Don’t Forget the Motor City

Stop No.2 of our Midwestern Swing was Detroit, the Motor City, home to Motown, and more it seems. Many people we know gave us the “why-would-you-go-there?” look when we mentioned our itinerary. We get it. Detroit certainly wasn’t on our bucket list, neither was Milwaukee, but circumstances sometimes dictate reconsiderations, and the opportunity for Pat to reconnect with an old college friend in the Detroit area drove us to Michigan. We were, to say the least, very pleasantly surprised by what we found.

Out of this modest house came some of the greatest R&B recordings in history.

A highlight was a visit to the home of Motown Records and its famous Studio A. There wasn’t a Studio B when Motown was churning out all of those R&B hits in the 1960s and early 1970s. It was especially poignant after seeing the R&R HOF in Cleveland. Where the HOF was modern, slick and somewhat overwhelming, the Motown Museum was more subdued but still powerful.

The control room. The wear and tear of the floors came from engineers stomping their feet during recording sessions.

Berry Gordy started the business with an $800 loan from his family, to be repaid with interest, and he built a creative juggernaut operating initially out of a house on Detroit’s West Grand Avenue. At first he lived in an apartment above the studio, but as the business grew he bought more houses for other departments like sales and accounting. The creative stuff continued to be recorded in the original studio.

The famous Studio A. Stevie Wonder, among other greats, played that piano during sessions. The control room is visible in the rear.

The guided tour lasts an hour. The building is still in an old neighborhood with just street parking, but there was enough of it. We highly recommend going if you love music. One other fun tidbit from the tour was that Stevie Wonder’s favorite candy bar was Baby Ruth. Berry Gordy made sure the studio candy machine was always stocked and the BR bar in the same spot so Stevie could find it. Gordy also made sure to leave a dime on the top of the machine for Stevie to use. Visitors to this day leave dimes there.

We followed our Motown visit with a stop at Third Man Records in the Cass district, a formerly down-and-out area that’s become gentrified. Third Man is one of Detroit-bred rocker Jack White’s side hustles. They press actual vinyl records in the back of the store, the first time records have been pressed in Detroit.

Our other highlights of Detroit included a visit to the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, attending a Tigers game, dinner at a cool venue called the Apparatus Room that’s in the former fire headquarters downtown, and a visit to Belle Isle, which is in the Detroit River between the city and Windsor, Ontario.

There are lots of tigers at Tigers Stadium.

The Tigers are a bad team this year, so it was easy to snag seats 10 rows from the field. The Tigers were stomped by the visiting Mariners, but we did get to see Miguel Cabrera, a likely first-ballot hall-of-famer, get a couple hits. The new stadium also has a lot of cool Tiger motifs, and best of all, it was a five-minute walk from our hotel, The Shinola.

Miguel Cabrera at bat. Lots of fans were masquerading as empty seats.

Shinola started about 15 years ago making high-end watches in Detroit. The owners are local boosters who have significantly broadened their business portfolio. The hotel is in a rehabbed building and very cool.

The Henry Ford Museum is in Dearborn and consists of an outdoor historical village and an indoor museum dedicated to American Innovation. It’s not all about cars, though you can ride in a Model T in the village. Each venue, however, is eclectic. Ford used his wealth to preserve historical artifacts, such as moving the Wright Brother’s bicycle shop from Dayton to Dearborn. He also moved his own boyhood home in its entirety, the homes of Robert Frost and Nathaniel Webster, and much of Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park, NJ, lab complex. (Some of that is a reproduction.). Why did he do it? Best answer would be that as the Elon Musk of his day, he could.

The indoor museum does have a lot of cars, not all of them Fords, as well as exhibits dedicated to air travel and railroads. It also has a good exhibit related to Civil Rights that includes the chair Lincoln was sitting in when he was assassinated, and the Montgomery, Alabama bus Rosa Parks was riding in when she refused to give up her seat. She later moved to Detroit where she lived for the rest of her long life, so there is a strong connection to the city. But another temporary exhibit showcased costumes from Disney movies. As I said, eclectic.

We were very much surprised by how much we enjoyed our visit to Detroit; the downtown is livelier than what we found in Cleveland and there was obviously a lot to do. We say give it a thought – you too might be surprised. I will wrap with some photos from Belle Isle and its arboretum.

Note: The title of this post is from a song called “The New World” by X, a late 70’s punk band. Pat of course had to play the song as we drove into Detroit.

2 comments

  1. I cannot choose which of the places you visited would be my must see. They are all quite interesting and so well exhibited. Very happy you found it to be even better than expected.
    Mom

    Like

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