Detroit’s Comeback Fever: Rebirth of an American City

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The original Wright Brothers home and cycle shop where they built their airplanes in Greenfield Village, adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum. Photo by Richard Varr
The original Wright Brothers home and cycle shop where they built their airplanes in Greenfield Village, adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Another example of repurposing is downtown’s recently opened Detroit Foundation Hotel housed in a former Fire Department administration building and firehouse. Rooms have been refurbished with wood from abandoned buildings and homes, with 100 rooms and the fire commissioner’s former office now a suite.

“We want to keep it Detroit-made, keep Detroit pride going,” says Tylisa Jones, the hotel’s Guest Services Ambassador. Doorways that once opened for fire engines now lead to a swanky restaurant and bar hopping with a lively crowd during my Saturday night visit.

For dinner, we take a looping elevated tram called the “Detroit People Mover” to Greektown, a hopping neighborhood with restaurants and cafes. Book a table at Pegasus Taverna for buttery spanakopita and grilled lamb chops. Sweet honey baklava tops my dessert list at the Astoria Pastry Shop across the street.

While much has been done in Detroit, challenges remain. In the 1950s, the population was close to two million, down to about 700,000 now. More than 40 percent of the city’s 140 square miles is vacant land with 80,000 abandoned homes.

“That’s the reality of a city that loses its tax base and its population,” says Rusinow. “What we do with it, how we go forward with purpose to bring quality of life back to our neighborhoods and our residents, to rebuild smart, to become a city that is desirable and affordable for everybody, is our goal.”

Detroit Riding a Model T Ford in Greenfield Village, adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum. Photo by Richard Varr
Riding a Model T Ford in Greenfield Village, adjacent to the Henry Ford Museum. Photo by Richard Varr

Must-See Museums in Detroit

At the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, I toured adjacent Greenfield Village with its reconstructed and refurbished historic homes with a ride in an original 1914 Model T Ford. Driver Don Ludwig tells me there are still 200,000 Model T’s still running in the U.S. “People come here to step back in time. Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?” he asks? Greenfield Village has historic buildings including Henry Ford’s birth home and the Wright Brothers home and cycle shop where they worked on their fledgling aircraft.

The facades of the entrance to the Henry Ford Museum building was modeled after Philadelphia’s Independence Hall. The collection includes prototype and original early 20th century cars, planes, locomotives and more, including the refurbished bus in which civil rights pioneer Rosa Park refused to give up her seat. There are many old Model T’s and former presidents’ cars, including the very ones in which Kennedy was shot (original chassis only) and in which Reagan was driven to the hospital after his gunshot wound.

Other must-see museums include the Detroit Institute of Arts with is wall-sized Diego Rivera industrial murals in a central atrium. The Motown Museum in two adjacent neighborhood homes offers a close-up look at the small studio where Motown greats like the Supremes and Four Tops got their start.

If You Go To Detroit

www.visitdetroit.com

 

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