The Motor City

The Motor City


After breakfast in The Dime Store again, our eyes looked upwards to the Guardian building, the skyscraper with the star shaped top and the flag.  We knew it to be another must-see but didn’t really know much more.


As we got a little closer, we could see colourful Pewabic tiles on the lower floors.


The doorway was grand too, but nothing could prepare us for what was inside…


The stepped and very colourful Mayan-style design hinted at on the exterior continued throughout.


The barrel-vaulted ceiling was breathtaking.


Even the elevator lobbies were richly decorated, with stained glass windows too.


And to one side, up a short flight of steps, was the “retail arcade”.


Originally a banking hall, it was felt that customers would appreciate the ability to have a private conversation without their voices being heard throughout the building.  So a layer of horsehair was laid and then covered with painted canvas on the ceilings of each alcove. 


Needless to say, the retail arcade maintained some interesting shopping opportunities, particularly in the Pure Detroit shop, where these bags caught my eye.  Made from seat belt webbing, they were beautifully made but disproportionately heavy.  Clever though.


Anyway, we had plans for this morning, didn’t we?  And you know what happens to plans?

The answer is they get adjusted.

We pulled up at the Motown Museum (again), parked the car in the  car park of the funeral parlour next door before being gently reminded that it was reserved for funeral use only.  But it was one of those times when an English accent works wonders and the charming attendant waved us over to a spot near the fence and we were fine.  Until we arrived at the museum to find it fully booked up until this afternoon, that is.  Bleh.

I bought us tickets for the 3pm tour then and we returned to the car, where the parking attendant looked askance and we explained the situation. 

“I’ll reserve your spot for you till later, then” he said!


We headed for the Detroit Historical Museum, then.


Inside was an exhibit of old Detroit streets, in similar vein to those which used to be in the Castle Museum in York (and of similar vintage).


There was a fascinating display of a century of Detroit culture, which explained the roller coaster of fortunes experienced by the city over that time.


We enjoyed the room with the music story there to read and listen to.  Who knew that so many musicians came from the area?  Stevie Wonder and the Motown stars of course, but also Alice Cooper, Eminem and Iggy Pop amongst others.


We were keen to see the Motor City exhibit, needless to say.


This was concerned mostly with the manufacture of cars, bringing together parts from  a variety of sources and in particular, on the development of the assembly line.


The big deal, for which there was a countdown, was the body drop where the body is dropped precisely onto the chassis below.


Having waited a while for the big moment, it was a bit of an anti-climax, the more so as it almost immediately began to lift again, ready for the next show!


We scooted around the rest of the museum, including an interesting, if a little uncomfortable exhibition about the Underground Railroad, which we hadn’t realised, went as far as “Canaan” or Canada, just across the river from here.  But we’d done with the history and were ready for the art, in the DIA across the road on the opposite side of Woodward Avenue.


As soon as we went through the door, we were confronted by Art in the form of Thalassa by Caledonia Curry.


Inside, of course, was art of the  more conventional sort, including works by Mary Cassatt


and this fine painting by Henri Gervex, which we admired for some time, took a photograph and identified the artist too.  Yet neither my hero nor I spotted the unfinished panel down the side.


Mary did, though.  So what’s going on there, then?  (I have no idea)


The principal sight in the Institute of Art is the set of murals by Diego Rivera though and we were keen to take a close look.


Filled with detail, it was only when we returned to the hall to take a second look that we noticed a few things and asked a docent for some additional details.


So it was she who pointed out the artist’s self portrait in there: See the chap wearig the bowler hat at the back of the group of workers?


She also pointed out Edsel Ford in the lower corner, discussing plans with William Valentiner, the Institute director of the time.


Later, we picked up one of the tablets and explored the pre-loaded apps, one of which gave a great commentary on this section, noting Rivera’s disdain for the middle class visitors who’d come to watch the workers earn their living.  He’d also found amusement in including Dick Tracy in the crowd (wearing a grey hat and coat) and two comic book characters leaning over the wall,  

We could have spent hours just looking, learning and listening to the stories but it was time to go.  We had tickets and it was going to be third time lucky. 


Wasn’t it?


We were back.  We parked the car again – the funeral service parking attendant kept his word and there was “our” space (not really, for it was surely pure coincidence that there wasn’t a car in that spot!) and off we went to have fun in the Motown Hitsville HQ.

Sadly, no photos allowed, but believe me that all of those amazing singles by Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Four Tops, Temptations….the list goes on….were created here in those two very ordinary houses.  Such simple, low-tech and totally uncomplicated recording processes completed in just one room – Studio A.  The same studio A where we stood this afternoon, singing “I got sunshine….on a cloudy day…..”  Really, there wasn’t that much to see, but that really was the story

Finally.  We made it to Motown!

to Saginaw

to Saginaw

The Henry Ford again

The Henry Ford again