Allee Willis’ Kitsch O’ The Day – Allee Willis Marches on Detroit! Part 2, The Sights

So Monday, April 4, in Detroit starts off with meeting historic architecture preservationist Rebecca Binno Savage downtown in front of the Art Deco masterpiece Guardian Building. Designed by Wirt C. Rowland in the 1920′s for The Union Trust Company banking group, this 40 story skyscraper, towering over the city at the time, fell victim to the 1929 stock market crash before it even had a chance to open. Saved by the Union Guardian Trust Company it’s been a gem in the Detroit skyline ever since. If you’re an Art Deco freak, take sedation before you walk into this magnificently maintained edifice because your eyeballs have rarely been exposed to anything in this genre of this proportion.


Our tour guide was Christopher Roddy, he of eternally beckoning face made famous during this year’s crop of Super Bowl commercials in what many people deemed to be the best, the Eminem Chrysler commercial.

Here are some of the more spectacular architectural details of The Guardian Building:

As a kid I thought it was very special that I was born in a state shaped like a mitten. I still do.

From there we drove to Hamtramck, the once Polish center of Detroit and home of the sausage I grew up with.

There’s also lots of vintage architecture and signage like this:

Nothing, however, outshines this folk art destination, fondly known as “Hamtramck Disneyland”, a giant hobby project built between 1992 and 1999 by retired GM worker Dmytro Szylak in his backyard and on the roof of two garages.

I would’ve preferred to gaze upon Disneyland without rain pouring down but the excellence of the assemblage couldn’t be dampened by a little spit from the sky.

Roofing shingles as sidewalk is another excellent touch.

I love when art inspires art. At least the owner of the house at the end of the block tried to go for it if not entirely successful:

This sign a few blocks away killed me:

The cakes are ‘fancy’, the meat is ‘quality’ but the bread is just ‘good’. BTW, the roofline is REALLY ‘good’.

Right down the block is Burke’s Igloo, famous now for being in the opening titles of HBO’s Hung.

The ice cream here is ‘fancy’ and ‘quality’, way better than ‘good’.

The signage is also excellent:

It’s 4:30. We drop Rebecca off and head over to the northwest side of Detroit where I grew up. I’m going to an alumni meeting at my alma mater, Mumford High School, to discuss plans for my upcoming benefit extravaganza with the marching band playing a medley of my greatest hits with the cast of my musical, The Color Purple, leading a sing-along. We have a little time to kill so we swing by the house I grew up in from 5 to 16 years old that’s just about a mile from Mumford.

Every trip I’ve made to Detroit since leaving there in 1965 I’ve tried to get into this house, with no sucess. My memories of it are great. I loved it because despite trying to fit in with the other traditional brick houses in the neighborhood it had a hit of Moderne, with a rounded exterior wall, glass blocks, Steelcase windows (now replaced) and a round pole supporting the second floor.

I would’ve ditched the drain pipe and left the original windows but otherwise everything was as it was when we left the house after my mom passed away suddenly, my dad remarried suddenly, and I was exiled to the suburbs. To my complete surprise and delight, this time we got in and I spent one of the greatest hours I’ve ever had reliving my past. More of that and Mumford tomorrow…


Categories: Architecture, Detroit, Food, Kitsch, Kitsch O' The Day, People, Place, Sign, Travel

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16 Comments

  • Georgia says:

    I’m so, so glad you had such a fantastic time reclaiming Detroit. On Monday, while driving to to funeral of my high school friend’s Father, I consciously made the choice not to go by my childhood home. My Dad did the same quick remarry after my Mom passed away and there wasn’t nearly enough time to sort through all of the things within the house. I had one afternoon to dismantle my bedroom and try to pick through the boxes that held my childhood. (the items I sent to the AWMOK were from that afternoon)
    Now that I’ve been back to my hometown twice in a couple of months- after years of not being able to make it back due to the distance – I feel strong, more creative (Athens, GA is a wonderful combination of music, art, dance, writing…and the list goes on) than I have in years and the best part is a palpable feeling of true home.
    Can’t wait to read the next installment in “Allee goes home.” Hope you feel recharged and you also got that creative burst mixed with the prde of ‘this is where I came from’ too.

    • Allee says:

      I pretty much had that same quick move. It’s horrendous. Robs your childhood.

      I always hear great things about Athens, Ga.

      Your last sentence is 100% on the nose.

  • mike frost says:

    Speaking of Hamtramck…Did you know there’s a great C&W song about Hamtramck? “Hamtramck Mama”, originally recorded by the York Brothers, part of the lively country music scene based in 1930s/40s Detroit (thanks to thriving auto industry attracting workers from the south). I can’t find that particular song online (I can post a cover of it by the Volebeats, if you’re interested), but here’s another one of the Bro.’s Detroit-inspired ditties, “The Motor City Boogie” … http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lDPx0OUfkZ8

    …and I thought you might appreciate this graphic (for reasons best left unstated):

    http://tinyurl.com/47hamtramck

  • oh HOORAY that you got into the house!!!! Can’t wait to hear all about it!!!

  • colleen golden says:

    I grew up on the west side of the state, so Detroit seems like a million miles away. I’ve enjoyed your stories and pictures of your visit!

  • Marnie ONeal says:

    Thank you for showing a good side of Detroit, Allee! We are a great town with wonderful people in and around the city. And, as they say “…the kids are alright!” To those non believers: stop beating us down and take a real good look at what we have to offer. We have our problems, but what city doesn’t? Keep up the great work, Allee!

    • Allee says:

      Needless to say, it was so great meeting you again in Detroit, Marnie. I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to hear someone tell you that they’ve seen your show over hundred times. I admire you for your great taste and fortitude! I had one of the best times of my life and I’m so happy you were there to share it.

  • Pamela Mason says:

    I got a chance to see my childhood home, still standing after Katrina’s devastation. The water line was at the top of the garage door, and the wrought iron gates were leaning against the brick fence, but it was STILL STANDING!!!
    Next door, Mr.Frank & Miss Ruth’s house was a slab; my friend Camille’s house sported a big black demo X, and Miss Josie’s house? Looked like it had been untouched, with zinnias blooming & everything pristine.
    Wish I could have gone inside, but my home was under reconstruction, & the owners weren’t home.
    Best to leave it to memory anyway.
    Blogged about you Allee! Glad you had a great time in Detroit!

    • Allee says:

      I can;t even imagine how devastating was to go back home after Katrina. I’m so happy to hear the house was still standing, albeit submerged. I think it’s just amazing when you see blocks after something devastating like an earthquake, fire or flood and see some houses completely gone and right next to them flowers still blooming. Once your house is rebuilt I’d still knock on the door and take a peek.

  • Troy says:

    As Mod Betty said — I’m so excited that you got into the house this trip. Can’t wait for the next installment!

  • Rebecca Savage says:

    Thank you for staying positive about Detroit and Hamtramck through the rain and clouds Allee! We appreciate your positive energy here and seeing the good side of things! Detroit has to beat off the negative every day —- so you are VERY much appreciated!!!

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