SAH Blog

48 Hours in Detroit

| Nov 17, 2011

 Last weekend SAH staff members Alexandra  MarkiewiczKara Elliott-Ortega, and frequent SAH  photographer David Schalliol ventured to Detroit.  Though  Kara and David have frequently visited the  city since they lived there in the summer of 2009, they  were excited to explore the new community and  economic  developments they had heard about.  Alexandra had spent time in the Detroit area when  she was younger, but this was her first trip dedicated  to the city. It certainly  did not disappoint, as the crew  happened upon exciting cultural, economic, and  architectural projects both new and old!

Upon arrival late Friday night, we stopped at Motor City Brewing Works for some delicious oven baked pizzas and home brewed beers. MCBW anchors the Cass Corridor, a small commercial and cultural district comprised of local businesses fueled by its proximity to Wayne State. After dinner stopping briefly to see the historic homes tucked away on the cobble stoned West Canfield Avenue. Just like Astor Street in Chicago, the homes on this charming block have been intact since the 19th century. In 1970 this block became the first designated historic district in the city.

Left: MCBW pizzas, Right: another Cass Corridor business is City Bird, a made-in-Detroit store

The following morning we returned to the Cass Corridor to pick up some baked treats at  Avalon International Breads, a well-known Detroit bakery that advocates sustainable economics by utilizing the local food market. After enjoying our grown in Detroit breakfast we headed to Eastern Market , a historic farmers market that attracts as many as 40,000 a week from the greater Detroit area. In existence since 1891, the market serves as a hub for local farmers to sell their produce and products, including Grown in Detroit , a part of the  Garden Resource Program Collaborative that cultivates urban agriculture on eighty acres of personal and community gardens. Next we headed to Lafayette Park , a beautiful example of Mies van der Rohe town houses, built between 1961 and 1965, situated within a nineteen acre landscaped park.

Left: Historic Shed 2 at Eastern Market, Right: Lafayette Park

We left the more revitalized neighborhoods surrounding Wayne State and the Cass Corridor to visit the East side neighborhoods . Even though the East side is more blighted, we saw signs of community action and activity rather than the stereotypical emptiness that is typically portrayed. For example, the Hope District  is a community organization focused on providing resources, space for alternative economies, and land for urban agriculture. Located nearby the Hope District, the Heidelberg Project , founded by artist Tyree Guyton, creates an artistic environment using found objects to transform vacant lots into sites of community engagement. We ventured back to the near southwest side to see  Corktown , a neighborhood settled in the mid 1800s by Irish immigrants. We stopped at an early workers' row house, built in 1850. In the past ten years many Corktown homes have been restored and more recently a small commercial strip on Michigan Avenue has been redeveloped Slow's Bar BQ  restaurant, cocktail bar Sugar House, and Astro's  coffee shop.


                   Left: Astro's

                   Below: The Heidelberg Project 

After lunch at the Woodbridge Pub , we headed north passing the Henry Ford Hospital (1912), designed by a number of famous Detroit architects, and parking garage (1959) designed by Albert Kahn and Associates. After passing the nearby Motown Museum (Hitsville USA) , established in 1959 as the recording studio and office for Motown Records, we visited New Center , the complex built as a secondary commercial and business center north of downtown during the population boom in the 1920s. We visited the lobby of the Fisher Building  (1928-29), an impressive skyscraper designed by Albert Kahn . The three story barrel vaulted lobby features elaborate Art Deco decoration and detailing. 


Above: Fisher Building, GM Building (1919-23, Albert Kahn)  

Next we visited Hamtramck , a city within Detroit originally settled by German and then Polish immigrants. Through there are still signs in Polish, the current population is only 20% Polish, with a growing influx of South and Central Asian and Middle Eastern immigrants. Later in the evening we drove through Southwest Detroit , an area with both a growing Hispanic population and a number of working industrial sites. 

Left: Hamtramck Disneyland is a backyard art project by local Dmytro Szylak, Right: Ford Hospital Parking Garage 

On Sunday we visited the Yamasaki buildings at Wayne State and the Detroit Cultural Center, which includes the Detroit Public LibraryDetroit Institute of Arts (1923-27) designed by Paul Philippe Cret, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). After we visited "Detroit Revealed," a photography exhibit at the DIA and the new exhibits at MOCAD, we stopped in Leopold's, an independent book store located near the DIA. 

After a great exploratory weekend we are looking forward to returning to Detroit for the Annual Meeting! Feel free post any questions about visiting Detroit in the comments.

Above, the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), The McGregor Memorial Conference Center (1958, Minoru Yamasaki

Visit some of these locations at the Annual Meeting:

Lafayette Park featured in Lafayette Park Tour

Saturday, April 21, 2012, 1:00-4:00 pm

Corktown featured in Corktown Tour
Thursday, April 19, 12:00-1:30pm 

New Center/Fisher Building< featured in Art Deco in Detroit Tour
Saturday, April 21, 1:00-4:00pm

Wayne State Yamasaki Buildings< featured in Minoru Yamasaki Tour 
Saturday, April 21, 1:00-5:00pm

Detroit Cultural Center (Detroit Public Library/ Detroit Institute of Arts) featured in Cultural Center Historic District Tour ,  Thursday, April 19, 12:00-1:30pm 

SAH Awards Reception hosted at the McGregor Center
Thursday, April 19, 6:30-7:30pm
SAH Awards Ceremony hosted at the Detroit Public Library
Thursday, April 19, 7:45- 8:30pm

This trip was made possible thanks to SAH, David Schalliol, and a car - if you want to visit some of these sites that are not on the Annual Meeting tours, we recommend renting a vehicle!

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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Copyright - (c) 2012