Thursday, January 28, 2010

Taking a second look up Woodward

And you thought I forgot! After posting a photo yesterday that gave a look up Woodward near Larned in 1956, I returned to the scene today. It was cold. Real cold. I'm still chipping frozen tears from my eyelashes. But I got what I went looking for, and I think I like this little flashback more than the one from last week because there are a handful of buildings in the old picture that are still there today. As a point of reference, when I took this picture I was standing almost directly across Woodward from the Spirit of Detroit statue.

That big building a couple blocks away that towers out of the top of the frame is the First National Building. The FNB (that's what the cool kids call it), as well as the one in front of it, were around back in 1956.
The two key differences (aside from the absence of streetcars nowadays) are that Woodward has, it appears, been widened, and now includes a boulevard, which is where I was standing. Also, that huge building you see on the right side of the new photo is the Comerica Tower, which was built in the early-90s.

Thanks again to GrifsDad for providing the old photos, and to GMoney, who sent in an e-mail thumbs-up echoing Squishy and giving kudos to the Kage and all things on it. (By the way, I realize my post about the Free Press building earlier today breaks up these two photos. To see both of them one after another, just click on "Detroit Then and Now" in the menu of categories on the right side of this screen. Scroll down and find the list of categories under "Kage Files".)

A peak inside the old Free Press building

A few months ago I mentioned the long-empty Free Press building, which until the late 1980s was home to the Detroit Free Press. The last I heard, the building was in the process of being restored by a company that specializes in movie-making special effects. Compared to a lot of the old buildings downtown, restoring the Free Press building wouldn't be an enormous undertaking; it seems in pretty decent shape.

I've got no update on any new tenants moving in, and I've seen no evidence of work being done to restore the old place. Patience, I suppose. As it stands right now, if you press your face to the large glass windows, you can still see traces of the old Free Press lobby. One wall features murals of old photos, as well as a huge replica of a Free Press front page with the headline "Man Walks On Moon!"

I'm not sure how well the photo will reproduce on this website, but hopefully you can make out the large letters on the left side that say "Galley". That's the word "Press"
tipped sideways at the left edge of the picture. (And in case it isn't clear, those buildings at the top of the picture are a reflection of the buildings behind me.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More from the glory days of Woodward

Because it's really cold outside and I'm without my earmuffs, we're going to once again pass on meandering downtown this afternoon. Instead, I rely again on one of the cool pictures submitted recently by devoted Kage reader GrifsDad. It's another shot of Woodward, this time between Jefferson and Larned, and was taken on March 25, 1956.

You may recall that our last Detroit Then & Now photo featured people standing outside Kern's department store. Look closely at this picture and you'll see the Kern's sign a few blocks up Woodward. Because our little "Then and Now" experiment last week was such a popular entry with readers like Squishy, we'll do it again this time. Check back tomorrow to see what Woodward between Jefferson and Larned looks like these days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Best of luck to one future WCCC student

When you're walking the sidewalks of downtown Detroit, it's pretty common for someone to slow their car at the curb, roll down a window and ask for directions. Downtown Detroit can be a pretty confusing place to navigate.

The other day I was outside my building at work and a car pulled up to the intersection shown in this photo, stopping at the white line you see in the foreground. A girl - who was driving with who I assumed was her father - rolled down the passenger side window and asked me for directions to Wayne County Community College.

Let the record show that the enormous gray building in the background is Wayne County Community College. I tried really hard to not sound all smart-assy when I pointed and said, "Over there." I didn't think to ask her what she was going to study, but I don't imagine she'll major in cartography.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Detroit statue honors Polish war hero

My hopes of catching the Tigers’ Winter Caravan at the DTE building this afternoon proved futile (not even my Kage credentials could crack the security at the employee-only gathering), but the short walk wasn’t a complete loss.

Across the street from DTE and the MGM Grand Casino, standing on a cement island between Bagley Street, Michigan Avenue and Third Street, a statue of a guy on a horse caught my eye. It's quite possible you've never heard of Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko. It's more likely you can’t even pronounce Gen. Thaddeus Kosciuszko. (By the way, it’s KOS-CHOOS’-KO.)

Turns out, Kosciuszko is a national hero in Poland, and was highly honored in this country for his military genius during the American Revolution. There are countless things around the world named after him, including cities in Texas and Mississippi, streets in Brooklyn and Bay City, even a mountaintop in Australia. In fact, every major town in Poland has a street or square named after him.

Cities across the U.S. – including Boston, Washington D.C., Chicago, Milwaukee and many others - feature monuments of Kosciuszko similar to this one in Detroit, which was a gift from the people of Krakow, Poland. The Detroit monument is somewhat special, though, because it’s a replica of the monument that stood at the entrance to Wawel Castle in Krakow, where Kosciuszko was laid to rest. So we've got that going for us...

JennFriend #4: Anonymous Source Guy

Remember that little tip I got the other day about a park going in at the site of the Lafayette Building? Meet the source. For bothering to be conversational on the street, and for wearing a two-sizes-too-small Michigan cap, he earns his way into the JennFriends club. Despite the fact that he's staring straight at the camera, he also offers further evidence that I'm getting more adept at taking pictures of people while talking to them without them knowing it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Revisiting Woodward 60 years later

Well, here it is. Woodward looks so much different now than it did in 1949 (see the photo previously posted) that it's hard to even tell if this new picture is taken from the same angle, but I think it's close. The Kern's Clock that was originally mounted to the corner of the building is now a free-standing sculpture, a preservation that Peter Karmanos initiated when the Compuware Building was constructed.

Kern's - which opened in 1883 in a smaller building on St. Antoine - became one of the three largest department stores in Detroit, eventually growing into a five-story building at Woodward and Gratiot. It closed in 1959, which I believe is about when the malls in the suburbs started popping up.

As you can see in this new photo, the lot next door (once the site of the famous Hudson's department store) is now vacant, although footings are in place should anyone decide at some point to build a new high-rise there. More on the Kern's Clock some other time. I've got some other pretty cool pictures of it, and our crack research team is busy tracking down bits of its history.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Recalling the glory days of Woodward Avenue

The picture above shows Detroiters waiting for a streetcar on Woodward Avenue near State Street in 1949. I wish I could credit the original photographer, but I’ve no idea who took it. It was submitted by devoted Kage reader GrifsDad, whose real name isn’t GrifsDad, but for the sake of anonymity, we’re calling him that here.

In addition to saving me and my plantar wart from a cold walk around downtown to find some other semi-interesting tidbit, I’m posting this picture as Part I of a two-part series. Tomorrow, with this picture in hand, I’m going to head over to Woodward and take a new one of the same location, just to see what’s changed. And what hasn’t. I’m pretty sure the Kern’s clock is still there. I’m almost certain the people are not.

I figure it’ll be semi-interesting, which makes it perfect material to appear here. I just hope my plantar wart is up for it!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Lafayette Park? That's the word on the street

I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but here's the latest on the wrecking of the old Lafayette Building. First of all, it's just an amazing sight, so I thought the photo alone was worth posting. But then, as I was taking this, two older gentlemen walked past me on the sidewalk and commented on what a great picture I was going to have. One of them (who you'll meet again in the near future in this space) went on to say that, according to workers tearing the place down, the site is going to be the home of a new park once the area is cleaned up.

So much for my Quicken Loans headquarters theory! This actually makes decent sense though. Detroit really isn't hurting for available office space at the minute, and a new park would just add to the green-space commitment the city has pledged to create.

One quick word on the photo: If you look closely at the middle of the building, that side of the structure is actually about one-room thick right now. See that daylight coming through the window? It's a strange sight to see it up close – amazing that place doesn't tumble under its own weight.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Are the Red Wings moving to Oakland County?

It’s been no secret that the Detroit Red Wings’ playing days at Joe Louis Arena are numbered. We’ve heard rumors about a new arena going up in the Foxtown area; other rumblings have a new rink going in at Michigan and Trumbull.
But did you read the report in The Detroit News today? Apparently the Ilitch family has chatted with Pistons and Palace owner Karen Davidson about not only purchasing the Palace of Auburn Hills, but moving the Wings to Oakland County. What do we at the Kage think of that idea? We no likey.

My guess is, any move to Auburn Hills would be a temporary one until a new arena is built downtown, but I’m still not a fan of it. And that theory only makes sense if the new arena were to be built at the same site as the Joe. Otherwise, why not stay where you’re at during construction?

A lot of factors could be at play here, including (one) the expansion of Cobo Center, and (two) the fact that Davidson is reportedly selling not just the arena, but the Pistons franchise. With a new owner, the Pistons wouldn’t have to play at the Palace, which would mean a new basketball arena too. And maybe, like the Lions, a new owner would prefer to move the Pistons back downtown. Ilitch reportedly has no interest in owning an NBA team, but if two teams in the same market are considering building new arenas, it might make sense to build one that could house both, ala the United Center in Chicago.

I could live with that. For years I've wished the Pistons would return downtown. But the Wings moving to the Palace? Say it isn't so!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Electric cars then and now, at the Detroit auto show

OK, I lied. Here’s a little blurb from the North American International Auto Show that actually has to do with cars. But not the new, shiny kind.

It’s sort of funny that so much of the hubbub inside Cobo Hall this week surrounds the progression of electric cars, when out in the Cobo concourse, this tasty little 1922 Detroit Electric is on display.

Turns out, the Detroit Electric Car Company made more than 12,000 of them between 1907 and 1939. Eventually, though, the superior range of gas-fueled cars, along with the advent of the electric starters on gas-powered cars, pushed electric vehicles to extinction. Detroit Electric made about 1,900 cars in 1916, but produced only 143 of this 1922 model.

It probably didn’t help that electric cars topped out at about 25 mph and had a range of about 60 miles. In one of these babies, it would take about six hours to drive to Mt. Pleasant to have a beer with Rae & Toddley, but it wouldn’t matter because you’d run out of juice somewhere along I-96.

The words of King Kwame: ideal throne reading

This really has to touch a raw nerve with the former mayor. Not only did Kwame Kilpatrick’s bad decisions and subsequent lies get him bounced from office, but the guys who are largely responsible for revealing those bad decisions and subsequent lies are now cashing in on the whole ordeal.

Free Press reporters M.L. Elrick and Jim Schaefer have published a book called “The Kwame Sutra”, a pocket-sized journal highlighting many of the strange, funny and often ridiculous musings that Kwame said or texted during his time in office. There wasn’t a lot of additional writing involved for Elrick and Schaefer; it’s almost entirely a book of quotations (a select few are rated-R.)

I met Elrick yesterday and, as luck would have it, he had a few copies in his coat pocket, so I grabbed one. Twenty minutes later I finished reading it. (The book is an ideal addition to your bathroom reading offerings.) Much of what’s in the book I’d already heard or read, but to see some of Kwame’s comments positioned side by side is pretty funny. You can pick up “The Kwame Sutra” for about $8. I’m not sure if it’s available in stores, but you can find it online at

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

NAIAS celebrates the Spirit of Transportation

Amid all the snazzy and sleek (not to mention shiny) new cars on display at North American International Auto Show, what I found particularly interesting was this statue on display near Cobo’s north entryway. Call me a sucker for juxtaposing imagery.

It’s called the Spirit of Transportation, and it depicts a Native American lugging a canoe on his shoulders. Talk about old-school travel! The sculpture, designed by Carl Milles, was originally installed in front of Cobo in 1960, removed during the Cobo expansion in 1985, and rededicated in 1993. (The pedestal that you see, holds the sculpture about 20 feet above the floor.)

For continuing reports on all things non-automotive happening at Cobo during the NAIAS, re-visit the Kage often. In fact, make the Kage your homepage and you could win a brand-new 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. It’s not likely, but you could.

In Detroit for the auto show? Where to step out for a few beers

In Detroit for the auto show? Where to step out for a few beers

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Welcome to the auto show press preview

While most people around town have to wait until Jan. 16 to catch the 21st North American International Auto Show, the Kage peaked in this afternoon for an early look during the Press Preview. (These Kage credentials are unbelievable!)

It's always a busy time of year downtown, but everybody seems particularly chirpy this time around, probably because there have been some good-news headlines lately regarding the auto industry. The fact that homeboys at Ford swept the Car and Truck of the Year awards seems to really have people giddy. The media gang was in full force earlier today; all of the local radio stations are set up in the main hallway inside Cobo. About 15 feet from where I took this picture there was a TV guy from Spain delivering a live report. My Spanish is a little rusty, but I think I heard him say, "There are a lot of cars inside. And they're all very shiny." 

For more news from inside Cobo, stay tuned to the Kage, the official source for auto show updates that have little or nothing to do with engines, gears, horsepower or anything else car-related. (You can read stuff on that other crap anywhere!)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Jenemy #2: WDIV Guy

We stumbled across this WDIV cameraman waiting for the Underwear Bomber on Friday. His choice of headgear - in addition to clashing terribly with his coat - earns him a spot as Public Jenemy No. 2. What was he thinking?

Friday, January 8, 2010

Detroit awaits the arrival of the Underwear Bomber

It was a pretty surreal atmosphere down in front of the federal court building in Detroit this afternoon. Media folks from all over the country were setting up cameras outside the courthouse on Lafayette Boulevard, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Nigerian kid who packed his drawers full of explosives on that flight landing at Metro Airport on Christmas. In addition to the cameramen and reporters, there were police officers everywhere, even on horseback. Media helicopters circled overhead.

In front of the courthouse, there was a small group of Muslims and a small group of Nigerians, all looking to separate themselves from Frankie Flashpants by carrying American flags and signs that read, "Terrorism is bad!" and "Don't look at me, I don't even wear underwear!" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) 

We'll see if anything eventful happens today. The scheduled hearing is supposed to last no longer than a few minutes, at which point I assume Captain Elastic will head back to his new digs in Milan. If you ask me, I think they should make him walk back.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Book Tower: Renovation or Demolition?

A lady with whom I work also works at a jewelry store downtown. Sometime last year, the store moved to a new location a few blocks from its previous home. Almost exactly one year ago, Bookies Tavern opened in a new location a few blocks from the stadiums. Before that, it neighbored the jewelry store on Washington Boulevard, in street-level space in the Book Tower, which, with everyone leaving, was now completely empty.

With the building vacant, people started talking about whether the Book Tower (and the original Book Building, to which the tower is connected) would be demolished, ala Hudson’s, Tiger Stadium,… But then reports came out that a real estate investment firm in Clinton Township had bought the Book with plans on converting it into 39 floors of environmentally friendly residential and retail space. And then other people said stuff like, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” And then a few months ago, I was standing in front of the already-refurbished Westin-Book Cadillac Hotel, looking up at the Book Tower across the street, and there was a guy standing on a platform that hung about halfway up the building. He was power-washing the limestone. 

I have no idea what’s going to happen to the Book, but I walked away thinking, “I don’t remember the last time I cleaned something before I threw it away.”

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Pure Detroit is part store, part museum

Here's an ill-timed tip to help you find the perfect gift for someone on your shopping list. For the person who's a fan of Detroit stuff, you've got to check out Pure Detroit in the Guardian Building. From works of art and books on Detroit's history, to cool t-shirts, belts and hats, Pure Detroit has stuff you won't find anywhere else. 

The books alone are enough to grab you and make you forget that your lunch break is only an hour long. There are photo books on Bob-Lo Island, Detroit's historical theaters, the origins of the auto industry and tons of other topics. The artwork - which is mostly photography - includes great pictures of the old Hudson's store, Tiger Stadium and a bunch of other Detroit landmarks. The store is kind of like a mini-museum, except you're allowed to touch stuff. 

Find Pure Detroit in the Guardian Building's "Retail Promenade". If nothing else, it's a great excuse to check out the Guardian Building itself.

The Guardian Building: a Detroit marvel

It was 15 degrees outside so I ducked into the Guardian Building earlier today to warm up. Good move. In addition to being heated, the Guardian is just an awesome building. I'm not going to try and describe the incredible architecture. I'll let this picture (and others that I'll post in the days and weeks ahead) speak for itself. This shot, incidentally, is of the building's second-floor "Retail Promenade", home to a few little shops and stores including Pure Detroit. (The Guardian, by the way, is also the new home of the Wayne County offices, which you've probably read about in the news lately.) 

Monday, January 4, 2010

Lafayette Building nearing the end

Here's the surest sign that the 'Red Dawn' gang has left town: demolition of the Lafayette Building has begun. For real this time.

In recent weeks, workers have ramped up the process of dismantling the Lafayette, which for what seemed like months was being used to support huge banners hanging over Michigan Avenue for the filming of 'Red Dawn'. Now, Detroit's most famous building-with-trees-on-the-roof is simply an awesome wreck, with huge gouges revealing a building frame that seems just seconds away from tumbling on its own. (I, for one, am going to hold off for awhile before stopping next door for another coney dog.)

When the destruction is complete, I think I'll hop back on the People Mover and take another photo from this same angle, just to see the difference in the skyline. (And I'm standing by my earlier prediction that this site is the future location of a new Quicken Loans headquarters.)

The RenCen: room with a view

This picture looks out from one of the middle rings of the Renaissance Center, through the GM Wintergarden and out over the Detroit River. That's Caesar's Windsor straight ahead. (The Wintergarden seating area is actually one floor below.)