This summer, we visited the fascinating city of Detroit, a short three-hour drive from our home. And if you are wondering “Why Detroit?” you haven’t been paying attention to the revitalization of this historic city.
Founded by the French in 1701, Detroit was named by it’s founder Antoine de La Mothe Cadillac for the Detroit River — le detroit du Lac Erie — or the strait of Lake Erie.
The city began its meteoric rise as the center of Great Lakes transportation, shipbuilding and manufacturing after the Erie Canal opened in 1825; then in 1896, Henry Ford built his first automobile. Henry was soon joined by other automotive luminaries, making Detroit the world’s center of automobile manufacturing. Thousands of residents moved to the city prior to World War II when Detroit served as the “Arsenal of Democracy,” manufacturing needed materiel for the harrowing struggle.
However, a perfect storm of new manufacturing procedures, post-war housing trends, government policies, redlining, urban renewal, highway construction, plant closures and resulting unemployment resulted in Detroit losing 60 percent of its population between 1950 and 2010. And you are probably completely aware of that. But in recent years, the city has been incrementally revitalized, as core neighborhoods discover innovative approaches to deal with their problems, bringing a renewed energy to the city.
And we experienced that renewed energy in spades! Our home base was in The El Moore Lodge, a gorgeous 1898 red sandstone apartment building that had stood vacant for years until redeveloped and reopened in 2015 as a residence and lodge. A short walk from The El Moore will take you to many cultural wonders as well as to comfortable public transportation that will whisk you downtown to experience even more delights.
The Concert of Colors, Detroit’s annual free celebration of diversity in music, took place during our stay there, so we walked over to Detroit Institute of Art’s Film Theatre to be enthralled and energized by Don Was’ Detroit All-Star Revue honoring the 60th anniversary of Motown records. Was’ contribution to the festival features the indigenous music of Detroit, and pairs the producer/performer with various artists backed by one of the greatest bands ever, none of whom has a famous name. In addition to headliners Martha Reeves (who still has a great presence) and Mitch Ryder (who not only brims over with energy but still can really sing), the show included lovely songstress Jill Jack, who had in May, 2018, graced Darke County Center for the Arts Coffeehouse Series with her sparkling talents.
We also toured the Motown Historical Museum where Motown’s founder Berry Gordy launched his influential music label in 1959. We took photos inside Studio A where Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, and The Jackson Five recorded their hits, where a little blind kid named Stevie Wonder, played the piano and (unbeknownst to me) Marvin Gaye played drums.
We also paid a too short visit to The Henry Ford, which encompasses Greenfield Village and the Museum of American Innovation and hosts tours of Ford’s River Rouge plant where visitors watch F-150 trucks being made. And, of course, we didn’t have enough time to experience all of the wonders on display.
The above statement also is true of the most wonderful of all Detroit’s wonders, Detroit Institute of Arts, which houses an abundance of extraordinary work. The DIA exudes a vital, welcoming energy, enhanced by smiling docents eager to answer any question plus information-rich interpretative displays that don’t assume that every viewer is either an expert or a complete idiot, but simply tell you all that you want to know.
Of course, DIA’s most renowned asset is the 27-panel Detroit Industry fresco magnificently painted in 1932-1933 by Diego Rivera in just eight months. Other treasures include Van Goghs and Sargents and modern masters and awe-inspiring suits of ancient armor and—well, you get the idea.
And that’s not all that we did on our vacation in delightful Detroit; space does not permit me to extol all the wonders of this vibrant, resurgent city. I’d recommend you check it out yourself; you’ll be happy you did.