After my Windsor explorations, I had about an hour and a half to explore Detroit on my own before my drive through the city. With its impressive twentieth-century architectural heritage, Detroit fascinated me for a long time and it would take me the next four days to explore this city up close.
One of the buildings that make up the Detroit skyline that has always captured my imagination is the Michigan Central Depot, an imposing 18-story Beaux-Arts rail terminal dating back to 1913. Somehow, the rail terminals have always retained that aura of excitement and excitement. mobility, connecting people with distant places. Although now long gone, sadly degraded and surrounded, I wanted to see firsthand the beauty of this magnificent building. I immediately located it on my map and drove there to see it up close. This imposing and stunning building has been empty since 1988, when the last Amtrak train left here, and the devastation of time and human vandalism took their toll. However, the Michigan Central Depot remains a dazzling component of the Detroit skyline and is a must for any architecture fan. Even in its present condition, it is easy to imagine the former glory in this now defunct transportation hub.
After my first exposure to Detroit's magnificent architecture, I drove through the city to Belle Isle, a 982-acre (4 km2) island park on the Detroit River, east of downtown. It has a variety of attractions: the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the beautiful James Scott Memorial Fountain with three levels of water displays and numerous sculptures designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert.
I returned downtown for my meeting with Jeanette Pierce, co-founder of Inside Detroit, a nonprofit organization that runs the Detroit Welcome Center and offers numerous themed tours of Detroit and sells various products created by local Detroit artists. Jeanette is one of Detroit's most vocal defenders and has begun to show me various destinations along Detroit's eastern waterfront.
Along the way, Jeanette told me a little more about herself: along with her friend Maureen Kearns, Jeanette founded Inside Detroit in 2005 with the intention of introducing locals and outsiders to the city. Maureen and Jeanette offer a variety of personalized city tours and tours that connect participants not only with the city's history and architecture, but also with pubs, bars, theaters, art galleries and other interesting points of the city. Some of the tours are site oriented to show you how to make the most of life, work and fun in Motor City. These two entrepreneurs even came up with a concept for the Detroit Scavenger Hunt, which takes participants from all over downtown Detroit in search of information.
Obviously, I couldn't have found a better local expert and urban enthusiast than Jeanette Pierce, so we set off on our car ride through "the D", one of Detroit's nicknames. Heading east from the downtown business district, we made stops at Stroh River Place, a 25-acre, mixed-use campus that brings together business amenities and sophisticated villas. All the while, Jeanette gave me an overview of Detroit's history and background. Further east we stop at Belle Isle, the urban park of the island of Detroit.
Located as an island on the Detroit River, Belle Isle is connected with the mainland by the MacArthur Bridge. One of the highlights is the impressive James Scott Memorial marble fountain, designed by renowned architect Cass Gilbert in 1925. James Scott was a controversial businessman who left $ 200,000 for the city of Detroit to create a fountain in his name. From here, we embark on a leisurely stroll past the island's main sights, including Belle Isle Casino and the Nancy Peace Brown Carillon Clock. On the north side of the island, we stopped to take a look at the Detroit Yacht Club, which began in the late 1870s. The imposing current club cost more than $ 1 million when it opened in 1923.
From a luxury Indian village, we came to a working-class area that featured many run down houses. Since the 1950s, the city of Detroit has experienced a large population decline as the advent of an extensive highway system has led many urban dwellers to move to the outlying suburbs. As a result, a large number of residential houses and apartment buildings were abandoned and demolished to contain the crime. What is left behind is a phenomenon called "urban grasslands," large expanses of empty grasslands in the middle of the city that often remain unused.
Jeanette wanted to introduce me to an innovative use of some of these vacant urban lands. Next to the Gleaner Community Food Bank, there is a community garden that uses empty green spaces for urban agriculture. The Gleaner Community Food Bank helps feed hungry citizens, and some fresh vegetables and fruits come from the community garden in front of the warehouse.
Our next stop was focused on a truly unusual venue: the Heidelberg project, an open-air art installation in an African American neighborhood on the east side of Detroit.
This extraordinary environment includes an entire city block, as well as several houses and integrates bright colors of paint and a large collection of discarded objects found. Creator Tire Guyton grew up on Heidelberg Street and was unhappy with the deterioration in his neighborhood. As a form of social protest, he painted his grandfather's house with shiny balls and created the now famous "Dotty-Wotty House" in 1986.
Together with his grandfather and ex-wife, Tyree Guyton began cleaning up the neighborhood and turned the collected garbage into huge art installations. From the beginning, many other homes and outdoor creations followed. Even city-ordered demolitions in 1991 and 1999 failed to prevent the success of the Heidelberg Project. Creator Tyree Guyton has been featured on several television shows (including Oprah) and has won numerous awards for his work.
During our brief tour of Heidelberg Street, we saw a group of runners and several international visitors from Toronto and Boston. Another example of creative use of space in Detroit, the Heidelberg Project today attracts about 275,000 visitors a year, and creator Tyree Guyton travels around the world giving presentations on this project. We even reached the artist himself, who graciously spoke to us and told us about the meaning of this project that transformed empty lots into meaningful colorful urban art.
After unsuccessfully trying to reach some friends of Jeanette, artists who live in a local loft, we stopped short at Detroit's Eastern Market, which really comes alive on Saturday mornings. We stopped at R. Hirt Jr. store, which features cheese and delicacies from around the world. Market activities have been going on here since the mid-nineteenth century and sales seen today date back to 1891. Detroit's Eastern Market is the largest historic public market district in the United States.
From here, we drive north through downtown Detroit, also known as the Detroit Cultural Center, which is anchored by Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Science Center, the Science Center, the Detroit Historical Museum, the African American Museum. History as well as the Max M. Fisher Music Center. We stopped at the Bureau of Urban Living, a local urban general store. Right next door is Motor City Brewing Works, a microbrewery with a bar and upstairs deck. Jeanette has successfully demonstrated that Detroit is a hub for young urban entrepreneurs who are taking the opportunity.
Further north, we visit the New Center area, the highlight of which is the historic Fisher building, an ornate 1928 skyscraper and Art Deco jewelry designed by renowned Detroit architect Albert Kahn. The structure was originally designed for Fisher Body Company, which had become General Motors' internal bodybuilding division in 1926. Forty different types of marble decorate the luxurious three-story vaulted lobby, which today hosts a shopping contest with several cool shops and cafes. The Fisher Theater, with its luxurious Aztec-style interior, is a popular destination for theater lovers.
Then Jeanette took me across the street to Cadillac Place, another striking example of 1920s architecture. Designed by Albert Kahn in 1923, it was the second largest office building in the world. It was the headquarters of General Motors from 1923 to 1996, when GM moved to the center of Renaissance Center. This ornate office building has 31 lifts and is a designated national landmark since 1978.
After Detroit's extensive overview of the subject, we thanked Jeanette and dropped her off at the Detroit Welcome Center. By now it was late and I had nothing to eat since breakfast, so it was time for an early dinner. I wanted a beachside dining experience and had done some research at home on Detroit's riverside dining options. A place called "Sindbad's at the River" has caught my attention since it was located by the river and has been a family business for almost 60 years.
Then I went east again to locate Sindbad's restaurant for a seaside dining experience. Owned by the Blancke family since 1949, Blanckes' second generation, Marc, Denise, Linda and Brian, runs this riverfront restaurant as a team. I sat at a cozy table and was waiting for a chance to chat with the owners and find out more about this culinary landmark in Detroit.
Denise and Marc sat down with me and began telling me about this venerable institution. In 1949, the brothers' father, "Buster" Blancke, along with his brother-in-law "Van" VanHollebecke, opened Sindbad's in a disorganized building on the Detroit River. (In true Belgian tradition, the gentlemen's real names were Prudent Octave Blancke and Hilaire VanHollebecke, but the shorter nicknames were much easier to pronounce.) "Van" worked for Hiram Walker and handled distillery sales in Detroit. Grandpa Boudewyn Blancke owned a meat market and had lent the young gentlemen some money to set up his new business.
In the early years, the restaurant served mainly hamburgers, sandwiches and steaks, but over time the restaurant developed a seafood expertise. Marc added that he only buys the best ingredients and explained to me that the scallops come from George's Bank, 160 kilometers from Cape Code. He added that they are full of nutrients and always perfectly fresh. His menu still carries a fiercely named creature called the "sea wolf" (loup de mer). Sunday brunch is also very popular and offers a variety of eggs, made to order, plus smoked salmon, fish, pasta and chicken dishes.
Sindbad's customers come mainly from Detroit and neighboring counties, and because of its riverside location and the fact that Sindbad also functions as a marina, many of the restaurant's customers arrive by boat. Sindbad's is particularly popular at special events such as the Detroit Grand Prix and the Red Bull Air Race, an exciting high-speed lightweight obstacle course. Hundreds of weddings and special events are held at Sindbad's every year.
To give me an idea of Sindbad's seafood experience, Marc set up a seafood dish for me, consisting of local fish such as perches and picks, as well as the famous scallops that simply melted in my mouth. Campeche shrimp and coconut completed the seafood dish. Accompanied by deliciously spicy Jalapeno Poppers, I had a very satisfying meal and could start relaxing a little after a full day with a very busy schedule.
After a rich mix of seafood and a good chat with Marc, I went for a good night's sleep at the reopened Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, my home for the next two days. After being closed for about 24 years, this stunning 1924 Art Deco jewel underwent a complete makeover at a cost of about $ 200 million. I was already looking forward to seeing more of this historic hotel in the coming days.