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Archive for January, 2013

A few months ago I posted a story on the fading wall signs I see on old buildings as I ride my bicycle across the city of Detroit. In that story I described the stylish art deco lettering, pastel colors, and intriguing graphics that were in favor at the time they were painted many years ago. I also pointed out how remarkable it was that they survived decades of foul weather and blistering sunlight. Although many are now faded, some to the point of being unreadable, others still survive and are remarkably clear and intact. Considering the harsh seasonal elements the outdoor art has been exposed to, it is incredible that so many of the vintage signs have endured over time.

This is a second in an ongoing series of occasional posts on fading wall signs in Detroit. As I wrote in the earlier post, most of the decorative faded advertising signs can be found on buildings constructed in the late 1800s through the early 1930s. They are usually painted on the upper level of a brick building two stories or taller. Many of the older ads have been hidden for years by adjoining structures that were constructed next to the buildings they were painted on. When the neighboring buildings were knocked down, the ornate vintage ads have come into full view.

Simple, straight forward message

Simple, straight-forward message

Here are a few more faders I spotted on my rides throughout the city. I’m especially fond of those featuring illustrations such as the one with the boy. Sadly, as the city evolves and more and more of the older structures are town down, the classic hand-painted illustrations and unique lettered wall signs used in the early days of Detroit advertising will eventually be lost.

I like everything about this vintage ad - the lettering, color, and illustrations

I like everything about this vintage ad – the lettering, color, and illustrations

Letter type and graphics are eye catching

Letter type and graphics are eye catching

I'm thinking there may have been an illustration of a dancing couple above the lettering

I’m thinking there may have been an illustration of a dancing couple above the lettering

The bold lettering and illustrations say it all

The bold lettering and illustrations say it all

You can read other entries on Detroit’s fading signs by clicking on the headline below.

Fading Wall Signs

Fading Wall Signs – Part 3

Fading Wall Signs – Part 4

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Many of us have seen the “Get Out of Jail Free” character from the board game Monopoly.  He’s the guy on the game’s Chance card with the little round head and the bushy mustache. Depending on the card, he could be wearing a one-piece, striped prison uniform that was popular in the early years of the 20th century. Or he might be dressed in a tuxedo and top hat, along with other clothes that show wealth. I saw this guy a few days ago while riding my bicycle through Southwest Detroit.  No, he wasn’t walking by or taking a bike ride, he was on a couple of walls.

The wall where I spotted him is part of a major graffiti gallery. It is packed with colorful, 3-dimensional masterpieces in a variety of styles. Within them is a series of simple paintings of the character from the Monopoly game cards. The fat-cat man, or whatever his name is, was strategically spray-painted on the walls in various locations between the large graffiti pieces. It was as if they were guarding them from vandals. The illustrations of the bald man were quite large, almost life-size in scale. Surprisingly, the renderings of the Monopoly character were close to an exact match of those found on the iconic board game cards.

Love the simplicity of the man next to the graffiti masterpieces

Love the simplicity of the man between the graffiti masterpieces

In one illustration, the bald man was standing in a tuxedo next to a sign that read, “pay poor tax $20”. He had a bewildered look on his face and his shoulders were hunched up. His hands were pointed away from his body and turned-upward as if to say, “What the hell?”

Who me? Why?

Who me? Why?

In another rendering, the little man was once again formally dressed. But in this version, he was holding a bag of money with a joyful look on his face that I interpreted as, ”look at me, I finally got the money!”  Of course the “Get Out of Jail Free” version was there too. In that one, he was wearing the traditional prison garb of the time while getting a boot in the rear. The whole piece was outlined in orange.  I forgot what a cool character this guy is.

Look, I have plenty of money!

Look, I have plenty of money!

I'm out of here!

I’m out of here!

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In case you missed it, this past Saturday was a good day to be out bicycling in Detroit. The roads and streets were dry. Snow and ice were long gone, and traffic was light. Best of all, it was near 60 degrees!  Temperatures that warm are quite unusual in Detroit for the second weekend in January, so why not take advantage of it and spend time checking out the city on a bicycle? That’s exactly what I did.

My leisurely ride began near the Historic Woodbridge neighborhood at the corner of West Warren Avenue and Trumbull Street, where I rode west on Warren to the Dearborn city limit. That is a distance of about 4-miles.  The Woodbridge District has hundreds of late 1800s and early 1900s Victorian homes, and most have been restored. The compact historic community is about four blocks wide, beginning at Trumbull, spreading west to Grand River Avenue. Beyond that, there isn’t much residential property along West Warren.

Woodbridge neighborhood near Trumbull St. and West Warren Ave.

Woodbridge neighborhood near Trumbull St. and West Warren Ave.

Typical of the many major commercial streets I’ve bicycled on in Detroit, there is plenty of open land along West Warren. The landscape out there is peppered with colorful painted buildings that house a variety of businesses. They include such places as auto repair shops, hand car washes, small Coney island restaurants and various bar-b-que joints. There is also a fair amount of vacant buildings along the avenue.

Well kept, busy laundromat on West Warren

Well kept, busy laundromat on West Warren

Colorful Mr Fit It housed in a beautiful art deco building

Colorful Mr Fit It housed in a beautiful art deco era building

Take note of the signature along the bottom

Note of the signature along the bottom

This little place sells it all

This little place sells it all

Crossing in Dearborn at Wyoming Ave. was like entering a new world. There I was greeted with a bunch of fast food chains, banks, and small bustling strip centers housing national retail stores. Quite a contrast to what I saw along West Warren in Detroit.

From Dearborn I rode south on Central Avenue to John Kronk Street. Central is a tight, narrow street in Southwest Detroit that is lined with old frame homes. Riding along that well-worn street, I saw plenty of people outside taking advantage of the high temps by cleaning up their yards, enjoying cold beers and a neighborly conversation on their front porches, or working on their cars  in the street. At John Kronk I headed east along the street. That section of John Kronk hugs an expansive rail road yard that lines the road. The yard was packed solid with hundreds of freight cars. Some were moving slowly and banging into each other as massive engines pushed them slowly along.

Rail yard along John Kronk

Rail yard along John Kronk

From Kronk, I cut over to West Vernor Highway, a street that runs through the heart of the City’s active Mexican community.  I pedaled east on Vernor to the abandoned Michigan Central Train Station, and from there I took a quick loop through Detroit’s oldest neighborhood – Corktown. I eventually ended up in downtown Detroit where I saw many bicyclists and people out meandering along, savoring the warmth. Even the skaters at the Campus Martius rink were enjoying the exceptional warm weather while skating without their heavy winter garb.

Warm January days don’t happen often in Detroit.  When they do, it’s always a bonus to get out and rack up a few miles on a bicycle.

Remember, you can click on any picture to view them larger.

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In early December I posted a story on the Man in the City project.  It’s a sculpture installation made of 43” metal orange men placed on various rooftops in midtown and downtown Detroit locations. John Sauve is the artist behind the venture. He started putting it together back in 2008 to, “…activate the skyline, and encourage people to look around”. Not only have the distinct sculptures become part of the Detroit skyline, they have been exhibited in Benton Harbor and Milford in Michigan, as well as New York City and many other locations.

While talking with Sauve about the project, he told me there are 20 of the sculptures in the city of Detroit. On my earlier bike rides I’ve spotted six of the installations. Since writing the original Man in the City blog entry in December, I’ve spotted two more of the figures: one in Detroit’s Historic Eastern Market; the other on the roof of the Woodbridge Pub near midtown Detroit.

One of many Detroit "Man in the City" rooftop sculptures

One of many Detroit “Man in the City” rooftop sculptures

Knowing there are many more throughout the city, I asked readers in the December entry to post locations for those they may have seen in their travels. In addition to the places I posted in that earlier blog entry, readers have spotted them in the Eastern Market area, on a building along Michigan Avenue near Brooklyn Street, the Detroit RiverWalk near the carousel, on Woodward Avenue in Ferndale, and one along I-96 near Milford Road that stands 30’ tall.

However, there are plenty more placed throughout Detroit. Take a look at the map and the RiverWalk piece found within the links below. There you will see where the Man in the City sculptures can be found.

Man in the City – Detroit locations link

Man in the City – RiverWalk location

Remember travelers; look up while in Detroit. You may see a little orange man watching over you!

Click here to read the the original Man in the City blog entry.

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It’s a New Year

Have a Peaceful 2013

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Holiday Peace Sign _5378

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