January 2011: I am preparing for my first real visit to Detroit, the city of my birth. I am a Californian, where I have been since age one when my parents packed me into a car to seek fame and fortune in LA. It is strange to be defined by something unknown but when asked if I am a "native" Californian, I answer, "No, I was born in Detroit." It seems time to investigate what that means. So I have come "home" on my birthday to photograph Detroit.

This blog is part of an accompanying journal about the project.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

September in Detroit, Part I Wednesday 17 September

14 months since I last visited Detroit and the change in the city is startling and exciting.

While the bankruptcy was entered into in summer of 2013 only one week after I returned from a three-week visit to the city, negotiations are ongoing, bargains are being made with major creditors and an emergence soon is in the offing.  Today, the greater Downtown area is vibrant and active; construction underway for a metro rail (the M-1 Rail) up Woodward all the way to Grand and the Amtrak station; new stores, coffee shops and construction providing new business and residential opportunities.  Best: people on the street.

I flew in on a red eye, picked up by the car graciously ordered by the Detroit Homecoming conference I was to attend.  Donald, my driver, and an aspiring recording artist, drove me in on the I-75, providing an impromptu insider's dawn tour of the lights and smoke from the steel plants, the Train Station and downtown entering from Michigan Avenue.  Yet another perspective on what has become a favorite city, here captured from the moving car more for my mind than exhibition photo.

I stayed downtown at the Book Cadillac Hotel.  In 2011 I had photographed designer Gary Fried's beautiful cabinetry design in a Book Cadillac penthouse.  This time I was a guest in one of its rooms, afforded a stunning nighttime view south to the River and across to Canada.

What I hadn't known: that only seven years ago the Book Cadillac, built in 1923 and designed by Louis Kamper, was a total wreck. Closed in 1984 the hotel lay vacant, vandalized and in its lowest basement, flooded from broken pipes.  Today through many civic and private efforts, it once again anchors beautiful Washington Boulevard at Michigan Avenue.  http://www.historicdetroit.org/building/book-cadillac-hotel/

Yet even with the renovation, history remains in the hotel for down down down lie the vintage boilers and generators that tell their story, colored by the rust of the floods and evocative of Detroit's older age, one that seems to be ending finally and this change is what I experienced in this short trip.

I loved staying downtown for much of my work has to do with place and the place where I am "living," even if only for a few days, definitely affects my visual perspective.  The small community centered by Washington Boulevard and bordered by Grand Circus Park, Michigan Avenue and the Rosa Parks Transit Center on Cass Avenue became my little microcosm of Detroit for this trip.

A few pics from Washington Boulevard and its environs, including Urban Bean Co., the Transit Center and from the Transit center, the still closed Book Tower.

At the top of Washington Boulevard, I wandered into the western part of the half moon hub that is Grand Circus Park, bisected by Woodward Avenue and from which a set of diagonal spurs, the streets of downtown, fan south.  Quite beautiful but with non-working fountains and few people. I could imagine the different experience of mid-century Detroit when businessmen like my father would daily cross the park from their apartments on streets like Park Avenue, on their way to and from work for while Detroit is definitely a city of cars, it was also designed for those who walk.  

Today the Park serves as a People Mover Station, an underground parking structure but it remains a place for views: Of the old facade still standing on Adams of the razed 1909 Fine Arts Building, a ghost of a structure that fascinated me when I first encountered it in 2011; of the historic house and church still extant on Woodward corners; of crowded streets and parking lots at the side of Comerica and Ford Fields and in just these past couple of years, the totally renovated David Broderick Tower - 1928 and another Louis Kamper building - and the soon to be opened for retail, hotel and residences, the David Whitney Building (1914) where Detroit Homecoming held its welcoming dinner, amid construction lights and careful access all the while looking up to the lobby's amazing clearstory, resonant of Detroit's glory, once again.

Residential and office construction is booming in the city and the occupancy rate is again very high.
It is a good time to be here.

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