After my exploration at Windsor, I had about an hour and a half to explore Detroit on my own before making my planned city tour. Detroit, with its impressive architectural heritage of the 20th century, has long fascinated me and I would take the next four days to explore this city up close.
One of the buildings that make up Detroit's skyline, which has always mesmerized me, is the Michigan Central Depot, an imposing 18-story former Beaux-Arts train station terminal built in 1913. Somehow stations always have that aura of Preserves excitement and mobility. Connecting people with distant places. Although I had not been used for a long time, but unfortunately run down and fenced, but I wanted to see the beauty of this magnificent building first-hand. I immediately found it on my map and went there to see it up close. This imposing and magnificent building has been vacant since 1988, when the last Amtrak train left here, taking its toll on the ravages of time and human vandalism. Yet, the Michigan Central Depot remains a beautiful part of the Detroit skyline and is a must for any architectural fan. Even in its present state, it is easy to imagine the former glory of this now-defunct transportation hub.
After my first encounter with Detroit's great architecture, I drove through the city to Belle Isle, a 4 km² island park in the Detroit River, east of downtown. It offers 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 the famous architect Cass Gilbert.
I drove downtown to meet Jeanette Pierce, co-founder of Inside Detroit, a nonprofit organization running the Detroit Welcome Center, offering numerous themed tours of Detroit and selling various products from local Detroit artists. Jeanette is one of the loudest proponents of Detroit and has shown me various destinations along the eastern coast of Detroit.
Along the way, Jeanette told me a little bit more about herself: Together with her friend Maureen Kearns, Jeanette founded Inside Detroit in 2005 with the intention of introducing locals and out-of-towers to the city from the point of view of an insider. Maureen and Jeanette offer a variety of tailor made tours and excursions to get to know the city. These connect the participants not only with the history and architecture of the city, but also with pubs, bars, theaters, art galleries and other cool hotspots of the city. Some of the tours are aimed at locals to show them how to make the most of life, work and play in the Motor City. These two entrepreneurs have even devised a concept for a Detroit Scavenger Hunt that will guide participants through downtown Detroit in search of information.
Obviously I could not have found a better local expert and city fanatic than Jeanette Pierce. So we set out on our bike ride to the "D", one of Detroit's nicknames. Heading east from the downtown business district, we stopped at Straw River Place, a 25-acre mixed-use campus that combines business amenities and upscale living. Jeanette gave me an overview of the history and background of Detroit. Further east we stopped at Belle Isle, the urban island park of Detroit.
Belle Isle is an island in the Detroit River and connected to the mainland via the MacArthur Bridge. One of the highlights is the stunning marble James Fountain Memorial Fountain, designed in 1925 by renowned architect Cass Gilbert. James Scott was a controversial entrepreneur who loaned $ 200,000 to the city of Detroit to create a well in his name. From here we slowly drove past the island's main attractions, including the Belle Isle Casino and the Nancy Peace Brown Carillon Clock. On the north side of the island, we stopped to see the Detroit Yacht Club, which began in the late 1870s. The impressive clubhouse of today had cost more than a million dollars at its opening in 1923.
From the upscale Indian village we drove to a worker-friendly area with many run-down houses. Since the 1950s, the city of Detroit has seen a sharp decline in population, as many city dwellers have moved into the outskirts through an extensive highway system. As a result, a large number of homes and apartment buildings were abandoned and demolished to curb crime. What remains is a phenomenon called "Urban Prairies", large sections of meadow in the middle of the city, which often remain unused.
Jeanette wanted to introduce me to an innovative use of some of these vacant urban areas. Next to the Gleaner Community Food Bank is a community garden that uses empty green spaces for urban agriculture. The Gleaner Community Food Bank helps to feed hungry citizens, and some of the fresh vegetables and fruits come from the community garden, which is located directly across from the camp.
Our next stop focused on a truly unusual place: the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor art installation in an African American neighborhood on the east side of Detroit.
This extraordinary environment includes a whole city block and several houses and integrates bright colors and a large collection of found items thrown away. The creator Tyreee Guyton grew up in the Heidelberger road and was dissatisfied with the deterioration in his neighborhood. In social protest he painted his grandfather's house with light polka dots and in 1986 he created the now famous "Dotty Wotty House".
Together with his grandfather and his former wife, Tyree Guyton began to clean up the neighborhood and turn the garbage collected into massive art installations. Since the beginning many other houses and outdoor creations have followed. Even the city's demolitions in 1991 and 1999 did not stop the success of the Heidelberg project. The creator Tyree Guyton has been featured in several television programs (including Oprah) and has won numerous awards for his work.
During our short walk in Heidelberger Straße we saw a group of joggers as well as various international visitors from Toronto and Boston. The Heidelberg project, another example of creative space utilization in Detroit, today attracts around 275,000 visitors a year, and inventor Tyree Guyton travels around the world giving presentations on the project. We even met the artist himself, who spoke to us in a friendly way and told us about the importance of this project, which has transformed free land into colorful and meaningful urban art.
After trying unsuccessfully to reach some of Jeanette's friends who live in a local loft, we made a brief stop on the Eastern Market of Detroit, which really comes to life on Saturday morning. We stopped at the store of R. Hirt Jr., which offers cheese and delicacies from around the world. Market activity has been taking place since the mid-19th century, and today's retail stores date back to 1891. The Eastern Market in Detroit is the largest historic market district in the United States.
From here we drove north through Midtown Detroit, also known as the Detroit Cultural Center, and at Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, the Detroit Public Library, the Detroit Science Center, the Detroit Historical Museum, and the Museum of African American is anchored history as well as the Max M. Fisher Music Center. We stopped at the Bureau of Urban Living, a trendy urban general store. Next door is the Motor City Brewing Works, a microbrewery with bar and an upper deck. Jeanette has successfully demonstrated that Detroit is a hotbed of young city entrepreneurs who seize the opportunity to grab the horns.
Further north, we visited the area of New Center, whose main highlight is the historic Fisher Building, an ornate 1928 skyscraper, and an Art Deco jewel designed by renowned Detroit architect Albert Kahn. The building was originally designed for the Fisher Body Company, which in 1926 became General Motors' in-house body shop. Forty different types of marble adorn the spacious three-story, barrel-vaulted lobby that now houses a shopping mall filled with cool shops and cafes. The Fisher Theater, with its lush Aztec-style interior, is a popular destination for theater lovers.
Then Jeanette took me across the street to Cadillac Place, another impressive example of 1920s architecture. It was designed by Albert Kahn in 1923 and was the second largest office building in the world. It was the headquarters of General Motors from 1923 to 1996, when GM relocated to the downtown Renaissance Center. This ornate office tower has 31 elevators and has been designated as a national historic landmark since 1978.
After completing this extensive insider review of Detroit, I thanked Jeanette and took her to the Detroit Welcome Center. By this time it was late afternoon and I had had nothing to eat since breakfast. So it was time for an early dinner. I wanted a waterfront dining experience and at home I'd already done some research on riverfront restaurants in Detroit. A place called "Sindbad's at the River" had grabbed my attention because it was right on the river and has been family owned for almost 60 years.
So I headed back east to find Sindbad's restaurant for a waterfront dining experience. Marc, Denise, Linda and Brian, since 1949 owned by the Blancke family, second generation Blanckes, run this restaurant on the river as a team. I sat down at a cozy table and waited for an opportunity to talk to the owners and learn about this culinary landmark in Detroit.
Denise and Marc sat down and told me about this venerable institution. In 1949, the sibling's father, "Buster" Blancke, along with his brother-in-law "Van" VanHollebecke, opened Sindbad's in a rundown building on the Detroit River. (In the true Belgian tradition, the real names were Prudent Octave Blancke and Hilaire VanHollebecke, but the shorter nicknames were much easier to pronounce). "Van" had been working for Hiram Walker, taking care of selling the distillery in Detroit. Grandpa Boudewyn Blancke had owned a meat market and lent the young men some money to start their new business.
In the early years mainly hamburgers, sandwiches and steaks were served. Over time, however, a specialization in seafood developed. Marc added that he only buys the best ingredients and told me that the scallops come all the way from George's Bank, a hundred miles from Cape Code. He added that they are full of nutrients and always perfectly fresh. His menu even includes a creature called "Wolf of the Sea" (Loup de Mer). The Sunday Brunch is also very popular and offers a selection of custom-made eggs as well as smoked salmon, fish, pasta and chicken dishes.
Sindbad's customers mainly come from Detroit and the surrounding counties. Due to its location on the river and the fact that Sindbad also serves as a marina, many of the restaurant guests travel 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 obstacle course for light racing aircraft. Hundreds of weddings and special events take place every year in Sindbad.
To get a feel for Sindbad's seafood experience, Marc has put together a seafood platter made from local fish like perch and pickerel and the famous scallops that just melted in my mouth. Campeche shrimp and coconut shrimp rounded off the seafood platter. Accompanied by deliciously hot Jalapeno Poppers, I had a very satisfying dinner and was able to relax after a busy day with a crowded schedule.
After a rich fish mix and a nice chat with Marc, I set off for a restful sleep in the newly reopened luxurious Westin Book Cadillac Hotel, my home for the next two days. This stunning art deco trinket from 1924 has just been completely renovated after about 24 years of service and costs about 200 million US dollars. I was looking forward to seeing more of this historic hotel in the next few days.