Oh, Oh, Oakland! And that’s just the beginning of the idiosyncraticity that is Detroit. (I made up one of those words.)

This TDH was a little longer than usual (as I remember, about 40 miles), but it repaid itself over and over again in maybe-only-in-Detroit visual thrills. Get ready, there are a lot of photos in this post. The Legal Eagle has been threatening to garnish my pay check if I don’t get a post up. He’s found some archaic Michigan law that he believes applies to overdue blog posts, so I could be on the verge of some time in the clink if I don’t get something up on the intertubeswebthing pronto. Which raises the question – do you actually read this blog, or just look at the photos? It’d be a lot easier if I just threw up some photos and let you have at it, so: First poll of the post:

On the way to Oakland, we passed this tagged building on Milwaukee. That’s nothing unusual for my fair city, but I was struck by the verve of the taggers who manage to make their marks on what appear to be relatively inaccessible portions of the building.

Perhaps the “n” is backwards because the painter was disoriented

The recently reopened Tangent Gallery and Hastings Ballroom (now featuring Booze!) was where we right handed onto Oakland. If you were paying attention in math class, you’ll recognize the significance of the sculpture that adorns its exterior

Please note the intersection of the line and the circle. It’s called a ______?

Directly across the street is a sort of homage to a venerable printing facility. The facility itself appears to have disappeared, unfortunately.******

Any backstory, Night Train: Detroit?

**** I was misinformed about Rusas Printing.  I received a very nice note from Mr. Rusas himself “I was contacted by a friend to check out your site and found that you have a photo of my sign posted. You mentioned in your post that the printing facility has disappeared. Although the buildings surrounding me have been abandoned and completely covered in tags, We continue to operate out of the hood & have for over 40 years! The blight of our city has been wide spread throughout, there are still companies doing our best to battle the elements without the help of the city or the police. Recently, I was contacted by the “Better Block” organization & they choose our city block out of all the city blocks in Detroit for a beautification push to be spotlightedduring the Detroit Design Festival Sept. 22 & 23. After 2 30 yard & 1, 10 yard dumpster along with the help of multiple volunteers. Joe at the Tangent Gallery, the Better Block Organization and myself have managed to clear the debris and clean up the abandoned buildings and clear the empty lots that have been left by their careless owners of the abandoned properties.

I think I’ve found my new pied a terre in the city. Looks comfy, n’est-ce pas?

Just right for the single man on the go

Once on Oakland, a veritable yellow brick road of unusual sights began to unfold before us.

Here’s a cool building that clearly has a commissioned exterior decoration (it’s signed by the artists)

Dig it? I do

Someone has re-imagined the City of Detroit flag on another building. For reference, here’s the “official” version:

The flag of our fair city

The version on Oakland has additional built-in Detroitness: For one, our motto is actually in English, and there’s a nice nod to the Tigers. (The Old English “D” for those of you not from around here.) And a reminder that we’re not all white.

Dig that Caddy in the upper right quadrant

A little further up, we cycled past a building I should’ve heard or read about before. Alas, I hadn’t. It’s a retail/educational facility the likes of which I’ve never run across before. Voila:

Jazz+Shoe+Shine+Art=Legendary

Other artwork abounds on Oakland. Should your interests lie in the plastic arts, there’s this triptych:

I wish I could give you more details about this, but I’m drawing a blank

Ride around Detroit a while (or even for a short spin), and you’re pretty much guaranteed to pass by some spell fails: Like so:

I like the $ at the end of “Dollar Items”

Did you notice anything special about the bricks on the top of the building? This used to be “Charlie The Pencilman’s” {sic}, which according to some cursory searching online used to sell incense and dream books. This whole block was populated in the 1930′s by European Jews, which explains the location of Detroit’s Russian Banya, or as we’ve always called it around it around here: The Schvitz. It’s still open.

For Men Only

It’s no secret that there are many many many abandoned homes in Detroit. This building’s owners made their feelings pretty clear:

And you’re probably never coming back

Not to worry, as this building will provide you with some reassurance about outcomes, if not word spacing:

God decided not to open the store today

Next up, a building with a certain amount of panache, of braggadoccio, if you will. There are innumerable buildings in Detroit, but this one is the one according to its owners:

Accept no substitutes. This is the real deal

I am not blessed with a thick, rich head of hair, so the possibility of it actually “breaking” is something beyond my imagination. It must be an issue amongst others, as evidenced by this beauty salon’s promise:

What can you do if it’s all falling out?

This next sign will probably only make sense to a real Detroiter, as it makes reference to our very own wacky billionaire.

Maybe he’ll swing by after he straightens out his issue with the new bridge

One of the things I enjoy most about cycling around Detroit (particularly on Sunday mornings) is the virtual lack of automotive traffic. It’s just a great place to ride along and enjoy the scenery. Like so:

Every wall’s an easel

Someone went to a great deal of trouble to paint the 10 Commandments on side of a building on the corner of Manchester. Wish they’d gone to the trouble of bringing a dictionary along with them.

The Sabeth? Adultry? And, what, exactly, am I not supposed to covet? Anything?

In an earlier post, I wrote about the Satan’s Sidekicks M/C. But I neglected to show you a photo of the mother chapter: Here it is, over on Fenkell.

Don’t know if they still sport red helmets with devil’s horns

Back in Detroit’s early days, the St. Francis Home for Orphan Boys was founded. At one point in time, it must’ve been a beautiful building. It’s just tragic that it’s fallen apart, with no evident sign that it’s going anywhere but further down. Here’s the cornerstone, still intact:

9 years in the making

And here’s the building, in its current sad state

What a disaster

My spirits soon picked up after I passed a very special car wash.

I can only imagine how clean my car would be

For those with a less spiritual bent, just down the road is a more civic-oriented car wash:

President vs The Lord for top car wash

I have no idea what this business is (or was), or what it does (or did). All I know is that it’s got a pretty bad ass logo:

Panther _________

This company:

Back when I was wee lad, the two great jazz clubs in Detroit were Baker’s and Watt’s Club Mozambique. Clearly the jazz road didn’t work out for the owners of Watt’s, which is bad news for jazz lovers, but potentially good news for those of you looking for some exotic manliness

Only the finest in exotic male dancers

As mentioned above, I am somewhat follicly challenged, so I have almost no need for this salon’s speciality:

I’m more in need of a slim fade

As we got nearer to our turn around point (Schaefer Highway) I heard “Jesus Loves the Little Children” being played on a saxophone. The player turned out to be an affable gentleman named “Jack”. “Black Jack”. Being just down the street from Watt’s, we reminisced about the olden days when it was a jazz club. (Black Jack talked about seeing Roy Ayers there). When I asked him which Alto players he admired, he said: “Me”. Then he launched into a very nice version of “Satin Doll”. Thank you, Jack. Nice to meet you.

“Black Jack” Alto player supreme

There was still a lot more to unfold along Fenkell. (BTW, Fenkell is not, I think it’s fair to say, the best place to show off our city to out-of-towners). I passed one of my side businesses; I just added the tattoo sign to try and snag some hipsters. (That’s not actually true. I don’t own this place.)

My attempt to get some street cred (that part is true)

This establishment will try anything to make sure you come in and shop; even pointing out which door you’re supposed to use to get in, in case you’re confused.

Neither a side door nor a back door be

If you’re a regular Tour De Hood reader (see poll above), you’ll remember that I’ve noted a number of hair-type stores I’ve passed on my rides. This seems to be the place to get the best bargains. Either that, or something that must smell truly disgusting.

Liquid Hair: The greatest invention since sliced bread

There wasn’t a whole lot to see on Schaefer Highway, though I did dig the wheel setup on the car featured here, at yet another car wash.

Caprice Classics rule the road in Motown

Grand River presented us with a plethora of interesting things to view. There is a lot of nicely-executed curated street art along its length. For example, this exuberant celebration of dedication to the Queen of England (I think)

Perhaps it’s dedication to the King of Belgium

A bit further along, there was a lot more to see – but first, I wanted to point out a nicely recycled gas station, taking on new life as yet another beauty salon. (Detroit’s gas station architecture is pretty recognizable. I think it’s safe to say this actually was a gas station at one point.)

Change the oil, and just a little off the top, please

As for the aforementioned street art, there’s a super nice cluster on Grand River and Vermont. Example #1:

Dude

Example #2: (This is actually part of the signage for a barber shop)

And perhaps my favorite of the bunch: a trenchant observation on the general flabbiness of our nation, as well as our indefatigable dedication to eat anything that comes in an extra-large size, example #3:

Sad but true. We’re a flabby old bunch, aren’t we?

Before we stopped for some nourishment, we passed yet another motorcycle club. I don’t know if they’re a “good” motorcycle club or a “bad” motorcycle club. Do you?

A suggestion for Mr. Toro (Or is that Toros?) A little more consistency with the ‘s (or not) would help give your brand some added punch

We repaired to the Lafayette Coney Island for a richly deserved brunch, Motown-Style.

If you’d like to duplicate this tour yourself, here’s a Google® Map to show you where we went.

Back to my question at the beginning: did you read this, just look at the pictures, or both?

June 4/5 2011. A spin past some familiar sites plus12th Street (Rosa Parks Blvd) from the river to McNichols.

Saturday, June 4, was a lovely day in the hood, and we went on a ride past some familiar sites. The Legal Eaglet (who was in town for a wedding) and my cousin (who photographed the “Phearty Hearty” store and graciously passed it along to me) along with the Legal Eagle spun through some 313 streets.  Needless to say, there were plenty of things to see:  For one, this mobile, self-styled “style center”.

The Speed Demon Barber of St. Paul Street

The roving barber’s not far from both a stationary (and, sadly, looks-to-be-stuck-a-fork-in-it) corner store.

Don’t know when it’s going to be open

It’s also just down the street from the Capuchin Soup Kitchen, an exceedingly worthy Detroit charity that serves basic human needs for those who need it most.  It’s also a drug-free zone, as indicated by this sort-of oddball sign.

No Drugs accepted

Things soon looked cheerier.  Iron Street has a wonderful collection of street murals. I don’t know who (or which organization) set this up, but there’s clearly some collective action happening here.  Nice use of a corner of an abandoned building for this Egyptian Motif:

Sphinx on the corner

Some positive vibrations:

Nowhere to go but up!

Another very colorful addition is even more inspired – and inspiring.

Brick by Brick By Brick

Finally, a reminder (as if you needed one) about where you are.  Gotta love the smoke from the front wheels correctly illustrating the powertrain of the Caddy in the mural.

Detroit Muscle

Should you be inclined to pedal down Iron Street, take it to its terminus (at the Coast Guard Station), and get thee onto the lovely Detroit Riverwalk – which is also cycling friendly. We had a lovely ride along the Detroit River, turned right onto the Dequindre Cut, and rode up Gratiot – where I spotted a couple of Detroit’s steam vents. The city (via our public utility) actually heats a number of buildings through a maze of tunnels. I guess this is a place where excess steam is vented.

Thar she blows!

I’ve visited the Heidelberg Project a number of times. You should too – either if you’ve never seen it – or if it’s been a while since you’ve been there. Tyree Guyton is always adding something new.  The first couple of shots were snapped by the Legal Eaglet®, who has permitted me to post them here:

The Piano of Hope

Mr. Guyton has repurposed some ad-like-objects (in bulk) and added his own slogans. He is clearly opposed to smoking.

Cancer and Poopy Breath

He has also found a Steven Colbert-ish character to which he has added some, uh, interesting messages:

War! (Good God!) What is it good for?

This next one plays a bit with WWJD.

Sacré Bleu!

We spun gently home, gently guided by a tailwind zephyr.

Sunday, the Legal Eagle and I decided to check off another street to our  “I rode the whole length of…” list.  On the 5th, it was Rosa Parks Blvd. (Formerly Twelfth Street).  For those of you who want to follow along, here’s a link.  The relevant parts are the parallel-ish lines on the left of your screen.

Here’s a scintillating view of the foot of the St./Blvd. (That’s the Detroit river in the background.) Don’t expect to see my work gracing the cover of National Geographic any time soon.

Hey! That’s Canada over there!

The Legal Eagle is a brainiac in many fields – including the History Of Detroit, (he’s always throwing in an interesting tidbit or two), Fire Stations, and Railroads. To wit, an unassuming concrete block festooned with contemporary street art.

Hunk o’ concrete with a purpose

This quotidian admixture of cement and sand used to be one end of an elevated rail track that ran toward where is now the GM building, hung a left, and ended at the Michigan Central Station. Yes, indeed, we had elevated rail tracks in the Motor City once upon a time.

Up a bit (across 1-75, actually) we rode past an apartment “complex” that appears to have been designed by a former penitentiary architect. Not the most welcoming of building materials, I’d have to say.

A stone for my bedroom

Update: A reader gave me some new information about this place. It’s called “Spaulding Court”, and is being rehabbed by a non-profit organization. Please hop over here to see what’s up. The work inside is really cool.

By the way, these abodes are at the intersection of Spruce Street and Rosa Parks.  One block over, on Vermont, is the newly-opened Corktown Youth Hostel, which is actually not quite in Corktown – nevertheless, it’s a great project for which the indefatigable Emily Doerr deserves a great deal of credit.

At the intersection of Rosa Parks and Grand River is a building which the Legal Eagle believes was, at one, time, a Detroit Police Precinct Headquarters of some sort. Being a prudent fellow, he won’t swear to the veracity of that claim.

Could’ve been a cop shop at one point

Up at 5141 Rosa Parks is one outpost of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit.  (It also has a location on Hubbard). It appears to be closed on Sunday Mornings.

One of the committee members is Detroit Lives founder and all-around good guy, Philip Lauri

Had it been a little later, I’m hoping that Papa’s Soul Food & Grill might’ve been open. (I think it was around 9:00 am when I snapped this shot). I can’t find any information about it online, so I’m assuming it is no longer a going concern. (If I’m wrong, please let me know).

Is Papa’s still open for grillin’?

The Detroit Riot of 1967 started following a police raid on a blind pig on 12th Street and Claremount Avenue. It’s such a sad story.  You can read more about it at this link.  The Legal Eagle also recommends The Algiers Motel Incident by John Hersey. That is, if you can find a copy. It appears to be out of print.  Anyway, there’s a small, somewhat unkempt park that memorializes the location.

12th and Claremount Park

Here’s a tighter shot of the purple sculpture.

If I read correctly, the artist is J.A. Ward

Further up the road, someone has turned a store front into a church of sorts. I thought the juxtaposition of the message and the left-over promise on the right side of the building’s top was interesting.  If you can’t read it, click on the photo.

Refreshing Spiritually and Physically

Next up, an ex-bank-now-church-with-many-colors-including-eagle-or-bird-of-some-kind.

The Apostolic Faith Church of Love (Hood Rat)

Perhaps not coincidentally, a sign of warning to the tagger is just across the street.

Quit your tagging, heathen!

The Legal Eagle has, as I’ve mentioned before, has visited every Detroit Fire Station (open or shut). There’s a closed one on Rosa Parks.  I love the care with which these buildings were originally erected.

I believe this was a flagpole support. Love the stone work

We passed a really cool Metal Fabrication shop near where the street veers slightly to the right. (About which more later).  Its name is a little mysterious:

Weldments?

Judging by the ornamental work, it looks as if they do really fantastic work.  Approaching from the South, (as we did), you might be put off by the first sign for the company you see.  I think the official name for this font is “Impenetrable Peeling Bold”.

D-Style Hieroglyphics

The shop is also protected by (almost) every protection device known to man:

Now, all they need is a guard vegetable

I mentioned above that Rosa Parks/12th Street veers a little to the right as it crosses the John Lodge Expressway.  If you continue slightly to the left, you’ll find yourself on Fenkel. As I looked up the street, I noticed a Motorcycle club with bikes parked in the front. So I rode up and chatted with a couple of the members. It turns out, it was the headquarters of Satan’s Sidekicks, getting ready for a memorial ride. I wrote in an earlier post about the club – with whom I worked during college at a Dodge assembly plant. They used to sport red helmets with devil’s horns. (They’re wearing more normal helmets now.  Two things of note.  1) Whilst searching for information about the club online, I noted there’s a Facebook® page dedicated to the location of the club headquarters. It’s here, described as a “local business”.  2) While engaged in conversation with a member, one of his colleagues went into the club house and got a camera and took my picture. I asked him if it was because I was the only white guy who’d stopped by the club on a bicycle. “Yep”, he replied.

After dead-ending at McNichols, we returned back downtown via one of the saddest streets in America; Hamilton in Highland Park. I’m sorry to report that it is so ruined that it seems virtually irreparable. I can’t see how it could possibly come back to life. There’s simply no money – either in the hands of the inhabitants, or the city, or the state, or the Federal Government. It’s the kind of desolation that seriously makes me worry about the future of the U.S.A.

Being a glass half-full kind of guy, though, I was perked up by the best ghost sign I’ve seen in the city.  Voila: Honor Bright. The perfect garments for every boy:

Real Boys wear Honor Bright playsuits and blouses

Judging by the style, I can only surmise that this was painted in the ’20 or ’30s. What I also liked was the ad for the Square Deal Hardware store – and its phone number: HEmlock 5896.  I can remember when my phone number was a TUxedo.  The Honor Brite sign is right next to an ad for Black Beauty Triple-Stitched work shirts.

A real thoro-bred (sic.)

The children in the Honor Brite ad seem unusually pleased with their new blouses; a simpler time, I guess.

Nice to see another cyclist in the Hood

The rest of the ride was S.O.P. on the TDH. Back downtown, a stop at the Avalon for (in my case) a Pecan roll and a cappuccino. The Legal Eagle stuck with a healthy slice of foccacia. Then a quick spin through the Dequindre Cut, up Lafayette to Burns, Burns to Kercheval, Kercheval to Lycaste, Lycaste to Jefferson, Jefferson to Conner, Conner to Kercheval, and so back home.  Lovely morning of cycling and history.

ADDENDUM: Sweet Juniper (a really excellent blog you should read) has more backstory on the Honor Bright sign and company.