Tuesday, March 12, 2013

HIDDEN TREASURES...ON DETROIT'S GOLD COAST...







This is the story of my visit to the newly restored ALDEN TOWERS APARTMENTS on Jefferson in Detroit. There are four towers and about 382 apartments. Only the first tower has been restored and is now renting. There is still some work being done on the other amenities these buildings have to offer such as laundry facilities and the work-out room! The rest of the towers will be undergoing the transformations that the first tower underwent. The developers have asked me not to show the ongoing demo, and only to focus on the improvements. Suffice it to say, if you ever get the opportunity, you should stop by and ask for a tour of this place. It will amaze you! My company, The Loft Warehouse, is a cooperating broker in the leasing of these apartments. Please contact me if you would like additional information on this wonderful new project.

The monolithic structure known today as Alden Towers was once considered one of the most important buildings in the history of Detroit. It's beauty beyond compare, Alden Towers consisted of four eight-story buildings that originally contained 352 apartments and are excellent examples of the Tudor Revival style of architecture. The Alden Towers were built in 1922 and were originally known as the Berman Apartments. They were built on the south side of Jefferson Avenue to take advantage of the natural beauty of the Detroit River. Once known as The Gold Coast where millionaires and industrialists such as Edsel Ford built palatial homes, Jefferson Avenue and the Indian Villages featured buildings and mansions in a time when craftsmanship was one of the most important considerations of construction. This amazing multiple dwelling structure spared no expense to detail, but as befalls many of the grande dames of Detroit, the years were unkind to the Alden Towers and eventually it fell into ruin and despair. Virtually abandoned, the quiet elegance of Alden Towers struggled to retain its integrity. Though shabby and rundown, it could not forever hide the grandeur that once was.






During the World War II era, C. C. Williams, a real estate developer from the Phildadelphia area, had  built similar structures in three other major cities. His architect, Edwin Rorke, was the principal designer.
Alden Towers was listed on The State of Michigan Registry of Historic Sites: Listed # P25017 and on the National Register of Historic Sites on November 9, 1985.

The following photos are of details in the building that give credence to why this structure is of such importance.



Hex tiles (hexagonal in shape), with colored tiles forming a floral motif, can be found in almost every bit of flooring throughout the building. Each tile may have been individually placed and grouted and has survived beautifully over the years.



 Hidden under years of accumulated dirt and debris, the treasure of original poured terrazzo flooring, as indicated in the lower photo, was revealed. Terrazzo is a composite material, poured in place or precast, which is used for floor and wall treatments. It consists of  marble, quartz, granite and glass or other suitable chips, and poured with a binder such as cement. Terrazzo is cured and then ground and polished to a smooth surface or otherwise finished to produce a uniformly textured surface. To reveal a layer of terrazzo flooring that is intact is close to being miraculous! 



The newly remodeled lobby of Alden Towers shows  preserved original terra cotta and colored stone tiles (possibly Pewabic). The fact that all of this hand-laid tile flooring has lasted for decades is a testament to the work of artisans of days gone by. Elsewhere in Alden Towers, original wood flooring has been preserved when possible.


When I ventured into this Alden Towers hallway my heart nearly stopped. I was breathless and speechless as I gazed upon an entire wall of original 1920's era Pewabic tile. The rough clay which is the signature of Pewabic Tile was all laid by hand and still perfect. Different sizes and shapes, cut and placed. The most amazing part of this hall of tiles are the classic motif tiles with art sculpted in the tile work, randomly placed. I was so moved by this room as I imagined the craftsmen doing their work with love a pride. I could hardly bring myself to leave, but there was so much more for me to discover and explore.




The center tile is of an Native American and a teepee. I would not want to venture the value of such an early part of Detroit history all collected in one place. I wonder if Pewabic even knows of its existence?







 Original stained and leaded glass still remains in the emblem style
using primary colors.


Original wet plaster ceiling medallion needed to be fully restored and it was decided that oil based paint was needed to help keep it preserved.


Old wooden doors still hang proud in Alden Towers.. Each door in the mechanical areas and the directionals boast hand painted and hand lettered signage. Even when using a "stencil", great effort was used. An artist was never out of work and was probably handsomely paid.











American Pickers would have a field day in here, but none of the artifacts are for sale. Great effort is being made to keep everything original, and that is part of the charm.


Beautiful wood doors on elevators.
Up and Down  call buttons.
Original enamel emblem on elevator (Alden Park Manor)
Original 1920's brass door knocker


Original fireplace in main lobby.
Huge all solid wood door with original leaded glass.


Over 100 years old and still intact. On the Detroit River.

This completes my personal assessment of the vintage remnants in this historical property. When I think about it, I  begin to wonder what other remains could be unearthed from ALL of the abandoned buildings in Detroit. Tragically, architectural scavengers roam the interiors of these buildings, wrongfully taking out leaded and stained glass windows and ornamental light fixtures and more. Scavengers with no regard to the antiquities rip out copper wiring and old cast iron heating registers to salvage to scrappers for a measly few bucks. When you stumble upon a place like Alden Towers, you find a whole new respect to our Detroit past.

 I have enclosed a link to the all new freshly rehabbed and renovated Alden Towers. I invite you to look at the wonderful photo gallery they have here on their website. If you should want to consider living here at Alden Towers, as I wrote early in this blog, my real estate company, The Loft Warehouse, has entered into a broker relationship with the complex and I would be happy to show you some of the available units! 
































Saturday, February 9, 2013

YOU DON'T KNOW...SQUAT.


We all try to keep our families together, safe and warm, inside the Detroit City Limits. My idea of perfect living would be spent in a beautiful, modern, well-decorated open-style loft with exposed brick walls and wrap-around windows overlooking The Statue of Liberty. Equipped with all the state-of-the art amenities one's little heart could desire, I think that might make me happy. However, for the moment, I am grateful to be living in an old Victorian mansion that I can barely afford to heat! I realize I probably will never be happy or satisfied with what I have; it's just my nature. But on this cold February day in Detroit, life is truly harsh for those not even half as lucky as I am.



While driving in downtown Detroit,  I happened to run across a young man coming out of this building during one of our recent snow storms. I may be wrong in making this assumption, but it appeared to me that the building above looks to be an urban "squat". The front door had a makeshift lock on it and the uppermost window was broken out. There were no real signs of any ongoing maintenance, and from the looks of the outside, the inside was decorated with found objects and such. Shabby, but with the panache only hardy, adventurous young artists types could make work. Whatever the circumstances, this building, and all of the peripheral design accompanying it, are inspirational and unique. It shows you just how like kinds will unite and make a place to call home.

 And just when you think all is lost because you aren't a trust fund child, you drive by somebody who just might be an heir to a fortune but chooses instead to spend his life sleeping in sub-zero temperatures on the porch of a nearby church. This tableau represents the innermost special qualities of this human being, who neatly folded his sleeping gear. He has a bag from an over priced luxury grocery store, and an old copy of The New York Times. What does this tell us? It tells us that the will to live is so strong that somebody will not give up as easily as all that. It tells us that this person still has remnants of dignity and a will so strong that he will call this porch his home, for now, if he has to. Sanctuary. Asylum.





Even animals will bond...which is more than I can say about a lot of humans. I have seen this dog pack roaming the streets of my neighborhood for years. They are hungry and cold and beaten down, but they are still alive. I spent my last ten dollars on a bag of food for them, but when I drove back to feed them, they were making tracks down the street to find another stoop to sit on. You must remember: these were once somebody's pets. They probably once had the love and warmth and comfort of a home, but now they only have each other. 


These are vagabond dogs. The hobos of the dog world. The black one on the end with his bent and broken ear. The one in the middle who can barely stand up. She's a female, who from the looks of her teats, has given birth to many litters...who knows where the pups ended up. The big American Bull Terrier (I REFUSE to call him a "Pit Bull"),  on the other end of the stoop,  is the leader of the pack. He leads, the others  follow, and when ever he decides, they hole up for the night and seek the warmth of each other.

Here in Detroit, we have the one of the most tight knit music and art communities I have ever seen. Wayne, Oakland, Macomb and Washtenaw counties are a brotherhood. We will never let each other down. When we have a surplus of time, money, and love, we share  the wealth with others. We may be all experiencing hard times in this city, but you will never know it from the spirit within. Please read the little article below about NORCs, and know that we never really ever have to worry as long as we have each other! If you can, start focusing on the possibility of creating a NORC in your communities.




All About NORCs
‘NORCs’ – Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities’ is a demographic term to describe neighborhoods or buildings in which a large segment of the residents are older adults. In general, they are not purpose-built senior housing or retirement communities and were neither designed nor intended to meet the particular health and social services needs and wants of the elderly. Most commonly, they are places where community residents have either aged in place, having lived in their homes over several decades, or are the result of significant migrations of older adults into the same housing constructs or neighborhoods, where they intend to spend the rest of their lives.


  The Spirit of Detroit may be crushed from time to time...but NEVER broken.



Tuesday, January 29, 2013

SPRING...HOPES ETERNAL!

Iris and Chickens in the Ghetto Garden!
Showcase Antiques-Detroit



Oh what a delight, a chicken delight! These friendly egg-laying creatures live right in the middle of the angry Cass Corridor, down here in Detroit City! These beautiful hens and roosters are enjoying the balmy weather with temperatures that had reached 54 degrees on January 29, 2013! Can you also see the jagged edges of Iris plants peeking up over the fence? We have about three more months of cold winter ahead of us, but don't tell them!

This is a small  fraction of the flower garden that used to stand here on this spot. The wooden fence to the right was built to section off the rest of the acreage, where hundreds of colorful Iris bloomed for many years. The land on which they grew did not rightfully belong to the gardeners, but everyone loved them; those  flowers brought an abundance of joy to the neighborhood every spring.
The great expanse of wooden fence in the picture above shows you just how big that Iris garden was. Unfortunately , the owners of a new business bought their building along with the adjacent land which served as the Iris garden. The new owners understood the importance of the garden, so everyone in the community was given the opportunity to bring a shovel and bushel basket and fetch home as many plants as they could. This was a chance to keep the garden alive in the minds and hearts of everyone. Forever.






There were a few dozen plants left over when the backhoe came through to prepare the land to become a paved lot. The remaining plants were placed carefully last summer in the big pile that you see to the left. Iris plants are grown from bulbs and are usually quite hardy, but you should take precautions to not lose too much soil when transferring them.
Ah, nature. You can tamper with it, move it, shake it and all but destroy it, but it will not let you kill it very easily. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see tiny shoots of Iris popping up through the hard, frozen, winter  ground. These are the plants that I rescued and put into my ghetto garden last summer. I knew nothing about planting bulbs and I basically just dug some holes and plopped them in. Most of the flowers went into immediate shock, and died. Or so I had thought. I had one Iris plant keep on flowering for the rest of the summer and I was happy that even one had thrived! Every time I checked on my plants to water or feed them, it seemed as though all the squirrels were digging them up or eating the tender roots. I basically began to give up hope that any of the Iris would survive.

Let this serve as a lesson to all of us, that even in the harshest of conditions, life is precious  and it will do whatever it takes to reproduce and keep the species alive. No matter how badly something is treated, there is always a chance that it will overcome the obstacles and maybe try even harder to live and bring happiness. A discarded Iris plant, left in a heap on a litter-strewned mound in summer, will find a new home and eagerly want to flower come the spring. Such is the beauty of nature. Such is the beauty of love.



Friday, January 18, 2013

GHETTO GARDENS IN WINTER



 Detroit is a huge area filled with abandoned homes and vacant land. Forty square miles of vacant land! There is so much vacant land area it is overwhelming for the city of Detroit. Infact, the size and population of San Francisco would fit into the current vacant land in the city of Detroit.
Although Detroit faces a lot of negativity on the media front, one thing is for certain, the artist types and urban dwellers of our city are not going to let this land mass go to waste. Over the last few years, residents and suburbanites have taken over the vacant lots and turned the fallow land into some of the most amazing ghetto gardens in the country. Obviously, the gardens are noticed the most when they are looking their summertime best, but have you ever wondered what happens to these gardens when the harshness of winter sets in? The creativity of the artists and the gardens becomes even more apparent when the lush greenery has turned barren.

The top two pictures represent the garden boxes that are part of Mariner's Inn, a drug and alcohol recovery center for adult men in downtown Detroit's Cass Corridor. Gardening is therapy. The residents even paint the signs! Look how perfect the empty garden boxes look in winter.

 

The pictures directly above show the ingenious use of old bricks from houses in the area that have been torn down. This artist is the world famous Jerome Ferretti. This sculpture is usually surrounded by some nice landscaping, but right now it looks like kitty litter! 
Winter ground reveals all!

This garden area best represents a good effort. Nothing too fancy. Just good old fashioned hard work will apply. The garden is about two feet from a busy street! Urban atmospheres do a lot of damage to foliage. I will make sure I get pictures of this one in the spring!

The two garden areas here look like they had a surplus of food! Lot's of greenery remains. I love the way our ghetto gardeners take such good care of their winter wonderlands. And please note that nobody disrupts these little garden squats! So much respect!




The Brush Park Community Garden, in the three photos below, are an example of perfect planning and design. Some really talented people, somehow managed to acquire a lot of new garden blocks. They have made their garden areas into true works of art. As you can see from the photo below, this garden is pretty far away from downtown Detroit. The  Renaissance Center looms in the distance...




    Using more decorator garden blocks, our talented gardeners
 created a little star burst planter, and inside,
  pods of summer seeds remain,


 The photo below shows a garden that is two doors away from my own house. We have the distinction of having several really striking "scarecrows" in this garden to ward off the dangerous predators that roam the streets of the Cass Corridor!!

 I really love this ghetto garden that is located two doors away from me. It's kind of scruffy but shows the dedication and ingenuity of the people who take care of it, The Michigan Works Project, located on Peterboro Street. It never ceases to amaze me how the people of our community are really honest about the food growing these gardens. I sometimes see people just staring at the gardens, but never just helping themselves to the bounty! In the summer, you never really have an opportunity to see the underbelly of the ghetto gardens...but when winter sets in, you can see all the nuances such as seed packs and little veggie totems! Once again, it looks like there was food left over from the harvest.




 Finally, the two remaining photos below represent MY own gardening efforts! I took found objects from my alley and other spots about the neighborhood and scattered them on the ground. I like the look of the land when it is barren. It's fun knowing that in a matter of a few months the grey will turn to green! If you look closely at the last photo you will see one of our little squirrel scavengers perched on the fence with a bagel in his teeth! He looks deranged!


To sum it up, I have enjoyed photographing and writing about gardens in winter. I think they are just as beautiful and maybe even more interesting than the ones we take for granted in the summer! I hope you all can take the time to drive around your neighborhoods and see what's happening as we wait for the 2013 planting season to begin! Peace.