Detroit, Michigan has known many kinds of notoriety, from its illustrious heyday as “Motor City” and birthplace of Motown, the music label that popularized soul. Detroit’s streets were the first to see an affordable motorized vehicle with Henry Ford’s Model T, released in 1908. Half a century later in 1959, after years of working on the Ford Motor Company assembly line that dubbed it “Motor City”, Berry Gordy created Motown Records, the record label that popularized such renowned musical artists as Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and more. The Motown sound bridged the racial gap in popular music as it propelled soul music to the greater American audience.
Detroit has been discredited over the years as the motor industry market has become saturated, leading to less jobs and funding to the city overall, but the city is no lost cause. For the last decade, the city has undergone a rebirth through restoration efforts. The following are must-visit locales:
Must Stay in Detroit:
The Aloft hotel is located in the over one hundred year old David Whitney Building. In 1915, the iconic David Whitney Building was built in the iconic Neo-Renaissance style with terracotta and glazed brick facade. Recently, the building went through a major facelift — a $92 million facelift to be precise. The nearly billion dollar renovations resulted in 136 contemporary-styled rooms spanning 19 stories. The spacious lobby houses a four storey atrium and skylight, streaming daylight over marble and gold-leafing.
Must Stay in Detroit:
Motor City has over a century of history with the Fords. The city witnessed the manufacture of General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford in the Henry Ford factory. This created enough jobs to employ 10,000 of the two million citizens of Detroit. This workforce was reduced with the introduction of robotic automation on the assembly line. Today, about 3,000 people still work the production line, overseeing the smooth running of the machinery.
Although it may seem an odd tourist suggestion, watching a car created through the assembly line with the precision of human intervention is captivating. A new vehicle leaves the line every 53 seconds, averaging 1,500 trucks every day of production. The factory has an innovative 5D multisensory film as well as a display of the innovative V-8, the classic Thunderbird, and the Mustang.
Be sure to see the splendor of the Art Deco style Fisher Building. Created by architect Albert Kahn in 1928, this masterpiece of a building resides on West Grand Boulevard in midtown. It’s an ornate 30-story skyscraper that doubles as Detroit’s Largest Art Object. The exterior limestone, granite, and multiple types of marble dazzle in the sunlight. The interior houses an arcade, a theatre, intricate and distinct mosaics, hand-painted ceilings, Art Deco chandeliers, incredible views of the city below, and the finest craftsmanship in stone, brass, and bronze. Walk-in tours are free, but it’s best to reserve a time by registering first.
Henry Ford amassed a grandiose collection of Americana since 1929. The displays include the Quadricycle, a four-wheeled motorized vehicle with bicycle tires, presidential cars, airplanes, furniture, and tractors. There is also a museum of mathematics housed within the larger Museum itself. The notorious bus in which Rosa Parks made a stand against segregation by refusing to give up her seat to a white person, leading to her arrest and consequently, the bus boycott of Montgomery, AL in 1955. These events led to a wave of protest and paved the way for the civil rights movement in the next decade. Another notable display is the very rocking chair in which President Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. A Model T, the first affordable Ford car, is taken apart and reassembled daily for the public’s viewing.
The second largest art museum in the US is the Detroit Institute of Arts. Here, you may witness Peter Brugel’s The Wedding Dance(1566), which was, in its time, controversial for depicting mixed race dancing and kissing. Diego Rivera, husband to fellow Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, was a Mexican communist who was commissioned by Cecil Ford during the Great Depression to create a body of works in tribute to the industry and its workforce. The resulting works depicted the progression of the Ford Motor Company, highlighting the human plight in 27 panels known as the “Detroit Industry Murals.” The following famous artists’ works are included in the museum’s collection: Cezanne, Dega, Matisse, Picasso, and Van Gogh.
Motown music was birthed in Hitsville USA, the nickname of the home that housed founder Berry Gordy and Berry’s recording studio, where the magic happened. Previous to his own business ventures, Gordy worked a job at the Ford Factory, which he proclaimed to be “the worst job in the world.” The clanging sounds of metal being soldered, hammered, and drilled on the assembly line would inspire the Motown sound. These sounds were repetitive and became the backbone of Motown rhythm.
Gordy began to write and produce music. He took the flow of the production line to create a music industry parallel to the factory floor: finding young, raw teenage talent, teaching them social etiquette, grooming, and dance, and releasing them into the world, turning them into stars.
2019 marks the 60th anniversary of Motown Records. On May 19th, there was a spring block party on the museum grounds with live music, food trucks, and free museum tours.
The city lights reflect beautifully at night along the city’s five-mile riverfront walkway called the Detroit International Riverwalk. The path connects Chene Park Amphitheatre and William G Miliken State Park and Harbor. It leads visitors to the Outdoor Adventure Center. Across the water, you can see a whole other country–Canada.
Must Stay In Detroit
American cuisine is the casual but delicious food of choice in Detroit. Two must eateries are Wright & Company and Lumen Restaurant, both located in the Downtown area.
Wright & Company specializes in modern Amercan small plates, craft cocktails, wines, and craft beers. The gastro-bistro can be found on the second floor of the Wright-Kay building. Try the potato chips, scallops, crab cakes, chicken, roasted cauliflower, and beef tenderloin. Be sure to save room for a butterscotch dessert or an orange date cake.
Lumen Restaurant is a new restaurant/bar found in a building with tall windows overlooking Beacon Park. There is indoor and outdoor seating, depending on the weather. The menu is small but packed with great choices, such as the hot pretzel sticks, Wagyu beef, mac and cheese, crab chowder, charcuterie, salmon, and pasta with shrimp.
If you’re not in the Downtown area, another option is The Jolly Pumpkin in Midtown. It’s a nice lunchtime venue as well as a pizzeria. Be sure to also try the curried chips, hummus flatbreads, and a wide selection of beer.
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