Tag Archives: Vintage Automobiles

The Burbs: Hidden Treasures

13 Apr

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It’s the first Saturday of the month, we’re driving down 26 mile in New Baltimore we turn onto N Bay Dr, cars flood one parking lot in particular, we don’t need to see the address to know it’s the Stahls Automotive Foundation building. The contents of the building belong to one man, Ted Stahl, executive chairman of GroupeStahl which specializes in heat printing on fabrics. About 25 years ago Stahl began collecting vintage automobiles, outgrowing his previous space, his current ‘garage’ is a 45,000 sq. ft. building in Macomb County. The idea behind opening the doors to the public is to “build an appreciation for history.” “Each car was chosen based on engineering achievements that made it an important part of the evolution of the automobile.” There are over 80 vehicles on display, some are more than 100 years old. Let’s take a look.

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The lobby is home to an unexpected collection of music-playing devices. Juke boxes and a gorgeous, inlaid wood, Victorian Porter music box share the room with an amazing Hupfield Phonoliszt-Violina which plays 3 real violins along with a beautiful Mortier 87 key cafe organ in an Art Deco style cabinet dating from 1930. I’ve never seen anything like the Mills Violino-Virtuoso or the Wurlitzer PianOrchestra, they are all restored, operational, and works of art to look at, not to mention the beautiful melodies they produce. All of a sudden a loud, happy tune explodes into the air, it’s coming from the other room.

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We are now in the main section of the building, the music and all of the activity puts me in the mind of a circus. The music draws me to the largest instrument in the Stahl collection, a 1924 Wurlitzer theatre organ built for the Wurlitzer family mansion in Cincinnati. There are 1524 pipes ranging in size from 16′ high to the size of a pencil, an organist sits in front of the keyboard, his fingers dancing across the keys, people sit in folding chairs tapping their toes and smiling. Vehicles are arranged in chronological order, the oldest being a 1899 De Dion-Bouton Tricycle. There’s something to look at in every direction, signs, banners and flags hang from the ceiling and on the walls, vintage neon and porcelain steel signs from the 1920’s to the 50’s delight visitors. Gas pumps with fancy glass globes wear names like Polly, Gilmore and Sinclair. Memorabilia covers walls, sits in shelves and fills display cabinets, a Route 66 theme is carried out throughout the space.

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The cars, yes, those stunning mechanical works of art are the main attraction, get this, there are no ropes surrounding these incredibly valuable vehicles, you can walk right up to them, they even have towels draped across the top of the door so you can peek right inside. Hoods are up, tops are down, placards tell us about the vehicle, paint colors span the rainbow. Spoke wheels, huge headlights, wide white walls come on Hudson’s, Packards, Chryslers, to name a few. Special emphasis is placed on the cars of the 1930’s and 40’s, the Depression and Art Deco eras. The oldest is a 1886 Daimler prototype, the newest a 1967 Pontiac GTO Convertible, and of course there’s everything in between. Brands found here : Oldsmobile, Locomobile, Oakland, Ford, Chevrolet, Auburn, Cord, Duesenberg, Cadillac, Willy’s.

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Row after row of polished chrome, fancy hood ornaments, spectacular grills and leather interiors leave us in awe. Cars from movies such as The Great Race, The Reivers, the Whoville family sedan from How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Tucker look perfectly at home. Kris’s favorite is the magnificent deep blue 1932 Chrysler CL Imperial but I think he’d take any one of the American luxury cars from the 30’s, the details are incredible inside and out.

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We amble up and down aisles, all of a sudden the 1924 Mortier 97 key dance organ comes to life. Completely restored, this organ traveled through Belgium providing music and entertainment at 17 different fairs every year. It’s absolutely beautiful, the cream-colored cabinet is elaborately painted with landscape scenes, ornamental details are colored in pearly pastel colors, I just love it. In the corner is a life-size diorama of a Bob’s Big Boy complete with a soda fountain, like being back in the 50’s. Stahls Repair Garage pays tribute to the old-fashioned service station; you couldn’t get nachos or a slurpee, but there was a guy who actually pumped your gas, checked your oil and could even repair your car–ahhh, the good old days!

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 The whole time we’re here I have to keep reminding myself, this is some guy’s garage–and what a garage it is. It’s quite generous of the Stahl family to allow all of us a glimpse of his collection. There is no admission fee. The building is open every Tuesday from 1-4 pm and the 1st Saturday of the month from 11-4 pm. We encourage you to visit.

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From here we take 26 Mile into Marine City. We’re having lunch at Blue Pike Cantina on Water St. It’s a winery and smokehouse, you can do a wine tasting, buy bottles of wine and have a snack or a meal. After running out of wine at the end of the year, this is the first weekend they are open again. Inside, we are the only customers. The cozy space is fitted with wine racks, dining tables and counter space. Appetizing looking small plates are being placed in the glass cooler for display. We start with a glass of wine, Super Tuscan for me and Black Raspberry for Kris. The Italian Nachos come out first, homemade pasta chips drizzled with alfredo sauce and topped with Italian sausage, olives, pepper rings, green onions and tomato, it’s really good. Our smoked meatloaf sandwich is huge. Smoked meatloaf made in-house is sliced and placed on a kaiser roll, cole slaw and bbq sauce complete the sandwich, it arrives in a basket surrounded by housemade potato chips, delicious.

 

Grosse Pointe: Pier Park

7 Oct

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It’s the last Sunday in September, though it feels more like July; the sky is powder blue, the sun’s rays are strong, warming my skin while dancing on the surface of the water. We are at Pier Park, a waterfront paradise in Grosse Pointe Farms, at the foot of Moross Rd at Lake Shore Rd. The Grosse Pointe Farms Foundation is hosting the 8th Annual Concours d’ elegance; an exhibit of vintage and exotic, domestic and foreign vehicles owned by all Grosse Pointe residents and open to the public. It’s the perfect opportunity to check out the (residents only) park and look at beautiful cars.

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Following the asphalt path we walk along the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, I can’t get over how stunning the lake is today, it sparkles.  Walking, we notice benches tucked under shade trees, there’s a nice view of the Yacht Club to the left. The lake itself is home to numerous species of fish and waterfowl, it is the source of drinking water for over 4 million residents of Michigan and Canada. Freighters carry more than 60 million shipping tons per year of iron ore, limestone, coal and grain, nearly 40 million of that originating in Michigan, across the lake. Interestingly, the lake is very shallow, averaging only 10 feet in depth. 

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We enter the harbor area with 333 mooring spaces for Farms residents, boats vary in style and size; an old wooden Chris-Craft, cabin cruisers and offshores. High at the top of a mast a man is making electrical repairs,while he is totally at ease, watching him makes me nervous. The lake spreads out before us; pleasure boaters revel in the loveliness of the day, kayaks glide across the surface, a freighter heads downriver; through the camera lens we can see the windmills in Canada. Looking towards shore we see the Community Building, lush landscaping surrounds the patio area and screened porch, there’s a bevy of activity on the land and water. We stop in the building which is home to the Parks and Recreation office; the Great Room is inviting with its fireplace, wooden bookshelves and leather furniture.

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Back in the park we meander about, we come upon a sleek 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood in black, look at all that chrome! There’s a swank 1941 Caddy in blue with a silver top, wood panels and a Bakelite steering wheel are luxe, there’s a 1948 Buick convertible just down from that. The Detroit Electric Car was built by the Anderson Electric Car Co, the Houk wire wheels were manufactured in Buffalo, NY, in those days everything was clearly marked as to where it came from. The 1926 Chrysler is sweet; I like the way automobiles reflect the time period in which they were built–much like fashion and architecture.

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A red, Ford-powered, De-Tomaso Mangusta catches Kris’s eye as do the 1969 Shelby GT 500’s; bold stripes, scoops and Cobra emblems make them super-cool. The 1976 Trans Am has a lot of lookers, a customized 1961 Chevy Impala hugs the ground, everybody loves Ford T-Bird’s, this red ’66 is a beauty. Walking around we realize just how large the park is, it offers some of the best panoramic views in the Pointes.

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We head to the Village to grab some lunch, Side Street Diner is tucked away on St. Clair Ave, the restaurant plays tribute to the American lunch counter. Inside, old-fashioned diner lights, black and white historic photos and stool-seating at the counter take us back in time; a row of layer cakes are spread out across the counter top in glass-covered pedestals. Wall colors coordinate with floor tiles in yellow, orange, turquoise, a large fork and spoon hang near the kitchen. The menu is huge, Kris goes right to the breakfast page. Service is fast and friendly– within minutes our food arrives. The traditional Eggs Benedict are delicious; 2 poached eggs, Canadian bacon on English muffins, the hollandaise sauce is outstanding, the homefries are good too. Our server recommends the Apple pancakes, I can see why; 3 fluffy, tender, buttermilk pancakes generously topped with lightly sweet, cinnamon-y escalloped apples, yum! We split both things so it’s a nice combo of sweet and savory. 

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YPSILANTI: Redux

18 Mar

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 As DetroitDvotion nears its 4th anniversary, Kris and I thought it would be fun to go back to one of the places we wrote about in the beginning. Today we are revisiting Ypsilanti, just 35 miles west of Detroit, 6 miles east of Ann Arbor, it’s a short drive and always makes for an interesting day. Ypsi is probably best known as the home of Eastern Michigan University, here are a few other notable facts: The B-24 Bomber Plant was located here at Willow Run, later, that same plant produced Kaiser Frazer automobiles, followed by production of a number of GM vehicles and their Hydramatic Division. In 1960 Tom Monaghan founded Domino’s Pizza as DomiNicks Pizza at 507 W Cross St. In 1929 Miller Motors Hudson opens, it is now the last remaining Hudson Dealership in the world and our first stop in town.

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What used to be Miller Motors is now the National Hudson Motor Car Company Museum located within the Ypsilanti Automotive Heritage Museum; automobiles from each of Hudson’s five decades are on display. The museum tells the stories of Kaiser Frazer, Tucker, Hudson and General Motors Willow Run. You need not know anything about cars to enjoy this museum, between the beautiful automobiles, attractive displays and great stories, you’re sure to be entertained. Vintage signs hang from the ceiling, photos and drawings line the walls, engines and transmissions are on display, showcases are packed with memorabilia; the vehicles themselves are the star attractions. Hood ornaments are serious attention-getters, dashboards are gussied up with chrome details, Kaiser models look ready for a roadtrip, the cargo area is varnished wood. 

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A pale blue 1952 Hudson Hornet #92 is a visitor favorite; a NASCAR champion driven by Herb Thomas, his story is the inspiration for the 2006 Pixar film “Cars”. Hudson Hornets won 27 out of 34 NASCAR Stock Car races. We move through the decades from open carriage vehicles right through the 1970’s with a cool green 1974 GTO. One area features the Tucker story, Preston Tucker lived about 4 blocks from the museum, the home has been restored and you can drive by it and take photos. The 1946 Tucker touted safety features such as a rear engine, center headlight and pop-out windshield. There are great photos of the family and props from the movie Tucker: The Man and His Dream. 

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Up in the loft area we see a personal view of Ypsi; a showcase is filled with jackets, jerseys and trophies won by local sports teams sponsored by Hudson dealerships. Mechanic’s overalls, plaques, scale cars are all nestled into the small space. We overlook the main floor, a banner announces the new Terraplane, once popular names such as Rambler, Nash and Essex are recalled. back downstairs, there’s a sleek black Essex Terraplane 6, the 1929 Hudson Roadster in the Showroom is stunning. Throughout the space old gas pumps, neon signs and banners add to the atmosphere, a white 1954 Kaiser Darrin and a red Corvair are parked lengthwise against a row of Kaisers.

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Hydramatic transmissions fill the front room, operations were moved to the Willow Run plant after fire destroyed GM’s Detroit Transmission Plant in Livonia. Hydramatic manufactured automatic transmissions for 11 automobile companies outside GM’s own divisions, including Rolls Royce. In 57 years, 82 million automatic transmissions were built there. During the Viet Nam War M16 Rifles and aircraft cannons were also manufactured at that site. Willow Run Assembly produced the Corvair from 1959-69, it also manufactured Nova, Ventura, Omega, the 1974 GTO and other models for Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile and Chevrolet, I told you there was some amazing history here! On a sad note, after GM’s restructuring, the plant closed in 2010…..Ugh.

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Over on West Michigan Ave we’re going to look at some more old stuff at Materials Unlimited, an architectural salvage store. I could wander around this place for hours. The selection of antique lighting is extraordinary; straight from mansions, ballrooms and historic homes, pieces run the gamut from humble to extravagant. Candle wall sconces, ceiling fixtures powered by gas or electricity and table lamps that range in style from Neoclassical, Victorian, French, Colonial Revival to Louis XVI. Materials are antique brass, wrought iron and cut crystal. I’m a fan of colored glass; blue opal, cranberry, rose and amber are just some of my favorites.

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Everything in the store is beautiful! Items are neatly arranged and organized; individual pieces wear tags listing the origin, era and in some cases where it came out of, I stop and read every tag on the pieces I like the most. Glass shades are neatly arranged on shelves, brass door knobs and back plates are lined up in rows. Stained glass is displayed in the large front windows, one piece by Karl J Mueller has a price tag of $24,750.00. Crates of hardware seem endless; bronze mail slots, ice box hinges, pulls, knobs and door knockers can all be found here. Dining room sets feature enormously long tables, crystal wine glasses and decanters are lovely.

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Some areas are set up as vignettes; fireplace mantels and surrounds are decorated with andirons, chenets and beveled mirrors. Bathroom furnishings such as sinks and toilets are available in an array of colors, doors and windows come in every shape and size. Standing, neck craned, reading a tag, Kris comes and finds me to show me a piece he knows I’ll love, a black and white, Italian marble, double sink and vanity that belonged to the Fisher family. The marble is exotic, the faucet and spigot, a work of art. It was purchased for their home in Palmer Woods, they took it when they moved out and now it’s here for sale in Ypsi, check out the photo. 

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All this browsing has made us hungry, just up the street we stop in at Dalat for a late lunch. Both of us like Vietnamese food, but are not necessarily big fans of Pho; the menu here is HUGE, so much more to offer than a big bowl of soup. Our server greeted us quickly with menus and asks us what we want to drink; she returns with a pot of tea, answers our questions and takes our lunch order. We start with a fresh roll served with a tasty peanut sauce. A short while later our entrée’s arrive, since I’m not fluent in Vietnamese I can’t tell you the exact name of the dishes we had, but, what I can tell you is the food was delightful, fresh and tasty. A noodle dish; chopped romaine lettuce, chunks of egg roll, tender strips of seasoned beef and shrimp over steamed noodles. The other was a large, crispy crepe of sorts, yellow in color it was stuffed with shrimp, chicken and stir-fried vegetables. Portions are big but prices are not, each entrée was about $7.

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We drive around the city a little bit before heading home, Ypsi is loaded with beautiful architecture, there’s a quirky charm about Michigan Avenue, parts of it look like time has stood still—-I like that. Cities are like people, no two are exactly the same, each has its own personality and that’s what makes exploring them so much fun.