Friday, June 25, 2010

Hitsville U.S.A. celebrates the life of Michael Jackson

It was quite a scene outside of Hitsville U.S.A. on Grand Boulevard this afternoon, when the folks at the Motown Museum welcomed fans of Michael Jackson to gather and celebrate the gloved one's life and music. It was pretty remarkable, really.

In the yard next to the house where the Jackson 5 originally recorded some of their early hits, speakers blared classic Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson songs through the neighborhood. There were Michael impersonators. Michael paraphernalia. Michael t-shirts. Even this huge Michael poster, which was designed by the guy standing next to it, although I didn't catch his name. The lawn in front of Hitsville was packed, so more people set up their lawn chairs in the median of Grand Boulevard. It kind of reminded me of people tailgating while they waited for a concert to start.

What was most remarkable was the enormous age range of the people celebrating. Dancing together to "A-B-C" were a young boy who I'm guessing was four and a woman who was well into her 70s. (And they could both move pretty well!) Never been a huge Michael fan, myself, but if you think he's a cult hero in the suburbs, you should see how they love him on the street where he made his name.

4th Fridays in Campus Martius beefed up for 2010

I caught a bit of the lunchtime live music earlier this week at Campus Martius Park, but that was just a prelude to what "Summer in the Park" planners have cooked up for their 4th Fridays series this summer downtown.

The first of the three all-day events is today, with live music playing at lunch, a Happy Hour show running from 4-6, and a four-band show playing from 6-9:45. The evening will feature The Brothers Groove, Thornetta Davis, Jill Jack, and the Howling Diablos, who, incidentally, should not be confused with blues legend Howlin' Wolf, who, by the way, should not be confused with local blues band Howlin' Mercy, who, it turns out, is fronted by recent Times consumer Andrew Johnson, whose band I once painfully mis-labeled in the local rag as Howlin' Mercy, which immediately ignited my love of Internet-based publications like this one, because now, when you (bleep) something up, you can just go fix it. Nevermind that there wasn't an Internet back then. A short while later, Al Gore and I invented it.

Anyway, back to Campus Martius. Following the evening-long music, the Detroit/Windsor International Film Festival will showcase the work of a pair of local film makers whose films were recently honored. If you're able to make it downtown for the show, the film festival portion will take you to 11 o'clock, at which point I'm going to recommend you walk a half block up Woodward toward the river to the Grand Trunk Pub, order a glass of Full Circle, and raise a toast to the finer things in life, like summer, music and weekends. And the Internet.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

"The Church With The Hole In The Roof..."

With a few bags of old kids' clothing, I stopped by The Pilgrim Church/I Am My Brother's Keeper Ministries yesterday, hoping I might finally get a chance to look inside the old building. As the subject of Mitch Albom's most recent book "Have A Little Faith", I Am My Brother's Keeper is an ancient, beat up old church on Trumbull near Grand River. When I visited the church a few months ago, I didn't get a chance to go inside. This time I was hoping to get a peak.

I did better than that. I was greeted outside by a man who worked for the church, and he not only gave me a quick tour of the sanctuary, but he also introduced me to a few people who were sitting outside just across the street, including Pastor Henry Covington, who was one of the primary characters in "Have A Little Faith".

They were all really nice people, and very thankful for the donation of clothing. In the picture above, you might notice that the pews on the left side are lined with grocery bags full of food. Those are for the people who come to worship. Also notice the square tile on the ceiling. That's actually a plaque, placed where the famous hole used to be; it lists all of the people who donated to have the hole repaired.

Friday, June 18, 2010

New ABC police drama to film in Detroit

It was just a matter of time before that tax credit led to something like this. A new police drama starring Michael Imperioli (he was in the Sopranos), James McDaniel (remember Lt. Fancy from NYPD Blue?) and others will begin airing this September every Tuesday night on ABC. Best of all, the show - called Detroit 1-8-7 - is being filmed entirely in Detroit.

Initial reports say that filming of the first season's 12 episodes will pump about $25 million in the local economy. Pretty sweet. And they're not even going to get in the way of Monday Night Football!

I haven't heard details as to when they'll start filming, but I'll be on the lookout for the chance to induct Lt. Fancy into the JennFriends. And by the way, what's the over-under on how long before they show one of the detectives gnawing on a coney dog? I say three episodes, tops! The trailer makes it look like show will be filmed in a humorous, documentary-style. Check it out at

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Remembering Detroit's Paradise Valley

You've probably heard of the Harmonie Park district in Detroit. It occupies part of a larger area that long ago was known as Paradise Valley, home to the bulk of Detroit's black population. City officials, it seems, are pushing to re-tag the area with its original Paradise Valley name lately; you see it more and more on signage these days in the area near Broadway not far from Comerica Park and Ford Field.

Paradise Valley, back in the day, was nationally known as a great place to catch some of the biggest names in jazz and blues. I learned all of this, and more, after seeing these photos that hang at Coaches Corner last week. Read about a few other things I learned by checking out the entry I made on

Monday, June 14, 2010

Quicken announces move downtown in a big way

You may recall the huge image of Barry Sanders that once covered the side of the Cadillac Building in downtown. Or maybe you don't. In any event, since the picture of Barry was removed in 2002, the side of building has been a parade of advertisements for cars, banks, and the like. The other day, Quicken Loans took over, announcing the move of their headquarters from Livonia.

Quicken's original plans to build a new headquarters have reportedly been shelved temporarily, and they'll instead occupy a few floors in the Compuware Building. Some 1,700 new workers have already begun making a daily drive every morning. I know this much: hot dog guy is loving it.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Schwankovsky Temple of Music: a Woodward gem

The Schwankovsky Temple of Music building on Woodward Avenue – just across from the original Vernor's Ginger Ale location – is a beaut, a pre-1900s relic that was, once upon a time, considered a high-rise. Now its dwarfed by neighboring skyscrapers, but "the Schwank" remains, designated as a Michigan Historical Site.

Originally, it was the home of F.J. Schwankovsky Company, a retail outlet that sold pianos, organs and musical merchandise. According to the historical marker on the front, the six-story brick and brownstone structure was completed in 1891. Upon completion, it became one of the first high-rise buildings on Woodward and one of the first buildings in Detroit whose initial construction included electric elevators.

Back in the day, the music company held recitals in the second-floor ballroom and brass concerts on the sixth-floor balcony. Pretty cool. As you can see by the sign hanging from the fire escape, the building is currently for sale. And, no, it is not commonly referred to as "the Schwank". I made that up.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Boutique shops establishing roots in Harmonie Park

When last I posted something in this space, I mentioned how prominent Faygo, Better Made and any other made-in-Michigan (and even more, made-in-Detroit) products are all the rage downtown these days. I barely finished typing those words when a lunchtime walk led me to a block of retail stores that hammered home the point even further.

I'd never even seen this little strip of shops before. Located on Grand River Avenue in Harmonie Park between Broadway and Centre, where Grand River fades to a small two-lane street, the row of stores features a number of small mom-and-pop clothing shops. In the lineup are stores like Rags, Spectacles, and Iklektikk. And there's also a little nook of a store called DSE Grand, and under its glass-top counter I spotted wallets and change purses made from old Faygo cans, Vernor's cans, and Better Made potato chip bags.

I'm telling you, the movement is everywhere. I left the shops and went next door to Coaches' Corner, and I half-expected them to force feed me a Stroh's.

Hot dogs, and other telling economic indicators

I'm no expert on economics, but it seems to me there are certain factors that offer hints that a downtown area - whether a big city like Detroit or a small town like Trenton - is showing signs of rebirth. Aside from the obvious "Are there a lot of people walking around?", here are a few questions you can ask youself:

Do you you ever walk through sidewalk scaffolding? If so, that's a good thing, evidence that someone is fixing up an old building. You see tons of the stuff in Chicago, and more and more I see it downtown Detroit lately.

Do you ever see those metal chutes leading from the top of a skyscraper to a Dumpster on the ground? If so, that's a good thing, too. It means someone is taking an old crappy building and trying to make something of it. Again, these aren't hard to find downtown these days.

But most revealing, are there hot dog vendors on the street corners? If so, that's a really good thing. Although the educational requirements to become a hot dog vendor aren't demanding, these guys aren't stupid. They only sell hot dogs where people are prone to buy hot dogs, and until this summer, I never noticed one in downtown Detroit, except maybe near Comerica Park before a Tigers game. Now they're all over the place, which tells me there are more people working, living and/or visiting downtown than there were a few years ago.

The guy in this photo sets up at Fort and Griswold every day, selling regular dogs and Italian sausages. Grilled green peppers and onions are availible at no extra charge, which is nice. And of course he sells Better Made potato chips and Faygo, which I think is city-mandated by this point. It seems everyone is latching on to the "Buy Michigan" movement.

No question, Detroit has a ways to go, as evidenced by the remarkable lack of a 7-Eleven. But one of these days I expect I'm gonna turn the corner and come across Purse Lady. Just don't tell MJenn.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A 360-degree peak inside the Michigan Central Depot

Every now and then, avid readers of these pages (there are at least seven of you out there!) send in some interesting Detroit-related fodder that I like to pass along. For example, people are still raving about the before-and-after blurbs that were fueled by photos submitted by GrifsDad. And by "raving" I mean they can kind of recall reading them.

Today's entry comes from the yet-un-nicknamed but hereafter-known-as BigBird (everybody on these pages gets a nickname, for anonymity's sake). BigBird sent in a really cool link to a 360-degree photo taken inside the lobby of the long-abandoned Michigan Central Depot. What a remarkable place. Unfortunately, building owner Matty Maroun, who also owns the Ambassador Bridge, seems content to let the place rot. I, for one, say spruce it up or rip it down, but then again, it's not my money.

Anyway, as it stands, the depot is one of the most-recognized, most-photographed, most-snuck-into condemmed buildings in Detroit, and that's saying something, because there's no shortage of those, although I hope we're doing a fair job here in highlighting the ones that are in the process of being resurrected. If you've missed those highlights, click on the "Detroit buildings" link to the right. Otherwise, click this link to check out the inside of the Michigan Central Depot. And thanks for the link, BB. When I first saw your message, I expected a photo of a homeless guy washing his "stuff" in the fountain.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Comerica Park stirred up after Galarraga's near-perfect game

A day after getting royally hosed of his perfect game, Armando Galarraga was celebrated at Comerica Park from every angle this afternoon. Fans honored him before the game. Somebody gave him a brand new Corvette. And outside the stadium, WDIV set up an enormous card for fans to sign.

One of the not-so-friendly gestures included a man walking around claiming to have "KILL JOYCE!" t-shirts for sale. It turns out he really didn't, but still... Gotta love how Detroit latches on to its athletes!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Omni Hotel: 108 rooms and a view

The Omni Hotel often gets lost in the Detroit hotel shuffle of bigger name digs like the Book-Cadillac, the RenCen Marriott and the casino hotels, which is a shame. From the outside, the Omni is a beaut, located right on the RiverWalk between Chene Park and the Belle Isle Bridge. I've never been inside, but I'm hoping to book a room sometime this summer.

Figuring the old building probably has a pretty cool history, I sent our crack research team looking for info, and found more than I bargained for. (Note: the Michigan Historical Sites website is really cool, if you're into that kind of stuff.) The building, it turns out, was constructed in 1902 as the Parke-Davis Research Laboratory, the leader in pharmacological research in the country. It was the first industrial laboratory devoted exclusively to pharmacological research, and was responsible for, among other things, many of the "wonder drugs" that we take for granted today.

And now it's a hotel, and a National Historic Landmark to boot!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Fountain Bistro opening in Campus Martius Park

Our relentless digging for marginally insightful information reveals that Fountain Bistro – now occupying the former home of Au Bon Pain in the heart of downtown Detroit – is planning a soft launch for tomorrow, Wednesday, June 2. No word on when the "hard" launch will happen, but it's nice to see there wasn't a long dead period in that space following the closing of Au Bon Pain earlier this year.

Campus Martius Park, you may recall reading recently, was named the No. 1 urban park in the country for the impact its has in helping grow the surrounding areas. I will happily vouch for the fact that it's a better park with a restaurant on site, so I'm looking forward to checking out Fountain Bistro. And for the record, we're pleased with the name change, if no other reason than the previous cafe was an Au Bon Pain in the ass to pronounce.