Cities throughout America are experiencing a renaissance, and nowhere is that more evident than in Detroit. We love a city that is jam-packed with heritage, which the Motor City has aplenty, and are attracted to its high-energy vibe and spirit of renewal.
We started this visit with two things Detroit is most known for: music and automobiles. No visit to Detroit would be complete without a visit to Hitsville USA, the home of Motown Records and its revered Studio A, where artists such as Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, and so many others launched their musical careers.
The tour takes place in the house at 2648 W. Grand Blvd., where Berry Gordy started it all in 1959 with an $800 loan from his entrepreneurial family's investment fund. Visitors pass through Gordy's apartment and galleries full of memorabilia upstairs before descending to the lower-level studio. It's surprisingly small for a place that produced so many Top 10 hits. It was large enough, however, for our guide to teach the group a few Motown dance steps as My Girl by the Temptations was played over the loudspeakers. It was an upbeat end to the tour.
Just a mile and a half east, at 461 Piquette Ave., stands one of the most important buildings in American – and world – history. Henry Ford built his Piquette Avenue Plant here in 1904; it's where he eventually developed the revolutionary Model T. The assembly-line vehicle brought affordable mobility to the masses and changed how people lived. The restored brick factory's humble size belies its global importance. Inside, its walls encrusted with decades of fading paint and industrial toil, visitors can see the "Alphabet Ford Collection," consisting of every lettered-model Ford from A through T, along with other antique vehicles.
A city with such rich history has much to embrace, and that is evident downtown, where architecturally significant office buildings have been converted into boutique hotels. The Detroit Foundation Hotel is housed in the circa 1929 former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters, along with the aptly named Apparatus Restaurant. The Westin Book Cadillac occupies a revived 1924 building. The Siren Hotel recently opened in the Wurlitzer Building, which once housed one of the largest music stores in the world.
Along the Cass Corridor in Midtown, urban pioneers are opening retail outposts near Detroit's stellar collection of art and cultural museums. The most notable shop is musician Jack White's Third Man Records, where visitors can luxuriate in another renaissance — that of vinyl records; you can even watch them being pressed in a factory in the rear of the store.
Just east of Midtown, the bustling, multi-cultural Eastern Market district maintains its century-old food purveying roots, while embracing the city's rebirth with lively street art, murals, and funky art galleries popping up throughout the area.
We found Detroiters to exhibit among the most hometown pride of their city that we have encountered anywhere. Despite all the down times their city has endured, people are looking up. We finished our visit at a monument to former world heavyweight champion Joe Louis; it's colloquially known as The Fist because, well, it's a 24-foot-long fist. To some, it symbolizes Detroit always fighting back, never down for the count.
Coming from a city with a larger-than-life Rocky statue, we can appreciate that sentiment.
The nonprofit Preservation Detroit offers tours of historic neighborhoods every Saturday during warm weather months. For information visit preservationdetroit.org.