Wednesday, September 25, 2013

How 'bout them Tigers, Red Wings and Lions Oh My?

Detroit confuses me. Not just because it is a city; while I haven't traveled the world's cities, I've spent time in enough of them to always leave them with a sense of understanding where I've been. If that makes sense. Some I've loved, some I could easily never go back, but the reasons why are clear to me, one way or another. Historic districts, financial districts, ethnic districts, road flows, buildings, grand homes and tenements, there is some sort of order going on that I could not grasp in Detroit.

I was actually taking a photo of this vignette of a room, a sort of crazy room but very cool nonetheless, especially since it was a storefront in a block of abandoned buildings
While going through my photos, too many, as usual, I came across the one above and suddenly my confusion clicked into, if not clarity, at least a way to think about this city. The reality of what is there is not as strong as the reality of what isn't really there. Of course, I'm not a sports fan of much (luckily, Karen is and made sure I got a look at some of the shrines of Detroit up close). Sports of all sorts are definitely there and very real, so there goes my theory. Sort of.

This is a big, big sports bar. Karen made sure I got this photo for Jeff, as they are equally sports nuts about Detroit teams. Done.
I, who think you are talking about Africa when tigers and lions are mentioned, will not elaborate on the indecipherable draw of sports on fans. There is plenty of literature out there on the subject, some of it fascinating reading, pertaining to sports in our American culture, from PeeWee baseball to high school funding, to college backroom deals to professional melees, to all things psychological involved.

The passion some have for 'my team' transcends a whole lot of layers, and I've known more than a few people who can forget an appointment but remember 30 years ago to a game they either attended or watched on television where each and every move and score is as indelibly etched on their brain as the births of my children is on mine. So there ya go! Detroit, full of gorgeous abandonment, has not abandoned the sports teams that still draw out hundreds a year, giving a moment in time to not have to look at the chaos of every day life in this city working hard to make a comeback, just like every team does when it hits the bottom. Go Detroit!

In the meantime, we could - and did, at Karen's suggestion - I figured they weren't even open, but she knew better - hang out awhile at the Casa de la Habana, a cigar and martini lounge.

We didn't have a martini, but we did have a great Bloody Mary and used ashtrays that weighed about 15 pounds.

Cigar smoke was in the air, business men taking a break in the day - to work and smoke their stogie of choice at the same time

20 minutes in Detroit - a line of cigars created for Detroit!

This man was nice enough to pose for a photo AND turn us on to upstairs. He thought we'd like it and suggested we ask the manager to give us a tour of the private club up there.

We stopped in the gift store across the hall to find said tour guide

He was in the humidor room, stocking the shelves, but kindly agreed to take us beyond.

The club, with its 1000.00 a year membership fee (I was surprised, that's not a bad figure for a year and a good club) and a few hundred members was empty, but it wasn't hard to imagine a jazz band playing, fragrant smoke in the air and some Detroit movers and shakers enjoying themselves.

There were maybe 7 or 8 separate rooms, all comfortably decorated, with gallery worthy art and plenty of ashtrays.

There was also an outdoor area, with, I'm guessing, a heater for those colder days

With the stadium as the biggest view

There was also another bar upstairs. This is Allie , the manager / tour guide. I've never heard a description of Detroit noting its friendliness, but everywhere we went, people were kind and ready to talk about their city. One man owns this place, along with two more, one in Las Vegas and one in Chicago, not surprisingly. I won't even attempt to spell his name since I couldn't even pronounce it. No food, just cigars, good booze, music and nice surroundings. Smart guy.

Though sports don't have any tick lists for me, I am an architectural style fan, and Detroit lured, baited and got me on the hook. Because on the architectural side, it is a Fellini movie of massive proportions. There are, scattered in every direction (and I mean that: whoever platted out the heart of Detroit, if indeed any one person did and I tend to think not, roads and buildings go in every possible direction, a kaleidoscope of styles that can quickly put a crick in your neck trying to catch all the wonderful freewheeling madness) every style of building a architectural freak geek could want to see.

This is the Castle "The GAR building, 1942 W. Grand River Ave., was constructed in the late 1800s for Union Civil War veterans who belonged to an organization called the Grand Army of the Republic. Renovation plans call for restaurants, offices, and a Civil War museum."  From The Detroit News, with lots more information information and photos

I kept coming back to this building, the Book Tower. Briefly the tallest building in Detroit, it was commissioned by the Book brothers, who'd already built the Book Building next to it. It is hard to appreciate the details on this building as most of them are up so high, binoculars would have been handy. All I knew for sure, beside how amazing it is, is that I'd not want to be in need of that fire escape. The building, like so many here, stands empty.

We ran into a man going by this church who was, like his father, in the masonary profession. We all agreed the golden age for building like this was long over, but there are, thankfully, a few very wealthy and very dedicated people determined to bring back some of these places. In one article I read that the priests used to say that the statues of naked women across the street on the Book building were the wives of the apostles. Who said religious people can't be funny?

The Wives of Detroit

Water towers showed up many times, glimpsed and gone.

New and old don't exactly mix and mingle, but all are present, if not accounted for
But, you might be asking, where is the grit, grime and grimness of Detroit and its surrounding areas? It's there and there's plenty of it, but that is for part II.

The Wurlitzer Building. Yes, that Wurlitzer. With its unique detail and fascinating history (have a business idea? build a building to rival the last one the other guy built down the street), the Wurlitzer building is getting some attention again at last, after a chunk of it fell off on and into the roof of a man living next to it. More to follow, though not literally, I hope.
Trivia moment: Did you know that Wurlitzer sold out to the Gibson Guitar Company?

Have a wield your wealth wisely. Do something (w)right.

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