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Archive for April, 2014

Despite the urban blight and abandonment that is presented on the local and national news organizations, Detroit does have nice, stable neighborhoods. In fact, some are Historic Districts where early industrialists and pioneers in the retail business once lived. Those beautiful old neighborhoods are full of extremely large, well-maintained homes that were constructed in the 1900’s through the 1920’s.  One such place is the Historic Boston-Edison neighborhood located about 5 miles north of downtown and just west of Woodward Avenue.

It’s a compact neighborhood that covers 10 blocks from Woodward Avenue west to Linwood, and it runs 4 blocks wide, making for an easy ride and enjoyable tour on a bicycle. There are about 900 or so houses in the neighborhood in a range of architectural designs that would fill a textbook; Tudor Revival, Italian Renaissance, Mediterranean, Colonial, and many others. Some of the mammoth homes cover up to 18,000 square feet and include swimming pools housed in stand-alone buildings that architecturally match the larger main houses. The square footage of those pool houses are probably double the size of many homes in the surrounding community found outside the historic district.

The stately Benjamin Siegal House

The stately Benjamin Siegal House

The home of James Couzen's a former U.S. Senator and Mayor of Detroit

One of the Fisher brothers homes 

Many famous people have built homes or lived in that neighborhood. They include Henry Ford; Walter Briggs (former owner of the Detroit Tigers); members of the Fisher Brothers;  the Himeloch family owners of a Detroit department store of the same name; S.S. Kresge of the Kresge department stores, now Kmart.  Others that have lived in the neighborhood over the years were boxer Joe Louis, Detroit Tiger Willie Horton, Berry Gordy founder of Motown Records, and many others.

The Henry Ford House

The Henry Ford House

Walter Briggs House in a country like setting

Walter Briggs House in a country like setting

The S.S. Kresge House is one of the largest in Detroit

The S.S. Kresge House is one of the largest in Detroit

The home Motown's Berry Gordy

The home of Motown’s Berry Gordy

Although the neighborhood is well known for their large mansions, there are hundreds of smaller, modest homes scattered throughout the Boston-Edison neighborhood, especially further west of Woodward Avenue near the Lodge Freeway. Like the big guys, the smaller homes are well-crafted brick places in a range of building styles: Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, Tudor, etc. Each home in the neighborhood is unique, and no two are alike.

Smaller homes line the streets west of the Lodge Freeway

Smaller homes line the streets west of the Lodge Freeway

Inviting porch

Inviting porch and steps highlight this home

Beautiful stone work and detail above the windows

Beautiful stonework and detail above the windows

Note the stonework above the porch

Note the detail above the porch

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At the corner of West Grand Boulevard and Grand River Avenue are an interesting couple of mirror faced buildings nearly surrounded by outdoor art installations. The walls of the old structures are covered with various shaped cut mirrors, many hand painted with different patterns in bold, vibrant colors. The glittering, colorful mirrors are fastened to the buildings and extend from front to back, and top to bottom. Mixed within the mirrors are common things such as empty paint cans, sections of wire fencing, and other everyday items.

One of the colorful buildings on the site

One of the colorful buildings on the site

House wall detail with paint cans

House wall detail with paint cans

The unusual buildings straddle a couple of empty grassy lots. Those open areas are stuffed full of outdoor public art displays constructed of cast off recycled materials such as cement rebar, nails, bricks, tree limbs, old vehicles, and other similar items. Smaller shards of the painted, cut mirrors are used as highlights in many of the richly painted art pieces used in the installations.

Tractor with an artistic flair

Tractor with an artistic flair

One of many bright walls

One of many bright walls

The site with the glimmering building walls and folk art type installations are all part of the visually engaging Mbad Museum and Dabl’s African Bead Gallery. Although I’ve never been in the actual museum, I’ve spent plenty of time walking throughout the grounds looking at the mesmerizing variety of art installations, many done in an African motif.

Bead House Sign_9247

Side detail of another building

Side detail of another building

Someday soon I hope to get over there when the museum is open to see what artifacts and beads are on display. If the inside is anything like the outside, it should be a visual feast for the eyes.  In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the ever changing outdoor art work along this little section of Grand River Avenue.

If you haven’t been there, check it out if you’re ever in that part of the city. Here is a sampling of what you’ll find.

Mirror pieces surround the hand

Cut mirror pieces surround the hand

Made from nails, wire, and other found materials

Made from nails, wire, and other found materials

Detail of performance stage floor

Detail of an outdoor performance stage floor

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It’s been a long cold winter here in Detroit, and I’ve been hibernating waiting patiently for some warm weather so I could get out and do a little bike riding. Well, the cold weather has begun to drift away, and thankfully I’ve been able to venture out and do a little exploring on my bicycle. The other day I decided to cruise down to the old Delray neighborhood on the Southwest side of the city.

That part of town, with its gritty toughness, has a certain charm in a crazy kind of way. It’s a place where most houses I ride past are surrounded by chain linked fences. Behind many of those fences there are usually at least two (if not more) dangerous looking barking, snarling dogs running up and down the fence lines keeping their eyes on me. German Shepherd mixes, pit bulls and other type of large, menacing guard dogs seem to be the preferred breed. It’s also a place where people live among smoke stacks from the nearby steel mills and petroleum refineries. Coal yards, with mounds of the black stuff, edge the Rouge River that cuts through that heavy industrial section of the city.

My route to that Southwest Detroit neighborhood took me west along Fort Street. Just beyond the Ambassador Bridge the street starts to take on a sad look. There are very few businesses lining the street that are still operating. Many of the blocks are dreary with plenty of boarded up, abandoned buildings with many that still retain some of their interesting architectural detail. Not that long ago those places housed bars, cafes, dentist offices, small clothing stores and other businesses that served the surrounding neighborhood.

Corner Shot MC Riot_9039Near Clark Street there’s an interesting, old, somewhat small two-story brick building that is brightly painted. Featured on the painted walls are various auto parts, unusual cartoonish looking characters, bright red lips that remind me of the Rolling Stones logo, but with eyes painted above them. Other colorful pictures on the building’s wall include a bicycle, flags and other well painted images. On the front of the time worn building are the words “Motor City Riot” painted in a vivid, fascinating graffiti style.

It’s quite a colorful building!

 Spark Plug Painting_9035

Broken Piston Painting_9036

Dog on Bike Painting_9037

 

Red Lips w girl on bike Painting_9034

Mtr City Riot_9041

Click here for an early blog entry on the Poor Old Delray neighborhood.  

Reminder – You can click on any photo to view them larger.

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