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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

"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

“In the Garden of Cultural Change” (Integrated Balance) – Diana Alva

"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

 

 

M-90 in Michigan’s thumb area starts near the shores of Lake Huron to the east and stretches west about 40 miles. There is a 5-mile section of the road that connects the villages of Lexington and Croswell, two small communities that seem like they’re worlds apart. Lexington is on the shores of Lake Huron and is a tourist mecca in the warm summer months.  It attracts people with its sandy public beach, modern boat harbor, tourist shops, and small town parades, such as the annual 4th of July Parade.

The Lexington 4th of July Parade

The Lexington 4th of July Parade

Croswell to the west is a small farming community of about 2,500 hundred people. It caters to the surrounding farms that raise corn, wheat, oats, soy beans, sugar beets, and other crops. The town has many small mom and pop stores offering a variety of goods and services. In addition to those independent stores, there is an old-fashioned, squeaky floored Ben Franklin. That store started years ago as a five and dime retail franchise and Ben Franklins can be found in many small towns across the country. Croswell is also home of the state’s only pedestrian suspension bridge that spans 139 feet across the Black River that runs through the town.

Interesting variety of items

Interesting variety of items

Historic Croswell swinging bridge

Historic Croswell swinging bridge

I was recently up there and took a leisurely bike ride between the towns along a paved bike path that runs parallel to M-90. Most of the path is about 6 feet wide and set back from the highway at least 15 feet or more. Some sections do run close to the road, but are well marked with tall posts creating a strong sense of safety for both bike riders and walkers. Unlike the city riding I do, I didn’t have to keep looking over my left shoulder watching for cars and city buses that tend to hug the curbs. Nor did I have to dodge broken glass and other city road hazards like geese on Belle Isle.

The 5 mile pathway runs parallel to M 90

The 5 mile pathway runs parallel to M-90

About a mile and a half west of Lexington, the pathway slopes noticeably downward toward Lake Huron to the east. The slope makes for a rather deceiving, strenuous climb while bicycling west. Along the way the paved path passes old fruit orchards and a 36-hole golf course that overlooks Lake Huron to the east. The path also cuts through acres of farmland, past the local high school, and past Pioneer Sugar, one of the area’s largest employers. Finally, it ends in Croswell.

Farms line the pathway

Farms line the pathway

Local High School

Local High School

Croswell's Pioneer Sugar plant

Croswell’s Pioneer Sugar plant

Dedicated bicycle pathways do make sense, especially along two-lane roads that handle quite a bit of traffic such as M-90. There should be more of them.

 

 

 

Get ready for a noisy few days!

No Fireworks 300 ft_0279

 

Enjoy the holiday!

Think downriver Detroit, and what usually comes to mind is heavy industry.  It’s an area of the city where the Detroit and Rouge Rivers meet.  Smoke stacks from companies, such as U.S. Steel on Zug Island, line West Jefferson. The mighty smoke stacks and other industrial structures can be seen from miles away, standing tall, much like tombstones in a cemetery.

Smoke stacks and other tall industrial structures dominate the landscape

Smoke stacks and other tall industrial structures dominate the downriver landscape

Freighters full of iron ore, coal, and other industrial materials slip into special unloading areas along the Rouge or Detroit Rivers, and huge conveyor belts swing onto the ships for the unloading of raw materials. Tugboats that remind me of muscular bulldogs push the multi-ton freighters around as easily as a sharp knife cuts through ice cream. Cement plants have a constant stream of trucks in and out, kicking up dust that stings the face as the wind blows it directly at me while I ride by on my bicycle.

Tugboat slowly moving up the Rouge River

Tugboat slowly moving up the Rouge River

It's pretty dusty around the cement plants

It’s pretty dusty around the cement factories

Wild swamp type reeds, cattails, and other tall unknown wetland plants line the banks of the Rouge River. The wild plants create a pleasant green balance against the mounds of black coal, blueish tinged salt, dark-colored gravel, and other materials that are generally stacked two stories tall along the river banks.

Reeds and other wetland plants line the banks of the Rouge River

Reeds and other wetland plants line the banks of the Rouge River

Long abandoned commercial and residential buildings sit along West Jefferson and the Rouge River. Some remind me of remote, untouched fishing cabins, waiting for people to return and carry on life as it was in the boom times of the 1940’s and 50’s.

This old place reminds me of a fishing shack

This old place reminds me of a fishing shack

There is also the historic drawbridge on West Jefferson that crosses the Rouge River. It is straight out of the 1920’s. The old bridge (built-in the Art Deco style) has been closed since May of 2013 when an intoxicated bridge operator mistakenly lowered the upright bridge onto a passing freighter that was making its way slowly up the Rouge River. The old bridge now stands in an upright, open position, with obvious v-shaped damage to the top left, waiting patiently to be repaired.

Note the damage on the upper left of this historic drawbridge

Note the damage on the upper left of this historic drawbridge

Yes, downriver Detroit is full of heavy industry. It’s dusty and smelly in certain sections and downright dirty in others. But the area is more that. It’s an interesting part of the city, and it’s packed with history. It’s a place where the old industrial plants once employed thousands of workers producing chemicals, steel, cars, and many other products that shipped (and still ship) around the world.

Early Sunday morning is a perfect time to ride the streets of Detroit. The multi-lane, asphalt streets and roads are virtually traffic free. Buses are few and far between, and there’s an overall calmness to the city.  One of my favorite Sunday morning rides is going north on Second Avenue from West Grand Boulevard to Palmer Park where it ends. The street is one way from the Boulevard to Highland Park where it goes to a traditional two lane street. Plus, its four lanes wide to Highland Park, and unlike other streets in Detroit, it’s relatively smooth, with few potholes to deal with.

Second Ave and West Grand Blvd

Second Ave and West Grand Blvd

Palmer Park Fountain

Palmer Park Fountain

This past Sunday I took this ride once again. What always amazes me about riding the northbound avenue is the lack of traffic. Knowing that it’s Sunday morning, less traffic is expected, but on this ride only one car passed while I pedaled the total length of Second Avenue north to Palmer Park! The one car that did pass was in Highland Park. The lone car was heading south as I was pedaling north. It’s hard to believe that I can ride a bicycle in a major city for about 4.5 miles and only have one car pass by!

Looking south on Second Avenue north of West Grand Boulevard

Looking south on Second Avenue north of West Grand Blvd

North from the Boulevard, Second Avenue runs through a variety of neighborhoods. There is the iconic Historic Boston-Edison Neighborhood with their restored, large stately homes. Beyond that it’s basically smaller single family residences. A few multi-story apartment buildings line the street along some sections, especially closer to Highland Park.  Some of those apartment buildings have been abandoned and are in disrepair.  Despite the financial problems Highland Park (a small city surrounded by Detroit) is dealing with, there are some spectacular, well-maintained homes there. Many are easily seen from Second Avenue.

Second Ave. is a two-way street in Highland Park

Second Ave. is a two-way street in Highland Park

A charming Highland Park home

A charming Highland Park home

One of the most fascinating things about the ride is a pedestrian subway. It passes under Second at the corner of Cortland Street in Highland Park. The little subway is now sealed and probably hasn’t been used in over 50-years.  It’s hard to imagine that at one time there we so many cars jammed on the street that a subway was needed for people to cross.

Pedestrian subway at the corner of Cortland St. and Second Ave.

Pedestrian subway at the corner of Cortland St. and Second Ave.

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