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Prepare to be dazzled by Detroit

Travels with Deb

Debbie Stone | Aug 5, 2018, 12:15 p.m.
Photo by Debbie Stone

Nearby, is the Monument to Joe Lewis, a bold tribute to one of Detroit’s legendary athletes. The sculpture, a large fist, is representative of Louis’ power in and out of the boxing ring, where he fought racial disparity. The “Spirit of Detroit” is also a notable sculpture. The enormous figure holding a sphere in its left hand and a family in the right is a well-recognized symbol of Detroit and has become a key part of the city’s identity. Another hard-to-miss monument is “Transcending,” a large broken circle over Hart Plaza. Dedicated to the labor movement, the landmark consists of two steel arcs that almost form a circle, but there’s a break in the top, representing the work that still needs to be done in the movement. Around the circle are fourteen granite boulders and at the base of the monument are plaques with quotes that speak to the labor movement throughout the years.

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The lobby of the Guardian Building Photo by Debbie Stone

Architecture plays an important role in Detroit by giving its skyline unique character and an historical perspective. Even if you’re not versed in the various styles, you’ll still be able to appreciate many of the prominent buildings that appear as sentinels of the city. The Guardian Building, for example, is an art deco gem. Designated a National Historic Landmark, this renowned 1929, forty-story skyscraper is distinguished by its unique orange-colored bricks and elaborate exterior carvings by Corrado Parducci. Inside is one of the most incredible lobbies in the world. The vaulted ceiling consists of an Aztec design with multicolor, interlocking hexagons of Rookwood pottery and Pewabic Tile. And the giant columns in the room are formed from Travertine marble. You’ll notice that for a ceiling of such height, the lobby is unusually quiet. That’s because it’s covered by a horsehair mat, making it acoustical and sound absorbent. The church-like feel to the place helped give it its nickname, the Cathedral of Finance.

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GM Renaissance Center Photo by Debbie Stone

Other significant buildings include the Penobscot, also an art deco jewel; the classic Book Cadillac (now a Westin Hotel); One Detroit Center, with its distinct neo-gothic spires; the Italian Renaissance-style Book Tower; the Metropolitan Building, soon to be Element Detroit, an upscale hotel; and the GM Renaissance Center, the world headquarters for General Motors. The latter boasts a 44,000 square-foot, interactive showroom featuring the company’s vehicles and specialty cars.

Some of these beautiful buildings were abandoned over the years and faced possible demolition. Thankfully, many of them have been or are in the process of being renovated into mixed-use structures. At the center of this major redevelopment are two names: the Ilitch family, owners of Little Caesars Pizza, the Detroit Tigers and the Detroit Red Wings, and Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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Motown Museum Photo by Debbie Stone

Music takes center stage in Detroit. The Motown scene is deeply rooted in the city and fans of this sound flock to Hitsville U.S.A., home to the Motown Museum. Founded by Esther Gordy Edwards in 1985, this American treasure is a popular tourist destination. Tens of thousands of visitors from across the globe come to stand in Studio A, where their favorite artists and groups recorded the much-loved music, and to view the restored flat where founder Berry Gordy lived with his wife and kids during the company’s early days. On a tour through the place, you’ll learn how one man’s vision became a reality with an $800 loan from his family and a deep desire to make great stories and a great beat that everyone could enjoy. The array of Motown artifacts, photos, costumes, posters and other memorabilia is extensive, as is the wealth of information that your guide shares. It’s a wonderful walk down memory lane, ending with a group attempt at singing the Temptations’ hit tune, “My Girl,” – acapella, no less!

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