Tag Archives: Ypsilanti

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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YPSILANTI: Fire Trucks & Food

14 Apr

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There is a wonderful ritual that takes place each spring; no it’s not the Tulips and Daffodils emerging from the cold ground or the blossoms and sweet scent of flowering trees….It’s the official opening of our beloved Drive-In restaurants! If you have ever eaten at Bill’s Drive-In located in Ypsilanti, you totally get what I am talking about. Though Bills had been open for a few weeks, it was our first opportunity to make the trip out to Ypsi.

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Best known for being the home of Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti has a lot to offer; from beautiful historic neighborhoods and a downtown on the comeback to independent shops and restaurants that have called Michigan Avenue home for decades. Our first stop in Ypsi was the Michigan Firehouse Museum located on Cross St. This gorgeous building was the original 1898 firehouse, in 2002 a multi-level addition was added. The museum takes you through the history of firefighting; from technology used to fight fires to the equipment and tools. When you step into the main exhibit space you are greeted by rows of impressive vintage fire trucks. There are no ropes to prevent you from getting right up close to these magnificent vehicles; it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the equipment through the years. The museum possesses the largest collection of fire truck bells in the country, and you know what else? You can try them out! Glass cases line the walls detailing the evolution of helmets and breathing apparatus, some of them are pretty creepy looking….The second level overlooks the main floor giving a wonderful overall view of the firetrucks. You will find display cases filled with hats, toy fire trucks and other interesting memorabilia, remember Smokey The Bear? From here cross over into the original building; this is the original bunk area complete with brass pole! Unfortunately, the pole is off-limits, so you have to take the stairs back down to the main level. Being someone who loves old things, this is my favorite area. Large wood cabinets hold vintage lanterns, it seems everything from the trucks and decoratively painted wheels to the accessories are he handsome and elegant. An original switchboard hangs on the wall, there’s a stunning 1910 ladder wagon, and an amazing example of a 1878 fire engine steamer complete with horses. The lower level is host to a group of original vehicles belonging to fire chiefs and a children’s area. The museum brings back the old childhood fascination of fire trucks!

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The short drive down Michigan Avenue to Bill’s Drive-In was filled with great anticipation; would it be as good as we remembered? The small wooden building is appropriately painted Mustard Yellow and Root Beer Brown, you eat from a tray that hangs on your car window, or a picnic table in the lot. I read that Bill’s has been around since the early 50’s and the recipe has always stayed the same, why mess with perfection? As soon as we were parked a car-hop came over to take our order; there are no menus here, they only serve coneys, plain potato chips and their own homemade root beer, perfect for the indecisive diner. I’ll start with the coneys; the hot dogs are made with a special recipe by Dearborn Sausage, they are placed in perfectly steamed buns and given a blanket of, in my opinion, the perfect chili topping. I would describe it as a more mild, sweet and smooth chili sauce, dressed with yellow mustard and minced onion, it arrives wrapped in white tissue. It is the tastiest coney I’ve ever had, they’re one of Kris’s favorites too. Then there’s the Root Beer, if you like Root Beer, you have to try Bill’s. With one big pull on the straw your mouth will be in Root Beer heaven; it’s like drinking one of those old-fashioned root beer barrel hard candies that has been rolled in superfine sugar…..outstanding! Many patrons buy a gallon of the stuff to take home. The day was mild so we ate our dogs outside using the trunk as a table, they were even better than I remembered!

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It’s always worth a drive through downtown Ypsi to see what’s new, we noticed a couple of new things so we parked to take a look. We first checked out a retail shop named Mix, it has a wonderful blend of new and used items; women’s clothing, furniture, accessories, household goods and even some art. The shop is laid out attractively and is fun to browse through. Across the street is Mix Market Place, as you may have guessed, it is owned and operated by the same owners as the retail Mix. The marketplace is an indoor collection of local entrepreneurs in a farmer’s market type setting. There was a definite buzz of activity when walked in the door; food vendors offered up samples of their specialized goodies, The Ugly Mug Cafe filled the air with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. From gourmet food and hand-made stationery to antique goods and artisan soaps there was a little bit of everything. Vendors vary from week to week, so you never know what you may discover.

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There was one more new place we wanted to check out: B-24’s Espresso Bar, just a little way up Michigan Ave. Named in honor of Ypsilanti’s heritage, B-24’s were built locally at Willow Run, the cafe features coffee, tea, fresh-baked goods and Guernsey Ice Cream. The cafe seems to be a popular gathering spot for locals of all ages. Though the baked goods looked very good, between the coneys, root beer and free samples at the marketplace, we were unable to partake in any of them. Instead we got our beverages to go and began the journey home.

Ypsilanti; Antiques & Automobiles

20 Apr

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After a late night of watching the Detroit Derby Girls udderly destroy the Madison Dairyland Dolls 205-53, we awoke to a cold and dreary Sunday. Not nice enough for outdoor activities, we got in the car and headed west. It is not uncommon to find us driving down a scenic road on a Sunday listening to Prairie Home Companion, and that’s exactly what we did.

There is a Vietnamese restaurant we’ve been wanting to try in Ypsilanti called Dalat, located on Michigan Avenue, so that was our first destination. It turned out to be a good place to eat, the menu is huge, pages and pages to choose from. We selected three different dishes, each being distinct and tasty.

Ypsilanti is about five miles east of Ann Arbor, it has a central downtown along Michigan Avenue, and a restored 19th century district called Depot Town, located on Cross St.  Like A2 Ypsi is also home to a university, EMU, so there is a lot of activity. Our next stop was just down the street from the restaurant, so we braved the gusting winds and walked down to Materials Unlimited. Upon entering we were greeted by the unmistakable sound of Billie Holiday singing in the background, setting the mood for our visit. You don’t even know where to look as you walk in,  inevitably your eyes travel upward, following the light of dozens and dozens of antique chandeliers dangling from the ceiling.  What’s your fancy? Art Nouveau, Victorian, maybe something Art Deco, it’s all here. From light fixtures to furniture, and mantles to stained glass, there are three floors to meander.The pieces have all come from the finest homes and businesses of a time gone by, and are all available for purchase.

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We were going to Depot Town to visit the Automotive Heritage Museum and Miller Motors Hudson. You might be surprised to learn that Ypsi has an impressive automotive history for a city of it’s size;  Hudson, Kaiser, Tucker, and GM all produced vehicles in this town. GM’s powertrain division (f.k.a. Hydramatic) produced automatic transmissions here too. Ypsilanti is home to the worlds last Hudson dealer,  which is now incorporated into the museum complex. You can see original Hudson memorabilia and cars on display. The museum highlights the importance of  this city and its manufacturing history.  There are rows of vintage cars, engines, and lots of photos to tell the story. This museum is a treat for the auto enthusiast, but even if you’re not, you will certainly enjoy the nostalgia of the collection.

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Before heading back east and home we picked up a couple of coffees and a chocolate chip cookie at a place called the Ugly Mug. It is a small space that roasts their own beans and serves really good coffee. The locals seem to like it here, as there was not a table available. That’s what cup holders are for, so we got ours ‘to go’.