Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit: Before and After

By now it's old news that the Lafayette Building in downtown Detroit is gone, but digging through our archives of photos, I came across this one that I had intended to post back when the demolition was first completed.

This is the view from the three-way intersection of Griswold, Lafayette and Michigan Avenue.

To see our incredibly in-depth chronicling of the Lafayette demolition, click on the "Lafayette Building" link below this post. It begins with the days when those little saplings were growing on the roof, and ends with the straw-covered, grass-seeded ground that's there today.

Monday, November 29, 2010

America's Thanksgiving Parade is more than what you see on TV

In past years, I've relied on the TV to see those big balloons make their way down Woodward during Detroit's Thanksgiving Day parade. I've never watched real closely, but I've seen it.

This year I decided to catch the parade first-hand for the first time, and from my spot on the parade route in Grand Circus Park, I found out why America's Thanksgiving Parade is one of Detroit's cooler holiday traditions.

The crowd size was impressive. I never realized how many people turn the parade into a family outing. Some get there early and set up tents along Woodward. Some bring portable grills and make breakfast. Some bring step ladders to get their kids a better view.

And I was also treated to some of what they don't show on TV, like how the balloons have to be pulled flat in order to get beneath the People Mover track on the south edge of Grand Circus Park. It's kind an odd sight, and seems a little hokey for the self-proclaimed "America's Thanksgiving Parade", but it doesn't take away from the fact that the parade - along with the Lions' home game that follows - is one of the truly unique things about Thanksgiving in Detroit.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Park Bar a quiet addition to Detroit's growing Foxtown

Don't look for a screaming neon sign to announce you've finally found the Park Bar in downtown Detroit. There isn't one.

In fact, there isn't a sign at all. Just a white-brick and dark-glass building on a quiet little corner a few blocks from Comerica Park, precisely the kind of place that's helping the glow of Foxtown spread beyond Woodward. Cliff Bell's sits next door on Park Avenue; the Bucharest Grill - which serves up the Park Bar's grub - is next door on Elizabeth.

While the Park Bar seems content to keep quiet from the outside, inside they've built one of Detroit's cooler new taverns. The taps spew out everything from Michigan-made Arcadia Ales to grandpa's favorites like Pabst Blue Ribbon. For lunch, the Bucharest serves up diverse offerings such as Schnitzel Plate and hummus, as well as an assortment Americana hotdogs, including The Chicago, The Philly Dog, and, of course, The Detroiter.

The bar is also in the process of expanding its performing arts area upstairs. Currently, a homegrown play called "Detroit Be Damned: A Beaver's Tale" is playing through Dec. 18. And for weekly live music, the Park hosts Accoustified Wednesday.

If nothing else, the Park provides an excellent place to sit, enjoy lunch, and look across the street at the aging, crumbling Hotel Charlevoix, a stark reminder that Foxtown's glow still has plenty of hurdles to clear.

Friday, November 19, 2010

DIA: Inside/Out program puts art on display around metro Detroit

As a way to share fine art with folks throughout southeast Michigan, it's a pretty cool idea.

And as a marketing tool, it ain't too shabby either.

The DIA's Inside/Out program, part of the museum's celebration of its 125th anniversary, takes framed reproductions of classic works of art and displays them in points throughout Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties. Since "public paintings in Detroit" typically means "graffiti on an old building", the Inside/Out program is a great way to class up the joint at little bit.

Having never heard of the program, this reproduction of "Eleonora of Toledo and Her Son" surprised me when I first spotted it in a well-manicured, grassy area on Woodward between the Fox and Fillmore theaters. It's one of five works of art on display in the city; 35 other are scattered around the region. (For our Downriver readers, the closest to home for us is on Biddle in downtown Wyandotte).

You can get detailed locations of all 40 at dia.org. And, of course, you can always see the real deals at the DIA. If you haven't been down to the old museum lately, it's worth getting reacquainted.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

'Close Quarters' cancels shoot in downtown Detroit parking garage

(Updated 11/18) 'Close Quarters', the action thriller that was scheduled to shoot at a parking garage on the west side of downtown Detroit, has canceled its scheduled plans to shoot scenes Friday, Nov. 19. No plans for rescheduling the filming have been announced.

The parking garage, located on Lafayette and Third, was used recently during filming of 'The Double' starring Richard Gere. If you're unfamiliar with the building, it's located across Third Street from the Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News building, and is visible from the Lodge as you enter downtown (it wears an enormous billboard that features the newspaper company's rather curious slogan "Time To Engage".)

'Close Quarters', a Lifetime Movie Network production, will star Catherine Bell as a military-trained special-ops agent who's forced back into duty when her husband, played by Anthony Michael Hall, is kidnapped. The movie will also star Mekhi Phifer.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Cool cash: Detroit Community Scrip aims to keep money in the city

It isn't Monopoly money. And it isn't a clever little keepsake. It's called Detroit Community Scrip (sometimes known as Detroit Cheers) and it spends like real cash, provided you're in the right bar or restaurant.

Detroit Community Scrip is real currency, backed by a handful of Detroit bars who were looking for a way to ensure money stayed in the city. It's much like a gift certificate, but it's accepted at a  growing list of places in Detroit. If, for instance, your tab at the Grand Trunk Pub comes to $16, just fork over six of the Detroit Community Scrip $3 bills. You'll get change in U.S. currency.

You can exchange it for U.S. currency any time at the Grand Trunk, Park Bar or Motor City Brewing Works out in Midtown. And you can buy Detroit Scrip with U.S. currency, dollar for dollar. The benefit to the bars, restaurants and other retailers who deal in Scrip is that it ensures the  money will be spent somewhere in the network of Detroit businesses who recognize it.

So what's the benefit to you, the person spending it? I asked that to the bartender earlier today after I handed over a few $3 bills to cover my lunch. She seemed pretty happy to see me using the bills. "If you ever come down to a bar, maybe before a game when the places are packed, just show your Detroit Scrip. You'll get served before everyone if they know you have that."

Cheers to that!

Aside from the three backing establishments, other places currently accepting Scrip are Cliff Bell's next to the Park Bar, the Woodbridge Pub, Supino's Pizza, and Union Street, as well as retailers such as Wheelhouse Detroit, Canine to Five Detroit Dog Day Care, and Dormouse Design, among others.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Motor City: Uncovering another sliver of Detroit's car-building history

The big logo at the top of the building makes it tough to miss who lives in the Ren Cen these days. But near the base of General Motors' world headquarters lives a more subtle reminder as to why we call this place the Motor City. Our most recent discovery of a Michigan Historic Site marker in downtown Detroit teaches us of a man named David Dunbar Buick, who long ago formed a company that would later build your grandfather's car. The placard stands on the Jefferson Avenue side of the Ren Cen, and tells of Dunbar's early days of building gasoline engines for boats that ran the Detroit River during the 1890s. 

By 1900, his motor firm Buick Auto-Vim and Power Company was operating at the corner of Lafayette and Beaubien, where Bouzouki Restaurant and Lounge is located. Of course, the engine work being done for boats was eventually applied to an automobile, and it was around that time that the first experimental Buick automobile was built in Detroit. Three years later the Buick Motor Company was founded; soon after it was sold to the Flint Wagon Works in Flint, which built the first retail Buicks in 1904.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Quicken reportedly looking to buy Madison Building near Grand Circus Park

As its employees still settle into rented digs in the Compuware Building, Quicken Loans is reportedly considering purchasing additional office space in downtown Detroit to accommodate more workers who are still out in the 'burbs.

The Madison Building, which neighbors the Broderick Tower across from Grand Circus Park, is apparently  Quicken's target, despite other apparently false reports that indicate a different Madison Building a few blocks away on Washington Boulevard.

At any rate, the Madison Building that Quicken is apparently considering is recently renovated but small – at least compared to many other available offices in downtown Detroit. If it's true that Quicken winds up occupying the Madison, it's fair to wonder what the company's long-term plans are, since the rented space at Compuware has long been considered temporary.

Rumors persist that Quicken will wind up in the old United Artists Building on Bagley, essentially across the park from the Madison. We recently noticed work being done at the UAB, but workers have been tight-lipped about the project. With Quicken having so many affiliate companies (i.e.-Fathead, ePrize,...) perhaps the Madison will become the long-term home for one of them while Quicken settles into larger accommodations elsewhere.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Phoenix Group presses for urban renewal from old Detroit police precinct building

Driving out Grand River one rainy day last spring, I happened past this gothic building on the corner of Grand River and Rosa Parks. I had no idea what it once was, nor if it was still being used today.

Turns out it is, which surprised me, given the rough condition of the neighborhood. But I was even more surprised by what it used to be.

These days, the building serves as headquarters for the Phoenix Group Companies, whose mission it is to redevelop urban communities through new residential construction and the redevelopment of existing homes. Look a block in any direction from Grand River and Rosa Park, and it's clear the Phoenix Group has its work cut out. (For all of you wise guys out there, no, MacGuyver doesn't work there.) 

The building was originally constructed in 1901, when it served briefly as a police station in Detroit's Second Precinct. It was eventually reassigned to Detroit's Eighth Precinct, and served as such for decades. It's got to be one of the most uniquely built police precincts I've ever seen, its architecture intended to mirror the Victorian style that was prominent throughout much of the Woodbridge neighborhood.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Car Is Born: A quiet nod to the site of Henry Ford's early work

The big building on Bagley doesn't see much traffic these days, not like it used to anyway. Back when the Michigan Building was home to the Michigan Theater, it was a pretty happenin' corner of downtown, just down the street from Grand Circus Park and an integral piece of Detroit's famed theater district.

Now much of it is a parking garage. Also in the building, the Bagley Bar, one of our favorite downtown lunch spots, is still grinding it out. Next door there's a sandwich shop, the Bagley Grill, I think it's called.

But hanging on the walls between those two hangouts is a quiet reminder that this site gained historic significance long before the theater (at times known as the Michigan Palace) was built back in 1926. Before that, the land was the site of a one-story brick building where, according to the Michigan Historic Site placard, "in 1892, Henry Ford began experimenting with the motorized vehicle in his workshop."

The sign goes on to tell that "his invention was quite simple compared to today's automobiles. It consisted of a two-cylinder machine, mounted in a light frame geared to bicycle wheels. That unpretentious auto was the start of the Ford Motor Company which played a major part in the automobile industry that changed the face of Michigan and the world."

Monday, November 1, 2010

MGM Grand Detroit goes big to build its seasonal displays

Operating with a bigger-is-better mentality that's typical of casinos, the MGM Grand Detroit doesn't mess around when it comes to dressing up the corner of Bagley and Third Street.

Five times a year, the MGM Grand introduces a new seasonal display in what it calls the Grand Garden, a triangular grassy area fronting the casino that's accented by 50-foot Canadian birch trees.

For its fall display, the area features a winding patch of monstrous pumpkins with occasional enormo-rolls of hay. Throughout the year, the displays often feature lighting that really makes the corner look special at night. It's worth a quick drive-by if you ever find yourself downtown in the evening.

The Grand Garden is maintained by a company called Design Solutions, the same gang responsible for the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at Bellagio in Las Vegas, as well as the holiday treatment given to Rockefeller Center in New York.