the scone is outstanding and pairs perfectly with the rich, smooth coffee. Kris gets up and takes photos while I peruse the program, there’s a ton of things to see and do!

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A guided tour through the building is about to begin, we join the group. Everything is painted white as far as I can see, work tables and lounge areas are scattered throughout the main floor, black and white photos show the building when it was the fur company, Flint-centric items connect the past to the present. The office of 100K Ideas is to the right, they offer budding entrepreneurs guidance and assistance to take their business from ‘napkin sketch to prototype’, a few examples of success stories are on display. The tour moves upstairs, adjustable glass panels and doors allow tenant space to be reconfigured as needed, rent is paid on a month to month basis, if you don’t need an office you can just have access to the work areas for a smaller fee; currently there are over 40 members of Ferris Wheel. Up a couple of stories floor to ceiling windows provide a panoramic view of downtown, cozy seating areas are set up near front and back windows creating a waiting area for potential customers; a community kitchen is on each floor.  There’s a bit of a buzz on this floor as models race to and fro preparing for a fashion show. We take the stairs back to the mezzanine level overlooking the main floor, a new group of tourists has assembled in the lobby. It’s good to see so many people out exploring today.

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A short walk down Saginaw St. is Cafe Rhema, they are participating in today’s event with a discount for ‘tourists’, it’s lunch time so let’s check it out. This is the former Economy Shoes building, it was the first building to be renovated in the downtown area; there’s a small marquee on the front of the building with the name of the cafe spelled out in free-standing letters above, velvet ropes and a red carpet lead us to the door. Inside it looks like a place right out of the Roaring 20’s; charming seating areas have antique furnishings, vintage lighting, black and white photos complete the decor, it’s so pretty. The cafe serves craft coffee and espresso drinks, bubble tea, baked goods, sandwiches, salads and waffles. We order at the counter, employees are dressed in period clothing–think Great Gatsby, very cool. We sit at a community table with other couples also doing the tour today, we talk about what we’ve seen so far until the food arrives. The Puttin’ On The Ritz waffle is baked with apples and cinnamon, topped with whipped cream and maple syrup, it’s really good. The Prohibition Pig is a panini with honey-roasted ham, bacon, house infused bourbon bbq sauce, cheddar, sweet and spicy mustard on bread from Crust Bakery in Fenton, delicious! On our way out we stop at the counter again just to check out the desserts, they look amazing but we can’t eat another bite. Kris notices the taps, one says Espresso Root Beer, the other Brown Sugar Bourbon, turns out they make their own soda pop too. We try a sample of each, they’re excellent. The cafe is one of those really unique places you feel lucky to have found; from the staff to the menu to the decor, everything about it is well done.

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We walk through downtown, cross the Flint River on a pedestrian bridge to Carriage Town; this is where the automotive industry got its start in Flint. It’s funny how things come together. There were men with ideas, movers and shakers; Durant, Dort, Louis Chevrolet, David Buick, Alfred Sloan. The Durant-Dort Carriage Company, founded by Josiah Dallas Dort and William Crapo Durant, became the world’s largest volume producers of horse drawn carriages, which eventually evolved into automobiles and from all of this General Motors was born in 1908. Ok, that’s extremely simplified but you get the picture. We have arrived at General Motors Durant-Dort Factory One, it’s open to visitors today, let’s see what it’s all about. Originally established in 1886 as the Flint Road Cart Company, this historic Flint GM plant is referred to as the American automakers birthplace. The red-brick building has been completely restored; it’s now home to the Kettering Archive Collection which contains about 100,000 historical documents, photos and artifacts related to Flint’s GM history and the Factory One Conference Center. Statues of Dort and Durant stand close by, keeping an eye on things.

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A National Park Service sign in the lobby dedicates the building as a Motorcities Automobile National Heritage Area, a volunteer shows us which way to go. We’re in a large museum-like room, there’s a lot to look at. Glass cabinets display Flint football memorabilia; programs, trophies, a football and a varsity letter. Framed black and white historic photographs of factory buildings, people and advertisements hang on exposed brick walls. A small collection of items belonging to David Buick are grouped together, antique automotive parts and modern pieces sit side by side, vintage advertisements rest on easels. In the reference area leather-bound manuals fill bookshelves, they even have the mini-carriage used for the Fisher Body logo–next time you’re in the Fisher Building in Detroit look for the logo. 

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In the conference center you really get a feeling for the age of the building, look at those original wooden beams; much of the original structure still exists. Beautiful antique automobiles take center stage, I like the white wheels and tires on the midnight blue Buick, I’m happy they saved the original stone lettering from the Buick factory. You had to have lots of windows to let sunlight in back in those days, the whole room is awash in natural light. A short film is about to start, we take seats at round tables to watch. The film takes us through Flints early days as a mecca of the wagon industry, how David Buick’s plumbing expertise helped him to design his internal combustion engine, how Durant bought up several automakers and brought them together under GM, did you know he lost GM not once but twice? Every time I watch a historical film like this my mind wanders to the local road names, I say to myself, oh, that’s where Dort Hwy came from or I didn’t know there was really a guy named Chevrolet. History is fascinating and we’re having fun at the same time.

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The Thumb: Be Cool…

21 Jul

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It’s in the mid 90’s… again; we scan the weather forecast, looks like the Lake Huron breeze is going to help us out, low 80’s on the thumb coast. We point the car north and aim for the tip of the thumb, in less than 2 hours we’re looking at the beautiful blue waters of Lake Huron. Kris zig zags his way north and west to Caseville Rd, we make a right on 25, this is where the view gets really good. The lake is gorgeous, a kaleidoscope of blues and greens, cars fill cottage driveways, beach-goers have their arms full carrying towels, coolers and floating devices, I swear I can smell Coppertone in the breeze. We follow the shoreline north and slightly east, public parks and beaches are in high demand today. We catch glimpses of the lake between cottages; many look like they were built in the 1950’s, others are new and stately like something from HGTV. We reach Port Austin, park and walk out to the lake. The town is buzzing with tourists, lines form at restaurants and cafes, we have something else in mind.

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A short drive from downtown Port Austin on Grindstone Rd leads us to The Tap Room At Bird Creek Farms. The 40-acre farm grows alfalfa for local dairy farmers, vegetables, strawberries, raspberries, edible flowers; their largest crop is garlic. The large white farmhouse has an inviting wrap-around porch, pretty planter boxes and colorful hanging pots; all of the activity is out back. The covered deck plays host to a corrugated metal bar, mismatched bar stools and tables; a brief menu lists today’s food offerings, a chalkboard lists beverages. Kris is drinking B Nektar’s Zombie Killer, I’m having Blake’s Flannel Mouth; crisp and cool it’s perfect for a day like today. Before long cardboard serving cartons arrive filled with Sausage Gravy Poutine Fries, traditional BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos and Baja Tacos. Everything is very tasty, they even manage to keep the fries crispy under all that yummy gravy. 

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Continuing our lakeside journey we drive on to Grindstone City. In the mid 1800’s two companies operated out of two quarries producing grindstones; by 1888 the population rose to 1500 people. Unable to survive the Great Depression the companies folded. There are two buildings left in the Historic District, one of them is the 3-story grain mill, the other is Rybak’s Ice Cream Store built in 1884 by Capt. A.G. Peer. Visitors sit on benches placed on the deep front porch when we arrive, each has their hands full eating humongous ice cream cones. The building is charming in that very old-fashioned way; floors creek, black and white photos line the walls, antique lights illuminate the space, posts are quite decorative. There are a variety of items for sale, candies, cards, gifts and notions; I’m here for the ice cream. I study the list of Guernsey flavors and choose the mint chocolate chip, it has some kind of dark chocolate cookie chunks in it too, it’s sooo good! I have to eat it quickly before it all melts.

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White Church Gallery is just across the street, I meet Kris inside. The building is a simple white church with red-trimmed Gothic-style windows. Inside purple paint covers the walls, a mix of old and new light fixtures hang from the ceiling; the way the light is coming in right now everything seems to glow. In the front room a gorgeous Art Nouveau cabinet is used to display the works of Michigan fine artists. We wander around on wide-plank floors looking at photography, lovely jewelry, life-like paintings, stained glass and  attractive wooden bowls.

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We are headed south and east on 25 passing through Historic Huron City. This was a lumber town back in the mid 1800’s, several of the original buildings still remain, they are maintained through the Lyon Phelps Foundation. The buildings are open to tour on Saturdays in July and August from 11 am – 4 pm. The Pointe Aux Barque Lighthouse is next. The original lighthouse was constructed of stone taken from the shores of Lake Huron in 1848,the light keepers house was separate from the tower. This area was complete wilderness back then, winters were rough, storms were wicked. The weather and a fire took their toll on the building, a new structure was built in 1857, this time living quarters were attached to the tower. The light is still in use making it one of the oldest, continuously operating lights on the Great Lakes.

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The house and tower have been completely restored, it’s now a museum open to the public and it’s free. Let’s go in. We walk around in the house where the light keeper lived, rooms are tiny, I like the turquoise stove in the kitchen. Artifacts are on display; models of ships, books, newspaper articles, blueprints of the building and a lens. The sleeping quarters are upstairs, there’s an old wood-burning stove to keep the family warm and a pitcher and bowl for washing up. You had to maximize space so rooms were multi-purpose, beds share the space with a sitting area and desk. Back on ground level we learn more about the history of the lighthouse and the people who lived here. 

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Outside we walk around the grounds, in 1875 a Class A lifesaving station was built south of the house, it was the first lifesaving station on the Great Lakes. In 62 years of service the crews performed over 200 rescues. Walking toward Lake Huron I stop and read the signs telling us about shipwrecks and storms, the Great Storm of 1913 also referred to as the “White Hurricane” is legendary, it was a blizzard with hurricane-force winds. It killed 250 people, destroyed 19 ships and stranded 19 others. Today the lake is calm and beautiful, bluish-green water laps at the rocky shore, trees cling to the coast line, wildflowers grip the sandy soil, the water is clear to the bottom. Kris traverses the rocks, you can see how they’ve broken away from the shoreline. Notice their unusual coloring, almost like they’re rusty, moss covers the ones closest to shore, it’s slippery so he has to be careful. Meanwhile I stand on shore looking out into infinity.

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25 leads us through Port Hope and Harbor Beach, the beaches, lake and piers are shrouded in swimsuit clad visitors. We stop in Lexington to get something cold to drink, to our delight the Cadillac House Inn and Tavern is open. The building has been completely renovated back to its 1859 glory. When it opened July 4, 1860, it was such a big deal they celebrated with a parade and a steamer ship brought guests all the way from Detroit for the occasion. The 3-story Italianate structure has never looked better! We enter the building and are greeted with a blast of cold air, the dining room is busy, guests are in a waiting area to be seated. There are empty bar stools at the bar, perfect. Kris orders a craft cocktail with Gin, blueberries and lemon, I’m having a Kalamazoo Stout. I like the simple interior; antique-looking lights, wide moldings and wood beams. It feels good to sit back, cool off and enjoy a drink. It’s nice to see people embracing the old Cadillac House once again. It’s been a full day of Lake Huron adventures, we’ve enjoyed good food, good booze lake breezes and unbeatable views.