Thursday, January 27, 2011

Motown Winter Blast returning to Campus Martius Park in Detroit

If you thought the popularity of the Motown Winter Blast would gradually fizzle after its inaugural Super Bowl-year success wore off, think again.

Winter Blast 2011 is fast-approaching, and with the return of the popular sledding hill, figures to be even bigger than it was a year ago.

For anyone who's never been there, Winter Blast organizers hit it right because they managed to make the event both adult- and kid-friendly. Warming tents with live music and beers are popular with the older set, while skating, sledding and ice sculpture displays (the one pictured is from last year) keep the kids entertained.

It's a great event, even five years after the Steelers beat the Seahawks in the Super Bowl at Ford Field and the Winter Blast made its debut. This year's festival is scheduled to run from Friday, Feb. 11 through Sunday, Feb. 13.  Check out for more info.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Catching up with ‘Statue Guy’ during a ride on Detroit's People Mover

From the Detroit Times archives: OK, so the real name of this creation isn’t “Statue Guy”. It’s called “Catching Up”, and it’s one of the cool things to look for if you find yourself riding the People Mover downtown.

Right now he’s at the Grand Circus Park Station, but I’m pretty sure he used to be standing on one of the other People Mover decks. Regardless, the next time you’re downtown you should make a point to see this in person. The detail is really cool.

Anybody who grew up reading The Detroit News or Detroit Free Press will especially appreciate it. Both papers are included in amazing detail. (Statue Guy is reading The News, and the Free Press is folded and sitting on a briefcase at his side.) I blew up the photo and saw The News issue he’s reading is dated May 23, 1987. The lead story is about the Chrysler-AMC merger. 

My hounding research (interpretation: I Googled it) uncovered that the artist’s name is J. Seward Johnson, Jr. It’s a bronze sculpture, and what’s interesting is that, it isn’t an original piece of artwork. There are six others just like it across the country, but this one was tailored to the region by using molds of The News and Free Press.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michigan Sports Hall of Fame: a hidden treasure inside Cobo Hall

Stray off the beaten path at the North American International Auto Show, and you'll find one of Detroit's cool sports landmarks that, unfortunately, you rarely ever hear about.

In a day when halls of fame are often swanky, big-money homages, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame is a simple, no-frills reminder of the many great sports legends that have made an impact on Michigan sports over the years. From players to coaches to broadcasters, the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame is a collection of plaques (most with accompanying artwork) that line the back hallways of the vast Cobo Hall.

It's so understated that it almost feels like an afterthought, but that doesn't steal from the coolness of reading little snippets about the hundreds of greats who've made their mark on Michigan sports. It's definitely worth setting aside an hour or so the next time you're downtown with a a little bit of time to kill.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

2011 Detroit auto show, Mercedes advertising goes big time

It's seems everything's bigger at the North American International Auto Show. Especially the advertising on a nearby building.

Taking a cue from the Broderick Tower advertising across town, Mercedes-Benz has plastered an enormous billboard on the east-facing side of the old 25-story Pontchartrain Hotel, and it covers nearly the entire side of the building. That's about 245 feet in height (or about 75 meters for our faithful Canadian readers).

It's nice to see somebody getting at least some use out of the old Pontch, which has been vacant since the summer of 2009, when it officially known as the Detroit Riverside Hotel. Visitors to the Detroit auto show can look for the ad (as if they could miss it!) across Washington Boulevard from the main entrance into Cobo Hall.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Road rage: Matty Maroun's new Ambassador Bridge ramp to nowhere

By now you've heard news reports of the squabbling that's gone on regarding the building of a second bridge connecting Detroit and Windsor.

And you may have heard how a Detroit International Bridge Company executive was jailed for a short time yesterday because the company he represents (which owns the Ambassador Bridge) has refused to follow a judge's order to "stick to the plan."

But have you driven through southwest Detroit to see the half-road that's at the core of this whole mess?

While the state completed the highway rebuilding portion of its Gateway Project last year, the DIBC and owner Matty Maroun - who reportedly was supposed to make ramps that took traffic directly from the bridge to the freeways - instead built this: a ramp to what they hoped was their own second span to Canada. For now, it's a ramp to nowhere, and while the courts are demanding they dismantle it (along with a nearby fuel station and other amenities the DIBC went ahead and built because it felt like it) for now it stands as an odd-looking daredevil contraption for anybody willing to try and get to Windsor 'Dukes of Hazard' style.

That's Fort Street you see in front of the ramp, and the Ambassador Bridge next to it. If the courts ever get their way and force Maroun to bring in the wrecking ball, he ought to first consider loaning it to some Hollywood types to shoot a cool scene for a new action flick. 

Monday, January 10, 2011

Is the Holiday Inn out in downtown Detroit?

Back in the '60s, this building on Washington Boulevard in downtown Detroit was home to a Howard Johnson's Hotel. In the decades since, it's been a Mariner's Inn, a Day's Inn, and a Best Western. For a brief stint, it was even called the Heaven on Earth Inn.

In recent years, the Book-Cadillac's neighbor to the south has been a Holiday Inn Express, and now it appears another name change is on deck.

What's left, Red Roof Inn?

The Holiday Inn Express signage on the front and sides of the building have been not-so-discretely covered with what looks like duct tape. (I think it actually a big, silver garbage bad.) Some reports have said the hotel is negotiating with Best Western to once again join that family. For now, hotel desk workers are reportedly answering the  phones by introducing "Downtown Detroit Inn & Suites". When I tried calling, the phones weren't working, although I did stop by and the hotel is definitely still open.

Hopefully, time will tell that this amounts to nothing more than a name change for one of downtown Detroit's hotels, rather than one step toward seeing another hotel close. Either way, the timing couldn't be worse. Auto show crowds are already making their way to town, and I doubt anyone will think to book a room at The Duct Tape Inn.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Stearns Telephone historic marker in downtown Detroit

Wandering through the cold down Woodward the other day, I stopped to check a text message that had come through on my cellphone.

To my side, I noticed another of those common Michigan Historic Markers that seem to be everywhere downtown. I'd been past this one dozens of times, but never noticed it before, likely because it lays awkwardly in a streetscape box in front of a yellow-glass building that I believe is empty. (I could be wrong on that...I'll have to go back sometime and check.)

Anyway, the placard marks the site where, more than 100 years ago, the Stearns Telephone was first sampled in Detroit. Here's a paraphrasing of how the sign reads.

In 1877, a Bell telephone wire was installed on this site in the drug store operated by Frederick Stearns. An iron wire strung along rooftops connected it to the Stearns Laboratory a half mile away at the foot of Fifth Street. Only 18 months after Alexander Graham Bell patented his invention, this was the first to be offered by the organization that eventually became Michigan Bell Telephone Company. A placard in the store window invited the public to stop in every hour on the hour to speak over the amazing new device. Other private lines followed but it was a year before the telephone exchange was constructed with 15 or 20 subscribers on each party line.

After reading the sign, I went back to my cellphone, checked another text message, and took the picture that you see above. Amazing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Enjoying a slice of Hungry Howie's at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl

As the only college football bowl game played in the Midwest, the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl has the potential to become a great holiday-time tradition in Detroit.

Of course, it used to be called the Motor City Bowl, a clearly better name which avoided all sorts of confusion in the stadium. For instance, anyone wandering around Ford Field last week looking for a slice of Little Caesars was out of luck.

It's a funny thing. The game is sponsored by Little Caesars, which is owned by Mike Ilitch, who also happens to own the baseball team across the street. But Ford Field is one of the few slivers of Detroit not owned by Ilitch, and Little Caesars isn't one of its contracted vendors. So all around the stadium, despite the huge Little Caesars logos at midfield and in the endzones, people sat and watched while gnawing on slices of pizza from Hungry Howie's or Cottage Inn.