First there was the river. It was from this strait that the city obtained its sustenance, its commerce, its very name. Colonial strategists saw a doorway to the West. With the coming of the Erie Canal, Eastern merchants saw an ideal site for an inland port, open to navigation even when the straits of Mackinac froze over and closed off access to Chicago. As the Midwest matured into an industrial powerhouse, the river became one of the busiest shipping channels in the United States, bringing the raw materials necessary to feed a mushrooming city.
Like many American cities, Detroit watched as its river became host to a gritty, working waterfront, clogged with industry, laced with railroad and stuck with smokestacks and wharves.
It was only after World War II that civic leaders tried to harness the river’s potential as a natural wonder. Starting in the 1950s, plans took shape for transforming the low-rise and plug-ugly waterfront into a pleasure center.
This transformation of the waterfront has had an uneven history. Its hit-and-miss record has left small parks sandwiched between industrial properties. Much of the riverfront has long been home to weedy swaths of real estate and empty industrial buildings. What’s more, major projects have been poorly conceived, such as the ludicrously isolated and solidly fortified Renaissance Center, or even dismal failures, such as the long-shuttered Ford Auditorium.
But things are looking up for the troubled shoreline. A new group has its sights on the natural beauty. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy has embarked upon an ambitious mission to cobble together the riverfront parks with the remains of the city’s working riverfront and turn the shore into a recreational paradise. The plan calls for a riverwalk, a continuous public walkway from Joe Louis Arena to the MacArthur Bridge, a path more than 50 feet wide stretching for 3 1/2 miles, designed to accommodate bicyclists, rollerbladers and pedestrians.
In addition to this promenade, the state of Michigan is to construct the 31-acre Tricentennial Park, Michigan’s first urban state park. And General Motors, in addition to undoing the original design errors that flawed the Renaissance Center, is creating a riverfront promenade in its back yard, stretching out onto the river. A 63-foot-tall lighthouse has been erected at the entrance to the new St. Aubin Marina, and a new port facility is being built near Bates Street to welcome cruise and dining ships.
The plan builds on progress made at three riverfront parks (Mt. Elliott, Chene and St. Aubin) and redeveloped areas such as Stroh River Place, Harbortown, and UAW-GM’s human resources center. This flurry of activity has awakened new interest in developing the private lots held adjacent to the parks. Already there is talk of building housing on the former Uniroyal plant site adjacent to the MacArthur Bridge. The Detroit Riverfront Conservancy will be coordinating its activities with the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation in hopes of attracting developers.
The plan is working out well so far, with construction crews hard at work and money from companies, governments and foundations flowing into the project. There are discussions of extending the project west to the Ambassador Bridge, which would give the city a whopping 5-mile-long greenbelt from bridge to bridge.Michael Jackman is a copy editor and writer for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].
When the time comes that you just have to get away from it all and soak up the rejuvenating effects only nature can provide, the place to go is Kensington Metropark, a 4,357-acre treasure located in Milford.
What makes Kensington so special? In a word: variety.
There’s good reason some 2.5 million people a year make this park in Oakland County, along I-696 about an hour from downtown Detroit, the busiest in the Metropark system. Kensington, officially located at 2240 W. Bruno Rd., has it all — and then some.
Natural beauty abounds. Rolling, tree-covered hills surround lovely Kent Lake. At 1,200 acres, the lake formed by the Huron River offers two beaches for swimming. Anglers come for the bass (large and smallmouth), perch, northern pike, walleye, blue gills and the unfortunately named crappies. Two launches provide easy access to boaters. Paddleboats and rowboats can be rented. And for those who just want to sit back and glide across the water, there is the Island Queen II, a 49-passenger pontoon boat that makes hourly trips around the lake.
For those who prefer finding their fun on terra firma, there’s plenty to do. There are, of course, the requisite ball diamonds and picnic shelters, along with overnight camping sites (available to organized youth groups only). One of the park’s best features is its hiking trails — more than 8 miles’ worth — that pass through a tamarack bog, woods and open wetlands. If you prefer having your heart pumping a little faster while out enjoying nature, paved trails provide cyclists and in-line skaters plenty of room to roll.
Lovers of winged creatures can catch site of a great blue heron nesting in their springtime rookery, or possibly osprey, which have been re-established in the area through a special program. Volunteers help maintain bluebird nest boxes throughout the park, and a variety of programs are available throughout the year to assist bird watchers.
The park’s farm learning center — which includes a 150-year-old restored horse barn and poultry house — features horses, cows, ducks, sheep and pigs.
There’s a 20-station exercise trail and an 18-hole, par-71 regulation golf course that’s considered one of the better public courses in Michigan. Frisbee fans can take advantage of a 24-hole “disc golf course.”
But Kensington is more than just a warm weather kind of place. In the winter, there are more than 12 miles of groomed trails that can accommodate cross-country skiers of all skill levels. There are ice rinks for hockey and skating, and sledding hills. As if that’s not enough, there are also two toboggan runs.
You want more?
Well, there’s a nature center featuring live fish, snakes and honeybees.
There’s even more, but we’re getting kind of tired just talking about it all. You can learn more about Kensington, as well as other parks in the Huron-Clinton Metroparks system on the Web at www.metroparks.com.Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]
The original Rouge complex is now famous as Henry Ford’s masterpiece of vertical integration: a vast industrial facility that was fed raw materials and spit out finished motorcars. As author Ford R. Bryan writes in Rouge: Pictured in its Prime, the Rouge was “once the largest, most efficient, and most highly integrated automotive manufacturing complex in the world.”
For this fantastic industrial vision, Ford picked a site in Dearborn just a few miles from his birthplace, a large tract of land on the Rouge River, between the iron ore mines of the Great Lakes and the coalfields of the South. As those familiar with the complex know, any description of the heyday of the Rouge involves exhausting lists of stunning superlatives.
It had its own powerhouse, two blast furnaces, a foundry, coke ovens breaking coal down into coke and gas, massive storage bins, 100 miles of railroad, 120 miles of conveyers, 23 miles of roadways, a cement plant, a glass plant, a paper mill and carpenter shop, steel rolling mills, a tool and die shop, electric furnaces, body and chassis assembly, painting and plating, and final assembly – just to hit the high points. It was famous as a city within a city. In addition to the administrative offices, it had its own hospital, fire department and trade schools. It employed 100,000 workers. Its massive maritime facilities, more than a mile long, were headquarters to a fleet of 29 vessels.
In an age of software tycoons and financial wizards, some may comfortably scoff at “smokestack economies,” as though today’s billionaires’ money is cleaner. Our shrewd contemporary business executive probably does make more money by trading paper or selling code than Ford ever did with production. But the Rouge is a wonder of the old industrial world, when production was king.
There is something mythical about this holdover from the age of gigantism, and an integral theme of that mythology is man’s mastery over nature. The work that went into the industrialization of the area was nothing less than Herculean, as Ford engineers even changed the course of the Rouge River, placing it in a concrete channel.
The days of vertical integration and ore to car production are now a memory. The Rouge is no longer solely owned by Ford Motor Company. A Russian steelmaker, OAO Severstal, now owns the steel operations, and the great old factory that over the years churned out everything from Model A’s to Mustangs is now the subject of a careful environmental cleanup. In fact, the main theme of the new F-150 assembly plant is how relatively friendly it is to the environment.
One can hardly blame Ford for trying to give its new truck factory a green sheen. Yet it runs counter to the compelling mythological vein, as this monument to the unsightly god of the forge should rightly be a little blackened and smudged. Cynics may view the new truck plant — with its living sedum roof and ambitious rainwater management program — as either an insincere public relations stunt or an expensive cost for shareholders to bear, but time will bear it out. Time is something the venerable complex seems to have plenty of. This sprawling, gargantuan complex, built and rebuilt for 87 years, remains a masterpiece of organization, providing thousands of lunch-pail jobs that are among the best in North America.Michael Jackman is the Metro Times copy editor. Send comments to [email protected]
The hard times may not be completely over, but things are definitely looking up for the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
The museum began hitting financial hard times about three years ago, struggling to deal with a deficit that eventually reached almost $2 million. Eighteen employees lost their jobs, and the future of the largest black history museum in America was imperiled. Membership was low, attendance sporadic and exhibits generally failed to generate much excitement or interest.
The place, like a dateless debutante, was glamorously unattended.
News coverage of the museum’s woes earlier this year seemed to light a spark among Detroiters as community members began treating the place like the gem it is. Donations — including $1 million from a group of businessmen led by retired Federal Judge Damon Keith — rolled in. Membership has doubled since February, and now stands at more than 10,000.
“I think the museum is a diamond that people have been able to touch,” says museum spokesman James Tate. “We just need more people to be involved, use it in various ways. People get married here, have graduations here. It’s really multifaceted. We just need to engage the community more. It’s their museum.”
The Museum of African American History has changed considerably since the late Charles H. Wright founded what was then known as the International Afro-American Museum in 1965. It became the African American Museum when a new, larger facility was opened on Frederick Douglass Street in 1985. The latest, most ornate incarnation, built at a cost of $38.4 million, opened in 1997.
One of the most visible changes made since the turnaround began is the reconstruction and rechristening of the museum’s core exhibit. “And Still We Rise,” set to open in November, improves on the inaugural central attraction, “Of the People,” which replicated the belly of a slave ship, and featured plaster molds of Detroit-area students dressed as captured slaves. Noble as the effort was, the dull gray imitation was not nearly as riveting an image as museum officials hoped it would be.
“Rise” will feature a double-decker slave ship that visitors will be able to walk through. It is expected to be acutely detailed to give a much more realistic impression of the conditions Africans endured during the North Atlantic slave trade. Other artifacts related to African-American history will adorn the core exhibit.
The museum has also taken on its biggest and most controversial visiting exhibit. “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,” displays more than 100 photographs, postcards and other material depicting images of African-Americans, and immigrants, who were lynched between 1881 and 1981. An eight-month forum called “Baring Witness, Baring Our Souls,” accompanies the exhibit.
In a perfect world, Metro Times won’t consider the Museum of African American History a struggling institution. It will be nice just to call it one of the best. Until then, we’ll continue grooving to its local concert series, “Friday Night Fever,” and taking the kids to “A is for Africa,” the interactive exhibit for youth. Then, of course, there’s the African World Festival it hosts, which is perennially one of the best cultural festivals in town.
As the saying in Portuguese goes, a luta continua (the struggle continues!).Khary Kimani Turner is a Metro Times staff writer. Send comments to [email protected]
Best place to see the beauty of pre-Detroit Detroit
1200 Elmwood, Detroit
What did Detroit’s hilly landscape look like when Cadillac arrived in 1701? The closest glimpse remaining of pre-colonial Detroit is Elmwood Cemetery, where burial plots and roads have largely observed the original topography (such as the cemetery pond, where Chief Pontiac and the redcoats got it on in 1763 for the Battle of Bloody Run). Those burial plots, of course, are also a major reason for visiting the cemetery even if you have no relatives in residence. Canfields, Joys, Lodges, Woodbridges, Buhls and other names out of city history dot the landscape. Some 29 former mayors are there — beyond applause and recall petitions — including Coleman A. Young.
Best place in the city to get away
Behind the Lighthouse at Belle Isle
In the Motor City, it’s just about impossible to get away from the relentless heartbeat of the internal combustion engine. Belle Isle, as readers have told us year after year in Best of Detroit polls, is as good as it gets when it comes to getting away. (Not that the roadways of the island itself aren’t gridlocked on some summer weekends.) But after many hours surveying the island, we’re sure we’ve found the best get-away spot on the get-away island park, the spot of secret solace for those in search of tranquility. A path behind the abandoned hot dog stand on the island’s eastern end winds out past the lighthouse. There, by a spit of wooded land, you can sit on chunks of broken concrete and pretend you’re somewhere far away.
Best place to see that politics ain’t pretty
Detroit City Council
Coleman A. Young Municipal Center
Former Detroit City Council member Clyde Cleveland used to greet visitors to council chambers by citing the late German leader Otto von Bismark: To enjoy laws or sausages, don’t watch them being made. The attribution to Bismark may be apocryphal, but the council regularly lives up to the aphorism. On more than one occasion, Council members Kay Everett and Sharon McPhail have threatened to pummel each other. Council members Sheila Cockrel regularly opposes everything Council President Maryann Mahaffey proposes. And JoAnn Watson apparently has no regard for the separation of church and state as she regularly hails, “Amen!” Sessions begin weekdays at 10 a.m. on the 11th Floor of the municipal center. Who knows, you may drop by to hear members challenging one another to duke it out, accusations the mayor is trying to electrocute them — or maybe even a serious discussion of issues.
Best political slogan to adopt
“Do you know who the fuck I am?”
Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick’s chief of staff and longtime chum Christine Beatty allegedly greeted two Detroit police officers with this warm query when they pulled her over for speeding earlier this year. Considering the enormous amount of publicity the question brought Beatty and her boss, it would be wise for the mayor to adopt it as his own political slogan. It’s succinct, unforgettable and sure to make headlines. As they say, there is no such thing as bad press.
Best morning spot to spot Detroit’s movers and shakers
Atlas Global Bistro
3111 Woodward Ave., Detroit
The Bistro not only serves a fabulous breakfast for a steal, but provides a quiet, elegant space for muck-a-mucks to powwow. Detroit Medical Center CEO Michael Duggan (formerly Wayne County prosecutor) was seen with a couple cohorts this past summer. The sharply dressed Detroit Police Commissioner Arthur Blackwell II had a corner table a month or so ago. Around that same time, midtown developer Bob Slattery ate with a hip-looking woman. Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick appeared relaxed in a T-shirt and baseball cap on a Saturday morning this past spring. If you want to rub elbows with big city cheeses, get here early.
Best place for good deeds and doughnuts
Dutch Girl Donuts
19000 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Was former Dem Party mover-and-shaker Melvin Butch Hollowell helping a woman in distress (his version)? Or was he engaged in a cash-and-carry dalliance with a hooker (version of said hooker as relayed by Wayne County Sheriff’s deputies who pulled them over)? We don’t know. But we feel obliged to note that Dutch Girl Donuts, where the couple-in-the-news apparently hooked up, is toughing it out on a stretch of Woodward Avenue just below Seven Mile Road that needs good deeds indeed. We especially recommend the old-fashioned glazed doughnuts — and the experience peering through bulletproof glass in the morning’s wee hours to watch the delectables being made.
Best 50¢ amusement ride/urban tragedy
The People Mover
Once upon a time, in the age of Coleman Young, it was prophesied that southeast Michigan would have mass transit, a light-rail system from Pontiac to downtown Detroit. And on arrival at the city on the river, riders would traverse the downtown on a little loop of rail. But it did not come to pass, and, lo, that promise would be dashed — and only the tiny loop would be built as a taunting reminder of what might have been. And parents would discover it as a convenient entertainment for small children, who are quite content to go round and round in circles — by ruins and mighty buildings, through a tunnel and along the river — without being saddened by the promise failed.
Best way to revitalize Southeast Michigan
Not that the mass transit story needs to end with the People Mover. There are still good arguments for building light-rail lines running out from Detroit to Washtenaw, Oakland and Macomb counties. It would take great political will, but it would cut the time we spend sitting in traffic jams, reduce air pollution and produce huge savings by curtailing highway construction and expansion. It is way past time for Detroit to join the rest of America’s major metropolitan areas and produce a public transportation system that is suitable for the 21st century.
Best custom to eliminate
We know that we’ll be pilloried for suggesting this — car culture is southeast Michigan’s lifeblood, after all — but it needs to be said nonetheless: Stop the damn cruises. It may have escaped your attention, but American soldiers are dying daily as they fight to keep (relatively) cheap oil flowing from the Middle East, and what do we do? And is anyone paying attention to the glacial meltdown being caused by global warming? Instead of conserving — remember World War II and rationing? — we guzzle away, burning up countless gallons, preening in our muscle cars, those big V-8s chugging down gas faster than you can say energy crisis.
Best reason to swell with pride
Coach Larry Brown and crew won it all, making it look easy as they crushed Los Angeles to take the NBA championship and revive Detroit’s b-ball glory days. The Lakers — stuffed with future Hall of Famers — were no match for a team that, well, played as a team and not a collection of all-stars. Now, let’s do it again.
Best way to spend a leisurely Saturday outdoors in early fall
Franklin Cider Mill
7450 Franklin Road, Franklin
A national historic site built in 1832, Franklin Cider Mill is a fall tradition to many Detroiters. Weekends, in particular, draw everything from college-football-jersey-wearing types to dog-walkers to scenesters out for a stroll to the dentures crowd. Fresh apple cider — warm or cold — is the main attraction, but the mill also offers tasty baked cinnamon donuts, beef snack sausage, caramel apples and jarred, homemade spreads. Plus, the old apple press gives regular demonstrations of how cider is made. Open late August through November.
Best place for a bookworm to enjoy spring
The Burton Collection
Main Branch — Detroit Public Library
5201 Woodward Ave., Detroit
With the trees on the grounds of the library coming into blossom, you can sit in heated comfort before the tall windows of the Burton Collection’s reading room. While reading your book of choice, you can take breaks from the lines of text to rest your eyes outside on an inviting greensward within the city. Watch the trees fluttering with their first green, their limbs reaching out with unfolding petals against a backdrop of soft, cloudy skies — and thank God that you’re a nerd.
Best outdoor gathering for Christmas carols and hot chocolate
Noel Night at the Detroit Cultural Center
Approximately 6 to 10 p.m., traditionally held on the first Saturday in December
Detroit’s last regularly scheduled outdoor festival of every year, “Noel Night” began in 1975 and became one of the city’s most treasured holiday traditions. A sort of pre-Christmas celebration organized by the University Cultural Center Association, the event also incorporates elements of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah for all ages and ethnicities to learn about and appreciate. The Detroit Library’s Main Branch, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and many other surrounding cultural institutions, churches and businesses keep their doors open after hours, as participants wander between storytelling, music, dance, food and gift vendors. The highlight is a sing-along of Christmas favorites, led by the Salvation Army on Woodward Avenue near Warren Avenue.
Best artistic representation of Motown’s productive id
“Detroit Industry” by Diego Rivera
Detroit Institute of Arts
5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Arguably the single most important artwork in or about Detroit, Rivera’s epic mural cycle, installed in what was once the Garden Court of the Detroit Institute of Arts, depicts Henry Ford’s moving assembly line as a colossal machine for harvesting surplus value from mass labor power. Executed between 1932 and 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, the murals speak directly to the city’s collective unconscious, encapsulating the social, political and economic conditions of the age of mechanical reproduction in which Detroit figures prominently. The definitive take on Rivera’s masterpiece has yet to be written, but Terry Smith’s reading in Making the Modern: Industry, Art and Design in America (University of Chicago) is a damn good start.
Best public artwork the public can actually use
“Hip and Spine (Stone Chair Setting)” by Richard Nonas
Kirby Street (between Woodward Avenue and John R), Detroit
This 1997 work by the noted New York sculptor is an arrangement of massive rough-hewn granite blocks, formed into a seating and table area that evokes the primal circles of tribal gatherings. Installed outside the Kirby entrance of the Detroit Institute of Arts, “Hip and Spine” makes the idea of human community a reality, rendering viewers simultaneously as audience and functional users. The piece really comes alive during events like the Detroit Festival of the Arts. That’s when you’ll see people meeting, eating and greeting against a backdrop of musical performances on the stage nearby.
Best public-art reminder of a public that’s no longer there
“Victory and Progress” by John Massey Rhind
Old Wayne County Building, 600 Randolph (Cadillac Square, corner of Congress), Detroit
Perched atop the Beaux-Arts-style Wayne County Building on Randolph St. at Cadillac Square, these two bronze statue groups feature youthful male figures leading horse-drawn chariots, which in turn carry female allegorical figures dressed in flowing robes. They are among the oldest public sculptures on view in Detroit and they exhibit the sumptuous jade patina of more than a century’s passing. Created between 1898 and 1902, the sculptures represent a time of visionary expansion in Detroit, when the city was emerging as ground zero for the utopia of modern industrial production. Rhind, a Paris-educated, New York-based sculptor, was a leading figure in public art during the Progressive Era; his “Victory and Progress” embodies the period’s civic ideals which these days have been largely forgotten.
Best contemporary curator of Detroit art
Meadow Brook Art Gallery
Oakland University, 208 Wilson Hall, Rochester
Very quietly over the past few years Dick Goody has worked diligently to document some of the best art and artists that Detroit has to offer with a series of outstanding exhibitions and accompanying catalogs. The catalogs are especially important. Profusely illustrated and featuring critical essays and artist interviews, they constitute an archive that will be invaluable for collectors and historians in times to come. Goody, a British-expat painter and director of Meadow Brook Gallery on the campus of Oakland University, was the prime mover in 2003’s “Detroit Now” exhibit of talented city artists; he’s also offered insightful surveys of artists like Ted Lee Hadfield, Wendy MacGaw, Stephen Magsig and Peter Williams. Last year’s show and catalog of work by sculptor Sharon Que was exemplary. The current exhibition of paintings by Deborah Sukenic keeps the winning streak going. Cheers to this “outsider” coming in, boning up fast and doing the dirty work that has long been needed in this town.
Best place to synergize your tastes for art and food
4620 Cass Ave., Detroit
Real bohemians hang out downtown. Some artists go to Cass Cafe to break bread and others to make a little by working the joint. The food is good enough and reasonably priced, but the real reason to come is to catch up on the local art scene. As opposed to Starbuck’s, Cass Cafe serves alcohol, and there’s always someone around to argue aesthetics with. Or, you could simply kick back and check out the latest work on the walls, often done by well-known names from the Detroit art world.
Best place to hear jazz by the river for free
Mt. Elliott Park
Foot of Mt. Elliott, south of Jefferson, Detroit
Located exactly where Mt. Elliott would fall into the river if it stretched that far, Mt. Elliott Park is a relatively new park (not much more than three years old) that offers one of the coolest venues to hear live blues and jazz outdoors throughout the summer months every Thursday evening. Sponsored by the City of Detroit’s Parks and Recreation Department, these free shows have drawn a loyal, and regular, following of music lovers who faithfully bring along their lawn chairs, blankets, coolers, and appreciative cheers. The sound system leaves something to be desired, but with the river serving as a beautiful backdrop, this is still a great time and makes for a nice after-work hang. And with the future of the Ford Detroit Jazz Festival in doubt — at least as it’s been known on Hart Plaza — this may be the best opportunity for free swinging on the riverside come 2005.
Best place to hear live music by the Detroit River
Chene Park auditorium
2600 E. Atwater, Detroit
From the Concert of Colors to the UniverSoul Circus, Detroit’s Chene Park is home to Detroit’s biggest annual entertainment events. There’s just nothing like watching a concert on the steps of the outdoor theater — the backdrop to the stage is the beautiful Detroit River, and visitors sit along the river under trees. Performers ranging from adult contemporary vocalist Will Downing to R&B heartthrob D’Angelo have drawn boaters who sail out behind the outdoor stage, hoping to catch a tune floating up toward the night sky. Those unable to get tickets for chair or lawn seating will even camp out in their vehicles on the street or in nearby parking lots. And recent upgrades to the sound system have made a marked difference.
Best one-stop date for dinner and a movie
Uptown Palladium theater’s Premiere Entertainment Auditorium
250 N. Old Woodward, Birmingham
While known for its extravagant facade, spacious multi-level screening rooms and plush theater seats, the Uptown Palladium 12 has a weekly highlight for the most dedicated meal-and-movie fan. The Premiere Entertainment Auditorium hosts patrons who seek a little more than candy and hot dogs. The special dinner package includes a gourmet buffet meal (with a menu that changes weekly), coat check, designated seating and unlimited servings of popcorn and soda, along with the special featured film. The Premiere Entertainment Auditorium experience makes for a convenient, comfortable afternoon or night out.
Best same-day marriages
“I Do” Weddings
800-964-0303 • [email protected]
Can’t wait to get hitched? The Rev. Wayne Anderoos, a nondemoninational minister, says if you call him in the morning, he’ll meet you in the afternoon — pick a place: a beach, a park, your mom’s backyard — and perform a civil or religious wedding ceremony for you and your betrothed. This officiating service, based in Bloomfield Hills, promises to help you to say “I Do” in any Detroit-area location.
Best time for self-indulgence
National Masturbation Month
Just as charity begins at home, surely indulgence begins with the self. We suspect the 10th anniversary of this event will finally put it on the map, making slogans like “Come for a cause” as popular as they deserve to be. The whole thing started at the San Francisco company Good Vibrations (you can guess what they sell), where folks were taken aback by the sacking of former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders for saying that masturbation should be discussed as part of young people’s sex education. “It’s safe, it’s healthy, it’s free, it’s pleasurable and it helps people get to know their bodies and their sexual responses,” as the GV folks put it on their Web site. Doesn’t metro Detroit need a Masturbate-a-thon, or maybe a parade with Elders waving from an appropriate float?
Best gay youth outreach program
The Ruth Ellis Center Drop-In Center
16501 Woodward Ave., Highland Park
By one estimate, there are about 5,000 homeless LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered and Questioning) youth roaming the harsh streets of Detroit, and this is their haven. Headed by Executive Director Grace McClelland, the center feeds, clothes, educates, nurtures and provides shelter for kids who have been discarded by their families and mainstream social service agencies. This nonprofit runs both a drop-off center, where kids can come in to get off the streets — if just for a few hours — and a residential program that gears youth to become independent, productive members of society.
Best entertainment train
Michigan Star Clipper Dinner Train
840 N. Pontiac Trail, Walled Lake
Got a party, luncheon or just a get-together of some old friends coming up? Try the Clipper. The 3-hour journey offers some mighty fine grubbing, fine wines and some great entertainment, which includes hilarious murder mysteries, comedy weddings, smooth jazz stylings and music revues from the 1950s and 1960s. This creative concept offers an elegant atmosphere. The Clipper operates on the Coe railroad, located on Pontiac Trail, and reservations are a must.
Best hood getaway
Le Cafethé House of Gifts and Restaurant/Les Soeurs Maison Inc. Bed & Breakfast
Le Cafethé House of Gifts and Restaurant
2445 and 2449 W. Grand Blvd.
313-897-7813 and 313-895-7814
Heaven’s in the hood now. Lorna Page created it, along with her mother Allene, and sisters Lenice Okey and Bonita Brown. The group purchased two neighboring Victorian homes near Northwestern High School three years ago, converted them, and gave each a very long name, Les Soeurs Maison Inc. Bed & Breakfast, and the quaint Le Cafethe’ House of Gifts and Restaurant. But “heaven” works for us. The five-room bed & breakfast is a great place for Detroiters seeking an overnight respite from the workforce, or the family. You get a room without a telephone, your own robe and slippers, a Jacuzzi in your room, and a home-cooked meal delivered to your room, or served community-style in the dining quarters. For a full menu, walk next door and enjoy a selection of salads, entrées and appetizers. Good food, good service, good sleep.
Best garden with a view
Grosse Pointe War Memorial
32 Lake Shore Road, Grosse Pointe
If you have a green thumb or appreciate those who do, take a stroll through the War Memorial gardens, with their sweeping view of Lake St. Clair. The flower pots and patches of soil, packed with coralbells, purple fennel, rosebushes, cosmos, pansies, impatiens, and other assorted blooms, are set off by the rippling blue water. A morning visit will calm and sustain you for the day.
Best retro hangout on the east side
1417 The Village
1417 Van Dyke
What feels like a sugar shack, smells like fresh coffee and dresses customers with more flava than licorice? Answer: 1417 The Village. We’re not exactly sure what kind of place it is, but it feels good just being there. A converted house nestled in Detroit’s West Village (an East Side neighborhood), many patrons stop by to visit, and happen to shop while there. Owners Kizzi Martin, Nuah Stanley and Najiyyah Sharpe provide coffee and smoothies free of charge while folks relax, listen to music and make conversation. Meanwhile, Martin operates Kizzi’s Kloset, a vintage clothing store, in a back bedroom-turned-boutique. Occasional entertainment is provided on the back patio, but good vibes are served up consistently.
Best place to recite your poetry for the first time
300 Monroe St., Detroit
You wanna “spit” your most cherished written work, but you’re afraid of rejection. Bring it to the Camillian Café, where everybody welcomes you with a smile, a handshake and an invitation to share. Cassie Poe hosts the intimate gathering of bards and bardwatchers at this small, intimate space on the edge of Greektown every Thursday. There are great sandwiches and tea assortments to enjoy, and some of the city’s most exciting spoken word artists consider the place their creative home.
Best place to hear poets at the top of their game
The Unopen Mic
25849 Lahser Road, Southfield
The poets who come through the Unopen Mic are so polished they can only be invited. Started in 2003 by Ben Jones and Metro Times freelancer Kahn Davison, it’s one of the few poetry venues that goes so far as to fly poets in from out of town, put them up and pay them. This effort should be applauded by anyone remotely familiar with how broke poets can be. Faces on the stage have included Brooklynite Talaam Acey, Def Poetry alum Michael Ellison and Funk Brother Joe Hunter. Upstarts like Versiz, who also recently released his first rap album, Organic Weapon, have also brought their fiery prose to the stage.
Best place to have your poetry publicly critiqued
Broadside Poets Theater at Le Cafethé
2445 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit
On the third Sunday of each month, Le Cafethé is the place to be for poets and poet wannabes looking to get the hard line on their work. Hosted by longtime Broadside member Willie Williams, this workshop will slice, dice and chop up what you thought was a masterpiece, and piece it back together according to the official rules of the scribes. You, then, can stick around for the open mic, which follows, or go home and decide whether or not you want to write according to their rules. Or your own. Keep in mind, some of your critics are published by Broadside Press, so they might know what they’re talking about.
Best way to know the rhyme scheme of things
Springfed Arts-Metro Detroit Writers
With M.L. Liebler and Mary Ann Wehler at the helm — director and assistant director respectively — this group takes up where the old Writers Voice office of the Detroit YMCA left off. This is a center of gravity, creative vortex and central clearinghouse for poetic doings in metro Detroit and beyond. Whether you’re looking for classes and workshops or you’re wondering who’s looking for manuscripts or you want to know where the readings are happening — these are the folks to be in touch with.
Best way to relive (and maybe revive) the ’60s
The 40th anniversary of the Detroit Artists Workshop
Think of the the Detroit Artists Workshop as ground zero for the Detroit counterculture, with its shock wave radiating from the Cass Corridor and through the region, and its echoes being heard down the years. Jazz and rock, poetry and visual arts, politics and lifestyles were all rattled by the collective of artists who signed onto a 1964 manifesto written by (of course) John Sinclair. With concerts, art gallery shows, talks and poetry readings, the survivors of the era will return to the area beginning at the end of October and continuing through November. Poster artists Mark Arminski, Gary Grimshaw and Carl Lundgren will show their works; national poets Ed Sanders and Amiri Baraka will hook up with their Detroit counterparts. The events kick off Saturday, Oct. 30, with the opening of an exhibition of photography (by Leni Sinclair and Emil Bacilla) at Book Beat in Oak Park.
Best place to get in touch with the city’s past
Detroit Historical Museum
5401 Woodward Ave., Detroit
Ever wonder what it would be like to walk down Woodward 100 years before Comerica Park was built? Or what the heck a cobblestone street looks like? The Detroit Historical Museum answers these questions and many more. Offering free guided tours on weekends and many permanent exhibits for public viewing during all hours of operation, at least one visit to the museum should be a mandatory requirement for Detroit residents. Exhibits include 19th century store and auto assembly line replicas. There’s also a pilot house from a Great Lakes freighter and a 1700s fur trading post. Photographs help tell the city’s story. The book and souvenir shop lets visitors take home memories of yesteryear. Open Tuesday through Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Best piece of the city’s past to tear down
The Eight Mile and Woodward Underpass/Bridge
Impatient, horn-pounding motorists will shriek that we need this monstrosity to facilitate nonstop traffic, but is ensuring that motorists never stop for a red light worth the price of obstructing pedestrian and bicycle traffic at what could be a vital intersection? This obstacle may save time for a leadfoot in a pickup, but makes a walk from pedestrian-friendly Ferndale to the State Fairgrounds dangerous and dispiriting. It emphasizes the divide of city and suburbs, the triumph of concrete over citizens. Long a shelter for purse-twirling hookers and the homeless, it’s time this decaying abomination were leveled. Of course, the Michigan Department of Transportation is moving ahead to spend millions to upgrade the overpass rather than toppling it. We’re still rooting for common sense and the project’s opponents.
Best place to see Bauhaus housing
Lafayette Park, initially built between 1955 and 1963, has the world’s largest collection of buildings designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architectural giant and the last director of the famed German design school before the Nazis shut it down in 1933. The 26 Mies van der Rohes include the Pavillion and Lafayette Towers apartments and the park’s townhouses. After a fight by residents and preservationists, plans underway to refurbish the mall shopping center and add new townhouses have to comply with a historic district review and preserve the district’s character.
Best place for aquatic adventure without getting wet
Belle Isle Aquarium
Belle Isle Park, Detroit
Built in 1904, the aquarium on Belle Isle is the oldest public aquarium in North America, featuring 1,500 individual animals and 146 species. Many of the water dwellers are endangered, threatened or extinct in the wild. Some, however, are more common local fish, including trout, bass, pike, perch and walleye. There are also freshwater stingrays, Bambu Sharks and any number of goldfish. The electric eel is a crowd favorite. The place is a little dingy and hardly the innovative show-and-tell palace that wowed the nation a century ago. In fact, the city has slated it for closing because of low attendance. So go before the aquarium itself is extinct. It’s oh-so-Detroit. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Best alternative to corporate health clubs
Sick of gym memberships that break your bank? Tired of the tanned and shallow masses that populate them? Fed up with that awful Top 40 shit they play? Then Punk Fitness is your salvation! Instructor Julie Hecker is a certified full-time aerobics instructor and an old-school Detroit punk rock gal. Her Punk Fitness class melds cardio and resistance training with the likes of the Sex Pistols, AC/DC, the Clash, and Iggy. Plus, it’s interactive: Hecker creates the set list from her Ipod, so show up early and pick the songs yourself. Hecker is also a devoted fan and supporter of local music, and you’ll find selections from the Hentchmen, Broadzilla, KO and the Knockouts, Nice Device, Haf/life, and the Mydols (who occasionally show up at class!) on her music list. Each hour-and-a-half class is a mere $5, and happens every Tuesday, alternating between the Belmont and Small’s in Hamtramck. Swearing is encouraged! And so is sticking around and having a beer after class! How cool is that?
Best place to confront dentophobia
Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry
Within the Kellogg Building of the University of Michigan School of Dentistry
1011 N. University, Ann Arbor
Creeped out by the thought of that little drill whirring away at your teeth, and the image of your dentist leaning over you, his protective goggles flecked with tooth chips? Well, be thankful for modern technology. If you want to see the lower-tech alternatives, check out the Sindecuse Museum of Dentistry at the University of Michigan. That’s where you can contemplate, for instance, the good ol’ days of the 1800s when tin foil was used for fillings and when dental instruments – by today’s standards — looked like they should have been used for woodworking. Closed Sundays.
Best news for indie film buffs’ butts
New seats for the Detroit Film Theatre
Inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave.
313-833-7900 • dia.org/dft
This expansive, lush auditorium attached to the DIA first opened its doors in 1927, playing host to all manner of lectures, film series, and performances. The Detroit Film Theatre program is now 30 years and counting, making it the oldest f Send comments to [email protected]
It’s also the home of priceless special collections, such as the E. Azalia Hackley Memorial Collection of Negro Music, Dance, and Drama, among the largest and oldest collections of materials relating to African-Americans in the performing arts. Established in 1943 with materials donated by the Detroit Musicians’ Society, this very special resource has been used by such writers and documentarians as Gerald Posner and Ken Burns. Resources include 4,500 photographs, rare books, manuscripts, musical scores, academic dissertations, and a vertical file of nearly 275,000 items.
Another special resource, the Burton Collection, is the city of Detroit’s primary historical archive and the region’s premier genealogical attraction. In a city that once had 2 million residents, the collection is a draw for Detroit’s far-flung descendants, attracting genealogists from all over the country who want to trace their Detroit roots. The collection also has thousands of rare photographs and newspaper clippings organized by topic or place, a collection that was already robust and exhaustive when most of the suburbs were still farmland.
Also notable is the map division, with original cartography of the area from as early as the 18th century. This collection includes a wealth of detailed fire insurance maps, real estate atlases and early street maps that tell the story of the city’s growth and subsequent retrenchment.
In addition to the various floors, wings, mezzanines, the underground auditorium and the display areas, the north wing sits upon the sanctum sanctorum of the library: a climate- and humidity-controlled sub-basement where precious materials are stored, including correspondence from George Washington.
Dedicated June 3, 1921, the original building was designed by Cass Gilbert, famous architect of the Woolworth Building in New York, N.Y., and the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. The site and building together cost more than $3 million dollars, an astounding sum at the time.
Viewed from the Cass Avenue entrance, one sees the wings that were added in 1963 — functional, if somewhat drab, arms that embrace a semicircular drive. This addition, designed by Cass Gilbert Jr., serves ably as a modernist frame for the architectural wonder it holds.
The original building itself is a masterpiece of early Italian Renaissance architecture. The original three sides that remain in view offer a 60-foot-high facade of white marble and a roof finished with ornamental terra cotta. The ornamentation on the outside not only depicts the 12 signs of the zodiac, but is engraved with the names of 18 ancient scribes and features roundels with carvings of 29 great Western literati. Surrounded by a broad white marble arches set off with Ionic pilasters, on the Woodward Avenue side they enclose a monumental loggia with a groin-vaulted ceiling ornamented with Pewabic tile. Inside, the main stairway is built entirely of marble with an ornate barrel-vaulted ceiling. Cass’ original architecture performs a delicate balancing act of Old-World forms and seals them in the permanence of Vermont marble and Indiana limestone. Add to this already-remarkable edifice the wealth of stained glass, murals, ornamental plaster paneling and the natural beauty of the manicured grounds and you have not only an architecturally extravagant building, but one that ages gracefully. It looks as a cultural anchor should look.
Back in 1917, when librarian Adam J. Strohm was asked if perhaps an unadorned brick or concrete building might serve Detroit just as well, he answered in strong, certain words that sound refreshingly anachronistic in this day of cheerless but functional glass and steel public buildings. He said, "Mean surroundings make mean people; things of beauty cleanse our hearts. True architecture, as any other artistic expression of the human mind, has a social function to perform in the liberal education of mankind." —Michael Jackman
Best place to primp your car
25 W. Elizabeth, Detroit
On those days when a simple $2 car wash just isn’t enough — and on those days when you feel the need to make your Rolls-Royce look the way it looked when you first bought it — you might want to check out Dr. Detroit’s Auto Detailing, located in the heart of Detroit’s Foxtown area, right across the street from the State Theatre. Owner Dimitrious Oliver makes it known that his services are specifically for the pampered few. The prices reflect that attitude. But if you can foot the bill, then it is definitely worth it. Just make sure to make an appointment for a visit with the doctor in advance.
Best thrift store
For those in search of that “I got something for nearly nothing” high, the thrift store is the veritable dealer. And our pick for the best in the metro area is the Salvation Army, and we’ll add that the one at 5600 E. 8 Mile in Detroit is a standout. Can we describe the joy of a fashion- and clothes-whore at making a score? Can we convey the all-consuming thrill of finding a vintage 1960s fur-lined coat for less than $20 or a velvet chair for $5 or a set of Christmas tree lights for $1.50. We cannot. We can only suggest where you might have such experiences.
Best Inner-City Hardware Store
6432 Woodward Ave., Detroit
For the city-savvy fixer-upper, there’s no place quite like Detroit Hardware. Located a stone’s throw from the New Center area, it is also within easy reach of Milwaukee Junction’s urban homesteaders. Along with a knowledgeable and helpful sales staff and an intuitive and organized layout, there’s also a very good chance you’ll find an open space in their small lot to park your car.
Best Inner-City Hardware Store to Hear a Story
Busy Bee Hardware
1401 Gratiot Ave., Detroit
The selection is good, and the location at Gratiot and Russell near Eastern Market is convenient, but the best thing about shopping at Busy Bee is the stories you’ll hear if you ask about the building’s history. Workers will happily tell how the Busy Bee warehouse across Gratiot Avenue was a Purple Gang hideout, and how a tunnel was dug from the warehouse to the store, or even point out the room in the store where the Carhartt line of work clothing was developed. Also, the Bee is probably the last hardware store in the city to sell garden seed in bulk.
Best independent hardware store to mourn
17401 E. Warren, Detroit
Brian Rouleau, who grew up in Detroit and purchased M&M Hardware in 1976, did his utmost to keep the beloved establishment afloat. But he did not have enough loyal customers, and earlier this year, he shuttered its doors. The hardware store had specialized in plumbing — and fixed just about anything you could fit through the front door. Folks don’t shop at small businesses like they once did; they go to giant home improvement centers, said Rouleau in an interview with Metro Times two years ago. Rouleau is a gem, and so was M&M Hardware.
Best pawn shop
2100 Michigan Ave., Detroit
Let’s face it: Somewhere along the way, lots of pawnshops started looking like a Best Buy with a jewelry counter. An outstanding exception to this trend is Sam’s, one of the original Michigan Avenue pawnshops of the 1920s. What makes Sam’s special is owner Bill Connell’s penchant for antiques. Here you’ll find — in addition to the usual jewelry, sound systems, used tools and musical instruments — toys in their original packaging, a filmstrip projector, a 1948 Wurlitzer jukebox, a 1930 “kicker-catcher” penny-arcade machine, art, swords, beer steins and Confederate money!
Best raver hangout-turned-political clothing emporium
10022 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck
Sure, at Detroit Threads you can still spend hours flipping through thousands of techno, house, hip-hop and rock records or have owner Mikel Smith regale you with stories of dancing his youth away at Bookies and Todd’s in the early 1980s. But the best reason to come here this election season is for the selection of satirical baseball shirts created by Los Angeles’ Clothing of the American Mind. This is apparently the only store in Michigan where you can find long-sleeve T’s emblazoned with “Halliburton Overchargers,” “Unilateral Cowboys” or “Axis of Evil Doers” across the chest. And on the back, they urge a vote on Nov. 2 for a “new team” in the White House. Fashion both activating and inspiring.
Best place to buy affordable women’s underwear
If you are in search of a spaghetti-strap camisole with matching panties, a demi bra or a bustier, thongs or low-rise string bikinis, a slip in black lace or cream-colored satin, check out Target. For the less adventurous, it also carries plain white Hanes Her Way undies in various cuts and sizes. A pack of five costs about $6. Don’t overlook the sleepwear section in this same department. It is well stocked with nightgowns, pajama bottoms and robes. It offers a solid selection of reliable brands at affordable prices.
Best mom and pop stripper store
Fun & Fantasy
925 E. 11 Mile Road, Royal Oak
This cozy little store is the ultimate destination for any exotic dancer, risqué clubgoer, or someone with an adventurous spirit. Offerings include fishnets, corsets, hosiery, itty-bitty outfits, costumes, lingerie and platform heels that would make Gene Simmons wince. The selection is generally better than what’s found in chain stores like Lover’s Lane and Priscilla’s, and the clearance rack occasionally offers true scores (heels o’ doom for $10!). This is also the best place in metro Detroit to buy pasties — the nipple adornment, not the little pies.
Best one-stop for kink
124 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak
248-541-3979 • noirleather.com
The little perv shop that Keith Howarth founded has persevered to become an institution. A huge dildo in your favorite hue? A sexy rubber mini-dress and dog collar to match? Nipple clamps? This little shop of pain and pleasure has you covered. Or uncovered. And don’t get us started on the Noir-sponsored fetish parties.
Best one-stop for ink
Motor City Tattoo Expo
Held every year the first weekend in March (thelocations vary), the Motor City Tattoo Expo is a bright collision of color and culture. Detroit is some home to some of the best tattoo artists in the country, and many an ink collector travels across the nation to get tattooed by the best at this event. Even if you’re “blank” — and intend to stay so — the expo offers unparalleled people watching for the un-tattooed pedestrian. And if you’re one of those people who still thinks tattoos are for sailors and miscreants, wake up and smell the ink! Everyone from truck drivers to business managers will be there, proudly flaunting their flesh-and-blood canvases.
Best record store to buy stoner rock from Sweden
412 E. Fourth St., Royal Oak
You say you’ve never heard of Trad, Gras Och Stener, Parson Sound or other psych-stoner bands from Sweden’s hippie underground of the ’60s and ’70s? And you don’t care that more than 100 releases — CD and vinyl — on Germany’s Kompakt label are nearly always in stock? The guys at Neptune Records refuse to believe it. Come up to the store in Royal Oak or shop on the Web (neptunerecords.com) for left-field art rock, experimental techno and must-have classics. Consumers with adventurous musical palates will be richly rewarded. One of the best specialty record stores in North America.
Best hip-hop vinyl selection
Melodies and Memories
23013 Gratiot Ave., Eastpointe
Turntablists, you don’t just need a good vinyl outlet. You need someone working there who can get you the hot shit, the rare shit, the hard-to-compare shit, when you need it. Metro Times hears that the guy running the place, Reggie “Hotmix,” a DJ who still spins a mean hip-hop or house set, is unparalleled when it comes to knowing what’s where, and how to get it. Old standards like Eric & Rakim and Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y.” are in stock. But Reggie specializes in getting his hands on the rare pieces, like the 12-inch of Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s (remember that name?) “Deep Cover.”
Best place to buy obscure jazz, soul and R&B records from rock ’n’ roll musicians
615 W. Forest Ave. (just west of Second Avenue), Detroit
Park the car and stroll around lively area Second and West Forest avenues in Cass Corridor. Nestled in its quaint subterranean digs, People’s Records, owned by Brad Hales (Easy Action) and Dave Shettler (former Sights tub thumper); is the perfect place to find that impossible-to-find Betty Davis record or Detroit-specific blues. You can also add to your 45 collection (this small store touts a catalog of more than 10,000 blues, soul and R&B 45s). Post script: some have found this diamond in the rough hard to find, so we should mention that People’s is located on the south side of Forest, near the alley — definitely worth the search.
Best Detroit rock-slappy blog
They say a rising tide raises all boats, and that’s certainly been the case for the Detroit music scene-devoted site motorcityrocks.com. What started as a thinly stocked content-receptacle created by a handful of downtown scene fanatics has turned into a sort of clearinghouse for info on the city’s hype-buffeted garagerati. The site’s Detroit Dish section has a loyal community of feedback fiends and as the rawk-buzz has started to subside a bit as of late, the site’s editorial content has been admirably democratic in spreading the love to the city’s musical output. Even as the site’s editors are sure to bow to any whiff of Detroit’s street rock heritage, they’re just as sure to tout good news about folksters, indie pop kids and aspiring major label, mainstream-aping, pop-rock acts.
Best Afrocentric bookstore
Shrine of the Black Madonna
13535 Livernois Ave., Detroit
Sure, Detroit has a mega-chain bookstore downtown, but if you’re looking for a real experience, a place that has enjoyed the respect and support of its surrounding community, the Shrine of the Black Madonna is still the place to go. Specializing in the histories of the broad range of cultures affected by African Diaspora, reading material roams from the educational tomes of Cheikh Anta Diop to the racy erotic fiction of Zane. Nationally recognized authors pop in for occasional book signings, and an upstairs wing is used to host poetry readings and community gatherings. Authentic art tops off the inventory, so there is enough to make each visit a true experience.
Best place to barter for a dashiki
African World Festival
Hart Plaza, Detroit
The art of the deal for African carvings, dashikis, and more: Peruse on Friday, inquire on Saturday, offer and barter on Sunday. It’s the best way to shop at the annual African World Festival, which is organized by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The three-day event in August attracts more than a million people each year, plus vendors from around the world. Think about it: if you travel from New York — or Ghana, for that matter — to sell your stuff, you wanna go home with as little merchandise as possible. We watched one woman talk a vendor into selling a $250 mask for $50. A good poker face and the will to walk away will get you a lot in life.
Best shop for heads
Henry the Hatter
1307 Broadway, Detroit
The city’s oldest retailer, it’s been a Detroit institution for a century, and walking through the shop’s doors is like taking a walk through Detroit history. The A-list hat designers are all present and neatly displayed along the walls and the staff is more than happy to lend a hand. They have felt evening hats with colorful plumes, plaid and leather urban caps, fur winter hats, engineer’s caps, and even a selection of baseball lids. And since they stock both men’s and unisex hats, there should be something for every head here.
Best business to let R.I.P. (a tie)
Whoever patronized these businesses will probably take that secret to their grave. Since both are closed, Metro Times doesn’t know exactly how they operate Rent-A-Wheel, now an empty storefront on Eight Mile near Coolidge in Oak Park, but never took it seriously. Now that we know it actually existed, we see its closed doors and think, “Uh, yeah. Why would anyone would buy a set of Sprewells (spinning rims) on a rent-to-own plan?” As for Rent-A-Wife, we can only hope the name is not self-explanatory. Possible slogan: “Why wait for a mate?” or “For the pitiful bastard in you.”
Best place to spend your zlotys
11411 Joseph Campau, Hamtramck
2938 E. Maple, Troy
13700 Sibley, Riverview
If you crave pierogies stuffed with apples or apricots, village ham that melts in your mouth, or imported butter so sweet it might seem like you’re eating dessert, this small chain of clean, well-stocked markets is for you. A massive new store is expected to open in downtown Hamtramck in time for the holidays. An added bonus for closet voyeurs: some of Central and Eastern Europe’s most beautiful transplants work and shop here. Bring your camera and get in line.
Best piano tuner
Fortuna Piano Service
10537 Whittier, Detroit
You might think all piano tuners are about the same, but Clem Fortuna has an obsession with tunings — emphasis on the “s.” Sure, like his peers he spends most of his time fixing the action of keyboards, replacing hammers and returning neglected uprights to a standard A=440 vibrations per second. But Fortuna recognizes that other eras and regions have had different notions. Want a Victorian era tuning? How about a Pythagorean one? How about just intonation, which goes against the last 150 years of Western music? In fact, he’s even composed music for a tuning system of 41 microtones to the octave instead of the usual 12. Maybe that’s not what you need him to do with your piano, but just in case …
Best place to rent a cult flick
122 S. Main St., Clawson
248-280-2860 • www.thomasvideo.com
Ever have one of those nights where you feel like watching a flick, but just don’t know what to choose? Come to Thomas Video, and consult the expert staff of film geeks (and we mean geek in the best possible way!). Owners Jim Olenski and Gary Reichel specialize in the rare and out there; this is the best resource around for obscure cult and horror flicks. Olenski is the co-editor of Cult Flicks & Trash Picks, a hefty tome exploring the realm of bizarre cinema; rest assured, these dudes know their film. If Troma films, the Toxic Avenger’s adventures and Fangoria magazine ring your bell, Thomas Video is the place for you, geek (and we mean that in the best possible way!).
Best independent Detroit video store
16037 Mack Ave., Detroit
For more than 18 years this family-owned business has provided an enormous selection of new releases, classic movies, foreign films, documentaries and how-to videos. If you’re in the mood to see Blade Runner or want to learn how to build a deck, you can rent a video (or DVD) for just $3 for one night (an extra 50¢ will get you an additional evening.) If Top doesn’t have the movie you want, they’ll order it. The fellows behind the counter are extremely helpful in tracking down films among the packed shelves and making recommendations. The store is, like the much-adored Thomas Video in Clawson, sans the hipster vibe.
Best way to enjoy the river without your own boat
Diamond Jack’s River Tours
313-843-9376 • www.diamondjack.com
From June through Labor Day, Diamond Jack’s offers leisurely two-hour public excursions from Hart Plaza in Detroit and Bishop Park in Wyandotte. The Hart Plaza ride, for instance, leisurely motors north almost to Lake St. Clair, then turns around and hugs the Canadian shore south to Zug Island. Even longtime Detroiters can gain a new perspective, such as viewing Manoogian Mansion from the backside. And on the Windsor side, there’s one of the planet’s more unusual sculpture gardens lining the riverbank. And although the walk-up, public rides have ended for the season, the company’s boats are available for private hire (school groups, church groups, weddings, you name it) through the end of October. Public ride prices are $14 for adults; $12, seniors; $10, children under 16; free, children under 5.
Best record store you’ve never been to
Vibes New and Rare
14500 Eight Mile Road, Suite 203
Hidden away in an office building on Eight Mile Road, Rick Wilhite’s Vibes is a New York-style dance store, filled with underground white-labels, disco-boots, rarities and Rick’s friends’ records (Kenny Dixon and Theo Parrish among them.). Bring money and an act-like-you-know attitude when you hit the buzzer. Hours are currently Monday-Saturday, 1-7 p.m. but you had best call ahead.
Best DIY rock ’n’ roll record shop
Young Soul Rebels
4152 Woodward Ave.
In the face of unbridled downloading and greasy corporate treaties, it takes a true rock ’n’ roll believer to open an indie record shop these days. And there are few believers as steeped in Detroit rock ’n’ roll as Dave Buick and Dion Fisher — co-owners of Young Soul Rebels records and tapes. Both are longtime stalwarts of the downtown scene and their leap of faith into the record-selling biz has them offering no shortage of LPs by the punk (’60s-’80s punk, that is), new wave, glam, soul and whatever-the-hell-else weirdo bands that inspired these two musical miscreants in the first place. Bound up the stairs between C-POP and the Majestic Café and you’ll likely find a sought-after sonic treasure for a reasonable price. Buick and Fisher peddle the wares of their Motor City pals, too, as well as archival releases from lost punk bands like the Denizens and the Ramrods released on the pair’s own Young Soul Rebels label. Plus they co-host the occasional show with Warn Defever’s Brown Rice Studio, which happens to share the space. Next time you’re in the mid-city area, save the dough you’d spend on booze and pay ’em a visit.
Best place to browse the latest art magazines
The books are stacked from floor to ceiling and the choices, from current indie best-sellers and Surrealist collections, to the latest art magazines in a hidden shelf amongst the piles. Which all makes this store a key to opening up the metro in metro-Detroit.
Best hair studio to get a rock-star makeover
3301 Edwin St.
Tucked into a neighborhood side street of Hamtramck, Sandy Kramer Shaw’s Barberella is like some heavenly waiting room where seraphs tend to your follicles and local and national rock ’n’ roll hits singe your ears. And while your curls float to the floor or are splashed in various hues, you can dream about the photo shoot that will grace your first album cover, or the coif that will set the world afire as you hit the nearest Hamtown dollar store.
More best of Detroit 2004:
Best of the worst
Did you know that the human tongue has 10,000 taste buds or that flies have such buds on their feet? Those are just two of the odd facts you will learn when visiting the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. This 44,000-square-foot space (which is constructed in part from an old fire house) at 220 E. Ann St. has more than 250 interactive exhibits that teach kids of all ages (including Mom and Dad) about science, nature, health, technology and more.
The Hands-On Museum makes seemingly complex concepts simple, such as how e-mail works and electricity is generated. But a favorite exhibit is a toilet with exposed plumbing that enables kids to see how it operates, says Pam Smith, public affairs director for the museum.
The Hands-On Museum, which opened in 1982, has become a popular destination for 200,000 visitors annually. To keep the experience fresh, the museum continually creates new exhibits. It recently installed a 1920s general store, complete with an antique cash register, phone, radio and a checkerboard (another favorite hands-on activity). Also new to the museum is a “measure up” exhibit that allows kids to measure their muscle strength, heart rate and reaction time and provides them with a report card. And posted throughout the building are fun facts. For instance, “Did you know that hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards or upside down?”
Although just about anyone will get a kick out of the nifty hands-on experience, preschool through sixth-grade-age kids are likely to enjoy it most. They can scale a rock wall, encase themselves in a giant bubble, sit inside a real ambulance and explore more than 250 creative experiences in all. Admission is $7.50 for adults and $6 for children 2 and older; children under 2 are admitted free. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information go to aahom.org or call 734-995-5439.Send comments to [email protected]
In the decades since World War II, the American public has been sold a brave new world of convenience and speed. The result is that we’ve become easily frustrated people always in a hurry. Few things can bring this disconnect into clearer view than a Saturday visit to Historic Eastern Market, where people shop the old-fashioned way. The market harks back to a time when people had time, and knew how to let it spread out with all five senses.
The 201-year-old market has been at its present location — between Russell and Riopelle streets and north of Gratiot Avenue— since 1891. It’s smack in the middle of a bustling 43-acre area that’s home to wholesalers, retailers and the prominent sales sheds. The Eastern Market Merchant’s Association estimates that 70,000 tons of produce arrives each year in the area, and that almost 50,000 people crowd into the market each Saturday in search of farm-fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, spices, and, last but not least, flowers. Each spring, the market has its “flower days,” when the site is awash with the color and perfume of thousands of plants. The annual event is reckoned to be the world’s largest bedding flower sale.
In the shade of the sales sheds, parents buy vegetables while their children squat below the table to marvel at cages of bunnies. Couples and families walk the sawdust strewn floors, the salty small of fresh popcorn in the air. Outside, the market is ringed with family-owned stores where one seems able to buy anything edible. Instead of the wide aisles and predictable brand names of a supermarket, these stores attract people who are drawn to the elbow-to-elbow shopping experience and the wide variety of distinct wares.
For instance, Rocky Peanut Company, an Eastern Market fixture since 1975, offers cheeses, olives, nuts, lunchmeats, candies, cookies, crackers, dried fruits, spices, flours, noodles, condiments, jams and jellies, soup stocks, coffees, sauces, and the odd box of beignet mix.
Gratiot Central Market, which was destroyed by fire in 1995 and reopened in 1999, houses a white, clean mini-mall of meat, selling everything from American classics like thick-cut bacon to foreign favorites like ready-for-the-grill kebabs.
If food isn’t your thing, browsing the large, two-floor antique market can be a tempting but cost-free pleasure, especially in the more remote nooks, where wares sit awaiting buyers in a no-pressure sales atmosphere.
And for those who grow puckish from tramping the market, the variety of restaurants — such as Sala Thai, Bert’s or Vivio’s — cater to all tastes. And they’re busy. On a recent Saturday afternoon, Russell Street Café had a full house, with at least a half dozen people waiting outside in the shade of the awning.
Though the market is open six days a week, it really bustles on Saturdays, providing a stimulating tonic to the senses, whether your pleasure is poring over shelves of high-end chocolates, sampling vats of delicious olives, judging flats of plants, pricing cords of firewood, or just watching people go by.
And what makes the people watching so great is that, in a region dogged by division, here is a place where folks from the city, the suburbs and the farm all come together. The resulting contrasts play off each other. Here you’ll find out-of-towners and city dwellers mixing with innocent suburbanites down for their first visit and elderly former Detroiters reconnecting with the city. Young and old, haughty and humble, gourmand and granola all rub elbows in search of sustenance and satiety. It’s an inspiring reminder of what cities are supposed to be like.Michael Jackman is the copy editor of Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]
On Oct. 21, 1929, Henry Ford opened a historical attraction in his hometown of Dearborn unlike any other in the world. He built a museum that celebrated the industry of the 20th century, showcasing the innovations that changed the face of America. Outside the museum, he built a lasting shrine to the 19th century of his youth that took a romantic view of the past. Along the way, he did a fair bit of propagandizing too, turning a blind eye to the worst excesses of both centuries.
And yet, he bestowed upon the city of his birth a rich and fascinating legacy, including an institution that has earned its place among the top industrial and design museums in the world, and a “village” that is made of replicas and original buildings moved there from around the country.
The Henry Ford Museum covers 12 acres, including the building’s 9-acre Great Hall. Here you’ll find paeans to the motorcar, shrines to the steam engine, and praise of mobility and speed. Not only does the museum house the world’s oldest surviving steam engine (244 years old) but it holds entire powerhouses that have been moved there to give an idea of the machinery required to generate electricity. And it’s here that you can see what early locomotives like Stephenson’s 1829 Rocket looked like, and how they compare to one of the largest engines ever built as the museum houses an actual 600-ton Allegheny steam locomotive.
Though many of the exhibits definitely cater to those enamored of mechanical know-how, other items have broader appeal. For instance, the bus in which Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat attracts general attention. Also notable are some slightly more ghoulish relics: the car in which John F. Kennedy was killed, and the rocking chair in which Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Other exhibits are more whimsical, such as the somewhat campy celebration of Buckminster Fuller’s architectural atrocity, the Dymaxion House.
As for Greenfield Village, the sprawling, 81-acre tribute to the America of Henry Ford’s youth, it is a unique collection of scores of historic buildings that reach back into the American past, from Henry Ford’s old Bagley Avenue workshop to the Midwest’s only fully functioning “roundhouse” for storing and repairing locomotives.
With so much history crowded together in one place, strange juxtapositions and disconnects abound. The village is a great beatitude to the individual craftsmanship of 19th century America, yet it was mass production and Fordism that standardized such craftsmanship out of existence. The New England Martha Mary chapel is mere yards from the banks of the faux-Mississippi Southern Suwanee Lagoon. The Noah Webster home sits next to the Robert Frost home, though Webster was more than 100 years Frost’s senior. The village, Henry Ford’s monument to an idealized America, is arguably a simulacrum of something that never was. In short, it’s enough to send a French deconstructionist into a swoon.
Though the Henry Ford (as it is now known) has endeavored to keep in step with the times by offering an IMAX theater, tours of the Rouge factory, and a state-of-the-art research center, it’s arguable that the activities that stand out most are the quaintest, such as historic baseball games or the antique auto shows.
And, in an interesting coincidence, “America’s Greatest History Attraction” will soon be celebrating some history entirely its own. On Oct. 21, 2004, what began as the Edison Institute will turn 75 years old.Michael Jackman is a copy editor and writer for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].
The Fox Theatre lends itself to fanciful daydreams. Reclining in one of the cushy red velvet seats and gazing upward at the dome of gold and glitz, you can’t help but imagine what it would be like sitting in that very same seat 50 years ago, when Frank Sinatra’s honeyed voice spilled forth from that very same stage. Or when earlier big band greats, such as Benny Goodman and Cab Calloway, had the entire place swinging. Or what it was like to watch newsreels fill the giant screen, with updates from World War II.
The Fox, located at 2211 Woodward Ave. in Detroit, was built as an opulent movie and concert venue in 1928, and remains one of the largest surviving movie palaces from the 1920s. It cost $12 million to erect; and was part of a nationwide chain of lavish theaters built by William Fox of Fox Pictures (now 20th Century Fox). The Fox theaters in Detroit, St. Louis and Atlanta were the largest and are still standing today; sadly, the smaller but equally beauteous Foxes in San Francisco and Brooklyn were demolished.
Incidentally, the St. Louis theater was built from the Detroit blueprints, and is nearly an identical twin.
“Inside the Fox in St. Louis, you think you’re going to step out the front door and be on Woodward,” says Greg Bellamy, the Detroit Fox Theatre’s general manager.
Designed by C. Howard Crane (whose architectural résumé includes Orchestra Hall), the sumptuous 5,000-seat theater explodes with flashes of gold and red velvet. The auditorium’s organ is the second largest in the world, holding 2,500 pipes. The carvings that adorn the walls and ceiling are extremely eclectic, with architectural whispers of the Far East.
“In the 1920s when they built these theaters, they wanted people to see the world through movies and the buildings they were in,” explains Bellamy, “so they brought in architecture from all around the world to show people what was out there, to give them the experience of travel they couldn’t enjoy.”
Bellamy says that Crane referred to his creation as “a Hindu and Burmese temple of amusement.”
In 1987, owners Mike and Marian Ilitch, building on the efforts of previous developer Chuck Forbes, gave the historic theater a facelift. Ironically, the extensive renovation cost $12 million, the same cost of building the theater in 1928.
After 18 months of elbow grease, the newly sparkling theater reopened; it can be argued that the Fox’s renovation was one of the major steps toward downtown Detroit’s resurgence.
Dubbed “Detroit’s Crown Jewel,” the elegant and timeless Fox has witnessed every trend, cultural phenomenon and societal shift since its opening. From the silent films of the 1920s, to the Motown explosion in the 1960s, to Riverdance and David Copperfield, the Fox is where metro Detroiters go when they want to be entertained in style.Send comments to [email protected]