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Detroit’s North End neighborhood is an interesting place full of history. It’s an old section of the city where residential and industrial areas seem to intersect. It’s also a good-sized neighborhood that radiates about two miles around the intersection of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue.

Bicycling through the streets of this old, historic neighborhood, I was struck by the contrast between the industrial area south of East Grand Blvd. and the farm like feel north of the Blvd. Like other areas of Detroit, it’s a tale of two neighborhoods within its borders.

The neighborhood’s south boundary area has a gritty, hard edged, industrial feel to it. There are expansive brick buildings throughout that were constructed in the 1920’s. Heavy-duty steel structures that support train tracks cut through that section of the neighborhood too. Many of the buildings once housed machine shops that fed parts into the burgeoning auto industry. Thankfully, many of those old storied buildings have now taken on a new life.

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

Many of the small manufacturing businesses that have survived the ups and downs of Detroit’s automotive industry over the decades can still be found along the old streets, but change seems to be coming. Young artists and others have been converting the vintage brick buildings found along the densely packed, narrow streets into residential lofts, art studios, performance spaces, etc.

This old building has been converted to residential  lofts

This  building has been converted to residential lofts

Tangent Art Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Tangent  Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Restored apartment building

Restored apartment building

The artists that have moved into the old places on the south side of East Grand Boulevard have created colorful exteriors paintings on the buildings. The large wall paintings seem to glow brightly in the early morning sunrise and late evening sunsets. The wall art offers a pleasing, uplifting contrast to the harsh industrial feel in that section of the neighborhood.

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this tall building

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this building

Colorful art can be seen on many North End buildings

There is colorful art on many North End buildings

On the north side of the Boulevard there is virtually no industry. The streets, once lined with homes full of families and viable retail businesses, have changed dramatically over time. With the city’s massive population exodus and other factors, many of the businesses have closed and homes have been abandoned. Now most of the vacant homes and abandoned businesses have been cleared. The lots where they once stood are now fields of tall, wild plants turning many sections of the north side of the Boulevard into soothing, country like fields.

Community and religious organizations have moved into that area and are creating community gardens. Some cover close to a full block of land. City parks have been adopted and revitalized, and when I recently rode past one, it was in use by families and kids of all ages.

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

The North End is an interesting neighborhood. It offers plenty of diversity in architecture, lifestyles, and landscape. It seems every street I rode down and every corner I approached offered a sense of togetherness and vitality. It’s good to see that the city’s North End is coming back to life.

One of many murals in the North End

Mural in the North End

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful restored doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

In last week’s entry I highlighted some of the large, colorful graffiti murals that can be found in the city of Detroit. Many of the huge, multi-colored pieces I’ve seen (and presented in that blog entry) have extraordinary detail considering they are created from nothing more than the nozzle of a spray can. A number of the pieces I highlighted have graced the walls of outdoor galleries for years, while others have been added to walls within the last month or so.

Fel 3000 Rabbit_8373

SolomonFish Mural _9964

Two Ladies on Wall_9749

Lately, there seems to be a plenty of new murals being created on the sides of buildings and elsewhere. Although most are designed and created by talented Detroit artists, it isn’t unusual to spot a piece by a painter from Los Angeles, New York or elsewhere.

Meca and others wa;;_6259

E Mkt German Artist_6998

Fumeriosm_7016

This is the second in an occasional blog entry on the city’s imaginative graffiti murals. Since the works can vanish overnight, or change and evolve rapidly into something completely different, I hope to roll out more entries featuring the interesting street art I see on my bicycle travels across the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes open because you’ll never know what you’ll see on a wall in Detroit.

RSK Russell St_0925

D Cut B/W_9377

Horse and Lady Wall_1000

Graffiti isn’t all one or two-color tags, quick hitting initials or large hard to read letters sprayed on the sides of buildings from fire extinguishers. There is much more to it than that. Scattered across the city of Detroit are some amazing graffiti murals. They have been created in multi-colored designs on large walls throughout many of the city’s neighborhoods and commercial districts.

Talented street artists from Detroit, Los Angeles, the Carolina’s, New York City, and other places use nothing more than spray paint from cans to create the giant, colorful murals. The remarkable works of art are full of detailed imagery and many of the pieces are monumental in scale. It isn’t unusual to see these beautiful works of art completely covering the sides of two-story buildings.

Cowboys E Market_0222

7th letter e mkt_0823

In some cases, the murals don’t last very long on a wall because they are painted over in a relatively short time. Depending on the site, I’ve seen a fresh piece quickly go up and within a few days, it has been painted over with a new piece of art by the same artist, or in some cases, another painter. Some of the murals are so fresh and new that I could smell the distinct odor of enamel paint in the air as I rode up to them on my bicycle.

Hygenic Dress League_0829

Sintex Indian _0852

Vincent Chin_0186

The subject matter of the works of art I’ve seen has a wide array of content. They include portraits, historical figures, monsters, birds, eyeballs, cartoon characters, and plenty of other interesting images. Although there are graffiti murals scattered around the city, there are a few hot spots where much of the wall art can be seen. They include the Lincoln Street Art Park, the Grand River Creative Corridor, a railroad wall along Newark Street and other places such as the historic Eastern Market and the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation building on Trumbull Street.

Gratiot Mural _9595

Monster Steve Bug_0505

Eyeball Mural _0236

Keep your eyes open, because you never know what you’ll see on a wall in Detroit.

Woman w bird hair_0122
Purple Ape_0479Patch Whiskey_9788
 Hamtramck Arabic Lady Painting_9989

I took a bicycle ride down Detroit’s Cass Avenue the other day, as I have many times in the past. But, this time I focused in on what the street is all about by taking a closer look at the buildings, business and diversity there.

Cass Avenue is a street that runs about three and a half miles from the city’s New Center Area at West Grand Boulevard, south to Congress Street where it ends. The New Center section is home to the historic Fisher Building and numerous office buildings designed by famed architect Albert Kahn in the 1920s for General Motors Corporation.

This Albert Kahn Building  is the former home of General Motors

This Albert Kahn Building is the former home of General Motors

Just south of the Boulevard is an area called Tech Town. It is home to many biotech and other innovative start-up tech companies. There are plenty of new buildings going up or being rehabbed in that section of Cass.

TechTown on upper Cass

TechTown area on upper Cass

Below Tech Town, Cass crosses over I-94 into the sprawling Wayne State University campus. WSU is a major research institution and is home to many buildings designed by Yamasaki and Associates, best known for their design of the world trade center.  The main branch of the Detroit Public Library also sits along a one block stretch of Cass, right across from the university.

Yamasaki Designed building on the Wayne State  campus

Yamasaki Designed building at Wayne State

Interesting canopy on storefronts near the university

Interesting storefront canopy near the university

A little further south (just below West Warren Avenue) Cass Avenue is lined with restored apartment buildings, lofts, taverns, restaurants, coffee shops, book stores, small specialty retail boutiques and plenty of art galleries. That part of the neighborhood was once known as the Cass Corridor, a poverty-stricken area of the city. Over the past few years it has slowly become gentrified and renamed Midtown Detroit.  There are still social service organizations helping those living in poverty on the surrounding streets and neighborhoods.

The Hilberry Theater is part of WSU

The Hilberry Theater is part of WSU

Restored apartment building is now a condo

Restored apartment building is now a condo

Stuberstone Lofts with street level shops

Stuberstone Lofts with street level shops

One of many restaurants and clothing stores on Cass

One of many restaurants and clothing stores on Cass

One of many of the neighborhood's longtime bars

A Cass Avenue icon

Social organizations serving the poor are  in the area

Social organizations helping the poor are in the area

Close to downtown on Cass Ave. sits the Rosa Parks Transit Center with its soaring white canvas coverings that remind me of an outdoor music theater. Also in that section of lower Cass are beautiful old office towers built-in the 1930s, as well as newer ones. This makes for a pleasant mix of architectural styles from different eras.

Rosa Parks Transit Center features soaring tent like canopies

Rosa Parks Transit Center features tent like canopies

Older office building close to downtown Detroit

Older office building close to downtown Detroit

Chrome and glass Comerica Bank building

Comerica Bank building features chrome and glass

There are even a few Victorian era homes still standing near downtown as a reminder of  what old Detroit must have been like over 100-years ago.  Bicycling along Cass Avenue is a visual treat. It offers a nice mixture of old businesses housed in vintage buildings to brand new, recently built places with restaurants, clothing stores, etc. Take a look if you are ever in that part of the city.

Victorian Era homes still line the street

A few Victorian era homes still line the street

Payne-Pulliam School near downtown

Payne-Pulliam School near downtown

There is an 18,000 square foot building in Highland Park that’s full of art. The building is located in a small industrial section of Highland Park, just off Hamilton Avenue north of Oakman Boulevard. It’s a vintage 1920’s building, constructed in the Art Deco style.

The old place has walls of windows with hundreds of panes that extend from about 5’ above the floor to the 30’ ceilings. The windows allow sunlight to flood the interior space creating ideal lighting for artists. The well-built, industrial place is the former home of Lewis Metal Stamping, an early supplier to the once booming auto industry in both Highland Park and Detroit. Some of the windows look out to green, lush fields where other factories once stood but have been torn down over the years. In some ways, it’s almost like being in the country.

Exterior of the Big Factory building located at 333 Midland

Exterior of the Big Factory building – 333 Midland

A couple of outdoor pieces by Nicole Macdonald

A couple of outdoor pieces by Nicole Macdonald

Today the building is used as art studio space where large-scale paintings, (some 20’ tall, others at least 30’ wide or more) fill the vast industrial space. I had the opportunity to tour the studio this past weekend to view the enormous art pieces created by 47 local artists. They were amazing! The huge pieces were painted in a variety of colorful styles that include portraits, abstracts, line drawings, and modern interpretation of religious renaissance paintings.

Interesting portrait by Tylonn Sawyer

“The Devil Finds Work” – Tylonn Sawyer

"Woven Lines" - Bill Dilworth

“Woven Lines” – Bill Dilworth

Renaissance style painting with a modern twist hangs on a tall wall

Renaissance style painting with a modern twist hangs on a tall wall

This large painting seems somewhat small in the large factory

These large paintings seems somewhat small in the large factory

The art is all part of a show called “Big Paintings @ The Factory” that had its public opening a few weeks ago. Currently, reservations must be made to view the art.

I was fortunate to be invited to a private tour of the factory. A big thank you goes out to Bruce Giffin for organizing the tour and extending the invite to me. I appreciate it!

Here is a little more of what I saw.

"Womancrush" - Tead

“Womancrush” – Tead

One of many large scale paintings

One of many large scale paintings. This is called “Spectre” by Betty Brownlee

"I Remember When This Was All Houses" - Chris Zagacki

“I Remember When This Was All Houses” – Chris Zagacki

"In the Garden of Cultural Change" (Integrated Balance) - Diana Alva

“Vita Brevis Longa Ars” – Vito Valdez

"Nightmare in Kitty Land" - Jerome Ferretti

“Nightmare in Kitty Land” – Jerome Ferretti

"I Hate Myself... and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" - NUL

“I Hate Myself… and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” – NUL

 

While riding my bicycle in Detroit, it isn’t uncommon to see utility poles with makeshift memorials or shrines made of stuffed animals for someone who died. They can have up to 15 to 20 of the colorful animals nailed to the pole, along with a photo or two of a dead child or teen. Sometimes they have the birth and day of death written on the photo.  Some of the little shrines have religious candles or mementos of the deceased surrounding the base of the pole.

Stuffed Animals on Ploe_4078

There was one memorial I recently spotted in a field, close to a sidewalk on an unassuming street void of most homes. The little shrine to the dead was a bit different from the other memorials of this type I’ve seen. It wasn’t momentos nailed to a pole, and it didn’t feature the stuffed animals that are normally found on memorials of this type.  It was made of bricks, a small religious statue, and a homemade wooden cross.

There are two elements to the little shrine. One part is constructed of white bricks in a religious arch pattern, and the center is recessed as if it was built to hold a religious statue. In the center of the white brick monument are a few red bricks incorporated into the back, forming a cross. It looks like something that would be found in a church or cemetery. Next to this four-foot tall shrine of sorts is much smaller, cement covered brick structure that reminds me of a section from a chimney.

Brick Shrines_0397

White Brick Shrine_0396

That part of the shrine is not as refined and has a wooded top. On that top is a small statue of Joseph and Mary holding the baby Jesus. Right above this small memorial is a wooden, handmade cross wired to a chain linked fence. Just below the cross is a vessel also mounted to the fence, and in that is a small flag of Mexico. The whole scene reminded me of something that would be found at hundreds of gravesites in any cemetery.

Shrine Statue_0394

Shrine w-cross_0395

There was nothing there referring to someone’s death like many utility pole memorials I see.  Because of that, it makes me wonder who constructed this little shrine on a desolate street on the southwest side of Detroit.  It also makes me wonder why it’s there, and if it is ever visited.

 

 

Slow Roll Mondays is a weekly bicycling event held in Detroit. The rides leave every Monday night from various Downtown or Mid-town clubs or restaurants at 7:00 p.m. Depending on the time of year and weather, there can be 2,000 or more riders. The weekly rides wind their way through various neighborhoods and outlying sections of the city.

It’s a well-organized ride, and the crew of Slow Roll volunteers does a great job of keeping the riders together; out of the oncoming traffic lanes and to the right of the street so cars can get where they need to go. That’s a huge undertaking, considering the sheer amount of bicyclists that attend the weekly event.

A line of bikes _0131

With that many bikes, you will always end up behind someone, no matter how good or fast a rider you are. And what do you see from behind? Backs of other riders, and plenty of them.  Generally, there is nothing remarkable about backs of other riders. They are mostly covered in plain tee shirts, small backpacks, tank tops and other nondescript clothing or cycling accessories. But, there is more if you look closely at the riders ahead of you.

Bug Back_9641

Monster Baby _0013

So what else is on the backs on bike riders? Well, plenty. I’ve seen logos for various cycling clubs and fully tattooed backs, arms and necks. I’ve spotted many tee shirts with various brands or logos. I’ve also come across tee shirts with specific political or other types of messages, not to mention some pretty interesting graphics.

GMOB_9442

Grace Riders_9626

Hood to Hood_9438

Tattoo Back_0278

If you ever do the Slow Roll rides (or others), check out what’s on the backs of those just ahead. There is some pretty cool stuff!

FU you FF_9440

Sumer is here_0029

Am Flag Bike_0200

 

 

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