Sitting on a lot near the corner of Van Dyke Street and Harper Avenue is the once magnificent Eastown Theater. This graceful neighborhood theater, built-in the Renaissance Revival style, opened in 1930 as a movie house attracting patrons from the surrounding walk able neighborhoods. But like many grand, architecturally rich, structures I’ve spotted while bicycling throughout Detroit’s neighborhoods, time has taken its toll. Gone is the grand marquee and sign. Gone are many of the external ornamental sculptures. Many of the doors and windows are gone and so are the people who once supported the movies, plays and countless concerts this impressive place offered. In many ways, it is indicative of the once vibrant neighborhood it served.
After circling the Eastown, I headed up Van Dyke to see how this neighborhood has changed over the years. Most of the viable businesses that once lined the street are now closed and many of the buildings that housed them have been knocked down. But there are a few survivors, such as tire repair facilities, a couple of churches, a party store or two and some used furniture stores. But there’s one particular business that caught my attention, the Cloverleaf Bakery.
The Cloverleaf looked as if it’s been there forever and I was curious about its history. I stopped in front of the place, jumped off my bike, wandered in and checked out the selection of fresh-baked cakes, cookies and bread. While looking around, I noticed the original tin pressed ceiling and I asked the man behind the counter how long the bakery has been there. “Three months” he said.
“Three months,” I said doubtfully, “this place looks like it’s been here for 100 years.”
“You’ve been here longer than 3 months,” said a chuckling customer overhearing the conversation. “I bought my daughter’s 18th birthday cake here and that was years ago.”
“Yeah,” he said, “100 years we’ve been here.”
“Really?” the customer asked.
“How about 50 years and I’m 75” he said.
“Seriously” I asked, “how long?”
No response. It was like a ‘guess my history game’, and it was obvious he wasn’t about to give the right answer or any answer for that matter.
I took off and rode further north on Van Dyke. At the corner of Traverse Street I came upon the B’nai David Memorial Park, an old Jewish cemetery. It sits on a mound about six-feet above the road surrounded by a cement wall. Between the cement wall and the sidewalk, another brick retaining wall, reinforced by steel was built. I assume this was a protective measure to keep cars and trucks from smashing into the main wall, toppling it and the headstones that are placed quite close to the sidewalk and road. It would have been interesting to wander through this cemetery and read some of the inscriptions found on the grave markers, but, unfortunately, the gate was closed and chained.
Heading south from there on Saint Cyril Street, I cut through a few side streets leading to the back of Chrysler’s former Lynch Road assembly plant, a massive place. Few people live on those streets and a couple of them had been closed off and barricaded, and now weeds are growing through the asphalt. It was interesting to see how those particular streets have morphed into the surrounding grassland environment.
Sadly, the closed streets and the empty land around them is an open invitation to dumping, especially tires. Riding through there, I came across a trash pile that sparked my curiosity. So I stopped and rummaged through the mess and was surprised to find mail, medical records and magazines with complete names and addresses. Why was this stuff here? Who dumped it? Unbelievable!
I rode away shaking my head, wondering how all that personal information ended up in this weed-choked field.
*Photo from the Water Winter Wonderland collection.
“Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man”
In 2005, a group of young musicians from Britain, Canada, U.S. and Australia came together at Sydney’s Opera House and Brighton Dome to record a live Leonard Cohen tribute album. The event quickly expanded into a documentary film featuring moving performances by the likes of Beth Orton who sang “Sisters of Mercy”, which gave me goose bumps. One of my favorites, Teddy Thompson, sings and plays guitar on “Tonight Will Be Fine” and Rufus Wainwright, with his extraordinary vocal range, sings his heart out on “Hallelujah”. Some would argue that his version is the best recording ever of that song.
The film also includes performances by Jason Wade, Martha Wainwright, Antony and others backed by a tight band that included horns, strings and a great rhythm section. It also includes interviews with Cohen in which he offers insight into his extraordinary career and the songs he’s written. The movie closes with him singing “Tower of Song” with U2.
If you’re a fan of or you aren’t familiar with Leonard Cohen, Canada’s legendary poet/writer/musician go out and rent this DVD, or watch it here. You won’t be disappointed.