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Archive for August, 2014

Detroit’s North End neighborhood is an interesting place full of history. It’s an old section of the city where residential and industrial areas seem to intersect. It’s also a good-sized neighborhood that radiates about two miles around the intersection of East Grand Boulevard and Oakland Avenue.

Bicycling through the streets of this old, historic neighborhood, I was struck by the contrast between the industrial area south of East Grand Blvd. and the farm like feel north of the Blvd. Like other areas of Detroit, it’s a tale of two neighborhoods within its borders.

The neighborhood’s south boundary area has a gritty, hard edged, industrial feel to it. There are expansive brick buildings throughout that were constructed in the 1920’s. Heavy-duty steel structures that support train tracks cut through that section of the neighborhood too. Many of the buildings once housed machine shops that fed parts into the burgeoning auto industry. Thankfully, many of those old storied buildings have now taken on a new life.

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

One of many small shops in the neighborhood

Many of the small manufacturing businesses that have survived the ups and downs of Detroit’s automotive industry over the decades can still be found along the old streets, but change seems to be coming. Young artists and others have been converting the vintage brick buildings found along the densely packed, narrow streets into residential lofts, art studios, performance spaces, etc.

This old building has been converted to residential  lofts

This  building has been converted to residential lofts

Tangent Art Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Tangent  Gallery is located in the neighborhood

Restored apartment building

Restored apartment building

The artists that have moved into the old places on the south side of East Grand Boulevard have created colorful exteriors paintings on the buildings. The large wall paintings seem to glow brightly in the early morning sunrise and late evening sunsets. The wall art offers a pleasing, uplifting contrast to the harsh industrial feel in that section of the neighborhood.

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this tall building

A rainbow of colors cover the side of this building

Colorful art can be seen on many North End buildings

There is colorful art on many North End buildings

On the north side of the Boulevard there is virtually no industry. The streets, once lined with homes full of families and viable retail businesses, have changed dramatically over time. With the city’s massive population exodus and other factors, many of the businesses have closed and homes have been abandoned. Now most of the vacant homes and abandoned businesses have been cleared. The lots where they once stood are now fields of tall, wild plants turning many sections of the north side of the Boulevard into soothing, country like fields.

Community and religious organizations have moved into that area and are creating community gardens. Some cover close to a full block of land. City parks have been adopted and revitalized, and when I recently rode past one, it was in use by families and kids of all ages.

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

A Michigan Urban Farming Initiative garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Oakland Avenue Community Garden

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

Delores Bennett Playground, a restored city park

The North End is an interesting neighborhood. It offers plenty of diversity in architecture, lifestyles, and landscape. It seems every street I rode down and every corner I approached offered a sense of togetherness and vitality. It’s good to see that the city’s North End is coming back to life.

One of many murals in the North End

Mural in the North End

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Colorfully painted artist studio north of East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

Beautiful restored doors on the Jim Handy Building on East Grand Boulevard

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In last week’s entry I highlighted some of the large, colorful graffiti murals that can be found in the city of Detroit. Many of the huge, multi-colored pieces I’ve seen (and presented in that blog entry) have extraordinary detail considering they are created from nothing more than the nozzle of a spray can. A number of the pieces I highlighted have graced the walls of outdoor galleries for years, while others have been added to walls within the last month or so.

Fel 3000 Rabbit_8373

SolomonFish Mural _9964

Two Ladies on Wall_9749

Lately, there seems to be a plenty of new murals being created on the sides of buildings and elsewhere. Although most are designed and created by talented Detroit artists, it isn’t unusual to spot a piece by a painter from Los Angeles, New York or elsewhere.

Meca and others wa;;_6259

E Mkt German Artist_6998

Fumeriosm_7016

This is the second in an occasional blog entry on the city’s imaginative graffiti murals. Since the works can vanish overnight, or change and evolve rapidly into something completely different, I hope to roll out more entries featuring the interesting street art I see on my bicycle travels across the city. In the meantime, keep your eyes open because you’ll never know what you’ll see on a wall in Detroit.

RSK Russell St_0925

D Cut B/W_9377

Horse and Lady Wall_1000

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Graffiti isn’t all one or two-color tags, quick hitting initials or large hard to read letters sprayed on the sides of buildings from fire extinguishers. There is much more to it than that. Scattered across the city of Detroit are some amazing graffiti murals. They have been created in multi-colored designs on large walls throughout many of the city’s neighborhoods and commercial districts.

Talented street artists from Detroit, Los Angeles, the Carolina’s, New York City, and other places use nothing more than spray paint from cans to create the giant, colorful murals. The remarkable works of art are full of detailed imagery and many of the pieces are monumental in scale. It isn’t unusual to see these beautiful works of art completely covering the sides of two-story buildings.

Cowboys E Market_0222

7th letter e mkt_0823

In some cases, the murals don’t last very long on a wall because they are painted over in a relatively short time. Depending on the site, I’ve seen a fresh piece quickly go up and within a few days, it has been painted over with a new piece of art by the same artist, or in some cases, another painter. Some of the murals are so fresh and new that I could smell the distinct odor of enamel paint in the air as I rode up to them on my bicycle.

Hygenic Dress League_0829

Sintex Indian _0852

Vincent Chin_0186

The subject matter of the works of art I’ve seen has a wide array of content. They include portraits, historical figures, monsters, birds, eyeballs, cartoon characters, and plenty of other interesting images. Although there are graffiti murals scattered around the city, there are a few hot spots where much of the wall art can be seen. They include the Lincoln Street Art Park, the Grand River Creative Corridor, a railroad wall along Newark Street and other places such as the historic Eastern Market and the Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation building on Trumbull Street.

Gratiot Mural _9595

Monster Steve Bug_0505

Eyeball Mural _0236

Keep your eyes open, because you never know what you’ll see on a wall in Detroit.

Woman w bird hair_0122
Purple Ape_0479Patch Whiskey_9788
 Hamtramck Arabic Lady Painting_9989

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I took a bicycle ride down Detroit’s Cass Avenue the other day, as I have many times in the past. But, this time I focused in on what the street is all about by taking a closer look at the buildings, business and diversity there.

Cass Avenue is a street that runs about three and a half miles from the city’s New Center Area at West Grand Boulevard, south to Congress Street where it ends. The New Center section is home to the historic Fisher Building and numerous office buildings designed by famed architect Albert Kahn in the 1920s for General Motors Corporation.

This Albert Kahn Building  is the former home of General Motors

This Albert Kahn Building is the former home of General Motors

Just south of the Boulevard is an area called Tech Town. It is home to many biotech and other innovative start-up tech companies. There are plenty of new buildings going up or being rehabbed in that section of Cass.

TechTown on upper Cass

TechTown area on upper Cass

Below Tech Town, Cass crosses over I-94 into the sprawling Wayne State University campus. WSU is a major research institution and is home to many buildings designed by Yamasaki and Associates, best known for their design of the world trade center.  The main branch of the Detroit Public Library also sits along a one block stretch of Cass, right across from the university.

Yamasaki Designed building on the Wayne State  campus

Yamasaki Designed building at Wayne State

Interesting canopy on storefronts near the university

Interesting storefront canopy near the university

A little further south (just below West Warren Avenue) Cass Avenue is lined with restored apartment buildings, lofts, taverns, restaurants, coffee shops, book stores, small specialty retail boutiques and plenty of art galleries. That part of the neighborhood was once known as the Cass Corridor, a poverty-stricken area of the city. Over the past few years it has slowly become gentrified and renamed Midtown Detroit.  There are still social service organizations helping those living in poverty on the surrounding streets and neighborhoods.

The Hilberry Theater is part of WSU

The Hilberry Theater is part of WSU

Restored apartment building is now a condo

Restored apartment building is now a condo

Stuberstone Lofts with street level shops

Stuberstone Lofts with street level shops

One of many restaurants and clothing stores on Cass

One of many restaurants and clothing stores on Cass

One of many of the neighborhood's longtime bars

A Cass Avenue icon

Social organizations serving the poor are  in the area

Social organizations helping the poor are in the area

Close to downtown on Cass Ave. sits the Rosa Parks Transit Center with its soaring white canvas coverings that remind me of an outdoor music theater. Also in that section of lower Cass are beautiful old office towers built-in the 1930s, as well as newer ones. This makes for a pleasant mix of architectural styles from different eras.

Rosa Parks Transit Center features soaring tent like canopies

Rosa Parks Transit Center features tent like canopies

Older office building close to downtown Detroit

Older office building close to downtown Detroit

Chrome and glass Comerica Bank building

Comerica Bank building features chrome and glass

There are even a few Victorian era homes still standing near downtown as a reminder of  what old Detroit must have been like over 100-years ago.  Bicycling along Cass Avenue is a visual treat. It offers a nice mixture of old businesses housed in vintage buildings to brand new, recently built places with restaurants, clothing stores, etc. Take a look if you are ever in that part of the city.

Victorian Era homes still line the street

A few Victorian era homes still line the street

Payne-Pulliam School near downtown

Payne-Pulliam School near downtown

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