Up Woodward, Down John R, plus the first TDH quiz evar!

Whilst I’ve ridden on Woodward Avenue many times, I thought it might be useful and fun to deliberately ride its whole length – from Jefferson to 8 Mile. For the return, rather than ride back down the Avenue, the Legal Eagle and I thought we’d take John R.

I don’t think you need a map to follow along. Go up Woodward, turn right at 8 Mile, ride past the “State Fairgrounds & Exposition Center”, turn right on John R. until it dead ends, turn left to Oakland, pass the Polar Bears’ football field and the giant pallet cemetery, turn right on Manchester, then left back onto John R. Continue until you hit Tiger Stadium.

Just to prove that we did the whole ride, here’s a view of the base of Woodward:

Don’t let that sign confuse you

On our way north, we did take a little detour to Capitol Park to see the “set” of Transformers 3, which is being filmed in our fair city.  We encountered a fervid rent-a-cop who blew a gasket when he saw me taking a photo while touching a barricade with my toe. “That’s Private Property!” he yelled, to which I responded that I was on a public thoroughfare and I could do whatever I wanted. He kept yelling at me. I yelled back at him. The Legal Eagle, as is his wont, kept his mouth shut.

Nevertheless, I was able to take some photos which led me to create the following series of questions.  You must decide whether the scene I photographed is Detroit in its usual state of disrepair, or made to look disrepaired by highly skilled set decorators.  You get to choose. City, or Set.  Ready?  Here’s visual number one. This one’s easy – to give you an initial burst of self confidence.

Just another Sunday morning in Detroit or Transformers 3?

This one’s a little tougher

Deliberate or Accidental?

Did this façade look like this on purpose, or is it just from the patina of disuse?

Crummy or made to look crummy?

We don’t treat our history with kid gloves here in the Motor City (about which, read more when I get to the Model T Plant, below). That said, was this knocked over for a movie or did it fall over from neglect?

Art or Vandalism?

A small amount of Federal Stimulus money is appearing in and around Detroit (mostly for street repair). Is this asphalt eruption on purpose because we need better streets, or because Transformers 3 needed extra destroyed city optics?

City Improvement or Movie Improvement?

Bonus question one: Is this store front on Woodward part of the movie, an art project, or a remnant of our Potemkin Village “Spruce up Detroit for the Super Bowl” festival?

Shades of Dharma Brand Instant Potatoes

Bonus question number two. Is the club below still the Eros club, which I’ve written about before, or was it renamed Cobra’s for the movie?

Eros v. Cobra

Ok, you can put your pencils down now.  Back to more typical Detroit scenes. A small business is going under on Woodward. Just as unsurprising, the misspelled sign to announce the news.

Hurrey Down for Saveings

I do not know what “Detroit Revolution” is, but whenever it does arrive, I want to be there. This alluring sign is near midtown, on what looks like the site of a former theatre or burlesque house.  If someone knows more about this, please let me know via comments or email. (It reads “Without you I am a battery without a charge”)

Who doesn’t love a rebus?

The next sight is not really Detroit-specific, as the half life of a fully outfitted bike left on the street in any major city is very short. I was struck by the thoroughness with which the parts of the bike were removed.

Need pedals or an alloy crankset?

More typical of Detroit is the site of the former American Beauty Electric Iron Company.

Irons and Art

We tried to guess what kinds of irons they made there. While the name suggests curling irons or the Grateful Dead, a bit of internet snooping around seems to indicate they made irons for ironing your clothes.

Farther up Woodward, in a splendid building, is the Detroit International Academy for Young Women. (Evidently, part of the DPS).


I just wish the sign was connected a little more to the school design, which reeks of “when Detroit was a great city with some money to spend on civic institutions”.

Lovely institution of pedagoguery (which may not be a word)

Assiduous readers of the Tour De Hood Blog will remember my reference to an old-school gang, The “Coney Oneys” in an earlier post. (The gang thought they were naming themselves after those feared mafiosi, The Corleones).  Anyway, some 80’s nostalgia for you.

The “Earl Flynn’s” {sic} gang failed to spell Errol Flynn properly.

nb: BK does not stand for Burger King

I’m sure Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Fudge is a wonderful person. That said, I’m not sure you should always use your name for your business. Something just doesn’t seem right about this:

Maybe they’re from Mackinac Island (Michigan insider joke)

Someone else spent a great deal of time illustrating the exterior of this shop. Considering how many words they had to include, the lack of spell fails is pretty astonishing. (I’ll cut them some slack for EQT). I’ve heard of Odds and Ends. I’ve hear of Odds and Evens. But not this combo:

Odds & Ins? WTF?

The ex McGregor Public Library is a really beautiful building. Der Rechtliche Adler said there is periodic noise about trying to reopen the place, but judging by what I saw on Sunday, it looks like it’s still shut down. I’m dying to see the interior.

“Books Are The Doors to Wide New Ways”

Poor, poor Highland park.  Woodward in Highland Park is truly one of the most depressing parts of our city. Financial ruin forced the elimination of its police department (though it was re-established in 2007), and I’m not sure if the fire department still exists.  It’s a self-contained city that’s virtually completely surrounded by Detroit. (I’ll explain why it even exists below).   It had beautiful municipal buildings. This was the police headquarters:

The roof is mostly missing

Here’s the former parking spot that was reserved for the “Officer of the Month”.

Now reserved for tree of the year

This was the headquarters of the Fire Department. I don’t know where they’re headquartered now.  They have 16 firefighters in the city.

At its peak, Highland Park had 84 Firefighters

This was the Municipal Building. Again, I have no idea where it’s located now.

Sorry. All gone now

Here’s why there even is a Highland Park:  Henry Ford. As you know, since you’ve ready every word of the Tour De Hood, Henry Ford’s original factory was on Piquette. (The building’s still there).  However, that’s not the factory that made Ford Ford. This one is. Right here on Woodward in Highland Park is where Henry Ford revolutionized the United States, and the world, by mass-producing the Model T.

Home of a Revolution

Here’s why it’s in Highland Park.  Detroit was expanding, rapidly (imagine that!), but Henry didn’t want to pay Detroit Taxes on a new factory, so he built this one beyond the city limits, and incorporated a town around it, called Highland Park, where the tax rates would be much more affordable.  Chrysler used to be headquartered in Highland Park, too.

You’d think the location of the factory that literally changed our lives would get a little more TLC, wouldn’t you? After all, as the sign above states, it “set the pattern of abundance for 20th Century living”.  But no.  The front view is blocked by weed trees. The rest looks just like an abandoned factory. (Albeit adorned with what appear to be Pewabic Tiles.) Why do we treat our past with such indignity?

Building with enormous historical signifance? We don’t care

Back on the road, I saw a nice ghost sign. I’m surprised the owner limited himself to Canis Lupus Familiaris patients:

Goodbye, Kitty

I’m sure you can’t wait for this week’s Sign Fail.  At first, you could think I didn’t actually find one, and made this up by holding my camera upside down.

Nice sign if you’re standing on your head

“Oh, Mister Arthur”, you think, “you’re trying to be funny by rotating a photograph so we’ll think someone was dumb enough to go to trouble of making a sign and firmly affixing it to a wall without ever realizing it was upside down.”  Wrong.  It really was put up upside down. See?

What’s the excuse this time?

WTF?  Did they think no one would notice??

We noticed, just past this misery and incompetence, a delightful patio behind a wrought iron fence.  There’s no sign on the building, but riding around the back, we discovered that we had come upon a restaurant called “La Dolce Vita.” I haven’t been there before (duh), but have subsequently found out it’s been around for a while (if my math is correct, about 16 years). L’aigle jurisdique has a partner who really likes it, a friend of mine recommends the patio during our warmer months, and Metro Times gave it a good review back in ’03.  Looks inviting from the outside.

The Perfect Place to Valet Park my Lancia Flaminia Supersport Zagato

By now, we’d nearly reached the city limits. After a right turn onto 8 Mile, we soon came upon a place all too happy to advertise its presence: The Detroit Renegades M/C.

Panhead or Shovelhead?

Truth be told, John R., while a nice place to ride, doesn’t have a lot of visual impact. There was a nondescript strip club, with a terribly uncreative name:

Staple-Free, one would hope

That aside, I was taken by the homey ambience of Advance Steering Column Repair.

Nothing says “picnic” like Ignition Theft Repair

We ultimately had brunch chez The Lafayette Coney Island.  Here’s a photo of the chili cheese fries we ate to toast our successful ride.  It’s also an opportunity to vote for your favorite Coney  Island locale.

Brunch, Detroit Style


26 thoughts on “Up Woodward, Down John R, plus the first TDH quiz evar!

  1. This pictorial nearly brought me to tears! Beautiful expose. Truly unbelievable how many years of neglect led to the abandonment of true architectural beauty, let alone, two cities! I recently saw a competition show on the best coney in Detroit…oddly, American won??? How could this be true!! Also, I simply had to watch the new show Detroit 187, the new ridiculous cop show, and they highlighted American!!! I believe only real Detroiters know the BEST…Lafayette, of course. Even their Vernors tastes better (hee-hee)!!!

  2. The “Neglect” or “Vandalism” poll in re: the toppled monument, if I have correctly identified the location, omits a third option: that it is neither.

    I think that’s the Stevens T. Mason monument, which is being moved to the other side of Capitol Park as part of a park redevelopment effort.

    With it goes the Governor’s remains, which were buried under that spot. Creeeeepy!

    Also: love the Highland Park tour. What a curious neighborhood.

  3. I wish I’d have known your route. I lived at 45 Puritan Ave. in Highland Park. It was about six houses off of Woodward. I would have asked you to take a picture of it. Still, a great pictorial. I remember riding in that area when I was like in the 4th or 5th grade. It seems like there was a giant Sears near the Ford Plant. Also can remember exploring Palmer Park, and a paper route in that neighborhood. Sad to see what’s happened to H. P.

  4. Did you go all the way up WW to the 8 mile bridge? I wonder what you think of the wall-size historical photographs that are on it. They are terrible reproductions and seem oddly placed to me.

  5. I’ve been inside the Highland Park courthouse/municipal building. It wasn’t like I had to TRY to get in, either – just walked right through the door. There are personal records strewn about with people SSNs and driver’s license numbers for the world to see/snag. Not just criminal records, but also people who applied for jobs. Appalling mismanagement of city assets.

    This was last autumn (October 09). Considering the danger to the public that these exposed records represent, I contacted several news places about it, including Charilie LeDuff, who had at the time just written about Blackwell’s supposed accomplishment of getting Highland Park to a $3 million surplus. I suggested “Why not take a few thousand dollars and properly archive or shred the records that are hanging out the windows of the court house?” No one was interested in the story, and to my knowledge the problem was never covered or remedied.

  6. I take a combination of Woodward and Hamilton through HIghland Park as my daily work commute. For what it’s worth, the sign on the mosque wasn’t upside-down until recently……by my estimation, it happened the weekend of 9/11, right around the time when that jackass in FL wanted to burn copies of the Quran. Since I can’t see the mosque members doing this to their own sign, my guess is that the upside-down-ness was an outsider’s idea of protest or maybe just humor through vandalism.

    I’ve been a longtime student of the history of Detroit’s libraries (nerd alert!) and the McGregor has quite a history (designed in part to be a metaphoric middle finger to the DPL’s main branch further south on Woodward). If you ever get inside, I want an invite or at least many many pictures to peruse.

    • Thanks for the clarification on the mosque sign, Jenny Jen Librarian. I don’t know how to get into the McGregor without vandalizing it. If I do, I’ll let you know. BTW, I think we need a map of Detroit’s libraries so we can visit every one of them (Much as my cousin has visited every Fire Station in the City). No nerd alert needed. I love nerds.

      • Great idea on the map. I will work on it as spare time allows……..are you interested in locations of all libraries (my personal fave just got demo’d and is now a crater) or just those still (as far as I know) standing?

  7. As usual, you have outdone yourself on both the humor of the Motor City and the sadness of the one-time formidable city. Pretty sad. I would love to see Detroit become a wonderful place. Even if it is just farms or orchards. It’s got such potential.

  8. Pingback: Highland Park Using Police as Human Shields « Cynical Synapse

  9. I’m a little late to the game here but nice post!

    La Dolce Vita is quite the spot, and in the middle of what used to be the gay hood in Detroit. It used to be called Salute and just a few doors down was Backstage Deli (a broadway-themed restaurant) and the attached Footlights (a piano bar). Both mysteriously burned down in the early 90s and relocated for the rest of their short lives to Royal Oak.

    If you haven’t yet explored, be sure to check out the Palmer Park neighborhood just west of Woodward there off McNichols. Wonderful art deco buildings, and the neighborhood has probably declined enough where you’ll get some good material for the blog. Then I can link to it because I’ve been too lazy to get up there and photograph myself. Chosen Books, the gay bookstore, was just up the street there on McNichols, and the dance club Menjo’s remains there to this day.

    You should definitely check out LDV, summer patio is wonderful but inside is great for dinner too. Here’s a link to a Model D piece about the owner:

    Oh and to Paul – yes there was a wonderful art deco Sears building on Woodward. It was torn down within the last ten year. I am not sure if the spot has been turned into another of HP’s lovely strip malls yet.

      • Just came upon your website and the Highland Park pictures. I grew up in HP; spent many afternoons and weekends in the McGregor Library. It is stunning inside, or at least, it was. Had beautiful woodwork, plaster carvings in massive pillars as I recall, and of course, the old wooden card catalog drawers. When you entered the library, there was a large circulation desk in the main lobby where several librarians sat, reminding children to lower their voices. One never shouted in the McGregor Library!
        In its children’s section, it also had several large table-top houses which contained figures of people, miniature furnishings, etc. One was a contemporary home, and one was a log cabin if my memory is correct. We children spent much time staring at these wondrous creations and imagining life in the little houses!
        The library served as a very important focal point of the community. It is heartbreaking to see its current condition. Now wouldn’t it be more than appropriate for a local historical group to seek a historical designation for it, if it qualified, and restore it! Easier said than done, I know, but this building influenced many young lives in HP during the 50s and 60s.

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