Random photo tour of Detroit
I’m on a plane back from Detroit, posting another random photo tour. The themes of this one are:
- Phoenix rising from the ashes: Detroit’s indie entrepreneurs, and VC funded ones too
- Classic Detroit signage and symbols
- Greek food
Phoenix rising: Detroit entrepreneurs
For a brief time when I was working in Detroit as a designer, I lived in an area called Ferndale. I had an apartment in a solid brick house designed by none other than the famous architect Albert Kahn. At the time, that posh residence seemed unusual in somewhat downtrodden Ferndale. It was probably only truly appreciated by the landlady and the groovy Young & Rubicam creative directors who lived in one of the other three apartments. But today, Ferndale is thoroughly hipster. So I drove there with my mom to catch the vibe.
A large boring building at the main intersection of Nine Mile and Woodward compelled us to stop with its interesting sign declaring “Rust Belt Market.” Inside we found a vibrant and beautiful weekend-only assemblage of vintage, designer, art, and crafts producers. I told my mom, “For my next birthday, look no further.”
I could not leave without “adopting” this big old (papier-mache?) baby doll with moving eyes. She came—creepily--smushed into a rusty metal electrical box. I plan to display her prominently in my home. The “Painted Lady Trashions” stall was satisfyingly stuffed with plenty of other recycled and repurposed goods assembled by "Tenacious Heather", smiling here in the photo. Don't let the blond hair lull you into complacency. This chick has a deliciously sick sense of humor.
The atmosphere was amped up with live music from this Ann Arbor based bluegrass band, The Appleseed Collective, whose music was so good we had to get a CD to share.
I love the TV show “American Pickers” but never saw anyone capitalize on the name as charmingly as this purveyor.
I don’t know why I was surprised to see such a concentration of hipster ubiquity in Detroit. I see the same kind of steampunk/indie aesthetic everywhere I travel, so why not Detroit? I guess I kind of freeze the place in time, having grown up there. But as soon as one of these cool looking people speaks with an unmistakeable Michigan accent I know I really am home.
Here are some of the @Madison tenants' mailboxes. I’m reaching out to a couple to see if there is any way I can help build ties to the rich startup resources in Boston. And if you are curious about what a Michigan accent sounds like, listen to the video below, from the homepage of Detroit Venture Partners. It’s a classic.
Classic Detroit signage and symbols
TripAdvisor ranks the Fox Theatre as the third best tourist attraction in Detroit. So many legendary performances have occurred there and it was beautifully restored by the Illitch family (owners of Little Caesars Pizza and the Red Wings). A daytime photo does not do the imaginative neon signage justice.
Just next door to the Fox is the Fillmore. Look at the line-up of upcoming musical acts! To state the obvious, Detroit makes most other cities look like cow towns when it comes to music.
Comerica Park…home of the team whose name can clearly never be changed. In the photo, those are fans lining up for the box office. That’s an old Cadillac in the forefront—the kind of car you see a lot in Detroit, but rarely in Boston. (There is no car inspection law in Detroit, so you see all manner of true jalopies on the roads, next to the latest and greatest.) My brother’s company Ideal Steel helped make the giant baseball bats splayed out around the stadium exterior. In fact they made a whole lot of the exterior fixtures in this fantastic ballpark.
I could have taken hundreds of pictures of vintage signs like these.
Urban decay can sometimes do more preservation than any other force, when it comes to signs.
I did not appreciate Detroit’s Greektown when I lived there. Until l was leaving for this trip I pretty much assumed lots of cities have a Greektown, until my friend and Greek food connoisseur Drew Beja told me, “What? Detroit’s Greektown is FAMOUS.” So I had to take my mom and order the classic Saganaki, which is set aflame with a loud “Opa” at every other table in the restaurant we visited: Pegasus Taverna. More of a revelation was “Scordalia,” which our waitress recommended as her favorite appetizer. It’s a very tasty garlic and potato dip served with pickled beets.
I could not dream of eating pastries after our huge Greek meal, so I indulged my appetite via the camera.
I come from a huge family, most of whom live in Detroit. Many work in and around the auto industry. I was not on the ground long enough to get the pulse of the car companies. I did get the pulse of Detroiters DRIVING cars. I had forgotten how mellow and civilized a place that city can be. I once read a study that ranked cities by how stressed people are and Boston came out on top. The researchers watched people in line at store cashiers to see how far back in the line people were starting to pull out their wallets and cash. Boston had people three and four postions back impatiently getting ready to transact. I think a new study that measures traffic light intervals would be illuminating about the temperament of a city. Coming from Boston, the Detroit traffic lights seemed to last an eternity. I started to think the average wait times might be a proxy for the hurriedness of a city. I know I had to practice a lot of self-calming as I waited for a green light, and THEN waited for the cars in front of me to slowly start rolling. I found myself bizarrely wanting to blast other motorists in Detroit rather frequently. I never honk my horn in Boston--unless I think a life is endangered. Clearly I need to spend more time in Detroit.