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As I pointed out in my previous blog entries, there are quite a few vintage advertising signs painted on the sides on some of Detroit’s oldest buildings. Many of the once colorful and interesting signs have faded into the brick walls they have been painted on, leaving nothing more than a ghostly image of their intriguing illustrations and lettering. Some featured pastel colors, and others seemed to have had bold, vivid colors incorporated into their graphics, lettering and logos.

This is probably at least 100 years old. A real work of art

Probably at least 100 years old. A real work of art

While out bicycling in Detroit, I see many of these old ads scattered throughout the city. I’ve seen them on old abandoned restaurants, small machine shops, and older storefronts along the city’s main streets. Many of the 100 year-old brick buildings along the riverfront have ruminants of them, usually near the building’s roof line. The sides of vacant buildings within residential neighborhoods that once housed small mom and pop general stores and other specialty shops also have them.

Former neighborhood stove dealer with ad type barely visible

Former neighborhood stove dealer with ad lettering that is barely visible

Nice variety of letter types

Nice variety of letter types

In earlier blog entries on the faded wall signs in Detroit, I noted that most of the vintage signs I’ve seen are slowly disappearing into the walls they are painted on. The sun has bleached them out, and the wicked weather of winter has stripped them of their once colorful highlights.

Here are a few more photos of the fading signs of Detroit that I’ve spotted on my recent bicycle rides throughout the city.

Enjoy!

Calming pastel colors on this old wall ad

Light pastel colors on this old wall ad

Machine shop sigh is slowly fading away

Machine shop sign is slowly fading away

Vintage metal sign probably had neon lighting at one time

Vintage metal sign probably had neon lighting

Below are links to past blog entries on the Fading Wall Signs of Detroit.

Fading Wall Signs

Fading Wall Signs – Part 2

Fading Wall Signs – Part 3

Fading Wall Signs – Part 4

Fading Wall Signs – Part 5

Fading Wall Signs – Part 6

Remember, you can click on any image to view it larger.

 

A Colorful Garden

The other day I was enjoying a leisurely bicycle ride along West Grand Boulevard in Detroit admiring the big old beautiful brick homes. Many were in immaculate shape, well maintained, and nicely landscaped.  Some of the old places have large, inviting porches on both the ground and second levels where people were out sitting, enjoying the warm sunny day. Other old homes along the Boulevard were a little battered, but their timeless, classic 1920’s architecture was still quite evident.

Pedaling south toward the Detroit River a colorful array of flowers caught my attention to the right. At the corner of Nall Street and the Boulevard was a gorgeously landscaped, colorful front yard garden.  In it were a large variety of flowers and plants in a rainbow of colors that included bright reds, glowing yellows, and deep greens.

The delightful, calm setting reminded me of a Monet painting.

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W Grand & Nall_0784

W Grand & Nall_0785

Chene Street Detroit

Chene Street on Detroit’s east side was once one of the main streets for the city’s large Polish population. The mile and a half stretch of the street from the I-94 Expressway to Mack Avenue was one once lined with all types of shops, bakeries, ethnic restaurants, bars and other businesses that were supported by the strong Polish community.

Mixed in along Chene, and lining the streets that run parallel to it, were plenty of large two-family and small single-family wood frame homes that housed the rapidly growing Polish population in the early days of the booming automotive industry. With shifting demographics over the years, the once vibrant neighborhood is now pretty much void of commercial and residential buildings.

About three years ago I did a blog entry on the churches of Chene Street that can be viewed by clicking here. In that story I featured the variety of small churches found along that battered street and the people that they seem to cater to. Since that time, I’ve ridden down that street many times watching it slowly deteriorate. Lately it seems more and more of the older buildings have been stripped and torn down.

Like many old buildings I see on my rides, many of the ones that remain on Chene remind me of those that can be found in ghost towns on the prairies of the American west. The old, gray wooden ones especially remind me of those. The aged 100-year old buildings with their weathered cladding, splitting grain lines and sun soaked, dried out wooden facing, remind me of the tough gnarly skin of a lonely old man who worked all his life in the desert sun.

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Looking at the old wooden structures that line that barren stretch on the city’s eastside, I see more than rundown buildings; I see a huge part of Detroit’s history and heritage slowly fading away.

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Also found along Chene are some pretty interesting commercial brick buildings. A few look as if they are still in use and some feature really nice art deco design elements such as rounded corners and ornate brick work along the roof lines.

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There is still quite a variety of interesting buildings along Chene, and unfortunately, many have been stripped and burnt. However, looking beyond their rough condition, there are some real gems of early 1900’s residential and commercial architecture to be seen. It’s a shame that most will be lost forever.

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The Ford Rouge Plant is a huge, historic manufacturing facility just downriver from Detroit.  It was completed in 1928, and at that time it was the world’s largest factory of its type. The complex is about 1-1/2 miles wide by 1 mile long. At its peak, it employed about 100,000 workers.

Built along the Rouge River where it meets the Detroit River, it’s a place where large lake freighters pull in to unload iron ore that is turned into steel used in the manufacturing of automobiles. At one time, the historic complex produced nearly everything needed on site to manufacture automobiles from start to finish. Steel, glass, cast iron engine parts, etc. all came together to feed the assembly lines that workers manned 24 hours a day.

Rouge Entrance _2376

Just outside the plant’s main employee entrance along Miller Road is a small park with a brick wall that features a series of historical markers. The markers offer a brief history of the plant. Accompanying them are historic photos of the mammoth facility that have been engraved on granite. They complement the message found on the markers.

Roge Plant History Wall_2366

The markers and photos vary based on the plant’s place in history, and some feature the Rouge Plant’s role during WW II, which included production of non-automotive vehicle parts for airplanes and boats.  There is also a marker pointing out the important part women played in the overall war effort. The female employees were hired during WW II to work the assembly lines, building components for airplanes and other war related vehicles and parts. That is where the term, “Rosie the Riveter” came from.

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Rosie Rouge Engraving _2344

Also featured on the wall are plaques and photos dedicated to the labor movement and the establishment of the United Auto Workers (UAW) at Ford. In the late 1930s, union organizers tried to set up a union at the Rouge Plant. As they crossed Miller Road using the employee overpass leading to the factory entrance, they were met with Ford security guards, and a conflict erupted. Many workers were brutally beaten on that famous day.

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Rouge Miller rd Engraving_2345

The conflict, known as “The Battle of the Overpass”, eventually led to the establishment of the UAW within the Ford Motor Company.

The overpass is still in use today. Standing just across it in the park is a lifelike cast statue of Henry Ford. He’s facing the bridge as if greeting the workers as they arrive.  Just behind him is the brick wall with its historic plaques. Beyond the wall is the huge Rouge complex with its vast steel and power generating plants that are still in operation today.

Henry Ford at Miller Rd Bridge _2371

Henry Ford at Miller rd Park _2370

At one time, Detroit had a diverse ethnic base. In the early 20th century, people from all over the world migrated to the city to work in the quickly expanding car industry and many other types of manufacturing companies. Workers settled here from Germany, Poland, the Balkans, Ukraine, Mexico, Arabic countries and beyond before moving to the suburbs.

Currently there is an influx of Bengali people into the neighborhoods along Conant Avenue from Hamtramck into North Detroit. The people from Bangladesh are moving into that neighborhood from the New York City borough of Queens where they have been priced out because of gentrification.  Plus, the housing costs in North Detroit are incredibly cheap. In addition to the affordable housing being scooped up by the Bengalis, they have opened interesting stores and services in that area.

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I remember the first time I rode along Conant in that section of the city. Not only was I amazed at the array of stores and shops, but also the rich smells of spices that filled the air.  It was like walking into a specialty spice store. Looking around at the business along the street, it made sense. There were numerous spice stores with their doors wide open and restaurants specializing in curry, cardamom, ginger, cumin and many other spicy flavored food dishes.  It was truly a feast for the nose.

Live Fish Sign Bengal _2248

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Conant, also know as Bangladesh Avenue, has more than restaurants and spice shops. Along that section of Conant that straddles Hamtramck and North Detroit are many other stores (with their names written in the Bengali native language). There are fabric and clothing stores that offer colorful, bright patterns and women’s Saris. Small, independent markets offering fresh halal meats and fish are also abundant.  Other stores offer chicken (some live) and general groceries. There is also a large Mosque serving the community.

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Some of the residential streets such as Moran and Klinger run parallel to Conant. They too have old world, small corner markets catering to those living nearby.  Like those on Conant, they offer an assortment of meats, vegetables, poultry and imported grocery items.

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That small section of Hamtramck and North Detroit is a culturally diverse, interesting and lively area. It’s a place where kids play on the streets and families walk hand in hand to the local stores and restaurants.

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I like riding my bicycle along Junction Street in Southwest Detroit, especially the one-mile stretch between Michigan Avenue and Vernor Highway.  This little section of the Detroit street is somewhat of a microcosm of what I’ve seen in many neighborhoods while riding across the city over the past few years.

Junction Street is packed with a variety of vintage buildings that include large, older historic churches with steeples that reach high into the blue sky. There are automotive related industries still kicking out car parts. Overhead railroad tracks cross over the street and graffiti covered trains roll noisily along them. Lining the street are a few restaurants that cater to the Mexican population that live in that part of the city and non-residents seeking authentic ethnic fare.

One of many restaurants on Junction Street

One of many restaurants on Junction Street

Most of the commercial buildings and homes on Junction appear to be built in the early 1900’s through the 1930s. They look to be well cared for, and in many cases still have small, viable businesses. The older homes found there are packed together with nothing more than a walkway between them, and are mostly well maintained. It’s not unusual to see smiling, happy kids out playing and running around in the small fenced in front yards of the old homes.

Interesting duplex home

Interesting duplex home

One of many well maintained homes along Junction

One of many well maintained homes along Junction

Written on a fence facing Junction

Written on a fence facing Junction

As I mentioned, Junction Street runs through a mature neighborhood and has plenty of older buildings representing a variety of architectural styles.   There is a former service station in the art deco period that is still in use as a repair center.  On a corner sits an intriguing three-story Victorian era building with unusual roof lines that houses a florist on the first floor. Another fascinating building, probably built in the 1920s, features extraordinary brick and tile work.

Beautiful Artdeco service station

Beautiful Artdeco service station

Note the roof line on this Victorian era building

Note the roof line on this Victorian era building

Intricate brick and tile highlights are featured on this building

Intricate brick and tile work are featured on this beauty

There are two commercial buildings constructed with no gap between that caught my eye. They may have been neighborhood bars at one time. They now look secure, but not in use. One features red porcelain panels right out of the 1930s, and the other is now painted a couple of shades of gray.  Done right, both could make interesting, residential lofts spaces.

Thinking these would make ideal residential  lofts

Thinking these would make ideal residential lofts

Like many of the city’s commercial streets that I’ve ridden, that one mile stretch of Junction features the usual mix of liquor stores, hair salons, barber shops, and other small business supported by the surrounding community. Like other parts of the city, it’s refreshing to see so many viable businesses and well-maintained homes.

Plenty of small business, like this liquor store can be found on Junction

Small business, like this can be found on Junction

The corner of Junction St and Vernor Hwy is quite active

The corner of Junction St and Vernor Hwy is quite active

 

 

 

Detroit is fortunate to have a broad representation of some of the best architectural buildings that were constructed in the early to mid 1900’s. The Guardian Building is considered by many to be one of the finest art deco high-rise buildings that can be found anywhere. There’s the Penobscot building; another art deco gem and the glorious Fox Theater, built in the golden age of theaters with its fabulous far east motifs , There’s the Rococoish style Opera House and many others, including the majestic Fisher building in the city’s new center area.

Beyond the immediate downtown and new center areas are a tremendous amount of ornate apartment buildings featuring exotic, breathtaking facades incorporating beautiful brick and tile work. There are plenty of art deco styles and mid-century modern apartment buildings. Abundant arts and crafts designed buildings and a blend of southern Mediterranean, Moroccan, Rococo and other decorative styles can easily be found. To me, one of the most fascinating features of the old apartment buildings, are the decorative entryways.

Moroccan style with incredible detail found within the brick work

Moroccan style with incredible detail within the brick work

Interesting pillars and arches to the left of the doorway

Interesting pillars and arches to the left of the doorway

The inviting doorways are spectacular in their fine detail and eye-catching brick work that, in many cases, are quite dazzling in appearance. Complementary windows placed on both sides of the entryways, trimmed to match the door openings, go with some of the entry ways I’ve seen on my bike rides. Other buildings feature vintage lighting fixtures placed above or beside the appealing doorways. Most appear to be hand crafted to match the overall architectural theme of the building.

Art Deco Style has a nice warm feel

Art Deco Style has a nice warm feel

Windows compliment the entry

Windows compliment the entry

Clean, eye catching entryway

Clean, eye-catching entryway with vintage lights

I’ve spotted arched entryways made of bricks that incorporate colorful Pewabic tile. Ornate textured cement blocks, sandstone, granite and other decorative tile and slate are incorporated into many of the classic, old world apartment buildings as well. In some cases, Romanesque pillars are also featured, as are decorative insets, hawkish looking ethnic family shields and building names carved into marble or granite strategically placed above the entryways.

Beautiful carvings above the arched doorway

Beautiful carvings above the arched doorway

Note the inlayed stone work that forms the arch

Note the inlayed stone work that forms the arch

Amazing detail above and on each side of the arch. Check out the faces

Amazing detail above and on each side of the arch. Check out the faces at the bottom of the vertical pieces

Many of the classic old apartment buildings, with their fine entryways, can be seen across the city. Large concentrations of them are in the historic Palmer Park area near Woodward Avenue and 7-mile Road. Many of the multi-story buildings in that neighborhood were built in the late 1900’s through the 1930’s and offer some of the most ornate entryways of any apartment buildings found in the city. Other beautiful old apartments featuring decorative, inviting entryways can be found along East Jefferson on both East and West Grand Boulevard, and along many of the main roads and neighborhood streets of Detroit.

Opening leads to a small courtyard in front of the entry door

Opening leads to a small courtyard in front of the entry door

Wrought iron fence compliments the grand entryway

Wrought iron fence compliments the grand entryway

Reminder – Click on any photo to view them larger.

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